top of page
  • Writer's pictureDavid JA Grant

Matildas in Adelaide: A long awaited return

You could count the number of times the Australian women’s national team - the Matildas - have played in Adelaide on two hands. If it weren’t for a tournament in 2006, which doubled up as both the 2006 Asian Cup and 2007 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, you would only require one hand and just three digits on that hand.

Tonight, the Matildas will return to Adelaide for the first time in five years. They will face China in front of a sold-out Adelaide Oval in just their ninth-ever game in the South Australian capital. Ironically, the Chinese team has been to Adelaide more recently, having played England in a FIFA World Cup match at Hindmarsh Stadium in August 2023.

The last time they were in Adelaide, in November 2019, the Matildas attracted a crowd of 10,342 to Hindmarsh Stadium. Captained by Sam Kerr, they beat Chile 1-0 with a 23rd-minute Emily Gielnik goal. Over 50,000 will attend Adelaide Oval this time, with over 80,000 expected to squeeze through the turnstiles in Sydney three days later to watch the second of a two-game series against the Steel Roses.

The women’s game took a long time to animate from a crawl to a walk, then a run and now, with a stadium packed to watch a mere friendly (and on a field that isn't even rectangular), a sprint. An Australian women’s national side did not officially exist until as recently as 1979 when Julie Dolan was awarded cap number one on 6 October. She led the side out onto the pitch at Seymour Shaw Park in the south Sydney suburb of Miranda to play New Zealand.

If there isn't a plaque there, Football Australia should have one. It was a more significant moment in Australia's sporting history than was realised then. Dolan later recalled in an interview that she lived near the ground and delivered printed leaflets to promote the game to residents and neighbours.

There is a debate that international women’s football in Australia debuted four years earlier. In 1975, an Asian Cup Ladies Football Tournament was run in Hong Kong by the Asian Ladies’ Football Confederation (ALFC). The host nation was joined by three other Asian members – Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand. Australia and New Zealand were invited to participate. At the time, the Australian football authorities did not recognise the side. Only as recently as May 2023 did the Football Australia Board formally change their stance and acknowledge this team's achievement, but stopped short of recognising them as full internationals.

The first documented women's team to represent Australia then took to the field at the Hong Kong Stadium on 25 August 1975 to face Thailand. In front of a crowd of 4,119 spectators, the Australian girls were 2-0 down by half-time and conceded a third just after the interval. However, they settled and then rallied, with the captain, Pat O’Connor, scoring in the 58th minute and Crystal Abenthum converting a penalty two minutes later. The match finished 3-2 for the Thai side.

The Australians eventually finished third in the tournament after losing to New Zealand in the Semi-Final but beating Malaysia in the third-place playoff.

The side was coached by Pat's husband, Joe O’Connor, a leading figure in the women’s game through the 1970s. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this playing group was that Julie Dolan was just 14.

In 1978, an Australian side was again selected to represent the nation at the “Women’s World Invitational Tournament” in Taipei, Taiwan. This time, coached by Jim Selby, the side played international club sides. Hence, no players received official caps or recognition from the governing body in Australia. The ‘78 squad mainly consisted of players from New South Wales, captained by Connie Byrnes, who would later marry Jim Selby. But the tournament's stand-out player was 16-year-old Anna Senjuschenko from Perth, who was voted one of the star players by the media. Tragically, she died in a car accident just 12 months later.

Anna Senjuschenko. (Image source unknown)

By the time 1979 came around, women’s football finally had some backing from the governing body, and a three-game series was planned with New Zealand. Two games were to be played in Sydney and one at Brisbane’s Perry Park. The Australians drew 2-2 with New Zealand, with Sandra Brentnall and Sharon Loveless scoring for Australia in the first-ever “A” International. New Zealand won the second game, at the same venue, by a goal to nil, and the third game finished in a 2-2 draw, which meant the series was tied.

Fifteen players won the first full caps to be awarded. They were Julie Dolan, Shona Bass, Sandra Brentnall, Julie Clayton, Kim Coates, Cindy Heydon, Sharon Loveless, Toni McMahon, Sue Monteath, Rose Van Bruinessen, Leigh Wardell, Fiona McKenzie, Diana Hall, Judy Pettitt, and Carla Grims.

Three of this group—Fiona McKenzie (Elizabeth West Soccer Club), Diana Hall (Salisbury United Blue), and Carla Grims (Salisbury United)—were from South Australia.

