The cover of The Matilda Effect. Image: Melbourne University Press

The Matilda Effect: an entertaining and detailed look at the growth of women's sport.

The Women's World Cup is not just the pinnacle of football, they are a litmus test for social, cultural issues, attitude and change. Through first-hand accounts and perspectives from the board rooms to the stands, Fiona Crawford's new book shows how these events are about much more than football.

As the Women’s World Cup fast approaches, Dr Fiona Crawford’s latest book, The Matilda Effect is the perfect way to learn about how far the sport has come, and the stories behind some of the greatest on and off field triumphs in women’s football.

Dr Crawford’s follow up to the much heralded Never Say Die: The Hundred-Year Overnight Success of Australian Women’s Football [co-authored by Dr Lee Mcogwan]. Takes it name from a phrase coined by Dr Margaret Rossiter. The phrase “the Matilda effect” was coined by the Yale History of Science student to describe the occurrence of women’s scientific contributions being forgotten, omitted or misattributed to the nearest male.

The title is a perfect fit for Crawford’s latest book as it tracks the history of women’s football and progress in society. Using the timeframes of FIFA Women’s World Cups, it depicts the upward trajectory of the game, and the stories of the Australians responsible for progress not only at home but across the world.

The Matilda Effect contains first-hand accounts from notable figures from the sport’s history. Women’s football pioneer Heather Reid talks about the first pilot Women’s World Championships in 1988, and the years of lobbying it took to make that happen, along with the importance of Women’s Football being included as an Olympic event [88 years after it was first included for men].

Reid also recalls her time reporting at the 1991 tournament for ABC. The book depicts the press conferences of 1991, where Reid and others push directly for more promotion and commitment from FIFA president Joao Havelange.

Crucially in response to one question, Havelange replied, “Can’t be too greedy and want too many things at the same time.” This scene serves as a reminder that the women at the time were working with and against men who had been in control of the sport for much of the time women were banned from playing altogether [women were not allowed on football pitches for 50 years until 1971.]

The book also draws heavily on the experience of long-time administrators such as Maria Berry, Jo Fernandes, and those who went from stars on the pitch to have a huge influence off it. Many of these women’s careers would easily merit entire books of their own, and Crawford still captures their importance, contributions, and personalities in this comprehensive and entertaining page-turner.  

Dodd was an early star for the Australian national team, and the book depicts her adventures with the side, but also her achievements off the pitch. As one of the first women to serve on FIFA’s executive committee, she was essential in reversing a confusing ban on women wearing hijabs to play.

It is just one of many historical moments in Dodd’s time in the sport, and Crawford’s book shows how those like Dodd Berry, and many others were able to enact real tangible, positive change from within a system dominated by [often resistant] men.

It is a reminder of how gender-based discrimination, homophobia and accepted attitudes toward acceptable pay and player conditions have been pushed into changing. A celebration of what exists now, and an appreciation for the trailblazers who had to pay out of their own pocket to represent their country.

The Matilda Effect is not an academic text like Never Say Die It is filled with funny, frustrating and entertaining stories. The story of Snoop Dogg meeting The Matildas deserves its own short film, and the tale of a 16-year-old Caitlin Foord being nonplussed at marking the great Marta is as hilarious as it is impressive.

Long-time Matildas coach Tom Sermanni is open and detailed in his accounts throughout and the fan perspective is shown, alongside the memories of the families that travel to every world cup to support their kin on the field.

The Matilda Effect uses the FIFA Women’s World Cup to track the progress of the sport, but it is not confined to those events. The work done in the intervening years like the Sydney Olympics, and the 2015 player-led pay strike are examined as crucial turning points in the game.

Importantly, this book serves as a reminder that progress is not linear. For every success like the 1999 World Cup in the USA, there were sometimes inexplicable frustrating setbacks such as Australia being denied the chance to host the 2003 tournament despite being the only bidders, or the 2011 World Cup not having a live broadcaster in Australia.

Crawford’s book shows that the response to these setbacks are as important as the obvious triumphs that have occurred along the long road to mainstream acceptance and celebration.

The Matilda Effect is essential reading for all fans of Women’s Football. For some, the facts and stories will be an entertaining and informative introduction to the sport. For many others, it will give new perspective to events they knew happened, but not the details behind them.

Crawford’s latest book tells us what happened and when, but how things changed and why through the words of those that were there in the moments that mattered most.

This is a fantastic read for all football fans, and shows how far women’s football has come, and how exciting the future is.

You’ll be doing a lot of travelling at this World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. Take The Matilda Effect with you for the ride. You will be reading it more than once and will likely bump into some of the names featured within.

The Matilda Effect will be available for purchase from May 30 and can be ordered here.

Published by Melbourne University Press.