Impetus editor Ben Gilby was born in South-West London but is known to be a long-time supporter of The Matildas, Australia’s national women’s team. He explains his journey from discovering this very special team to interviewing their players and reporting on their games (16/7/21).
Craven Cottage, Fulham FC on 9th October 2018. England v Australia. As a women’s football fan and someone born in nearby Roehampton, it was natural that I should be at the game (pictured above via Football Australia).
For many of my fellow countrymen and women, what was not natural was that I was there in the Matildas green and gold. It was the culmination of a number of years following Australian women’s football which started after becoming aware of Sam Kerr ten years earlier.
The Australian footballing legend grew up twenty minutes up the road from where the Western Australian branch of my own family live so my introduction to the women’s game out there was personal (for more details on this, see forthcoming player profile on Sam).
From East Fremantle, Kerr would go on to Perth Glory in the W-League where I saw her play in those formative years. The first Matildas experience for me came in the 2010 AFC Women’s Asian Cup (the Asia confederation’s version of the Euros) when 16 year-old Sam was part of the team that went all the way to the final in monsoon like conditions to take on North Korea. Kerr scored Australia’s goal in the 1-1 draw. Just imagine the scenes in my living room in the early hours of the morning when her goal went in. The team in green and gold went on to lift the title on penalties.
The Matildas therefore started off as the national side with a player I had a connection to. That rapidly developed on a wider scale. As social media developed more recently, the Australian women’s team have led the way in reaching out to and communicating with fans.
The Matildas are a team who, before many other national sides, recognised the importance of building links with their supporters.
Commenting on the player’s Twitter feeds about their performances or achievements will often lead to the players themselves replying to you or DM-ing you. This connection is something which has seen the Matildas become Australia’s most loved national sporting team – an award they won ahead of the men’s cricket, rugby league and rugby union teams – no mean feat.
Regular events for supporters online have been organised including some particularly aimed at Matildas fans overseas which involve players and the coaching staff. This is a group of people who just “get it”.
The longer this connection between player and supporter goes on, the better you come to know each other. Therefore you celebrate those wins even louder, you cry even more tears when painful defeats come round. You experience it together – hence the team’s logo #WeAreMatildas.
Putting fandom aside, since I have been fortunate to be able to write about women’s football, these very same players have been so helpful to supporting my work for both Impetus and Beyond90. It’s like being on a journey together and the next three years with Olympics, the AFC Asian Women’s Cup and a home World Cup mean that journey is going to be more exciting than ever.
Being known as “that English bloke who is obsessed about Australian women’s football” means that I am able to talk up the game Down Under publicly – and believe me, it is well worth talking up.
The next generation of Matildas are already coming through and some will be on display in Tokyo. Kyra Cooney-Cross has all the makings of a superstar of the future. Having first seen her as a 16 year-old, I can’t wait to see her explode on the world stage. Charli Grant is developing at pace and deserves all the success that comes her way in the future due to her dedication, ability and the fact that she is an example of the fact that genuinely nice people can succeed.
For me the Matildas are not just Australia’s national women’s football team – they are a group who know the struggles they have had to overcome to represent their country and are more than aware that they are inspiring the next generation of Australian girls to wear the shirt after them.
This is why they are my team. This is why that whenever they play England, I’ll be in the green and gold. It’s personal.