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Matildas mark significant milestone

Football Federation Australia (FFA) has honoured the first ever women’s international match by congratulating that team alongside the current Westfield Matildas.

It’s been 40 years since the Matildas took part in their first full international, which was on October 6th 1979 at Seymour Shaw Park in Sydney, playing in a 2-2 draw with New Zealand.

It paved the way for future women players to get involved, with the Matildas still going strong.

Both the past and present have come together at the same venue they started in a special occasion for women’s football.

It’s a time to thank the inaugural members of the Matildas for their contributions that helped encourage other women to get involved and sustain the Matildas side till now.

“These athletes started a movement, not just a team, which has now become one of the most powerful, popular and recognisable in Australia, said FFA chairman Chris Nikou.

“Many of these women worked full time, while playing for the national team and for many years, this continued to be the case.

“There have been 204 Matildas represent our country in ‘A’ internationals over the past 40 years and today we celebrate each of them and thank them for their contribution to our sport.

“Later this month Cheryl Salisbury will become the first female footballer to be inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame, which rightly recognises the sacrifices and efforts of our female footballers over this time.

“Today many of our Westfield Matildas are full time professional footballers, many playing around the world and when they represent their national team today on home soil, it is in front of big crowds.

“We recognise there is still work to do to ensure our female athletes have more opportunities on and off the park from the grassroots up to our national teams, but today we look back and celebrate the immense strides made.”

From humble beginnings, the Matildas have grown into one of the best women’s football sides in the world.

It goes to show the massive inroads that have been made in the last 40 years and which will continue to be made.

Liam Watson is a Senior Journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on international football policy, industry matters and industry 4.0

John Didulica: “Football can help Australia to navigate the challenges that we’re going to face as a nation”

John Didulica

John Didulica’s insight into Australian football is entrenched in a broad and intimate exposure to the game from all areas of the pitch and beyond across many years of playing and working in the game.

His long-standing involvement in football has seen him take on a variety of roles including helping to usher in the Melbourne Heart in their inaugural years as Director of Football Operations, leading Professional Footballers Australia as their Chief Executive Officer and now as Director of Football for a Melbourne Victory side looking to rebuild in the A-League.

His chat with Soccerscene saw a whole range of topics covered, namely his efforts to help push the Victory into a new era, his impactful learnings from his time at the Heart and his recent efforts in helping to produce the ‘Football Belongs’ series with Optus Sport.

Didulica Photo

Obviously, it’s been a very challenging few years for Melbourne Victory’s A-League side with underwhelming performances on the pitch and difficulties off it, how was it for you coming into a club off the back of some difficult seasons?

John Didulica: I think it’s been an exciting time for me personally to be back involved with football. Melbourne Victory has had such a proud history in its own right, but equally the club has played such a big role in shaping modern Australian football. To be given an opportunity to work here is a great honour and privilege, like anybody who gets to work in football.

The fact that they’ve had a couple of lean years on the pitch doesn’t detract from all the great things they’ve done over the best part of two decades. Coming into the club, with that in mind, it’s not about re-engineering everything or discarding a couple of decades of history. It’s just about trying to more deeply understand what’s worked, what hasn’t worked and where we need to get better to ensure that we’ve got the right standards across not only the team but also all the other areas of the club.

And making sure that we start, day-by-day through our actions, showing that we want to be better. There’s nobody in the world who can come in with a magic wand and say “If you do ‘A, B and C’, you’re going to get a better performance on the park”. The key thing for us is, through our actions, to everyday try and be a little bit better. That’s certainly led by Tony Popovic – that’s the way he approaches his preparation of the team and I think as a staff that’s what we’re adopting.

Hopefully the results on the pitch will in-time reflect that, and restore the confidence of the team, the members and the club which has been tested in recent seasons and we need to show them that we can be trusted with their club.

For you, was it about coming into the club knowing exactly what needed changing or was it about listening and learning?

John Didulica: I think it always has to be about listening and learning. Absolutely that has to be the starting point. I’ve got some models and framework which I like to operate within, but populating that and identifying what needs to be done sequentially is very much about listening and learning.

It’s about seeing where we’re at now, what the acute areas that required immediate attention were, and in our case, it was pretty obvious. We had a brand-new coaching team that we needed to bed down; we had a lot of squad reconstruction that needed to happen; we had to reboot the entire medical department, so, there were a whole of things facing us right from the outset.

