Saturday 19 August 2023, 23:00

Hannah Wilkinson: We sparked a passion for football in our country

  • Hannah Wilkinson scored the only goal as New Zealand won their opening match at the FIFA Women's World Cup 2023™

  • She recalls that Ferns players were “blown away” by the atmosphere at Eden Park

  • Tournament will leave a long-lasting legacy for women’s football in New Zealand

It was a night that women's football in New Zealand will never forget. The opening match of the FIFA Women's World Cup 2023™ was played in front of biggest crowd New Zealand has ever witnessed for a football match -- men's or women's – and ended in a historic 1-0 win over Norway that won the hearts of a nation.

Hannah Wilkinson, scorer of the winning goal, believes that what happened that evening at Eden Park in Auckland/ Tāmaki Makaurau, sparked a fundamental change for women's football in New Zealand.

"What we did as a group that day was something that was really needed," she said. "I think the nation needed it. I think aspiring young footballers in New Zealand needed it. I like to think that we really sparked a passion for football in our country, something that has needed to happen for such a long time. So yeah, I like to think that’s going to leave a lasting legacy."

Recalling that the players were "blown away" by the atmosphere, Wilkinson said the whole squad were convinced that they could pull off a win against their higher-ranked opponents. "We had nothing but belief as a unit and we knew that we were going to do something special that day,” she said.

“The legacy that will be left after this tournament I hope will be a lasting one. It's shown that when not just women's football but women's sport is put on an equal platform like men's sport, you get a lot of people very interested. And I'd like to think that that's going to keep going and people are going to stay interested in not just women's football but women's sport.”

 Hannah Wilkinson of New Zealand takes selfies with fans

And she had a simple message for youngsters who wanted to emulate here. "My message to young kids wanting to grow up and do the same thing is don't ever give up," she said. "It's going to be very hard. And you're going to wonder if it's worth it and trust me it is worth it. So, keep going, don't give up. The sacrifices are worth it."

Throughout the tournament, first Nations and Māori cultures have been strongly represented at team welcomes and on matchdays, including in ceremonies and through team captains’ armbands, something Wilkinson had made it even more special.

Hannah Wilkinson of New Zealand signs autographs

“Particularly being welcomed, and by Ngāti Whātua and Auckland, the pōwhiri was absolutely amazing and I think it was a good way for other nations to be welcomed into Aotearoa. What was really special is that it was over the Matariki celebration,” she said. 

“As a nation, as a team, we actually learned a lot about Matariki, we learned a lot about Aotearoa ourselves and it really helped us connect to the land a lot. There was a lot of spiritual connection with that tournament, I think it was truly special.”