The rematch (and emotional reunion) that was 48 years in the making …

By Joan Grey

They were the trailblazers of women’s football in New Zealand and Australia — and they met for the first time in 1975 for the first international match between the two countries.

For decades, their achievements as pioneers of the women’s game went unheralded.

That is, until now …

While football fans attend or watch the 64 matches at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, another game was taking place … a rather special game.

Nearly half a century after their first match — a 3-2 win to New Zealand at the 1975 Asian Cup — members of both teams regathered for a game of walking football, beside Sydney Harbour.

The surviving members of the very first Football Ferns team travelled to Australia to watch the Matilda’s opening game of the World Cup tournament, helped by apparel company PUMA who led a campaign to recognise the OGs (Originals), and to celebrate the unsung New Zealand and Australia heroes of 1975.

Main photo: Members of the 1975 New Zealand OGs gather for their 2023 reunion. Back row (from left): Barbara Cox, Raewyn Hall, Sandra Twiname, Carol Waller. Front row: Kathy (Simenoff) Hall, Nell Jongeneel, Elaine (Lee) Collins, Marilyn Marshall, Carol Knox. Absent from photo: Isobel Richardson.

Action from the first meeting of New Zealand and Australia as goalkeeper Carol Waller makes a save during their semi-final at the 1975 Asian Cup.

How it all started

New Zealand’s first national women’s football team defied gender stereotypes and soared above all expectations to win the 1975 Asian Cup Ladies Football Tournament.

Their achievement laid the foundation for the growth of the female game in Aotearoa.

Australia also sent its first female football team to compete at that same Asian Cup.

They too proved themselves on the world stage, reaching the semi-final in which they were beaten by the New Zealanders.

The intrepid 1975 New Zealand team faced a mountain of challenges to reach the Asian Cup tournament in Hong Kong.

Back then, football was organised by men, for men.

The few women who played football in New Zealand faced gender bias and had to navigate the male-dominated environment to access training fields and equipment.

“There were no lights to play at night. The men and the juniors used the fields on a Saturday, so we only got to use the fields on a Sunday,” says Carol Waller, New Zealand’s 1975 goalkeeper.

The 1975 female football team was denied registration by the New Zealand Football Association, so they formed their own New Zealand Women’s Football Association to be eligible to enter the Asian Cup.

With no national body or corporate funding, the players fundraised to pay for their travel to Hong Kong.

Their fundraising included sausage sizzles, bake sales, and car washes, and each member chipped in an additional hundred dollars to achieve their international football dream.

A marathon game of indoor football at Auckland’s YMCA, lasted 26 hours, setting a world-record for a non-stop game of women’s football, and helped to publicise the team’s efforts.

After just two days of training together, the fifteen players departed for Hong Kong to represent their country.

“We travelled with a coach and a manager, so we were very self-sufficient as a team, and we didn’t have the big groups of supporters they have these days,” says Waller.

It was the first time New Zealand had played in an international women’s football tournament, and they shattered expectations with the success they achieved.

The New Zealand team won every group game, defeated cross-the-ditch rivals Australia 3-2 in the semi-final, then upstaged Thailand 3-1 in the final in front of a crowd of 10,000 to clinch the Asian Cup.

When the New Zealand champions arrived home, there were no crowds of supporters, no fans waving New Zealand flags, no reporters.

No one gave the team a second glance.

The players blended back into their everyday lives and continued to play the beautiful game at the few clubs that allowed women.

“Looking back on it, we weren’t aware of the legacy we were creating; we just wanted to have fun and play football,” Waller says.

Fast forward 48 years …

At PUMA’s invitation, the 1975 New Zealand and Australian teams reunited for a weekend in Sydney to watch the current Australian women’s team play their opening match of the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Waller had stayed in touch with her 1975 teammates who lived in Auckland but hadn’t seen her Wellington-based teammates for almost fifty years.

“It only took about 10 minutes, and we were back to our old selves from 1975. All sort of knowing each other,” Waller said.

PUMA-sponsored events and festivities for the Australian and New Zealand OGs included an official ceremony to present new match jerseys with their names and numbers, and an epic rematch of that 1975 Asian Cup semi-final — this time using the walking football format.

With a backdrop of Sydney’s Harbour Bridge, the first Ferns captain Barbara Cox leads her team against Australia in their walking football rematch.

The OGs were invited to Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour where PUMA had set up a football pitch.

The battleground established, the OGs took to the field for two halves of seven and a half minutes.

Neither side found the back of the net, and as the final whistle sounded. The score remained 0-0.

“When you’re playing when you’re young, you concentrate more. I just couldn’t stop laughing at some of the players,” Waller says.

The bodies ached, the competitive instincts were still there … and the camaraderie remained for two groups of pioneers who played their own part in women’s football’s journey.

Watch the rematch

PUMA invited 10 aspiring female footballers aged 14-18 from New Zealand and Australia to join in the OG festivities in Sydney.

The girls took part in the PUMA Accelerator Special Football Edition programme involving nutrition and motivational seminars, and they each received their own pair of PUMA Future Ultimate boots.

Isabelle Rowe, who plays for the Pukekohe AFC U-14 Girls Pumas, described the programme as unforgettable.

“I knew almost nothing about the 1975 teams at all. I have since done a lot of research, and they are the most incredible women alive involved in football.

“They created an environment where women’s football is achievable for any young girl. Talking to the players after the rematch was a privilege,” Rowe said.

After the Sydney reunion, each OG has been given a PUMA Legacy gift voucher to give a helping hand to an aspiring female footballer in their local area.

The legacy from the OGs will continue …

READ MORE: Special feature: Meet Carol Waller, New Zealand’s first female goalkeeper >>>>

Joan Grey

Friends of Football writer Joan Grey loves playing and writing about football. She plays football for Franklin United.

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