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  • Writer's pictureCody Ojeda

The FIFA Women's World Cup story: A fan perspective

The FIFA Women's World Cup was an incredible event on a scale not seen on Australian shores since the Olympics came to Sydney in 2000. Between the local fandom, world-class entertainment, and the blending of an array of cultures worldwide, the Australian public was presented with a unique sporting experience. And they bought into it.

However, for the average Australian, the social and cultural impact of the event may not have been foreseen eight months ago, when tickets began to go on sale. Heck, even some rusted-on football fans may have been taken by surprise. But the hype was real, and Australia was about to find out in a big way.

The first sense of how big this tournament could be came on January 30, when the opening game in Australia, between the Matildas and Ireland, was moved from Sydney Football Stadium to Stadium Australia due to the demand for tickets.

The Matildas' last game at Stadium Australia before the World Cup was in November 2021, where they faced the USA. (Football Australia)

At this point, the Matildas had never played in front of a crowd beyond the 30,000 region. The faith that the side would not only beat this metric but have enough interest to sell an extra 35,000 tickets was telling. The Matildas achieved the feat, and the additional tickets sold out almost instantaneously when they were released. Cat A, Cat B, and even obstructed view tickets; people wanted whatever they could get their hands on.

When opening night came around, a capacity crowd of 75,784 filled Stadium Australia. The vibe was electric outside the stadium as Olympic Park was swept up in football fever. Comparisons to the atmosphere on November 16, 2005, were brought up by those fortunate enough to experience both.

Inside the stadium, the noise went to another level. Stadium Australia isn’t always synonymous with deafening atmospheres. But even the biggest sceptics of the stadium couldn’t deny the unique sense of euphoria when seeing and hearing 75,000+ people barracking for the Matildas. Many people worked tirelessly to get Australian and Australian women's football in a position to enjoy such moments, and the sense of occasion was lost on no one.

Even the Matildas knew the foundations laid by those before them allowed the team to experience the events of July 20. They paid homage to the trailblazers while celebrating Steph Catley’s game-winning penalty, running over to the Matildas Alumni.

Many in the stands may not have realised it at the time. But it will be a special moment where the present is connected with the past, something Australian football doesn’t always do well. At that moment, it was achieved perfectly.

Steph Catley and the Matildas squad ran to where a group of Matildas Alumni were seated to celebrate the opening goal of their World Cup campaign. (Reuters)

But this tournament wasn’t simply the Matildas' show. Thirty-two nations from all corners of the globe were about to grace the pitches of Australia and New Zealand. Sceptics and internet trolls, who put the success of the opening game down to ‘the host nation playing the first game of a World Cup’, were soon in for a rude shock.

Tickets to any game became scarce, and those fortunate enough to get through the turnstiles were treated to many forms of world-class football.

Whether Lauren James' magic moments, Aitana Bonmati pulling the strings for Spain, or even the Swaby sisters' world-class defensive displays. Entertainment came in many forms, making it even more special by seeing it play out in front of our eyes.

Lauren James recorded two goals and three assists against China at Hindmarsh Stadium. (Eurosport)

It’s a unique feeling heading into a venue like Sydney Football Stadium, where Sydneysiders are used to watching Sydney FC and being treated to an end-to-end classic between Colombia and Germany, as the stands are swept up in the culture of the two opposing countries.

Or visiting Tumbalong Park, a lovely spot in Sydney’s famous Darling Harbour, and seeing it be taken over by football. We could see the FIFA Museum or the FIFA store while watching Suncorp Stadium, just an hour's flight away, covered in the white of England fans watching their nation commence a historic World Cup run.

The games were exciting from a quality standpoint, and the storylines that played out felt better than anything Steven Spielberg or Christopher Nolan could put together.

There’s something exceptionally sentimental about having significant World Cup moments that people will talk about for years happen on the same grounds where Australian football fans watched the A-Leagues seasons mere months before.

We saw teen sensation Linda Caicedo score a brilliant individual goal, one Colombians will forever reference as a pivotal moment in her career. Eight months before, at the same ground, Kusini Yengi scored a well-worked goal to win the first Sydney Derby.

Or, seeing the Philippines win their first-ever World Cup game at the same ground where fans can see the Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand’s only professional football club, play each week. Or, watching the jubilation of Morocco becoming the first Arab nation to win a Women's World Cup match in the stadium where we saw the inaugural winners of the FFA Cup in 2014.

These were moments with vastly different levels of global significance and interest, linked by the pitches on which they occurred.

