The Matildas effect in my own home

by Som Puri
Friday 26 April 2024

Matildas Running

I always said spectator sports weren't for me. But maybe that wasn’t what the problem was afterall.

Run like a girl, throw like a girl, play like a girl – casual comments handed out as jokes. The effect on me, the same each time –  that prick of anger, hot tears. “Are we still here?” I’d think, folding up my daughter’s many sports jerseys.

Until the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Slowly and steadily at first, but then as a collective phenomena with the force of the entire country behind them, playing like a girl took on a new meaning. Sam Kerr, Ellie Carpenter, Mary Fowler, Caitlin Foord and the rest of the Matildas team burst onto the field, being everything women are – fast, switched on, banded together and tenacious. Strong but also soft, strategic but also kind.  

And they were winning – winning not despite, but because of all the qualities we’ve been told make women and sport not go together. Or somehow make them worth lesser – lesser prize money, lesser club benefits, lesser funding.

But the Matildas are showing the world otherwise. With landslide wins across the Northern and Southern hemisphere in the 2-part qualifier against Uzbekistan, they've announced that they'll continue doing it in the 2024 Paris Olympics too. 

Now I did not grow up with a family culture of sport, and later on didn't really understand sports fans and their mania. Maybe it was an unconscious internalisation of the message that sport was somehow not meant for me.  But it's different this time – I don't feel like an outsider. I've watched every game the Matildas have played, feeling included and invested even though I cannot state with precision what an offside or a goal aggregate really is. 

Because it doesn't really matter. You don’t have to be a Soccer fan to feel the Matildas effect, but there is a high chance you will be one once you watch them play.

"...for many everyday Australians, the Matildas effect is about representation. It is about seeing women thrive in spaces they were banned from not so long ago." 

- Som Puri

I might not know the technical terms, but I do know my own set of details – why Raso wears a ribbon in her hair, that Heyman broke her 6 year sabbatical by leading the “demolition” in the qualifiers, that the Tilly’s have their newest recruit – debutant Kaitlyn Torpey. I know what an ACL means, not just medically, but for a whole nation who is holding its breath to watch Sam Kerr do her magic. I know that nearly all of the players have had their start in the A league, and that we need much more accountability and support at these early stages for young women in soccer.

So for me, the Matildas effect starts right here, in my very own home – with me being able to claim sport as mine just as much as anyone else's, with my 5 year old daughter sitting of the very edge of my lap to watch Michelle Heyman score, repeatedly saying, “Oh mum, that’s a really good kick.” 

This effect then flows over onto my street – where we have regular viewing parties, not just attended by women and their daughters, but also girl dads and regular dads and non-dads and everyone else. Between Marvel stadium selling out 54,000 tickets in 24 hours for the Melbourne leg of the Olympic qualifier to the trains brimming with fully kitted Tillies look-alikes, that effect extends to the cities and small towns and the country overall. 

Yes, the Matildas effect is about the Soccer, yes it is about winning. But for many everyday Australians, the Matildas effect is about representation. It is about seeing women thrive in spaces they were banned from not so long ago. It is seeing women of colour like Sam Kerr and Mary Fowler representing Australia on a world stage. It's working mothers in professional football, it’s babies on the field at the end of a work day. 

It’s having important conversations, long overdue. It’s going from sport sometimes having some human stories, to it being one big human story we all need to pay attention to. 

Matildas Cheering