But it was still a fight, off the field, to gain the governing body's support and capture the public's attention. The mainstream media, of course, cared little for the sport in general. Even by 1982, players were expected to pay their own way. When the Matildas were to play a few games in Indonesia, each received a letter from the “Australian Women’s Soccer Association” that congratulated them on selection and asked them to complete and return a form on their availability.

The letter concluded with the “cost of the trip will be approximately $700 per person” and “are you prepared to pay this amount?” Using the RBA inflation calculator, that’s around $3,000 today.

Representing your country on the international stage was an expensive hobby then.


The Matildas go through their final preparations at Coopers Stadium ahead of the clash against China. (Image: Ben Blaess/

Eventually, the Matildas would play in Adelaide, but it was not until 2000 that they would debut in the City of Churches. A tournament called the “Australia Cup” (essentially a warm-up for the Sydney Olympics) was held across three Australian venues. Australia hosted Sweden, the Czech Republic, and the United States in Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide, respectively.

Adelaide’s Hindmarsh Stadium was the venue for the game between Australia and the United States.

The Australian side, coached by Chris Tanzey, lined up on 13th January 2000 as follows: Tracey Wheeler (GK), Cheryl Salisbury, Bridgette Starr, Dianne Alagich, Anissa Tann-Darby, Sharon Black, Alison Forman, Danielle Small, Amy Wilson, Katrina Boyd, and Sunni Hughes.

Two South Australians—Alagich and Black—were playing in front of their hometown crowd. The Australian Women's Soccer Association report describes the game as being played in “sapping heat” but that the Australian team started encouragingly against a USA side that had won all 12 previous encounters between the two.

The USA eventually took command of the game and attained a 2-0 half-time lead. Alagich, who was just 21 then, inadvertently assisted the Americans when the ball ricocheted off her body and into the net, making her the first Australian woman to score an international goal in Adelaide, albeit into her own goal.

Matildas captain Alison Forman pulled a goal back with a 74th-minute header. But the USA scored again to finish the game 3-1 winners. This game was also notable for being Linda “Sunni” Hughes’ 50th appearance for the Matildas.

A long awaited return

The Matildas weren’t back in Adelaide until 2006 when they played a series of games that doubled up as the 2006 Women’s Asian Cup Finals and 2007 FIFA World Cup qualifiers. The Australian team, then coached by Tom Sermanni (the first coach to be employed full-time), finished runners-up to North Korea in their group and advanced to the semi-final, where they played Japan, winners of the only other group.

After beating Japan 2-0 at Hindmarsh, the Matildas faced China in the final in front of 5,000 people on 30 July. Having led 2-0 at half-time, the Matildas contrived to throw their lead away, drawing 2-2 after extra time and then succumbing to a 4-2 penalty defeat.

Thirteen years later, the Matildas returned to Adelaide, facing Chile at Hindmarsh on 12 November 2019. Ante Milicic coached the team to a 1-0 win in front of a record crowd of 10,342.

The Matildas last played in Adelaide when they faced Chile at Hindmarsh Stadium in November 2019. (Image: David A Grant)

A homecoming

Tony Gustavsson confirmed yesterday that she would "get plenty of game time", and Charlotte “Charli” Grant will be the only South Australian running out onto the Oval against China tonight. Grant will win her 25th cap for her country and look to add to the single goal she scored in 2023 against England.

Her career started with her local club, Cumberland United Women’s Football Club, which is no longer with us. At the conclusion of 2021, they and Flinders Flames Women's Club both folded and merged to form a new club, Flinders United. At the moment, Flinders United sits fourth in the South Australian WNPL.



The Matildas name

So, what’s with the name? The Matildas.

Until 1995, the team had been referred to as “The Female Socceroos". However, after qualifying for their first FIFA World Cup in 1995, the Australian Women’s Soccer Association partnered with the television broadcaster SBS to conduct a poll to establish a new name.

The public voted for “The Matildas” over the likes of “Blue Flyers”, “Waratahs”, “Lorikeets”, and, somewhat laughably, “Soccertoos". In turn, the Matildas name had come loosely from that given to the 13-metre-tall, forklift-powered, animatronic kangaroo that was the mascot for the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane. The women's national team namesake sits outside a service station near Traveston in Queensland.

The "Matilda" 1982 Commonwealth Games mascot, the name of which was passed on to the women's national team in 1995. (Image: ABC News)

The number of women who have represented the Matildas now sits at 228. Tonight, 11 will run out onto the field for what should be a special night in Adelaide for them and their thousands of fans. They have come a long way from their 2006 game against Thailand in this city, at Marden Sports Centre, when the crowd was recorded as “around 400”.


bottom of page