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  • Writer's pictureAntonis Pagonis

What Matildas and Socceroos World Cup supporters need to do now

Australia’s quest for home FIFA Women’s World Cup glory culminated in 42% of the country tuning in to Channel 7 alone to watch the Matildas take on England. The tournament was a landmark moment for Australian football. But for real, long-term impact, each part of the country’s football community must play its role.

For one month, the Matildas managed to unite Australia's fractured football community. (Twitter: @TheMatildas)


In the lead-up to Australia’s FIFA Women’s World Cup Semi-Final against England, broadcaster Daniel Garb made an astute observation about the makeup of the country's football community via a Twitter post. Most fans argue whether Australia is a football nation or not. Garb said it is but believes football's following is a fractured one.

Football is a global phenomenon, and nothing symbolises that like a World Cup. In the past 12 months, the Matildas and the Socceroos have captured the country’s attention, reaching their respective World Cup Semi-Final and Round of 16 stages before being eliminated by a female finalist and the male winner, respectively.


Those achievements hold Australian football in good stead globally and would frankly make some out-and-out “football nations” envious. Unfortunately, the fractures Garb refers to have traditionally been hurdles too significant to overcome when discussing the Australian game.


Australia's national teams reflect the country’s football community globally; fans have backed them in numbers throughout tournaments, regardless of their priorities or allegiances. Everyone has a role to play in the future; Front Page Football takes a closer look into the actions Australia's diverse fan groups must carry out as the game moves forward.


The "rusted-on" fans


You know you are part of this category if you have consistently said things like, “Australia is a football nation” and, “You are not going to know what hits you when the World Cup comes to Australia” in the past 12 months. Now, you are feeling proud and vindicated that both of Australia’s national football teams proved you right and captured the imagination of the rest of the country in the process.


Mornings like when the Socceroos took on Denmark and Argentina, or nights like when Australia took on France and England, is why you strongly support the game. On those occasions, it does not matter if the AFL drops a fixture during the event or if an out-of-touch radio presenter tries to focus on a small minority not representing football fans; football is what everyone is talking about.


Staying positive and resilient while also calling out the issues hindering the game and remaining motivated enough to do it through the bumps is not easy but extremely important. Simply put, your behaviour makes Australia a “football nation.”


When a presenter like Kelly Somers comes from her home country, England, the quintessential football nation, and talks about how impressed she was at how much Australia appreciates the game, you know such praise comes from the groundwork you and thousands of other like-minded stakeholders have put in. For the bandwagon effect to occur, the general public needs something tangible to jump on to.


During events like a World Cup, the enthusiasm of fans who have been spruiking their game for years is palpable and very easy to spread. As a football fan priding themselves on supporting the sport through good and bad, you need to continue talking about it to whoever is willing to listen.


Speak about what makes Australian football special, speak about the young player you saw debut for your local club, who is now representing their country and playing overseas, and chat about what delights and frustrates you with your game. Passion and genuine interest cannot be faked, and displaying that, even though you may not always be able to tell, impacts anyone you encounter who is connected with football. It is our job - and I include myself here - to educate and welcome people on board for the long term, should they choose to come on board.


Exclusively men's football fans


You appreciate domestic Australian football, and you are an avid supporter of your club. But for whatever reason, your passion does not translate to the women’s game. Failing to replicate the love for women's football can be for various reasons we will not explore here. But there is an important reason why men's football fans in Australia should begin making a conscious effort to support the women’s game in the country.


Men’s football is the biggest spectacle in world sports for a reason. It has been played for hundreds of years. It has received investment and support from all community levels over the years. According to Football Australia, the first public match of association women’s football in Australia was played in 1921 in Brisbane, with over 10,000 fans in attendance to watch North Brisbane defeat South Brisbane 2-0.


Not long after the emergence in popularity of women’s football, the FA requested clubs not to lend their grounds for female football matches, stating, “the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged", encouraging more “medically appropriate” sports such as swimming as alternatives.


It was not until the 1970s that women’s football experienced a resurgence. But the female side of the sport and its momentum was effectively dashed for half a century. Women’s football had to play, and in many respects is still playing, to catch up to its male counterparts.


Support is required to help women’s football grow to its potential quickly; once fans are on board, things will start clicking, just as occurred with European champions and World Cup Finalists England. The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup proved the women’s game is a quality product and can garner interest and revenue on the way to becoming more profitable.


