The Matildas

Matildas documentary Trailblazers 'highlights greater hope' for the future of women's football in Australia

This moving documentary will leave you with the lingering sense that maybe, just maybe, sport is allowing women to carve out their own space through powerful storytelling for the first time in history.

“I have a hatred for people telling me what to do… You can’t do that because you’re a girl, you can’t do that because you’re a mother… well, now I have to.”

Former Matildas Captain Melissa Barbieri was told “you don’t come back” to football after becoming a mum in 2013, but in the coming years she would prove that very wrong.

New documentary Trailblazers tracks the rise of the Australian women’s national football team from a fledgling concept to what we see today, and discerningly explores the nuances of the players, coaches and administrators' experiences since World War I.

Unless you’ve just emerged from a year of living abroad or under a rock wrapped in tin foil, you will know that Matildas fever swept Australians off their collective feet in August 2023.

However, before they were catapulted into the mainstream zeitgeist, they battled near invisibility, while fanning the embers for the explosion to ensue. 

Former vice-captain of the Matildas, Moya Dodd played in FIFA’s first ever women’s tournament in 1988, and 25 years later, became one of the first women to join the governing body.

“Women footballers are kind of a special breed, it takes a certain kind of feistiness and energy to want to do something that you’ve been told you shouldn’t do,” Dodd says in the documentary.

“Football was a sport played by men, watched by men, for the benefit of other men.”

Matildas star Sam Kerr in Trailblazers documentary

Sam Kerr in Trailblazers. Photo: Maggie Eudes via Stan

The documentary takes us through a chronological recap beginning with a positive of women playing football during the first world war. Factory workers formed teams and began to play each other… then the men came home from war.

Although not formally banned like other countries, by 1921, women were heavily discouraged to participate and suffered cultural consequences for disobeying.

“There can be no more untoward scene than girls kicking a big ball about,” a newspaper read at the time. 

“Women have invaded another sphere of man’s world,’ said another. 

A group of former and current players and administrators recount watching their male family members playing from the sidelines, and being punished – even caned – for playing football.

Fifty years later in 1971, England’s Football Association lifted the ban, and the Australian Women’s soccer Association formed in 1974 at the first national championship, which newspapers labelled a “kick and giggle.” 

Despite this, in 1979 the first FIFA recognised women’s game took place. 

The documentary tracks timelines but also allows for human vulnerabilities of those closest to the game.

We meet former Matilda Caren Menzies who admits she “probably wouldn’t be here today without football,” detailing her childhood of removal from Aboriginal parents.

Not shying away from politics, current Matildas Kyah Simon and Lydia Williams explore their connection to Aboriginal culture within their football careers. 

In just over half an hour, the doco also manages to summarise the 2015 CBA dispute with Football Federation Australia (FFA), which led to the eventual arrangement of equal minimum percentage of prize-money as the Socceroos. 

Teagan Micah in Trailblazers documentary

Teagan Micah in Trailblazers. Photo: Maggie Eudes via Stan

The final minutes of the documentary outline the recent World Cup Campaign: In the pursuit of greatness, they won’t rest, ‘Til It’s Done.’

It successfully paints the home-soil tournament as a cultural shift, and highlights a greater sense of hope for the future. 

As a woman that works in sport, this project provides me with a sense that the Matildas have widened the audience of people who will listen, they’ve provided new eyes and ears beyond those that have been ignoring us yelling into the abyss. 

Their campaign is proof that if you put time and money behind marketing to young women, it will pay off, and if you focus on including them in the sporting community, they will come in droves. 

It is a lesson in creating space for women, completely separate from what was created previously for men. We do not fit the same mould.

This moving documentary will leave you with the lingering sense that maybe, just maybe, sport is allowing women to carve out their own space through powerful storytelling for the first time in history, and how thrilling it is to know how much more there is left to tell, now that somebody, somewhere might just listen.

Trailblazers is now streaming on Stan.