Counterintuitively, that’s helped us to build a lot of momentum as it’s forced us to get things done pretty quickly and in a really decisive way. And with a lot of new people on board there’s a lot of really good ideas being shared and I think overtime we’ll start bedding those things down.

But it’s certainly not about disregarding what’s happened over the best part of two decades just because of a couple of lean seasons. I think if anything, the lessons from 3-5 years ago are a lot louder because Victory’s lost its way in the last couple of seasons.

We’re still lucky to have people like Carl Valeri around who has been a great servant at the club for many years and who works in the role of Player Operations Manager. It can just remind us of what we’ve done well in the past and can ensure that we’re continuing to bottle the great things that Victory has done in the past rather than reinvent the wheel.

MVFC

With the acquisitions of Tony Popovic and numerous proven A-League talents, what are Victory’s objectives for the coming season on the pitch?

John Didulica: Our aspirations are absolutely to challenge for trophies, that’s our expectations internally and I’m sure they’re shared by the members as well. They want to see a team that’s challenging for Honours – that’s certainly Tony’s mindset.

We’re strategically focused on bringing elite Australian talent into the squad and that’s been our absolute priority. Chris Ikonomidis, Josh Brillante, Jason Davidson, Jason Geria, to name a few, are all highly regarded elite proven international level players. So, to have those guys come in it’s a really powerful core and foundation for the club.

And, we might not get everything right in season one because we have so much to do, but I’m really confident that we’ve got a super strong core that will ensure we have a successful season and will only get better in the years to come.

There’s a seduction to going for a couple of big-name players and bringing them in and hoping that they can be a sugar hit, but I just don’t think that’s sustainable and I don’t think that’s what we need at the moment. Because we’re going through so many changes, we need to be able to make as many sure bets as possible. I think with a lot of the players and coaching staff we know exactly what we’re going to get, and we know their history is decorated.

There has been a drive at the club to re-engage the Victory faithful who have ridden through the tough recent history. For Victory fans, what do you believe are the key values off the pitch that need to be reflected on the pitch?

John Didulica: The number one thing I think is for the administration team to match the ambition that the fans have for their club. Our fans at Melbourne Victory are hugely ambitious for what Melbourne Victory can be. Games like we had against Liverpool, that was a magical moment for a lot of people.

Building AAMI Park, something like that doesn’t happen without Melbourne Victory being a success. There’s huge moments and huge steps forward for the sport that are a consequence of Victory doing well. So, the fans see that and are proud to be associated with this club.

Where we need to get back to now is matching the ambition that the fans have for this club. And that’s what we’re committed to doing and I think the board’s demonstrated that by signing Tony Popovic, who’s one of the best Australian coaches and players that are very ambitious, so we know we’re going to get people who are just as ambitious as we want to be.

And I think that sits at the heart of what we’re trying to achieve – matching the fans’ ambition and energy for our club. And if we do that, I know we’re going to be successful. Because we’ve got fans who live and breathe the club and if we reciprocate that then I know we’ll be successful.

Popovic

You’re now coming into an A-League side that has been around since the beginning of the league’s creation, but taking it back over 10 years ago you spent a few years at the Melbourne Heart from their inauguration. What did you learn from your time at the side in their early years?

John Didulica: One of the things I’ve often learnt on a personal level is to be resourceful and resilient. We didn’t have huge budgets and we ran incredibly lean. We were up against Melbourne Victory who had had such great success as a club.

From my perspective it was great to add to the tapestry of football in Melbourne. The pressure of the Melbourne Derby was, for me, one of the real highlights in A-League history. Those nights have been fantastic regardless of whether you were on the red side of the fence or the dark blue side of the fence, they were great nights.

In terms of that experience [at Melbourne Heart], resourcefulness and resilience were key. What resonated with me during that period was getting a more acute understanding of what the implication taking shortcuts were. When you’re at a club that’s resource-poor, sometimes you have to do that. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s not sustainable.

So, very much coming into Victory it’s key that we’re not going to take shortcuts. We’re going to make sure, to the extent possible, remove as much risk from what we do. That means bringing in high calibre people, servicing them effectively and having the right support around people. Even in those days at Heart we still managed to produce some incredible players; Aziz Behich, Eli Babalj, Curtis Good – these guys were all capped because of the opportunity they were given.

There’s a lot of lessons that I’ve taken with me about the capacity to run youth effectively and hopefully that can be something we can continue to build on here at Victory.

Melbourne Heart

A challenge for Australian football throughout its history has been its search for an identity in the midst of such a diverse sporting landscape. From doing such a deep dive with ‘Football Belongs’, what was confirmed about Australian football for you and what surprised you?

