‘It’s herstory’: ParaMatildas set to begin new chapter for Australian football at first ever CP Women’s World Cup

On the first day of June in 1988, 11 Australian women walked out onto a scrappy football pitch in the Chinese city of Jiangmen. 

The air was oppressively hot and sticky with humidity; a normal southern Chinese summer. Thousands of locals in cotton shirts and wide-brimmed hats lined the shallow stands, as curious about Westerners as they were about the sport itself. Many of them were school children who shrieked with delight at every strong tackle or big header.

The game itself ebbed and flowed, but ended in a way few expected. The plucky newcomers Australia defeated the myth and might of Brazil thanks to an audacious chip by striker Janine Riddington. Their first FIFA tournament, their first match, their first win. History.

Over a quarter of a million people showed up across that seven-day tournament, proving to FIFA that there was a growing appetite for women’s football. The first official Women’s World Cup was held three years later.

Moya Dodd, left, played in the first ever women’s world tournament in 1988 — a precursor to the first World Cup in 1991.(Supplied: Moya Dodd)

It was a game and a moment that former Matildas vice-captain Moya Dodd recalls with pride at a small gathering of 30 women at Valentine Sports Park in Sydney’s west.

She remembers being nervous, of course, but more than that, she remembers the sense of occasion. Finally, there they were. And by god, they wanted to put on a show.

“That was the first time FIFA had actually bothered to hold a women’s tournament, and Australia were invited,” Dodd tells the hushed conference room.

“I remember that time so clearly because I was actually the last player in the squad. I wasn’t picked, but then someone got injured. So I was the worst player there.

Standing beside Dodd is inaugural Matildas captain and cap number one Julie Dolan, a force of history herself, and Rae Dower, Football Australia’s first women’s football technical adviser.

And in front of these pioneers, 12 women in matching green-and-grey tracksuits sit listening, captivated by the Matildas’ story and struck by the realisation that they, too, are about to embark on their own history-making moment.

Next week, the ParaMatildas — Australia’s first women’s national team for footballers with cerebral palsy, acquired brain injury, and symptoms of stroke — will take part in the inaugural CP Women’s World Cup in Spain.

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The five-a-side round-robin tournament will see Australia face some of football’s powerhouse nations including the USA, Japan, Spain and the Netherlands across 10 days.

Although the first CP world ahampionships were held in Denmark back in 1985, it wasn’t until this year that female athletes were invited to take part.

“Moya referred to it as being historic — but it’s actually herstoric,” Dower says.

“This is a herstoric moment. The first ParaMatildas team. The first World Cup for women’s CP football.

“But you’ve also got 43 years of the Matildas. We’re there with you every step of the way.

“Take the opportunity to enjoy every single moment. Smile. Breathe. And just go: ‘Wow, look at us.'”

Dolan smiles.

“You’re an inspiration to all of us,” she says.

“And you’ll still be an inspiration to all of us, no matter what happens.”

You can’t be what you can’t see

Rae Anderson knows how it feels to create “herstory”.

The 25-year-old from Wamberal in New South Wales is one of just seven Australian para-athletes to compete at both a summer and winter Paralympics, most recently in the para-alpine skiing at the Beijing Games.

Rae Anderson is wearing a bright yellow jacket, and is skiing down a hill.
Rae Anderson will become the seventh Australian to compete at a summer and winter Paralympics.(Paralympics Australia)

But with football as her first love, Anderson says the World Cup is something different altogether.

“Growing up, my idea of sport was all about teams, about family, about community,” Anderson told ABC.

“I didn’t quite process as a kid that I had cerebral palsy — and that my dreams were probably not as achievable as 12-year-old me thought.

“It wasn’t until year seven that I started finding out about para-sports; as something I could watch and could aspire to be.

“Doing sports like athletics and alpine skiing, they’re very individual sports. The Paralympics was a dream and something that’s given me so much opportunity and experience … but to finally be part of a team like this, and going to a World Cup for soccer, that’s something really special.”

Anderson’s own story is a testament to the power of visibility and opportunity for athletes with disability.

She remembers watching snippets of the 2012 London Paralympics on ABC television, which inspired her to pursue para-sport more seriously. She made her major tournament debut at the Commonwealth Games just two years later, competing in javelin and discus, before being selected for her first Summer Olympics in Rio.

Rae Anderson in the motion of throwing the discus in the throwing circle.
Anderson got her first taste of the Paralympics at the Rio 2016 Games.(Getty Images: Diarmuid Greene)

She then switched from summer athletics to winter alpine skiing, finishing seventh and 10th in the women’s slalom and giant slalom events at the Winter Paralympics earlier this year.

These days, Anderson is paying that inspiration forward through her work as a project coordinator with Disability Sports Australia and the Cerebral Palsy Sporting and Recreation Association, which runs ‘come and try’ sport programs for primary school-aged kids with disability.

“My whole introduction to sport has been about visibility and opportunity,” she said.

“To see para-sport on tv and in the media, to see athletes with disability in marketing, to see Paralympians at the forefront of big sporting companies and brands — it’s amazing.

Reference-www.abc.net.au

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