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opinion

Madonna King: The real lesson the Matildas have delivered Australia at the World Cup

A friend, lucky enough to be one of the 27,706 fans to witness the Matildas teach Olympic champions Canada a lesson on Monday, was struck by an interesting sight at AAMI Park in Melbourne.

The line for merchandise was orderly, but long. However, there was no queue to buy a beer at the bar.

It’s only a tiny observation, but it flies in the face of our experience at so many other big sporting competitions. It also feeds into a new narrative of Australian sport – how it is coached, played and followed.

And that’s probably the real lesson the Matildas have delivered this World Cup.

Inspirational

This team is a team in every sense. Look at how they share the triumphs, and the heartbreaks, how they speak about each other, and the respectful way they deal with video decisions that don’t go their way.

Look at how they play with a telepathy that highlights the enormous trust they have in each other, on and off the field.

If that doesn’t stand out, read about how Caitlin Foord and Steph Catley, or how Foord and Sam Kerr work together, knowing each other’s next move.

Indeed, Kerr articulated the crucial role of support from the sidelines. It was as important as any goal, and she role-modelled that in a way that makes us believe it.

Look at how, after a goal, the victorious player runs towards each other, their teammates – not towards the crowd looking for personal acclaim as we so often see in other sports.

The Matildas this week provided an antidote to our blues over cost-of-living challenges and the looming vote on a Voice; they united our nation in a way that we should work to nurture and build and keep.

With captain Kerr out, this week school grounds filled with Hayleys and Stephs and Caitlins, all wanting to emulate those our children are following on television.

Wouldn’t it be a fitting tribute for their performance to be the catalyst for Football Australia to be granted the funding to provide a base here for the next generation of players?

For all those politicians, filling our television screens from the good seats at World Cup matches, to ask themselves why football doesn’t have an Australian base where our daughters (and sons) can see their idols train and play? And believe that one day, they could do that too.

Melbourne does have a ‘Home of the Matildas’, a new facility and training base slated for the team.

However, it remains to be seen whether the team will always use that when in Australia. For this World Cup, they are based in Brisbane, for example.

In a week where we were torn between watching the World Cup and the Ashes, the Matildas won.

And that too proves that the audience for football in this country runs across gender and age and almost every other divide on offer.

matildas world cup

Matildas captain Sam Kerr with a young fan in Melbourne.

Part of that comes down to them winning. That’s important. But a chunk of the cheers being sent their way is also around how they play.

It’s as fast and hard as you would expect. But it’s built on teamwork and positivity and trust.

And perhaps that’s a lesson for some of our other sports, particularly NRL.

Over the years, we’ve got used to bad sportsmanship, often fed by parents who coach and brawl and attack from the sidelines of children’s sport.

But the examples that showcase the heart of team competition are winning, both on the field and in the attendance of fans.

Our swimming team – especially our relay starters – role model it every time they dive into a pool.

The Matildas will do it again on Monday, when they take on Denmark in Sydney.

Let’s hope like hell they win. But in the hearts and minds of Australia, they’ve already done that – before they even run onto the field.

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