By Joan Grey
The name Wendy Sharpe is engraved into New Zealand football history.
Thirty years on, Sharpe’s goalscoring rate of 0.7 goals per game still stands as a New Zealand record for female footballers who’ve represented this country more than 10 times.
Sharpe scored 38 goals for New Zealand in 53 matches in her illustrious international career from 1980 to 1995.
By comparison, Sharpe’s amazing goal-per-game ratio is better than the record of the English Premier League’s most proficient goalscorer, Thierry Henry.
Now 58, and a Katikati resident in the Bay of Plenty, Sharpe has been giving back to her sport, coaching school and regional teams, and she currently coaches her grandkids’ teams.
She’s seen enough to know how far women’s football has come — and she’s well-positioned to understand where it’s heading.
An international debut the year after kicking her first football
Sharpe was a relatively late starter in football. It wasn’t until she was 15 that she was encouraged to try football by her teacher who noticed her natural talent.
Remarkably, just one year later, Sharpe made her debut for the New Zealand national women’s team against Australia.
In this Trans-Tasman Cup match, Sharpe scored New Zealand’s goal in a 1-1 draw in Wellington.
“That was pretty special being my first start at such a young age and scoring on debut,” reflects Sharpe.
“I came in at a very high level, very young with not a lot of experience. I was blessed with pace and physicality, so if you’re fast and you can score goals, back in the ‘80s, they’d teach you how to play the game,” Sharpe says.
Throughout the 1980s, Sharpe competed in all three of the Women’s World Invitational Tournaments hosted in Taiwan, the major international women’s football competition and forerunner to today’s FIFA Women’s World Cup.
The top women’s teams from around the globe competed every day over the span of a week, and in stadiums of 35,000 fans when facing the host team.
“There were no real FIFA rankings back then, and in Taiwan, we would always finish in the top four, the three times I went,” Sharpe says.
“Germany was always a tough opponent because they were very physical, strong ladies. The USA were tough because of their skill level and Taiwan we always found hard to beat because they were so fast and nimble and played a lot of first-time passes.”
‘ … we had actually beaten the best team in the world’
At the 1987 invitational tournament, Sharpe played an intrinsic role in her New Zealand team’s stunning 1-0 victory over women’s football powerhouse the United States, a team that included football greats Mia Hamm and Michelle Akers.
“I remember coming off in disbelief that we had actually beaten the best team in the world. We battled and battled, and then we got the goal, and then we had to defend so hard as they were throwing everything forward.”
Women’s football in New Zealand has come far since those days, and Sharpe acknowledges today’s Football Ferns are very skilful on the ball.
“I think we were a joy to watch because we gave 110 per cent and we’d die on that field. You really earned your cap and we could hardly walk off the field at the end.
“Back then, we had a much quicker turnaround between games and sometimes we played two games a day, full internationals.”
Sharpe’s advice to young players: ‘The most important thing is to enjoy it’
The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup is at our doorstep and Sharpe is thrilled it is being played here in New Zealand.
“The atmosphere at the grounds is going to be absolutely amazing.
“It’s going to be a huge showcase for the younger generation to see world-class players at the highest level possible.”
What would Sharpe say to an aspiring female footballer?
“Work hard on and off the field. Believe in yourself, follow your goals and work hard outside of your football coaching.
“Do your own training to better yourself. The most important thing is to enjoy it.”
Wendy Sharpe: Giving back to her football community
The goalscoring stats of a legend
Wendy Sharpe continues to have the most impressive strike rate of any player to appear more than 10 times for New Zealand.
Of players to represent New Zealand internationally 10 times or more, Sharpe achieved a goalscoring rate of 0.7 goals per game with 38 goals in 53 internationals, played between 1980 and 1995.
If records are included for all Ferns, including those with fewer than 10 caps, Sharpe is ranked third.
Only two players can claim better: Pernille Andersen who played 9 matches in 1998 in which she scored 20 goals, and Isobel Richardson who scored two goals in as many matches in 1975.
Thanks to Jeremy Ruane and his Ultimate Soccer site for his meticulous record-keeping of Football Ferns teams and player records.
Friends of Football writer Joan Grey loves playing and writing about football. She captains the Strathallan College Girls First XI and represents Franklin United in the NRF Women’s Championship.