Forty years ago, a historic women’s international football match barely caused a ripple in the sporting ocean. But when 11 trailblazers ran out at Seymour Shaw Park, the future of the game changed forever.
On October 6, 1979, an 18-year-old Julie Dolan led out the Australia women’s football team to face New Zealand in the South Sydney shire of Sutherland.
The first official encounter played by the team that would eventually become the Westfield Matildas may have ended in a 2-2 draw, but countless women's football players and fans consequently ended up as winners.
It was an occasion which seemed impossible to a young Dolan, who grew up begging to be allowed to play among the boys.
“I’ve got four brothers and one sister. We always used to play, ” Julie Dolan AM said.
“I remember thinking ‘wow, wouldn’t it be great if I could play in a team’.
“At that stage, it was all about ‘can I play at school with the boys?’. There wasn’t anything organised for women at that time.”
That was until, while warning up for hockey practice, Dolan heard a classmate talk about going to football training and she did not hesitate to drop the stick and sign up for St George Budapest football club.
It did not take long for Dolan’s skills to shine through and, before she knew it, she was called up to represent Australia at the 1975 Women’s Asian Championships in Hong Kong, a tournament at the time not recognised by the football world.
“I was 14, my friend was also 14, so that was a huge deal for us. From that tournament, I was selected in the Asian All-Star team,” she said.
“It all came about very quickly. I went to Hong Kong as got a real love for the game, a passion for playing, especially against other women.
“It was great playing and training with the boys but it was great to be part of a women’s group and playing against each other.
“It was a very exciting time. Women were playing against women. We were going to national and international tournaments.
“Even though they weren’t fully recognised tournaments at the time by FIFA or our own counties, there were still other women’s teams from other countries who were competing against each other on an international stage.
“You could see a movement starting to happen which was very exciting.”
Dolan admits she had no idea that an official national team was being assembled but, following her stellar performances both in Asia and back at home, she was soon handed the captain’s armband at the age of 18.
A women’s international match in 1979 was a far cry from one in 2019, and Dolan’s captaincy duties extended way beyond calling the coin toss.
“I remember doing up fliers and walking the streets and putting them in people’s post boxes around Seymour Shaw down in the Sutherland Shire,” she said.
Players and their families sewed their badges to their jerseys and four rows of wooden planks, laid on scaffolding, were placed for supporters to sit on.
“I was thinking hopefully we can get some people to the game to see how the team performs,” she added.
“I remember all of the lead up, where it was more about the team. It was us training to prepare for this first international game. It meant so much to us.”
Playmaking midfielder, Dolan, earned her first of 18 official caps in the contest (she collected 34 in total) and went on to captain her country six times.
Sandra Brentnall and Sharon Mateljan were on the scoresheet in the inaugural match and, a week later, Australia earned their first international victory, a 1-0 win against the Kiwis at Perry Park in Brisbane.
“The jersey, the cap, the green and gold, it means everything,” she said.
“It means you are one of a very select few who are out there representing what Australia means, what Australians mean.
“The sense of responsibility is what the public expects from us. In my estimation, that was to play tough, to play fair and to never stop.
“[Show them] that they were in for a hard game. That we would never die. That’s what I remember about the tenacity of the team.”
The contrast between a park game in front of ‘about 50’ people, which was barely mentioned by the media and a major international match in a state-of-the-art stadium in 2019 is stark.
There are few people more content than Dolan while watching the progress of women’s football during the 40 years since that historic encounter at Seymour Shaw Park.
“I’d hate to be sitting here talking about how nobody knows about women’s football,” she said.
“To see these girls on the world stage, competing the way they do. Domestically, to see the progress in the W-League, the product of the Matildas, that’s all we ever played for.
“That’s what we aspired to. So to see that come to fruition and know there has been a legacy that’s been built upon and built upon, and that they are still building.”
“I love seeing where the game has gone and the progress that has been made.“