And then, of course, the Matildas were there for everyone to enjoy. While their second game against Nigeria left fans underwhelmed and worried about the side's ability, concerns were swept aside as the Matildas trounced Canada 4-0.

This game was by far the most unique of the tournament, as while the flashy backdrops of the big arenas can provide the record-breaking attendances we became so accustomed to, there is still nothing like the atmosphere a fit-for-purpose football ground generates.

Melbourne Rectangular Stadium provided the perfect atmosphere for the Matildas' do-or-die clash with Canada. (CODE Sports)

Melbourne turned up for the Matildas and turned Melbourne Rectangular Stadium into a cauldron of noise that a do-or-die game deserves. It may have been the smallest Matildas crowd, but there’s a strong argument it was the loudest.

As the competition progressed into the knockout stages, the blues of fewer games to follow were replaced by increasing national pride, as even those with no interest in the tournament began to feel the aura of this Matildas team.

Channel Seven’s viewers increased, extra live sites were put in place, and the FIFA re-sale website likely drew the most traffic in Australia for two weeks as those without a ticket desperately fought for one.

Even the country’s other sporting competitions, with league games on at the usual prime times of a Saturday night, had to scramble and find a way to show matches to ensure people didn’t skip their events altogether. As it was, when Australia faced France, fans in these stadiums only had their eyes on the Matildas right until they finished celebrating Cortnee Vine’s winning penalty.

For those in Brisbane, the quarterfinal experience will forever be a favourite footballing memory, should you have been supporting Australia. Later that night in Sydney, fans attending the England-Colombia clash went from celebrating in Cathy Freeman Park to making the mad dash into Stadium Australia to not miss the game they paid to see. It was pandemonium in more ways than one and an experience to tell the grandchildren about.

Should we deem the quarterfinal lead-up as chaotic, the semi-final was anarchic. The fight for tickets increased. Ironically, preparing for their World Cup, the Boomers adjusted their match's start time so it didn’t clash with Australia’s new favourite sporting team. Last-minute flights were organised by fans desperate to be in Sydney for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Some even travelled without tickets, hoping to snag one on the day through divine intervention.

It wasn’t the result Matildas fans wanted. But Australian football fans experienced the nation rallying behind its national football team. The opening game at the same stadium was powerful for Australian women's football. The clash against England was seismic.

The number of people who tuned in, 11.7 million, is a figure that doesn’t consider Optus Sport viewers, live sites, pubs, or the 75,784 people in the stands, a number Australia was slowly becoming accustomed to.

For those who have followed this journey since the announcement of Australia and New Zealand’s successful bid in 2020, this tournament proved to be everything that was dreamed of.

For followers of this Matildas team over the last ten, fifteen, or twenty-plus years, seeing these crowd figures and viewers, compared to how little they were not long ago, has made all the hard yards of supporting and advocating for the team worth it.

Finally, those who jumped on the bandwagon during the tournament have found a love for these girls. Not even two losses to end the competition could sour it.

Despite the heartbreaking end, the Matildas inspired a nation. (The West Australian)

By the time the tournament culminated in a deserved triumph for Spain, it is safe to say it had left a permanent mark. TikTok could not be scrolled through without seeing edits of Sam Kerr’s wonder strike against England or the team celebrating the France win.

Young girls wore ribbons in their hair to replicate Hayley Raso. People were snatching up black gloves to match Mary Fowler's now iconic look.

Those who had little to no interest in football two months ago were now debating the tactics and decisions of Tony Gustavsson, praising Mackenzie ‘Minister of Defence’ Arnold, and discussing the transfer rumours swirling around Kyra Cooney-Cross.



Mackenzie Arnold saved three penalties in the shootout against France. (Optus Sport)

To sum up last month's experience, it started as the chance to witness world-class female athletes in Australia's stadiums and to see the venues where we frequently watch our local clubs become gripped in something seldom seen in this country.

It also became the moment Australia fell in love with the Matildas. Football fans may have known how good and likeable this team is. But the World Cup has thrust them into the mainstream, and Australian sport is better for it.

New precedents have been set for women's football in this country now, and fans eager to get their Matildas fix are already scrambling to get tickets to the Olympic qualifiers in Perth in October.

So, between the 1.9 million people in the stands throughout the tournament, the millions watching at home, and the one incredible experience that connected Australia in a way it hasn’t been in a long time, it’s safe to say women’s football, perhaps even women's sport, will never be the same again.

To quote Steph Catley: “World Cup’s crazy bruh.”

Click here to read Cody's review of the Matildas World Cup campaign!


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