Emerging Sports Writer Alumni Sienna Nobile reflects on the growth of women’s football coverage in the lead up to the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
I sat in my Nonna’s Lexus in her driveway, the breaks on, windows down. As the passenger, I was in charge of the music. It was something Italian—something we could both sing along to. My soccer bag was on the floor of her backseat and my boots were at my feet next to my shiny school shoes. We were waiting for my Nonno to open the garage door. Nonna had left her remote inside the house.
“I watched the Matildas play last night,” my Nonna told me as the garage door began to roll upwards. It was 2016, and the Rio Olympic Games were what the world was talking about. A time we can look back to with no pandemic and no stay-at-home orders. It was a pre-Covid era, when sport could be played without delay and the only reason for postponement was torrential rain and golf-ball sized hail. “They were wonderful to watch,” she continued. “A lot of them are playing for Australian clubs at the moment too.” I looked at her quizzically. I hadn’t heard of the Matildas qualifying, and I told her so.
“Oh, well they won against Zimbabwe. They scored six goals. Isn’t that fantastic!”
That is fantastic, I remember thinking to myself as Nonna parked the car. What wasn’t fantastic was that I didn’t know. I hopped out of the car, grabbing my boots and bag on the way. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. The years leading up I had heard plenty of buzz surrounding our friendlies and qualifying matches, announcements of the international games at Melbourne Victory women’s games if I was lucky enough to go, and only so much as a hush from the girls at soccer that we had made it through. But as we participated in the Games, the talk had come to a halt. I was initially angry, before I had calmed down and realised my anger was instead disappointment. I’d heard plenty of the men’s team, the Socceroos prior to the Olympics and they had not even qualified. Had Australian media let women’s sport down so much that a 14-year-old playing in an all-girls division was completely unaware of their qualification?
Yes, Australian media had.
I won’t ever forget that day. It is still such a core memory for me and everytime I watch a women’s soccer match I remember it. That night as I stepped onto the field for a training session, I asked a couple of my teammates if they had watched any of the matches the Matildas had played. I was met with shakes of the head and simple “no”s. One of the girls remarked that they were unaware we had qualified for a spot in the Olympics that year.
One year later, I watched the Matilda’s play live and up close.
Two years later the (then) W-League took off. Six years later, I am watching women’s soccer every week and counting down the days until Australia and New Zealand will host the upcoming Women’s World Cup.
In 2017, my soccer club organised tickets for us girls in U/15s to watch the Matildas in a friendly against China at AAMI Park. We were the only girls team in my club and it was a big deal. Boys from age groups above and below us joined as well as we all sat together, revelling in what was the awe of watching Australia’s Matildas. They had begun their world-domination and it shone a light on the developing W-League (now A-League Women’s) that I now watch religiously from November-February each year.
There’s comfort in the knowledge that I can flick on the TV and stream a game, relief that I can hop on a train to Richmond and experience a game in person. When I was in my peak of playing soccer, there wasn’t such ease of access. Commentary was mostly viewed by scrolling Twitter and matches were sometimes recorded by spectators and illegally uploaded to YouTube—if you weren’t at the match, you really were missing out.
However, Australia has progressed since then. Ten and Paramount+ now stream all A-League matches with the A-League Women’s games being accessible 24/7 on Paramount+, complete with match highlights, replays and mini matches. It was only six years ago my friends and I were making our own highlights reels from said illegal YouTube videos and sending them to each other because who would make match highlights for a women’s club soccer match?
I now look back on my introduction to women’s football in Australia and wonder how it had been possible that there was such a lack of coverage. I consumed every type of media that I could get my hands on, the fact that I still managed to avoid any coverage of the players that I dreamt of being every night representing my nation still baffles me. Now there are no excuses.
With the countdown to the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup underway, Australian women’s football is at its peak, accompanied by the successful bid to host the tournament on Australian and New Zealand soil. Opening our doors to such international talent through this global mega-event in our home country will create a new legacy for women’s football in Australia as well as its media coverage. A bright future awaits all those 14-year-old girls, who will hopefully never not know all there is to know about Australia’s own Matildas.