Saturday 19 August 2023, 03:00

Kirsty Yallop: Generational change has happened in Aotearoa New Zealand

  • Former Football Fern Kirsty Yallop has been part of the FIFA Technical Study Group at the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™

  • Yallop says the tournament will inspire the nation’s boys and girls

  • The Aotearoa New Zealand public now see women’s and men’s football as equal

Kirsty Yallop, member of the FIFA Technical Study Group for the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023™ has a unique perspective on this tournament with a strong connection to both host nations. A former Football Fern who played in two FIFA Women’s World Cups for Aotearoa New Zealand, Yallop married Matildas midfielder Tameka Butt (now Yallop) in 2019 – meaning she had a foot firmly in both camps when it came to the 2023 edition.

Tameka Yallop of Australia celebrates her team’s victory through the penalty shoot out following during the FIFA Women's World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023 Quarter Final match between Australia and France at Brisbane Stadium

“It was definitely not normal to go from that Kiwi v Aussie rivalry to being on the Matildas bandwagon, but it’s great,” said Yallop. “I love supporting Tameka and supporting the Matildas. I’m such a fan of them as a team and they have done a lot on and off the pitch for women's football so I'm really proud to be a part of that. “I'm also a proud Kiwi, I’ve loved seeing the Ferns and watching them achieve history throughout this tournament with their first ever win and four-point finish.” While Yallop’s allegiances may have been unusual, it gave her the perfect opportunity to view the impact of the tournament on both sides of the Tasman Sea.

General view inside the stadium during the FIFA Women's World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023 Group A match between New Zealand and Norway

The Matildas’ emergence as the Australian public’s most popular sports team – male or female – has been well-documented over the past month but the rise of the Football Ferns and women’s football in Aotearoa New Zealand has also been notable. Kick-started by the host nation’s opening match victory over 1995 world champions, Norway, the tournament caught the imagination of the Aotearoa New Zealand public.

This momentum saw the record attendance for a football match – male or female – in Aotearoa New Zealand broken multiple times, starting with a crowd of 42,317 at the tournament opener against Norway, and culminating in three separate crowds of 43,217 in matches that didn’t even involve the host nation.

A screen displays the attendance of 42,137 during the FIFA Women's World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023 Group A match between New Zealand and Norway at Eden Park

It’s these moments in her home country that has Yallop so excited for the legacy that will be left for football and women’s sport in the years ahead. “The most important thing is this tournament inspiring the younger generation of both girls and boys. All those girls and boys will grow-up knowing that women's sport is just as big as men's sport and that there is no difference between the two,” said Yallop. “It's about equality: they're growing up in a world where it’s normal that 40,000 fans in New Zealand show-up to women's football. They are going to grow-up expecting crowds like that and they’re going to grow-up supportive of whichever team or whichever gender is playing. That’s the new normal for them. “In twenty years, these girls and boys will be the leaders and decision-makers of our nation, and when they’re the ones in charge having grown up knowing that everything should be equal across all areas, then anything can happen.”

New Zealand fans show their support prior to the FIFA Women's World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023 Group A match between New Zealand and Norway at Eden Park

What makes the incredible support more impressive is the packed sports calendar in 2023. Traditionally, the three most popular sports in Aotearoa New Zealand are rugby union, cricket and netball with all three sports holding their respective World Cups in 2023. “I have nieces and nephews that are in love with all the players and how amazing they all are. They’ve always known all the men’s players but now they know all the women’s players and keep telling me how awesome they are. “Seeing all the kids in the crowd and even grown men wearing shirts with the girls’ names on their back: everyone is just a massive fan and it’s amazing. I get goosebumps when I think about it. It’s just massive to see the whole of New Zealand get behind the girls and, the World Cup. To see everybody in New Zealand enjoy women's football, thinking it's the best thing ever – even bigger than the rugby – was just unbelievable and amazing to see.”