Well, we didn’t get the public holiday, nor did we get the result we were after.
In fact, after a month of absorbing narratives and growing interest in the heroic feats of the Matildas, all we’re left with is an emptiness that so often comes from sporting heartbreak. Such is sport. If anything, the idea of the public holiday cheapened the importance of what was being achieved.
Either way, it shouldn't detract from the last few weeks, where an increasingly divided nation has been brought back together again, united behind the 11 inspiring Australian women trying their hearts out on the pitch. They didn’t just capture the imagination, they captured the hearts and minds of all but a small few. We’re heartbroken now because we loved so deeply, but most of us wouldn’t change a thing.
It broke TV records, it was all everyone could talk about, it was historic. For a little while, it felt like the Matildas were the only thing that mattered. And that was a good feeling.
But when it’s all said and done, a huge question remains - what happens now?
FEEL-GOOD FOOTBALL: 2006
When the Socceroos made the World Cup in 2006, our humble nation qualifying for the biggest sporting event in the world was still seen as a once-in-forty-years level of achievement.
Australia was intrigued and - just like with the Matildas this time around - we bought into the underdog miracle and the hard-nosed efforts of our team, riding the intense emotions that come with a complete lack of pressure.
Now, less than 20 years later, Australia qualifying for the Men’s World Cup isn’t just a possibility, it’s an expectation. How will we view the Matildas next World Cup? Will we get behind them in the same way? Or will we suddenly be expecting a top four finish?
The historic 2006 appearance was met with a lot of the same rhetoric - namely, that our relative success would see a massive upswing in interest and development of the game here at home. Football was ripe for the taking.
There may have been some minor gains, some highs and lows in the 17 years since, but it's arguable that 'taking' never happened.
While the game has seen growth in the playing ranks at junior levels and an increasing number of incredibly talented young Australian players are recruited to play overseas, perhaps the clearest indicator of just where the sport sits in our national psyche at home is the attendance of domestic league matches - most notably, the A-League.
In the immediate aftermath of Germany 2006, four A-League clubs recorded their (still) highest average season attendance. In fact, the 2007-08 season still has the highest average attendance of any A-League campaign. A great result.
But sadly, despite the game being well-positioned to grow, within two years many of those averages had been almost halved as things reverted to the status quo.
Though the spike in attendance immediately after ‘06 was noticeable, every World Cup since has failed to have a similar impact - possibly to do with the adjustments in our expectations and the team's inability to return to the knock-out stages.
There have been minor fluctuations across the years, but average attendance in the A-League was at a dangerous low before the onset of the pandemic. In 2018-19, average attendance was the third-lowest in A-League history and the lowest overall since 2010-11.
Though COVID had an impact, the return of public sport - combined with the men’s national team’s first knockout stage appearance since 2006 - has seen an observable bounce-back in attendance and viewership numbers. The most recent A-League final was well-watched by a slowly-increasing TV audience in the wake of Qatar 2022 - although that could be because, by moving the final exclusively to Sydney, many Melbourne fans were forced to watch on TV instead.
Even before the Matildas, it felt like the domestic game was on the comeback trail. Now? The opportunities feel limitless.
GOING OFF EARLY
Following the Matildas’ success, the A-Leagues have announced that the next women’s competition will kick-off with a standalone round on October 14. While the decision is a great initiative designed to show the impact of the Matildas success on attendance and interest in the domestic game, it’s still seven weeks away - and that month and a half is going to feature a saturation of finals-quality football from the nation’s leading codes - both men’s and women’s.
We’re not suggesting that the A-League needs to start now to capitalise on the Matildas’ momentum, but it’s essential that these weeks are utilised by the powers that be to ensure that the magic we’ve all embraced over the last month is still lingering in our minds come mid-October. In sport and in life, seven weeks is a long time.
In the aftermath of their historic achievement, everyone from the Matildas coach to players and even the media are calling for more funding and investment in the women’s game - and deservedly so. But any financial investment will ultimately be moot if our investment as an audience doesn’t match.
On both fronts the battle will be challenging - but if the last month hasn’t demonstrated how meaningful that investment can be, then nothing will.
Football is already well placed at the junior level to ensure future success, with nearly half of all children aged 6-13 who are actively engaged in weekly sport opting for the round ball - a higher percentage than any other sport on offer. Yet at the professional level that dominance is totally erased in Australia - how does that happen? Whether it’s due to a lack of opportunities compared to greener pastures in foreign markets, poor management, media bias or a combination of all these factors, a solution needs to be found. For every player we manage to shine a spotlight on, how many others have gone overseas or fallen through the cracks? Meanwhile Sydney mastheads spend their time profiling the best 30 players in a schoolboy rugby league competition.
There’s a generation of young Australians who are now embracing the same magic of football that the nation did 20 years ago. Some of the youngest might be experiencing grief for the first time following the heartbreaking defeats to England and Sweden. But with the right kind of investment and growth, they’ll still be there to celebrate the historic highs as well.
When we celebrate, we might just look back on the Matildas epic World Cup run as the catalyst that changed it all - but it's up to us.