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There are so many iconic images that came from the Matildas’ heroic win over France. Mackenzie Arnold’s arms held aloft after her double save on Kenza Dali. Katrina Gorry kissing her wrist in tribute to a lost loved one. An ecstatic Cortnee Vine wheeling away after tucking home the decisive penalty. Sam Kerr taking off her shirt and handing it to a lucky fan in the stands.
But according to Ian Wright, the Arsenal and England legend, there’s another one that will stand the test of time – and it was taken in a different part of Brisbane, after a game played with a different shaped ball.
Adelaide Crows coach Matthew Nicks and Brisbane Lions coach Chris Fagan delayed their post-match press conferences on Saturday – just so they could watch the Matildas.Credit: Michael Whiting/Twitter
The post-match press conferences at the Gabba after Brisbane’s win over Adelaide in the AFL on Saturday were delayed. The reason? Coaches Chris Fagan and Matthew Nicks were huddled around a phone, watching the shootout, completely gripped like the rest of Australia.
“That says everything,” Wright told this masthead.
Wright is slowly getting his head around Australia’s unique sporting landscape. He watched an AFL game in Melbourne, and loved it. But he’s also seen how fans at the MCG on Saturday booed when the Matildas game was taken off the big screen. How the Triple M commentary team that was calling the clash between Carlton and Melbourne ended up giving a blow-by-blow of the shootout.
“During the first quarter, you could hear the crowd celebrate when we kicked a penalty, and France missed a penalty,” Dees star Christian Petracca said.
Ian Wright and Ellyse Perry launch the adidas OCEAUNZ ball to be used in the World Cup semi-finals and final.
“Then this massive roar happened, just before quarter-time, and I think we all knew. I was playing on one of the Carlton players at the time, and we looked at each other going, ‘I think they just won’.”
Meanwhile in Sydney, NRL players from the Roosters and Dolphins were left confused when the away team scored a try, but the home fans cheered – because they, too, were watching the Matildas win.
Is Australia a true football nation? Sometimes it takes an outsider’s perspective to cut through the madness and see things for what they are.
“Without a doubt,” Wright said. “I think that what this tournament’s shown. Are they a footballing country? Absolutely. They are a footballing nation now, and it’s so good for them to get to the last stages, and hopefully go all the way for Australia’s sake, for what it will do to inspire generations of footballers.
‘All I’m hearing is public holiday this and that. Rather hold the government to investing in a clear plan for football and infrastructure.’
“That’s why I think that will be an iconic picture in years to come: the Aussie Rules managers are interested in what’s going on with the Matildas game, because it’s Australia. It’s your country. It’s all together. This is what it should be.
“[Aussie Rules] is your sport, and it’s exclusive to Australia. I’ve heard that Sam Kerr was playing it until she was 12, and then where did she go from there? She chose football. It’s unique to the country, of course, you want to keep it, and you want people to play – but they should have a choice to do something else. Especially when you look at how well-supported [football] is, the enthusiasm for it and everything.”
And that’s where the government comes in.
Wright echoed comments from former Matildas goalkeeper Melissa Barbieri, who tweeted in response to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s offer of a public holiday if Australia wins the World Cup: “How about you just f—ing fund our sport properly?”
After watching England’s Lionesses trigger a similar wave of national euphoria at last year’s European championships, Wright has urged the government to properly harness this momentum, and match the public’s football fervour with appropriate financial support for the game.
“People must not get distracted by all this public holiday talk. Rather, hold the government to investing in a clear plan for football and infrastructure,” Wright said, speaking on Monday at an event where adidas unveiled the OCEAUNZ ball that will be used in the World Cup’s semi-finals and the final on August 20.
“All I’m hearing is public holiday this and that. That’s the distraction. We’re talking about a country that yes, you’ve got your league, but there’s six or seven world-class players in your team without an infrastructure to come from. [Almost] every single one has had to leave these shores to go and get football and come back. It’s very inspiring, you know?
“I opened a pitch the other day with EA FC for Sam Kerr. You need to get those kinds of little things going now, in respect of girls and boys being able to go somewhere and playing. And then try and build the [A-Leagues] up even more. It’s going to have to come from investment.
“The Australian government are going to have to get involved in this. You can see how [people] love it, they absolutely adore it. It’s up to them now to give it to them. Can’t ignore it.
“Give them the opportunities to be a proper player. It’s up to the people of Australia, when they do roll out of town, FIFA and all the bells and whistles, that you’ve got to keep going. Because that’s what they’ll want: they’ll say, ‘OK, let’s let it die down for a while, leave it.’
“Don’t give up on it. You’ve got to keep doing it, and you’ve got to get people alongside you to keep doing it, so you don’t lose the momentum.”
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