Friday 13 October 2023, 07:00

World Cup afterglow showers glitter on rejuvenated A-League

  • Australia’s A-League Women enjoys impetus built by 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup

  • Unprecedented local interest in women’s football during Australia & New Zealand 2023

  • Returning headline names help boost membership for expanded league

One of several areas of focus for Football Australia post-FIFA Women’s World Cup was an injection of momentum for local professional football. As the new A-League Women season prepares to kick-off this weekend, there is every sign that such a boost is underway. To call the 2023 edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ wildly successful would be something of an understatement. The tournament attracted record crowds aplenty, Australian TV ratings outlasted every single other program over the past two decades, and local pubs were overflowing with newly-minted fans to watch as the Matildas, somewhat unexpectedly, became a household name. Suddenly, what is possible for women’s football in Australia had been recalibrated.

A once-unthinkable 50,000 tickets have been sold for Australia’s upcoming home Women’s Olympic Football Tournament qualifier against Philippines. The Matildas’ pivotal Tokyo 2020 qualifier against China PR in early 2020 drew one-tenth of that figure. Now there is an opportunity to mirror that expansion at club level. The early indicators are promising. Eight of 11 existing clubs have set new membership records, with champions Sydney FC enjoying an 800 per cent increase. Separately, free entry for U-16 supporters is now on offer. Off the field minimum players payments have increased, while many matches during the season will be played at major stadiums - including at Australia & New Zealand 2023 venues. Among such venues for this weekend’s opening round are stadiums in Adelaide, Wellington and Sydney that were seen by a global audience during the Women’s World Cup. Hopes are high for a first five-figure attendance for the competition to eclipse the current record set just prior to Australia & New Zealand 2023. The return of Central Coast Mariners to the competition means an expansion to 12 teams and a full home-and-away season for the first time. The Mariners enjoyed an unexpected benefit from the Women’s World Cup when England – who used the region as their Team Base Camp - donated $AUD 300,000 in gym equipment to the club.

On the pitch, several big-name Australian players with World Cup experience have returned to the competition including Lydia Williams, Kyah Simon, Elise Kellond-Knight, Tameka Yallop and Emily Gielnik, with Emily van Egmond tipped to make a mid-season return. Perth Glory have recruited several Philippines’ World Cup stars, while Wellington Phoenix will line up with decorated New Zealand international Annalie Longo. At the other end of the spectrum there is a notable name in Milly Clegg after the striker achieved the rare feat of featuring at three FIFA tournaments in a 12-month period. The New Zealander will this season turn out for Western Sydney Wanderers after top-scoring for Wellington Phoenix, and being the youngest member of the Football Ferns’ Women’s World Cup squad.

The most dramatic rise in profile undoubtedly belongs to Sydney FC’s Cortnee Vine. Scorer of the match-winning penalty in the epic quarter-final shoot-out against France, Vine eschewed an overseas move and has become the unofficial face of the league. It is a long way from feeling like “an imposter” prior to the World Cup. The subsequent change to every facet of her life has been extraordinary. Just last week, a single recent 24-hour period featured a chartered flight to a resort island for a promotional event, preceded by a cricket match at the Prime Minister’s residence. "It's honestly just been crazy, the zero to 100," Vine said about the past two months. "I walk down the street and people are like, 'Oh my God, are you who I think you are?'. "I have a lot of dads come up to me just to shake my hand and say, 'Thank you for what you've done for my daughter’. Those ones really hit home.”