John Didulica: Ultimately, what I was investigating through that series was why is it that we’re not comfortable in our own skin. As football fans we’re always looking for some sort of external validation for who we are. And the more you unwrap football the more you understand the way Australia’s evolved, and therefore the role played by football in shaping modern day Australia and how deeply embedded football is in all of these key themes of Australian life.

And that’s something to be so proud of as a code. We don’t need external validation for what we are as football supporters, I think we should be incredibly proud of what we’ve done. Projecting that forward, I think football has the power to help Australia become a far more progressive nation in the decades ahead.

In the same way football helped Australia navigate the influx of migrants has shown, with the likes of John Moriarty and Charles Perkins, it showed a genuine way of respecting Indigenous footballers. There’s a lot football can do about helping Australia navigate the challenges that we’re going to face as a nation in the generations ahead.

As a sport, we need to take a leadership role in those areas. Anyone who is passionate about football knows it is more than just a sport. Nobody follows football for the ninety minutes on the pitch, as beautiful as that is, we’re all in it because it touches us far deeper. It’s about connecting to your ancestry and the broader community and being able to explore the broader world.

How many football fans would know the capital cities and flags of the world by virtue of their passion for football? Football is an incredible portal to the world and we need to celebrate that more. And it’s about having confidence in celebrating.

A club like Victory is a great segue in regards to ‘Football Belongs’, because Victory’s got a lot of opportunity to lead in a lot of those areas. We’re the biggest football club in the sporting capital of the world in the world’s biggest sport. If you bring those three things together, Victory is uniquely positioned to lead in an incredibly compelling and exciting way.

Asian Cup 2015

W-League set for expansion ahead of 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup

The W-League is set to grow by three teams in time for the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2023.

The Australian Professional Leagues announced plans for expansion to Australia’s premier women’s football competition, with Central Coast Mariners, Western United and Wellington Phoenix set to join ahead of the 2023 Women’s World Cup, set to be co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand.

The expansion will be the competition’s first since 2015 when Melbourne City joined, with the exact timeline for the addition of these teams to be confirmed in the coming weeks by the APL, and will take the number of teams competing in the competition to 12.

Central Coast Mariners and Wellington Phoenix have aggressively pursued a W-League license for a number of years, whilst Western United, who joined the A-League in the last expansion of the men’s competition, have always earmarked their commitment to entering a team in the W-League as well.

The expansion means that the W-League Final Series will have an additional final – a Preliminary Final – which will reward teams finishing first and second with a ‘second chance’ on the road to the Grand Final.

Sarah Walsh, Head of Women’s Football at Football Australia, welcomed the news.

“Women and girls now have more choice than ever when it comes to selecting a sport to play in Australia. It’s imperative that Football continues to progress and evolve when it comes to providing greater access and opportunity for women and girls in football,” she said.

“With the W-League entering its 14th season and a commitment to broader expansion of the league, I am confident that we are taking the right steps forward as a game to ensure that football is the number one sport of choice for women and girls as we strive for 50:50 gender balance by 2027.

“Football has always provided women in football with a clear and accessible pathway to play for the Commonwealth Bank Matildas and junior women’s national teams. W-League expansion not only broadens these existing pathway opportunities, it additionally strengthens our national team aspirations for the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia and New Zealand 2023 and beyond.”

The expansion will deliver greater commercial opportunities, as well as playing opportunities, for football in Australia, according to APL Managing Director Danny Townsend.

“This is just the beginning of a sustained investment programme in women’s football – we announced unbundling just 8-months ago, and are already bringing more games, more players, better broadcast, improved employment conditions and enhanced footballing pathways,” he said.

“We want to unleash football’s potential in Australia and this is a significant step forward in delivering the future that the game deserves.”

A long-term collective bargaining agreement was also announced, to be finalised between the APL and the Professional Football Association, much to the delight of PFA Co-CEO, Kate Gill.

“The expansion of the competition is an important step forward and illustrates the confidence in the women’s game and the solid foundations that have been built,” she said.

“The players have been vocal advocates for the growth of the competition and positively APL’s women’s football strategy will not only provide additional employment opportunities and match minutes for our talented players but delivers a healthy boost to the W-League in the lead up to the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023.”

In addition to the new teams and expanded competition, the APL will also launch a new “Club Championship”.

The Club Championship will reward the club (not the team) with the most combined points at the end of the men’s and women’s seasons.

The new trophy is designed to bring together fans of the men’s and women’s games together.

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