Sitting in front of the television with her family, watching the Matildas’ history-making march to a World Cup semi-final, Emma Bridgman has an eye on the future.
She’s thinking about how many more girls will be joining her in junior teams on the football fields of Far North Queensland that produced her idol, Matildas star Mary Fowler.
“You can be really inspired by them,” Emma said of the Matildas.
“I love the feeling because I was the only girl when I played soccer and now there are more people in my team who are girls, and it’s really nice.”
Emma attends Holy Cross School on Cairns’ northern beaches, the same school Fowler went to before moving to the Netherlands with her family aged 12.
The pair recently met at a soccer tournament where Emma played for the same junior representative side whose uniform Fowler once donned.
An artist on the field
Emma believed “quite a lot” of the growth in interest in the women’s game was down to the Matildas’ achievements.
Niamh Berry, another budding footballer in year 5 at Holy Cross, agreed.
“There’s going to be a lot more girls playing soccer and a lot more people wanting to join new clubs and play the game as well,” she said.
“It’s good to get more girls into sport.”
Marg Judd, Fowler’s Year 6 teacher, remains in touch with some of the Fowler family, including Mary’s mother Nido.
She recalled her former pupil as a dedicated footballer and netballer, and as an artist with a “gifted ability to draw”.
Ms Judd said while Fowler’s talent was evident as a junior, when she competed against boys, her inspiration to younger generations went beyond her playing ability.
“Mary didn’t just get handed this. There was all that hard work that’s gone in and continues to go in,” she said.
“You can always say if you have a go and you don’t give up, you never know. That’s my message.”
The Fowlers, she said, were a “very connected unit” who would be “down on Trinity Beach kicking the soccer ball around” as a family after school.
The story has become football folklore in Cairns and beyond.
Footballers need more fields
Alex Srhoj, Football Queensland’s regional manager in the Far North said the fervour around the Matildas was not just inspiring girls.
“These young boys here [on Sunday] in a carnival pretending to be Mackenzie Arnold and Sam Kerr, and you would never, ever think that was possible,” he said.
“The fact that it’s happened — it gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.”
Last year, more than 70,000 women and girls were involved in football in Queensland, including players, coaches, referees, administrators, and volunteers.
“We are expecting anywhere between a 10 to 20 per cent growth on top of this year [in the Far North],” Mr Srhoj said.
The growth in the game presented challenges.
“Already, some of our clubs across the region are at capacity and they can’t actually, unfortunately, fit any more training or games at some of their facilities,” Mr Srhoj said.
About 2,500 children play the game at Endeavour Park Football Centre in Cairns each Saturday.
Former Socceroo Craig Foster has already put politicians on notice about the need for more funding for football infrastructure.
“Every MP who’s held up a ‘go Matildas’ sign or put out a tweet saying ‘Tillies till I die’, there are receipts and I’ve tucked them all away,” he said.
“And I’ll be coming for you in the future because there’s a price to pay when you’re doing that.”