June heralded the 30-year anniversary of Australia’s first participation in a FIFA female tournament.
And what a splash the Matildas made in their first game, defeating Brazil 1-0 in China in what was essentially a tournament run as a forerunner to the first women’s World Cup held in 1991.
Playing in that team were three stars of the south-east Victorian football scene – goalkeeper Theresa Deas and defenders Debbie Nichols and Jane Oakley.
Deas and Nichols were last month named as ambassadors for Team 11’s bid for A-League and W-League admission.
Deas said the tournament was an experience that changed her life forever.
“While it was really hard to raise the money to be able to afford to go there, the memories are the things you take and will never forget,” Deas said.
“It was a really hard competition for us and I don’t think we had much of a training camp beforehand.
“But we still today have this connection with all of these girls … who are all still doing some wonderful things in football, which is great.
“Three of us, Debbie, myself and Jane, who was for a while the pin-up girl of Victorian soccer, we were all there.
“We all played at the same club – a couple of different clubs, obviously, Dandenong, Dandenong North, Berwick City and Casey Comets – and most of our playing career, while in the national team, was while we were at Comets.
“We’ve always been involved in football in this area.”
Nichols earned 12 caps for her country, while Deas netted 17, but points out that this was in an era in which official “A-class” games were a rarity.
Nichols added that it was also a time when female footballers did it tough in order to play the game they love, which is one of the reasons why she is so passionate about helping ensure the bid to gain a W-League licence for the south-east of Victoria is successful.
“The grounds we used to play on, the facilities we used to train out of, were atrocious,” Nichols said.
“We had to get there early on match days to put all the nets up and mark the lines, but in winter you also had to make sure you were there with brooms to sweep the water off the pitch.
“I can’t imagine players even having to contemplate doing that sort of stuff now.
“We even had to carry the temporary floodlights onto the roof before training and screw them in.”
Deas agreed that such obstacles ensured she would remain in football to help pave a smoother path for future generations of female footballers.
“I think that’s what gave us the determination and spirit to continue on in the game,” Deas said. “To want to make it better for people coming through.”