Monday 24 July 2023, 08:30

Socceroos great caught up in FIFA Women’s World Cup fever

“They had been a big part of my footballing journey. It was important for them to see the Matildas and what they do for the women’s game.” In a time marked by conflict and crisis, the world is divided. But through the power of football, the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ will bring people together, allowing them to unite - discovering new cultures, being part of a worldwide community and celebrating together. FIFA’s flagship campaign, Football Unites the World is a global movement that will inspire, unite and drive development through football. FIFA Legends, and players of all levels have been sharing stories of what football’s uniting power means to them.

Hindmarsh Stadium

Former Socceroos captain Mark Milligan has been a stalwart of Australian football and the men’s A-League for many years, but he also keeps a close eye on the women’s game. Even more so currently, as the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™ has arrived in Adelaide/Tarntanya, where he has now settled after a long, well-travelled, and storied career. Milligan was part of four FIFA World Cups during his illustrious career but was also captivated by the excitement and drama of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, when he took his two oldest daughters to watch Australia play in France in 2019. Part of the Milligan clan were in the stands for the ‘Miracle of Montpellier’ when the Matildas beat Brazil 3-2 in a stunning comeback after Brazil had taken a 2-0 lead.

Australia celebrates after teams third goal during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France group C match between Australia and Brazil at Stade de la Mosson on June 13, 2019

“The planets aligned a little bit, being in Europe (playing with Hibernian in Scotland) and having the Women’s World Cup so close. My two eldest were very keen at the time, as was I, to get across,” says Milligan. “It was the first time that we had been able to see the Matildas in a major tournament. To show my daughters what it was about and how much traction the women’s game was getting, was very important” continued the current Adelaide United assistant coach. Milligan retired from football to start a coaching career soon after the tournament in France, but after the experience in Montpellier, he did not need a second invitation when the FIFA Women’s World Cup was confirmed as coming to his home turf at Hindmarsh Stadium.

On Monday, the match between Brazil and Panama will be first of five matches to be played in South Australia, including a match in the Round of 16. “I think it is very, very important for football, not only in Adelaide, but in Australia. The Matildas have been such fantastic role models, especially to my girls.” The Hindmarsh match will represent the start of yet another World Cup where the Milligans will take an enthusiastic interest, just as they did at Russia 2018. After the former Melbourne Victory captain’s final FIFA World Cup appearance at the Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi, a photographer captured a “bittersweet” moment for Milligan with his daughters.

Mark Milligan of Australia speaks with his children after the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group C match between Australia and Peru at Fisht Stadium

“Both myself, my wife as well as my children felt that was not only my last World Cup, but also my last game for the Socceroos” says Milligan. “It was quite emotional because I think my eldest, she only ever knew football. The kids and I thought that was the end. They knew it was pretty much the end of my World Cup journey,” added Milligan, reiterating just how much the FIFA World Cup was a part of his life. “Looking back on it, I realise, just how lucky I am.” Since the memorable photo in Sochi in 2018, the Milligan family has been blessed with a fourth daughter and this week the former Socceroo captured another heart-warming World Cup moment with his daughters in Adelaide, where match tickets have sold like hot cakes. “I think you’ve seen with Adelaide United that the footballing community here is massive. They are very, very passionate and I look forward to these teams being able to experience what we encounter every other week.”

Mark Milligan of Australia celebrates with team mate Mathew Leckie after scoring a goal during the 2015 Asian Cup match between Oman and Australia at ANZ Stadium on January 13, 2015 in Sydney, Australia

A record crowd attended the opening Matildas match in Sydney and Milligan knows first-hand what impact that wave of enthusiasm can have on a team. In 2015, he was an integral member of the team that lead Australia to the Asian Cup title on home soil. Australian football fans enjoyed a roller-coaster of drama and elation, which left a huge mark on the Australian psyche. “We have already seen how staging a major tournament can benefit the game. This currently is on another level. It’s very important that we capitalise on this going forward. We must enjoy it while it is here, then ensure we make the most of it afterwards too.”