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  • Writer's pictureAntonis Pagonis

FIFA Women's World Cup 2023: Legacy Ambassador Hodgson says Australians "won't know what hit them"

Legacy '23 Ambassador Isabel Hodgson can usually be found on the pitch helping her Adelaide United and Adelaide City sides to victory. But in July last year, she was in the stands at Wembley Stadium to experience a virtually sold-out crowd celebrating the Lionesses' Women's Euro 2022 Final triumph over Germany. Hodgson spoke to Front Page Football about her experience and how she thinks the FIFA Women's World Cup will play out on home soil in Australia.

Adelaide United captain Isabel Hodgson amongst the celebrations as the Lionesses won Euro 2022 on home soil. (Instagram: @isabel_hodgson)


Hodgson experienced a landmark 2022, with the Adelaide United captain leading her side to a maiden A-League Women Finals Series appearance before being named as one of South Australia's Legacy Ambassadors for the 2023 Women's World Cup on home soil.


Needing a break to regroup before returning to football, Hodgson could not stay away from the sport, even when planning her holiday. She shared her revelation when planning her trip for the European summer last year with FPF.


"I had decided I wanted to do a Europe trip and have a bit of a holiday and kind of regroup, so I thought it would be good to go to London because I have some family there. I then saw that the Euros were on, and I thought that if I could get a ticket to the Final, I would base my trip around it!" Hodgson said.


"I was lucky enough to get some tickets, so I booked my trip around making sure I was in London for that day."


Hodgson made it to London for the final, and the football world aligned to see hosts England reach and win the match on home soil. It was a historic moment the England men's side failed to achieve a year earlier in their Euros Final at Wembley.


Hodgson waxed lyrical about her experience in a country captivated by its national women's team and is relishing the opportunity for a similar experience in her country for the upcoming Women's World Cup.


"The best thing about it for me was that Wembley was almost sold out, and there was a huge crowd," Hodgson said when discussing her experience attending the final.


"It wasn’t just women and girls; it was dads and their sons, men, and groups of boys; it was not about the gender; it was about England winning. Those girls are now household names in England, and it is great to see that women are held so highly over there.


"The fact that they could achieve that on home soil is incredible. As soon as I experienced that over there, I couldn’t wait for it (the World Cup) to be in Australia."


Hodgson pointed out how the impact of the Lionesses' resounding success has trickled down to the Women's Super League in England. Clubs like Arsenal and Chelsea, featuring Australian players, now reap the benefits of a rise in interest.


"Clubs like Arsenal and Chelsea in the women’s league over there are becoming so popular, and the players are very popular, so they are being treated as professional players, which means their pay and their facilities are starting to reflect that fact," she said.


"I hope that we feel a similar effect here in Australia, people get excited about the Matildas, and they look to the A-League and think, ‘This is where these girls play’, and generate the same excitement in our league as it has done in England."


For Hodgson, legacy means the government realising the popularity of football during the month-long extravaganza and backing their local communities with much-needed funds for the expected rise in grassroots participation. She recounted issues she and other women have faced in their battle to forge a football career.


"Funding for women’s sports is always a struggle, and it is always something we have had to fight for. We had to fight for the right to be called professional footballers, fight to get change rooms [for] us and not just men’s change rooms that we borrow," Hodgson said.


A rise in the game's popularity can see the next generation of female players enjoy much better conditions than Hodgson did when she began as a professional footballer. Like most players in the early days of the competition, Hodgson was not initially paid when she entered the A-League Women (W-League at that time).


Conditions may be much better now, but financial decisions have and still do prevent many talented players from pursuing a football career. Hodgson hopes the World Cup is the beginning of the end to that reality.


"I think what we are looking for is the exposure to that greater community outside the footballing world. When I first started playing in the W-League at the time, we weren’t paid to play; it was out of pocket for us. Now we are coming into a bigger season, the league is growing, and girls can see a career," she added.


"I really hope that continues to grow, that the A-League continues to grow in terms of games played, salary cap, and things like that, to show girls that they can have it (football) as a career, rather than stopping for financial reasons like affording to buy a house or just to make a living. It would be great if that is what the exposure from the World Cup can do for the A-League and footballers all around Australia."

 

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With tickets to two of the Matildas' three group stage games, travel plans, and tickets organised for the Quarter-Finals, Semi-Finals, and the Final, Hodgson may be a player but remains a huge football fan. She reflected on how her younger self would feel if she experienced a World Cup on home soil whilst playing.


"At the moment, it (attending a home World Cup) is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Hodgson shared.


"I am thankful it is happening while I am still playing. But if it was to happen when I was a young girl, it would have just been so inspirational.


"When I was young, I wasn’t looking up to female footballers; I was looking up to male footballers, so for these young girls to go watch a game, even in Adelaide going to watch England, for example, and see these players and how great they are, [it] will just give them something to aspire towards. Young Isabel would not be able to sleep; I don’t think!"


Having already attended a significant women's football tournament, Hodgson knows what to expect when fans worldwide arrive down under. She believes the average Australian will be stunned by the atmosphere generated by the world's biggest footballing party.


"We are a sporting nation, but I feel many people will need to see it (the World Cup atmosphere) to believe it! All of us football lovers know what is coming, and we are excited. But the average Joe won’t know what hit them when the country is buzzing with football fans!" Hodgson said.


Despite being excited about football's pinnacle landing on Australia's shores in just over a month, Hodgson wants to ensure the flow-on effects are felt long after the tournament is gone. Her message to anyone involved with a junior female football setup is simple.


"The biggest thing junior clubs and people with young girls who want to play football can do is get them out to as many games as possible and show them that this is a lifestyle. Bring them to the A-League and show them that this is possible, that it is something they can work towards, and that if they can continue to play, they can play in the league or even for the Matildas," she said.


"When I was young, it wasn’t a career choice to be a footballer; it was a hobby you had while you had another career. We are moving into a generation now where this can be their full-time job. We need to show girls that this is something that they can do!"


The Matildas kick off their World Cup campaign on July 20, taking on the Republic of Ireland at Stadium Australia.


Click here to read more of FPF's coverage of the Matildas!

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