Over the last month, all of Australia has had their eyes on the women’s football team, the Matildas, as they progressed against some of the strongest soccer teams in the world. The Matildas’ powerful performance in this year’s World Cup has been capturing hearts across the nation, with over 7 million people tuning in to see them take on the French. The match, which ultimately resulted in the longest penalty shootout in World Cup history (men’s or women’s), only left fans even more eager for their match against the English, where Channel 7 alone recorded 11 million individual views.
While so much can be said about the incredible performance of the Tillies on the field, it is their stories off the field that make them even more remarkable. Some of you may know Hayley Raso as the girl with the ribbon, who scored two goals in Australia’s historic win over Olympic champions Canada, and then another against Denmark. Five years ago, however, Raso was told that she may never walk again. While playing in the National Women’s Soccer League, Raso suffered a freak accident, leaving her with a broken back. Just six months later, however, Raso was back representing Australia again, and scored a goal in her first 3 minutes back on the pitch. Ellie Carpenter’s story is similarly inspiring, returning to the Pitch for Australia just over 8 months after tearing her ACL last year.
Katrina Gorry is another such remarkable player, 48 hours before Australia played France, Gorry’s fiancé, Swedish footballer Clara Markstedt who had travelled down under to support Gorry, lost her father. Despite this personal loss, Gorry remained rock-solid in the game, and scored a must-win penalty against France. Had Gorry missed that penalty, Australia would have faced defeat against Les Bleues right then. In 2014, Gorry considered retiring from football because she couldn’t afford to continue playing, with the Matildas paid significantly less than the Socceroos, andAustralia is incredibly lucky that she didn’t. According to FIFA, Gorry had a stunning 59 tackles, the highest number of tackles in the tournament. That’s potentially 59 goals that Gorry has saved. Among the Tillies, Gorry has also had the second highest number of shots on goal. She also covered the most ground of any player at the World Cup, a staggering 57.68km. Gorry’s game-saving penalty kick also rocketed in at a staggering 106.3 km/hr. She is rapid, strong, and knows exactly where to be on the field. She is also considered to be a massive team support by everyone, with young Matilda Kyra Cooney-Cross crediting Gorry for making her feel confident. Adding another achievement to her belt, Gorry is also a single parent to adorable baby Harper. Gorry has proved to be invaluable both on and off the pitch, and is truly a player that makes you wonder, how does she do it all?
The list of stories that make up the Matildas is beyond inspiring. Mary Fowler, who has provided the most incredible assists this tournament, is only 20 years old. Sam Kerr and Steph Catley have been so graciously co-captaining the team, maintaining that it’s not about one of them, but instead about all of them. Coach Tony Gustavsson also echoed this, saying that the Matildas have all been putting in the same amount of effort, regardless of the amount of time they expected to play. With five squad members that did not play a minute this World Cup, and another three that played a combined total of 20 minutes, it is very impressive to see players putting the team before themselves. The Matildas are not only here to play, but they know they are part of something bigger.
The drive to leave a legacy in this World Cup was echoed by players throughout the tournament, and it was profoundly clear after Australia’s semi-final loss to the Lionesses. Despite being devastated, the Tillies, led by captain Sam Kerr, immediately used their platform to call for greater funding for football, down to the grassroots level. They knew they had the momentum to be more than just an inspiration. Not only did they help achieve the highest viewership and revenue ever for the FIFA Women’s World Cup ( a whopping $887 million), but the government also announced a $200 million dollar investment into women’s sport following the Tillies’ success. The Matildas helped catalyse change that will support decades of women across the country.
Many footballers, including Brazilian star Marta and Australian defender Ellie Carpenter, have spoken at length about how they had no female football role models growing up. How wonderful that for millions of young girls in Australia and overseas, the Matildas are now changing that.