The story of women’s football in Australia has almost a century of history. From informal beginnings in 1920s Brisbane, the women’s game spread across the country to Lithgow (New South Wales), Morley (Western Australia) and Greensborough/ Melton (Victoria).
THE EARLY YEARS
As the momentum grew through the late 1970s, calls for a women’s national team were eventually answered.
The first Australian squad assembled in 1978 for the first World Women’s Invitational Tournament in Chinese Taipei.
Selected by the first coach Jim Selby and captained by Connie Byrnes, much of the team came from Western Australia (the National Champions for that year) and New South Wales.
While Australia finished the tournament in 8th place, Anna Senjuschenko was voted a star player of the tournament by the media and Byrnes named “Miss Football” for Australia.
Australia’s first official match on home soil was on 6 October 1979 against New Zealand at Seymour Shaw Park, New South Wales.
The Australia-New Zealand rivalry would be a staple throughout the next two decades.
Women’s football spread across the globe in the 80s as more national teams became active in Asia, Europe and the Americas.
FIFA recognised the growth of the women’s game in 1988 introducing a 12 nation pilot Women's World Cup in China.
Two wins in the group stage, including a famous 1-0 win over Brazil, resulted in Australia making the quarter finals before bowing out to hosts China.
TEAM OF THE DECADE (1979 – 1989)
Major Tournaments: First ever A international, OFC Women's Championship 1983, 1986 & 1989, FIFA pilot World Cup 1988
1. Theresa Deas (GK), 2. Rose Van Bruinessen, (D) 3. Andrea Martin (D), 4. Joanne Millman (D), 5. Michelle Sawyers (D), 6. Sue Monteath (M), 7. Julie Dolan (M) (c), 8. Cindy Heydon (M). 9. Sandra Brentnall (F), 10. Renaye Iserief (F), 11. Leanne Priestley (F)
Coach: Fred Robbins
STEPPING ONTO THE WORLD STAGE
In the 90s, a new generation of footballers started to make their impact on the national team.
Australia missed a berth for the inaugural FIFA Women’s World Cup 1991 in China but continued to be dominant in Oceania claiming the OFC Women’s Champions in 1994 and 1998.
1995 saw Australia back on the world stage for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 1995. It was also the first year where the national team took on the “Matildas” name, after the popular Australian bush ballad Waltzing Matilda.
FIFA Women’s World Cup 1995 was a tough tournament for the Matildas as they were unable to navigate through a group with Denmark, China and the United States. A piece of history was made during the tournament with Angela Iannotta scoring Australia’s first ever FIFA Women’s World Cup goal.
By FIFA Women’s World Cup 1999, Australian women’s football was on a steady climb and it showed on the pitch in the competitiveness of the Matildas. The 1999 tournament in the USA saw another piece of history recorded when a 1-1 draw with Ghana produced Australia’s first FIFA Women’s World Cup point.
TEAM OF THE DECADE (1990 – 1999)
Major Tournaments: FIFA Women’s World Cups 1995 & 1999, OFC Women's Championship 1991, 1994 & 1998
1. Tracey Wheeler (GK), 2. Traci Bartlett (D), 3. Alison Forman (D) (c), 4. Sonia Gegenhuber (D), 5. Anissa Tann (D), 6. Moya Dodd (M), 7. Sharon Black (F), 8. Lisa Casagrande (MF), 9. Sunni Hughes (F), 10. Julie Murray (F), 11. Carol Vinson (M)
Coach: Greg Brown
SUCCESS IN A NEW CENTURY
In the 2000s, the popularity of women’s football went to new levels in Australia.
It began with the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games where over 87,000 spectators saw the Matildas live in the women’s football tournament. In a tough group alongside Germany, Brazil and Sweden, the national team won many admirers with their play and “Never Say Die” attitude against the powerhouse nations.
In 2003 Australia again claimed the OFC Women’s Championships to qualify for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2003. In that tournament the Matildas picked up another point as they bowed out in the group stage.
2005 saw a re-birth of Australian football with the formation of Football Federation Australia. The national team came under the umbrella of the new federation and with it came further growth and new success.
In their first AFC Women’s Asian Cup since 1975, the Matildas claimed silver on home soil in 2006.
The positive steps forward continued the following year where Australia finally broke through at the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2007. The Matildas achieved a first Women’s World Cup win over Ghana followed by draws with Norway and Canada. The four points were enough for Australia to qualify for the quarter-finals where they gallantly went down to eventual finalists Brazil in an entertaining match.
Australia’s momentum and hard work was rewarded at the end of the decade at the 2010 AFC Women’s Asian Cup. Finishing second in Group B, Australia defeated Japan 1-0 in the semi-finals before winning in a penalty shootout against DPR Korea in the final.
The title was Australia’s first major silverware in the Asian Football Confederation.
TEAM OF THE DECADE (2000 – 2013)
Major Tournaments: FIFA Women’s World Cup 2003, 2007 & 2011, AFC Asian Cup 2006, 2008 and 2010, Olympic Games 2000 & 2004
1. Melissa Barbieri (GK), 2. Collette McCallum (D), 3. Clare Polkinghorne (D), 4. Cheryl Salisbury (D) (c), 5. Dianne Alagich (D), 6. Sally Shipard (M), 7. Heather Garriock (M), 8. Joanne Peters (M), 9. Sarah Walsh (F), 10. Kate Gill (F), 11. Lisa De Vanna (F)
Coach: Tom Sermanni
REACHING NEW HEIGHTS
The end of the decade saw many of the old guard retire from the game with greats including Australia’s highest capped footballer, Cheryl Salisbury. Following on from the victory in 2010, the newest generation of Matildas stepped onto the world stage at the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011.
The young Matildas, with an average age of 22, won their way into the hearts of new fans with their skilful and exciting style of play. Australia again made the quarter finals after wins over Equatorial Guinea and Norway in the group stage before facing defeat to Sweden.
Defending champions at the 2014 AFC Women’s Asian Cup, under new coach Alen Stajcic the Matildas went close to going back-to-back, but World Champions Japan stopped them at the final hurdle.
The FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015 saw the national team write their next piece of Australian history as they progressed to the Round of 16 in Canada. Against traditional rival Brazil, Australia re-produced their 1988 result with a 1-0 victory. It was the first time any senior Australian team had won a knock out match at a FIFA tournament.
Building on 2015, Australia broke an Olympic Games drought when they qualified in style for the 2016 Rio Olympics. Advancing out of the group in Rio, the tournament ended in heartbreak for Australia as this time Brazil ended Australia’s Olympic dreams.
Despite the loss, the Matildas again earned a new legion of fans thanks to their heart and attractive football. The rise of the Matildas continued in 2017 to see them become one of the top sides in the world and a beloved national team in Australia.
In that period, the team claimed the 2017 Tournament of Nations, where they defeated current World Champions the United States and top 10 nations Japan and Brazil along the way.
In 2018, the Matildas qualified their seventh consecutive FIFA Women’s World Cup when they won silver at the 2018 AFC Women’s Asian Cup.