Lydia Williams: Influential Matilda & Indigenous Role Model

In the third of our special features for our charity partners John Moriarty Football’s Indigenous Football Week, Kieran Yap profiles Lydia Williams, Arsenal’s hugely experienced goalkeeper who is well worth keeping an eye on both on and off the pitch.

Above: Lydia Williams pictured in typical pose whilst playing for Australia. Photo: Sky Sports.

Australia’s goalkeeper is waiting and watching as the time nears.

It is a moment that requires patience, careful planning, and precise movement but as always Lydia Williams is ready.

One of the world’s best strikers approaches, She is doing the same thing she had done countless times before and then Williams…

…Launches out from underneath the merchandise table, screaming and visibly startling Sam Kerr.

Before that, Clare Polkinghorne was the victim of the Matildas number one’s notorious pranks. The unflappable defender was suddenly faced with Williams in a hockey mask from behind a curtain.

Lydia Williams has been a fixture in the Matildas lineup since the age of 15. The Kalgoorlie-born shot-stopper is one of the most influential members of the squad. A star goalkeeper, a driver of the culture, and a source of fun for fans.

Williams is a veteran of three World Cups, has won the PFA player of the year twice, and was recognized as the goalkeeper of the year on three occasions in Australia.

In the NWSL she was first-choice goalkeeper at two clubs and started every game for the Houston Dash and Seattle Reign.

Fans across the U.S, Australia, and now Britain have been lucky enough to watch her play for their clubs. But in an alternate universe, it might never have happened.

As a child, Williams played Aussie Rules. It was only after a move to a city without a team that she switched codes.

“It wasn’t until I moved to Canberra where there was no AFL so the closest thing to it for me was playing soccer and playing as goalkeeper so I fit in pretty naturally into that,” she told NITV in June this year.

Once the move was made, her reputation steadily rose on the back of impressive performances and hard work. She was signed by Canberra United in 2008 and by the 2015 World Cup, she was Australia’s first choice ‘keeper.

Above: Lydia Williams is now one of many Matildas stars playing in the FAWSL. Photo: Arsenal FC.

In that tournament, Williams established herself as one of the world’s best.

The knockout win against Brazil is remembered for Kyah Simon’s winning goal but Williams’ 90th minute save from Christiane was a decisive moment.

Earlier in the game, she spectacularly denied Formiga in one of the saves of the tournament. Williams was equal to the rocket from the Brazilian legend, launching and saving with the trailing hand,

“I’ve been training for that all my career and it finally paid off today,” Williams told the Sydney Morning Herald at the time.

“Honestly, I just knew they were going to shoot so for me it was high-up in the corner of the goal and that time it was more likely that a trailing hand would get to that height.”

Even when not on the field, Williams’ influence is enormous. When Australia completed their historic win over Team GB at the Tokyo Olympics. Williams remained on the bench throughout, but she celebrated loudly, visibly, and as enthusiastically as any of the on-field players.

She is a role model to many now herself, but like many others once looked up to other high profile athletes.

Speaking to Suzanne Wrack at The Guardian in April of 2021, she recalled watching Cathy Freeman’s legendary run at the 2000 Olympics.

Above: Lydia Williams speaks of her Indigenous Australian role models. Photo: Australian Olympic Committee.

“I still get goosebumps whenever I watch that video.

“She had the whole nation and a whole culture on her shoulders. And she was just so cool, calm, and collected throughout the whole thing. And the whole country remembers it.

“I’d love to do that myself and inspire the next generation of athletes, not just footballers, but athletes and especially Indigenous athletes.

“There’s such an untapped talent pool there and I’d just love to go out into different communities and just inspire that generation to dream big and make it for themselves.”

Williams’ example, profile, and career can have untold benefits for Australian sport, women’s football, and indigenous athletes.

It is often said that you cannot be what you cannot see and Williams is extremely visible and feels very accessible to fans.

She is an Olympian, an Arsenal player, a Matilda, a published author of two children’s books, and a social media star on Tik Tok, in the early days of lockdown her videos became a mix of bizarre and hilarious to the delight of her fans.  

Representation matters and Williams represents both herself and thousands of others seemingly effortlessly.

She is an inductee into the Aboriginal and Islander Sports Hall Of Fame already and her career still has years to go.

This week, it is worth taking a moment to recognize that we are all very fortunate to be football fans in the time of Lydia Williams.

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