Winning the World Cup. It’s what every footballer on the planet dream of doing.
For Australia’s Matildas, the prospect of being the first Australian team to win football’s most coveted prize is tantalisingly close.
Next June in coach Alan Stajcic’s team will head to The FIFA Women’s World Cup in France as genuine contenders. It makes the upcoming W-League season the most important ever as Australia’s best women’s footballers stake a claim for a seat on the plane to Paris.
Matildas and Melbourne City goal keeper Lydia Williams understands what’s at stake.
“The start of this W-League season makes it that much more real that The World Cup is coming up. It’s a chance for all players to work hard for their clubs and get ready for next year” the City stopper said.
Williams has seen the women’s game transformed since she won the first of her 70 caps in 2005.
Last September the Matildas played against Brazil in front of sold out stadiums in Penrith and Newcastle. Australian women’s football was a box office hit.
Williams is hoping that momentum rolls into the upcoming domestic season.
She also expects the growing prominence of the women’s game will continue the progress towards parity with the men on pay and conditions.
“The PFA (Professional Footballers Association) has worked really hard on the collective bargaining agreement and improving the situation for girls not playing in the national team.”
Williams’ optimism is a long way from the pall of negativity that surrounded the direction of the game in late 2015 when the Matildas boycotted a high profile tour of The United States and went on strike for a better deal.
The players won a significant pay rise for top Matildas but the top players in the national team still only receive $41,000 a year in addition to match fees – well short of their male colleagues.
Former Matildas star Kathryn Gill is now a Players Relation Executive at the PFA. She said the upcoming W-League is testament to the hard work players have done to improve their lot.
“I think this season will show the gigantic steps we’ve made in both the competitive nature of the league but also the protection and structures afforded to the players such as the introduction of a minimum wage ($10,000) and a significant increase in what clubs spend on their rosters.”
Gill is keen to point out a shift in club culture is under way within the W-League that is having a significant impact.
“The clubs have made a monumental shift in the way they have integrated the girls into their clubs this season. The way that they’ve used social media to promote them and involve them with the male players has been impressive.”
Sam Kerr is now the most famous face in Australian football – for men and women. Kerr is a global star and has had a sensational 2018, being nominated for the prestigious Ballon d’Or. The Matildas star will turn out for her hometown team Perth Glory again this season.
“Sam is the face of football at the moment and is a great example of what can be achieved through the women’s game. She shows what’s achievable to the next generation of players who want to be the next Sam Kerr” Gill said.
For Williams, the first order of business is to help Melbourne City continue their dominance of the competition as they chase a 4th successive W-League title.
Though getting her hands on The World Cup is never far from her thoughts.
“Everyone would probably retire – it doesn’t get any better! We’ve battled really hard as a group and come so far against the odds It’d be incredible.”