A Chat With Australia’s Top Women’s Football Journalists – How Good?!

Ben Gilby spoke to four of Australia’s leading women’s football journalists who also present The Far Post Podcast. Sam Lewis (Guardian Australia), Anna Harrington (AAP Newswire), Angela Christian-Wilkes (Beyond 90 AU) and Marissa Lordanic (Beyond 90 AU) talk to him about their show and how they view the domestic and international game in Australia right now.

We opened the chat by discussing how the podcast came about. “The four of us came together as part of a larger group of friends who all went to the Women’s World Cup together in France 2019. But we’re all lifelong football fans. We’ve all covered the game as volunteers and for media organisations. We’ve written hundreds of articles between us for print and online, covered major tournaments, commentated matches, appeared on radio and TV and other podcasts to talk about and analyse the women’s game.”

“The podcast began in the middle of Melbourne’s lockdown as a little bit of a joke. Thankfully a few people encouraged us to actually pursue it. We had a few zoom meetings about how we wanted to approach things and have been recording almost weekly since September 2020.”

“At its heart it’s a football podcast. We’re a bunch of friends who also happen to be fans of the game. We love talking about the action on the pitch, having a laugh at the lighter moments, and trying to add nuance and analysis to matters on and off the field. There’s an absolute abundance of podcasts on football, especially men’s football, but fewer on women’s football and even fewer still with an Australian focus. It’s the kind of podcast we’d all like to listen to so we went ahead and made it.”

Despite football having to compete with Aussie Rules, Rugby League and Cricket, the Matildas and their stars are loved and have a pretty high profile in Australia. I wondered how the Far Post crew could explain this profile: “Support from the public is always a little dependent on being successful and since the 2015 Women’s World Cup when the Matildas became the first senior Australian team to win a knockout game at the tournament, people have taken notice of them. The team has played good football and has always been filled with incredible players, but women’s sport globally was starting to have a moment and Australia and football were no different. The team was so good you couldn’t ignore them and once the public got to know them and fell in love with them it’s continued to grow.”

Whilst it’s great that so many Matildas are now playing for top clubs around the world, I wondered what their feeling was on the positives and negatives are of the situation on domestic Australian women’s club football. 

“We’ve kind of gone through the full gamut of emotions with the Matildas exodus,” the Far Post group said. “There was so much worry and anxiety about how the W-League would fare in those early stages from all of us. And for the most part it was valid. The general belief was how can we attract fans when all those big names that the general public will recognise aren’t there? What is the standard of football going to be like without the very best Australian players?”

“But as we got closer to the season and now in the season proper I think the community as a whole has realised this is overall a good thing. There are so many more opportunities for young players who had perhaps previously only been making substitute appearances or fighting for a place. Now they not only have the opportunity to shine but the responsibility to make the big plays and be the game changers for their teams and so far they’re absolutely delivering in spades.”

“It’s a shame that we arguably never fully utilised the star power of the likes of Sam Kerr and Caitlin Foord and Steph Catley but we’re beginning to see the emergence of new stars. If we continue to give them the strongest possible platform here in Australia – a professional league with a full home and away season – they will continue to showcase their talent. The football has still been good and exciting even if it isn’t filled with the names and faces so many people are instantly familiar with.”

This season’s W-League campaign has produced some hugely enjoyable football and things are quite open at the top and bottom of the table. The focus for the W-League now is to keep attention high for supporters and the general media with home World Cup ahead. The Far Post’s views on what needs to be done to achieve this is exceptionally important.

“The league itself has been doing a great job first and foremost with making sure we have a season to enjoy! The permutations with Covid and borders has meant it’s been a real logistical nightmare. But the league and the players and the clubs and everyone else involved have been adaptable to their immense credit.”

“There has been some great content produced highlighting the players to watch and the storylines that are emerging from the season. Broadcasting has been a bit of an issue and it’s a topic we’ve covered extensively on the podcast. It’s pretty much universally acknowledged that growing the game involves people being able to watch it and that hasn’t always been the case this season. A functioning, high quality broadcast should be the minimum standard now in the W-League.”

“How the game is broadcast is massively important. Making it accessible has been achieved thanks to every game being available to stream and the one game a week on free to air. There needs to be more coverage generally but engaging with the media that is currently out there shows the people in charge that there is an appetite for more of this kind of coverage. This means not only reading and sharing the work of the major sports media companies but engaging with the passionate and dedicated fan-made media too.”

