Queens of the jungle

Jonathan Wood/Getty Images

The inaugural season of Australia’s national women’s football competition, the Westfield W-League, has its first champion.  Queensland Roar has taken-out the double, winning the league and Grand Final convincingly.  The Roar defeated Canberra United 2-0 in front of a record 4,554 fans at Ballymore Stadium in Brisbane.

Roar number 10, Lana Harch, got the team in orange off to a great start slotting-away a shot from a defensive mix-up after just six minutes.  “It’s just a dream, especially because it’s the inaugural year, just to be in the right spot at the right time and finish it off was really good,” Harch said after the match.

The Roar dominated the first-half and on 26 minutes, Tameka Butt lined-up a strike which hit the inside of the post and went in for a well-earned 2-0 lead.  However, anyone who knows football will tell you an early two-goal lead is a dodgy score line.

Canberra was the only team to defeat the Roar this season, a 1-0 away win back in Round 2 would’ve given them some hope of spoiling the party, but it wasn’t to be.  The Roar dominated play and took their chances.  Well coached, well prepared and well up for the challenge, the Roar deserved this title.  As Roar Captain, Kate McShea, said, “We came out with all guns firing.”

It certainly seemed, to my eyes anyway, that Canberra just weren’t up to it.  A few chances here and there won’t cut it in a Grand Final but they must be credited for making it there in the first place.  A ten round competition is very tough to win; a few bad results and injuries and you’re out of it.  Coached by Matildas assistant, Robbie Hooker, the Canberra girls had good leadership and experience behind them; they can only improve next season.

The Roar won eight of their ten regular season matches and comprehensively outscored the rest of the competition, finishing with an impressive plus 20 goal differential.  It helps having some standout Matildas in your squad, the influence of Harch, Butt, McShea, Clare Polkinghorne, Lauren Colthorpe and Karla Reuter infused the team from the start.

Watching the post-match celebrations was inspiring.  It’s a sign of better things to come in the future.  Just thinking about the development of the game at the grassroots where girls are registering like wildfire is exciting.  For years, this disregarded and under-funded area of the game was ready to take-off, if someone was prepared to back it.

Congratulations have to be spread for the success of the inaugural season.  Frank Lowy backed the competition with his Westfield sponsorship, as well as the ABC with live TV coverage of one match per week plus highlights of the previous round of action during the half-time break.

The competition was slapped together rather quickly giving rise to a number of teething problems.  Having to organise fixtures, playing kits, player contracts and paperwork was somewhat of a nightmare for administrators, but an important step in the progressive movement of women’s football.

A friend of mine involved with administering the game advised me that kit sponsor, Hummel, gave no cash payment to the league but were to provide four playing kits, polo shirts and a bag for each player.  This did not happen until well after half of the competition had been completed.  Could you image if that happened in the men’s game?

To my knowledge, the A-League Clubs did not have much to do with administering the women’s game.  Speaking with Sydney FC Captain, Heather Garriock, I learned that player’s were unpaid and expected to work and train directly with their State-based institutes.  It’s obvious there is some way to go before the W-League is a viable competition.

It seems relatively obvious to me that the competition needs to be longer, with smarter scheduling, a curtain-raiser before Hyundai A-League matches would do wonders for the confidence of the players and exposure to the league.  I’d assume that the new A-League licences given to Gold Coast United and North Queensland Fury would include a W-League team.

Increasing the number of teams would also provide more top notch competitive football for a broader range of female players.  A long off-season of training and limited competition will not help our national teams’ cause.

Hopefully the W-League’s inaugural season will be looked-upon as a great start, but with lots still to do.  A national women’s competition filled with full-time professionals should no longer be a dream.  The building blocks are in place for continued success.  With good governance and unwavering support, the game will continue to make headway.

The bigger picture of course is that with all this hoopla we increase our chances of winning a World Cup.  With a broader talent pool, comes a better chance of success.  For a game that has struggled amongst three other culturally established football codes, it truly has come alive.

Football breaks gender-phobic barriers; it can be enjoyed by all, as witnessed last Saturday.  Three cheers for the Roar and the emergence of women’s football.  Football’s success has been publicised as the sleeping giant, he’s now gone and woken his sister.  I can feel the ground rumbling.

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