‘So this is how football fans always feel?’
For the longtime fanatics and diehards of the world game, the emotions and passion experienced over the past four weeks is the reason why they follow the sport.
Those intense sensations have been prominently elevated as the entire country has united to find a new admiration for football.
Heading into the Women’s World Cup, many were well aware of the sheer enormity of the tournament and the incredible potential attached to it.
With that being true, no one in their wildest imagination could have predicted the media attention and numbers that followed.
An average audience of 3.56 million watched the Matildas round of 16 match against Denmark, while last Saturday night’s quarter final against France would at the time become the most watched event since Cathy Freeman won gold at the 2000 Olympics.
That record would be broken four days later as 11.15 million viewers were glued to their screen for the semi-final on free-to-air alone, accounting for 42% of the population.
The Matildas have been the darlings of Australian sport for years now, but in a heartbeat they have gone from being loved to a heightened phenomenon.
Watching Australian football go through the struggles and tribulations in the past, what hits home is how many Aussies have converted from having no interest to being captivated and craving more.
World Cup fever has also made its way to the AFL, showing matches on the big screen and even postponing post-match press conferences.
Australians all around the country have enraptured in wild scenes of celebrations and euphoria that no other sport can provide.
Highs, lows, drama, tears of unbridled joy and tears of indescribable anguish, more Australians now understand the emotional rollercoaster that makes football so thrilling.
Whether it be on the front pages, the news, the radio, or the local streets, you simply can’t escape the buzz around the Matildas.
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Some Australians are taking to social media to express their impact that the Matildas have had throughout this World Cup.
“First time I’ve ever watched a soccer game, let alone these awesome girls. Edge of my seat the whole game. I’m definitely a fan now!!!”
“It’s the first soccer match I have watched from start to finish and had the feeling of tension during the shootout. I love the fact that women’s sport is starting to get the coverage it deserves”.
‘Never watched before last night’s game. Always thought that soccer was boring being a low-scoring game. Now I can see what my sons get so excited about! I was absolutely glued to this game. Totally thrilling”.
Going by the uneducated ‘low-scoring equals boring’ theory, that would mean the Matildas’ quarter-final against France was a snooze-fest, right?
Well, if you slept through it, that was ultimately your loss.
Aside from penalties which were gripping in their own right, the entire 120 minutes were compelling, nerve-racking, and exhilarating.
There is no denying that people who have hopped on the bandwagon will not care about the game until the next major tournament rolls around, but it feels as though it will be different this time around.
The argument could be made that John Aloisi’s penalty in 2005 to qualify the Socceroos for their first World Cup in 32 years was the defining moment for football in Australia. It might have helped boost domestic competitions around the country, but a World Cup on home soil is an utterly different proposition altogether.
Growing numbers are now starting to realise what makes football a beautiful game. Ironically, it’s the low-scoring aspect that makes the sport unique compared to other codes.
No other sport captivates the nation the way in which the Matildas and the Socceroos do, speaking volumes about the power it possesses.
Seeing so many kids fully engaged and inspired to be the next up-and-coming superstar is a fulfilment in itself.
No longer is Sam Kerr the only name that Australians know when watching the Matildas. It has paved the way for others such as Mary Fowler, Hayley Raso, and Caitlin Foord to become icons.
Penalty hero Cortnee Vine’s recent extension with Sydney FC has helped the club break its membership record with still two months until the season commences. The Matildas’ official Instagram account has also grown by over 300,000 followers in the past seven days.
This is more than just football. This is a cultural movement that is changing the way the public are perceiving football in general.
No longer is women’s football looked down upon as second-rate. Australia is deeply fortunate to own some of the most talented athletes achieved with minimal funding and little support.
Although Australian football will always carry the ambition of becoming the most popular sport in the country, all it was crying out for was respect.
That respect has been well-earned thanks to the heroics of the Matildas throughout the World Cup.
Australians are finally awakening to the fact that football is entertaining and momentous to the point where they understand the gravity of the sport around the globe.
Undoubtedly, the Matildas have captured the hearts of 26 million people. The responsibility is on us now to support our local clubs and continue to drive the game forward with the same eagerness as we have recently been accustomed to.
With a new-found respect for the round ball game stretching far and wide around Australia, that goal has never been more within reach.