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  • Writer's pictureMatt Olsen

Magic in Perth proves Matildas audience is here to stay

After the dizzying heights of the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup, Australia, by all metrics, was desperate for more of their women's national team. The October international window featuring the second round of AFC Olympic Qualifying provided the perfect spark to keep the country on board the hype train.

The Matildas thrashed the Philippines at a raucous Optus Stadium last weekend. (AAP)

The government joined forces with football for the post-home World Cup era when the state leaders of Western Australia announced on May 25 that they had fought hard and paid up to bring the pull of Sam Kerr and the Matildas home for the second round of Women's Olympic qualifiers. Perhaps even they did not know what was coming and just how successful the week-long event would be.

The context of such an event is vital to understand; Perth previously held an international fixture for the Matildas before the 2018 Asian Cup, which only drew a crowd figure just above 7,000. As the months passed towards the qualifiers, enough interest had been garnered for three consecutive sellouts, marking 11 straight overall for women's international football in Australia.

"The Matildas have not only showcased exceptional talent on the field, but have also united and captivated an entire nation," Football Australia CEO James Johnson said in the statement confirming 11 consecutive sold-out matches.

With all of this excitement palpable in the background, decisive performances on the pitch were still required. The Matildas delivered sensationally, with record crowds in Perth treated to 13 unanswered goals overall and fantastic performances from many players making up the squad's depth.

Amy Sayer's rise has settled in Sweden and was a particular highlight of the window. Meanwhile, the evolution of Mary Fowler's role as a wide attacking forward in England was proven a key asset for the national team, thanks partly to Tony Gustavsson's rotations of the lineup.

Ellie Carpenter's two 90-minute appearances before an early departure from WA stole the show as one of the standout performers. She commented on her time with the camp and the incredible support garnered throughout when speaking to the media following the 2-0 win over Iran.

"It's incredible, that continuation from the World Cup, we couldn't be prouder to change football in Australia for women and to see all this support in the time after, it was great to see that," Carpenter said.

Australia's second game against Mark Torcaso's Philippines would be the 'where were you' moment. An 8-0 thrashing was saved for the most formidable opponent. Moreover, the sheer noise and atmosphere created for every Matildas attacking opportunity was something to cherish for anyone there to witness the event.

On that theme, another element to enjoy was the presence of the foreign teams. As underdogs, Iran, Chinese Taipei, and the previously mentioned Australian-coached Philippines constantly praised their hosts, given the players and even staff had experienced amazing crowds and state-of-the-art facilities they otherwise would not have been exposed to, which was another small win for Football Australia in showcasing Australia as a destination for the sport, which in previous years would have failed to have been as well acknowledged across Asia.

Despite their underperformance, Chinese Taipei manager Chan Ming remained upbeat and proud of his team throughout the week. His comments after their 0-0 draw with Iran further amplified what the opportunity to play here meant to the lower-ranked opponents.

"We love Perth; a beautiful city and great people. We enjoy the opportunity to play the World Cup participants, and the hospitality here was fantastic," he said.

The wins were undoubtedly crucial for many to be a part of. Football witnessed record levels of interest, and the State Government was also able to showcase a fantastic spectacle of what WA can offer to an international audience.

All the more impressive than that, on October 27, in front of what must have been touching the thousands at the State Football Centre, in a festival-type atmosphere alongside Australia's new beloved heroes, WA Premier Roger Cook announced the continuation of funding towards female football at all levels. The exciting development that the state's dedicated football base will change its name to honour its most dominant asset, Sam Kerr, was also revealed.

When speaking ahead of the Philippines game, Kerr commented on the honour with a nod to her long journey through domestic football in WA.

"I had actually known about it for a little while, but I still couldn't believe I'm still getting a lot of personal messages. But as a Perth girl growing up on sandy pitches, it's so big to now have this home of football here where all levels of the game can be involved. We can come here, Glory can come here, and yeah, it is named after me, that hasn't sunk in," the star forward said.



Fans pack out the State Football Centre's back pitches for a glimpse of the Matildas. (Football Australia)

It is easy to reflect on the many highs from the week Matildas fans have had and wonder how sustained the current growth of interest may be.

One thing we know for sure, in the aftermath of their win over Chinese Taipei, Australia has drawn plucky underdogs Uzbekistan in the next qualifying phase, with the second leg on February 28 set to be hosted in Australia, the night the Matildas are expected to confirm their qualification for Paris.

The exciting element to this fixture is that, like WA has committed itself to the women's game, state governments will be as hungry as ever to pump their money behind women's football and secure the crucial match, gaining many fans with a potential trip to their city in the process. The rumour mill has begun on a possible game at the MCG in front of 90,000+ spectators.

We're in a place the game has undoubtedly not been in before. The sustained effort and commitment to women's football and the rising star of the Matildas as a commercial asset and as a leading team on the field have been proven as factors that may yet stand the test of time.

We now know and can be assured that Tillies fever won't die easily, no matter the circumstances before the team. As a wider Australian football community, fans can only sit back and embrace what stands before them.

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


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