Australians already supporting an A-League Men club know how it feels to be marginalised compared to more commercially “significant” codes in the country. The A-League Women's competition has those other codes to compete with for attention and their male counterparts.

Along with the natural interest garnered during the FIFA Women’s World Cup, should some of the A-League Men fans who attended the tournament begin attending the women’s competition to support the female equivalent of their male club, the league would exponentially grow. Any fan that does their research can find ways their local club supported one or multiple of the heroic Matildas that captured Australia’s hearts in 2023.


The "Eurosnob" fans


You are unbothered about the comings and goings of the domestic football scene in your country. But your passion for the sport cannot be doubted as you wake up, or stay up, at crazy hours of the night to follow the fortunes of your European side. Australia's connection with that side of the world garnered your attention during two World Cups this past year.


The appeal of an international football tournament is hard to resist. Like us, I'm sure you were undoubtedly proud of Australia’s achievements at the Men’s and Women’s World Cups; it is your country, after all. You don’t have to be a football person to bask in the glory of international achievement. But you are one, so you surely understand that the fortunes of Australia's domestic league closely correlate with the means and ends of its national teams.


You only have to look at the careers of the Socceroos and Matildas who represented Australia at the tournaments to understand the importance of the A-Leagues in the country's standing as a football nation.


Only five of the 26 Socceroos in Qatar have never been involved with an A-Leagues club, with only Fran Karačić and Harry Souttar not experiencing any part of the Australian football landscape before their Socceroos involvement. Meanwhile, regarding the Matildas, a squad that progressed to the Semi-Finals of a home World Cup, every team member has featured for an A-Leagues side, with France penalty shootout hero Cortnee Vine even recommitting herself to Sydney FC this week.


Not everyone will have the financial capability or time to attend A-Leagues games every week. But the achievements of Australia's national sides are surely enough for the league to get onto people’s radars. Australian players are moving to European competitions - the ones you choose to respect over the A-Leagues - at an accelerated rate. They are starting to have more impact on their new sides in England, Scotland, France, and Belgium, to name a few.

Should overseas teams continue to recognise the capability of Australia's football assets, as a country, we should begin doing the same. At the bare minimum, the quality and purpose of the A-Leagues need to start being spoken about with more respect by a fan community who view themselves as educated regarding the world game.

The politician "fans"


“Australia is a representative democracy where voters elect candidates to carry out the business of government on their behalf”, or at least that is how its federal government sells the country to their people. Each Australian electorate votes on members to represent their interests in Parliament. But at some point, you must ask whether those interests are accurately represented.


Fans in the “rusted on” category will go blue in the face speaking about their frustrations that football is by far the most popular grassroots sport in the country but receives a minuscule amount of funding from all levels of government compared to AFL, cricket, and rugby.


Despite allegedly representing their constituents, many Members of Parliament who have been elected to their job by voters allow their constituents and families to suffer the side effects of a lack of funding, with parts of the country not having adequate facilities for more numbers, girls’ teams, or playable pitches during a large portion of winter. Should any of those voters neglect their workplace's duties to the extent certain state governments have failed their country’s most popular sport regarding participation, they would not be employed for too long.


The past 12 months are irrefutable proof, within Australia's borders, that football is a sport of the people. This fact is one that Members of Parliament recognised themselves, being more than happy to throw on a Matildas or Socceroos scarf, take selfies, and post their thoughts on the inspirational teams while "awarding" football ten cents on the dollar when it comes time to allocate funding.

What makes this matter even more baffling is that other sports can benefit more through funding than football from the most prominent women's football event. Women's sport did not inspire Australia; women's football did, and it is desperate for funding, which is currently being siphoned away from it by the happy-clapping politicians who were happy to receive a PR boost from both national teams only weeks or months earlier.


Spare Australian football of your “support” a few nights a year if you cannot back it in Parliament or through funding that will make a real difference. Anyone can put together a couple of words on Facebook, but your constituents voted you in to represent their interests; the facts and figures tell a story, and it is time you listened and acted accordingly.


The Socceroos and Matildas represent Australia as a country, with its representatives coming from every imaginable walk of life with the people they inspire coming from even further. The responsibility has been placed on you to set up an environment for the next generation; the people have spoken, and it is time to fulfil their wishes.

 

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Despite the seemingly constant dissatisfaction, chaos, and frustration, Australian football, at least on the international stage, is in a powerful position. Should its fans play their unique roles and begin mending those fractures in our landscape, the game, at home and abroad, will be better for it, and so will the next generations of Matildas and Socceroos.


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