Above: Captured during the recording of an episode – Top left: Sam Lewis (The Guardian Australia), Top right: Anna Harrington (AAP Newswire), Bottom Left: Angela Christian-Wilkes (Beyond ’90 AU) and Bottom Right: Marissa Lordanic (Beyond ’90 AU).

In terms of where the W-League goes next, one of the priorities has to be a full home and away season, given the inherent unfairness of the current schedule. “People have wanted a full home and away season forever. You ask anyone associated with the game about how to improve the W-League and one of the first things they will mention is extending the season,” the Far Post gang told me.

“The league has improved in so many ways – minimum remuneration and medical standards have been brought in, the league is more visible that it has ever been thanks to streaming services. The next logical steps in that continued growth is a full home and away season and a fully professional league. Covid has thrown a spanner in the works in so many ways, including financially, but a full home and away season should be a priority for the new independent leagues.”

One of the major plus points of this year’s W-League campaign is the emergence of some fantastic talent. Whereas the likes of Kyra Cooney-Cross, Jamilla Rankin and Jada Whyman-Mathyssen has caught the eye of Impetus so far, I wondered who the stand out players for The Far Post group are:

“There are so many good players with so many interesting stories to look out for. Kyra Cooney-Cross at Melbourne Victory has grown into this super dynamic midfielder since she debuted at the age of fifteen (and she’s still in her teens!). There’s players jumping up from the NPLW competitions (elite state leagues) across the country like Catherine Zimmerman and Mariel Hecher. Teagan Micah is a Matilda but has spent most of her career in the US college system so we’re being treated to her spectacular efforts in goal. Emily Condon and Dylan Holmes are doing good things at Adelaide United. Lily Alfeld has been awesome for Perth Glory. Tara Andrews and Michelle Heyman are by no means new to the W-League but their golden boot battle is going to be fascinating. Is it too late to say all of them?”

At the other end of the spectrum are vastly experienced players who are absolutely smashing it at the moment – led by Michelle Heyman and Lisa De Vanna. “How good! They are just two of the amazing stories in the W-League this season. Michelle is looking to chase down Sam Kerr’s all-time W-League goal scoring record and Lisa is showing us all just how excellent she is and has always been.”

The next three years is potentially really exciting for the Matildas with the Olympics, Asia Cup and World Cup. I asked the Far Post gang what they felt would success in this period realistically look like.

“It’s a huge three years and when you add in the 2024 Olympics in Paris it’s even bigger! We can’t look too far ahead and we also need to take into account how Covid has changed the entire landscape and factor that into the definition of success.”

“We still don’t have a full complement of countries qualified for the Tokyo Olympics. The Matildas last played a competitive match in March 2020, the USWNT have played three games in that time with another three lined up for February. European teams were taking part in Euro qualifiers throughout 2020.”

Without looking too far ahead, bettering the 2016 Olympics result will be a priority for this year. Similarly going one better in the Asian Cup in 2022 will also be super important. After winning the 2010 edition, the Matildas have lost the last two Asian Cup finals to Japan 1-0 so reclaiming that trophy – and maybe even getting one over Japan – would be great.”

With the next Women’s World Cup being co-hosted in Australia, we ended our discussion by talking about what the legacy for the competition should be in Australian women’s football.

“Every Women’s World Cup has grown from the one before it and the benefits to the host nations are well documented. We as Australians also know that hosting big tournaments is a massive deal and is sure to inspire the next generation of kids.”

“A lasting legacy for this tournament encompasses all levels of football. The Matildas doing well on the pitch would obviously be awesome. In turn, the W-League needs to prioritised and professionalised so it can truly reach its full potential as the place where Matildas are made. Women in this country will hopefully be able to play football professionally right here in their own backyards. Grassroots clubs will hopefully be using the next few years to increase their capacities and upgrade their facilities to ensure the influx of interest post-World Cup can be met”

“Everyone who wants to get involved after witnessing the Women’s World Cup here should be able to whether that is as a player, a coach, or a ref. It will also hopefully inspire more people – especially women – to get involved in governance, the media, and the admin side of the game. Plus fans should be able to enjoy even more quality football after getting to enjoy a month’s worth of the very best football on the planet.”

A new episode of The Far Post Podcast drops every Wednesday and can be found here: The Far Post (buzzsprout.com). They can also be found on Twitter: @TheFarPostPod

Impetus’ coverage of Australian Women’s Football is supported by The Chicken Salt Co. They are offering every Impetus reader 5% off all orders of Chicken Salt from their website. Go to https://www.chickensalt.co.uk/?mate=impetus and place your order – 5% will automatically be taken off of the cost. The coupon code is impetus.

Artwork: Graphics by PW.

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