Mark this day down in the books: September 16, 2017. That’s the day the Matildas officially became part of the mainstream Australian sporting landscape.
If you were lucky enough to be one of the 15,000 at Pepper Stadium in Penrith to see it, congratulations. You witnessed a slice of history.
For the first time, the Matildas sold out a non-Olympic football match in Australia in a major stadium. Not just a day or two before, but weeks in advance. And then they put on a show. Not just against any old team, mind you. They did it against Brazil, probably the sport’s greatest nation.
There is so much to say about what unfolded at the foot of the mountains that it’s difficult to put into relatively short piece like this. If women's sport is the next big thing, the Matildas are the zeitgeist of the movement.
But first things first: this was blockbuster, and we should not let it pass without noting just how historic it is. Yes, the Matildas have played in bigger matches, with more on the line, and consequences for a good or bad result.
Indeed, that is the whole point. The result mattered not a jot, but inspired by the team’s deeds at the tournament of nations, the public was so desperate to see it they came anyway. Dear Matildas, you’ve made it.
This is for everyone who drove the pillars into the ground. It’s for women like Julie Murray. Julie Dolan, Amy Duggan and Moya Dodd, who each strove to make the women’s game better – each in their own way – and who never got the credit for putting their respective bricks in the wall over the past 30 years.
Pleasingly, all four were there at the official pre-game function. They have asked for nothing from the game, are seeing a different generation benefit, and all they wore were smiles from ear to ear. We use the word “legacy” a lot in Australian football, but here it was before their very eyes.
And in a sign of the times, they were joined by the biggest names in town. This was a seriously hot ticket. NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian, sports minister Stuart Ayres and several other members of parliament, added to FIFA representative Honey Thaljieh and a who’s-who of the football industry. Even the ultimate in mainstream affections, Today host Lisa Wilkinson, was front and centre.
And when all the networking was complete, all that was left was the football. And soon, that was all anyone could talk about.
But Brazil put Australia on the back foot early; the timeless talents of Marta and Cristiane – tormentors of defences everywhere for more than a decade – were running rampant. Behind Leo Messi, Marta might be the second most balanced player in football history, men’s or women’s. Her feints and shifts never get old and her contribution to the sport usurps all others. And here she was in Penrith, of all places.
Australia eventually broke into the game, creating chances of their own, and while Brazil has Marta, the Matildas have an equally unique specimen: Lisa De Vanna. It’s not just her Portuguese heritage that makes her our own Cristiano Ronaldo; it’s that relentless drive to change matches. And so she did it with a spectacular goal, followed up by a CR7-type celebration. The crowd loves her, and, boy, does she loves them.
Someone who loves making headlines just as much is Sam Kerr. Determined to make good on all the pre-game hype that has surrounded her astonishing rise, she secured the win with a reverse, looping header.
Brazil deserved something from the game though, and it was only right they grabbed one back. A chance to equalise went begging though. Thankfully so, too. This had to be the Matildas’ day.
And so when the final whistle blew, the the team dispersed to all corners of the ground for an endless stream of selfies, autographs and applause. How refreshing to see a national sports team treat their own supporters with such respect. That’s the thing about the Matildas. They’re winners, but they’re humble.
Attention will soon turn to Tuesday night in Newcastle, and whether the Hunter Valley can out-do Sydney’s West for attendance. They’ll give it a mighty push.
Either way, Saturday marked the arrival of the Matildas in a way we haven’t known them. Dollar for dollar, I believe they are perhaps the most marketable team in Australian sport right now. If I owned a major business, I’d be knocking down the door to associate my brand with everything they stand for.
On the back of a historic pay deal announced earlier in the week, the past seven days may have shaped the women's game forever more on these shores. Long may it continue.