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‘Unimaginable dream’ comes to life for the Matildas pioneers of 1979

On Friday, Dolan was walking on sunshine after awaking to the news that the biggest tournament in women’s sport is coming to Australia and New Zealand in 2023.

The legendary midfielder, for whom the W-League’s player of the year award is named, Dolan – now 59 – was part of the team that played in Australia’s first women’s ‘A’ international match against New Zealand at Seymour Shaw Park, back in October 1979.

Julie Dolan spent her entire playing career outside of the mainstream spotlight. On Thursday night, she was on the Sydney Opera House sails.

Julie Dolan spent her entire playing career outside of the mainstream spotlight. On Thursday night, she was on the Sydney Opera House sails.Credit:Getty Images

“If you ask anyone back in those days where they wanted football to go, they’d say right here, right now,” she said.

“The Matildas at the top of the tree, World Cup on our soil … what more could you ask for?”

The hard yards are done. The days when the Matildas didn’t have two pennies to rub together, back when they wore hand-me-down men’s jerseys, stitched on the Australian coat of arms themselves, paid for their own airfares, and sold everything from lamingtons to nude calendars just to make ends meet … those days are over for good.

In more recent years, the Matildas have listened to the jibes that the women’s game was leeching off the revenue brought into Australian football by the men, and needed to start paying their own way.

If you ask anyone back in those days where they wanted football to go, they’d say right here, right now.

Former Matildas captain Julie Dolan

How the tables have turned – it’s now the men’s game being saved by the women.

The bandwagon is swelling already in classic Aussie style, but for the true believers, this is a moment to truly savour.

Julie Dolan in action during that famous game against New Zealand on October 6, 1979.

Julie Dolan in action during that famous game against New Zealand on October 6, 1979.Credit:Kevin Zakaras

“It’s like an unimaginable dream come true,” said Shona Bass, another midfielder from of the class of ’79.

“We had the worst fields, the worst lights for training, the worst nights for training, we had to raise money to get our gear or play interstate or international.

“So much hard work has gone into getting to this point, over decades and decades – the administrators, coaches, players, families, parents. It’s the type of grassroots momentum that’s built the tsunami to this point.”

Jim Selby, the Matildas’ first coach and a long-time technical advisor for FIFA, says he still gets a “buzz” when he thinks back to where women’s football started in Australia and how far it’s come since. What comes next, he reckons, is an experience few are actually ready for.

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“I’ve been involved in about 12 World Cups in my time – 17s, 20s, Olympics, senior World Cup, Confederation Cup. I know how big it is to be there and how it has an impact on the public,” Selby said.

“I don’t think the players – and some people in the game – will realise how big this is until it actually happens.

“I can see here in Australia, the emotion it will generate, from schoolchildren to primary school to high school into general public, will be absolutely fantastic. I just think it’s absolutely marvellous for the country, for the players and for women’s football … [the ’79 team] will be so proud of the work they first did to establish where we are now.”

But Bass believes 2023 is just a landmark on the journey, not the destination itself. There is still plenty of work to do to get there, particularly at a grassroots level – where women and girls make up less than a quarter of registered players in Australia – and in coaching, since every W-League team at the moment is controlled by a male.

“It’s been a continual struggle, and to be honest there’s remnants of that still that are embedded in the culture today, that I’m hoping we’ll move past,” Bass said.

“This is monumental, but what’s more important is how we lever this off for the game and the young girls and women, to get them participating in the game for as long as we can and give them an opportunity to achieve their optimal self.

“When we achieve that, that’s the model all women’s sports can aspire to.”

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