On Wednesday night, at 8pm, the Football Ferns released a video. It was captioned “We’re Coming Home”. Before even watching, then, we knew that New Zealand Football had obtained a major victory, and surmounted a large obstacle in the process, by securing a home game for the Ferns. The question became who the opposition would be.
Regardless of their identity, however, it is worth mentioning how special it is for the Ferns to have the chance to play at home at all. Such occasions are exceptionally rare. When they do eventuate, they are usually against lower-ranking sides. Without being disrespectful to those teams, this does make it difficult to attract the crowd numbers that are so crucial for securing funding and future fixtures in New Zealand. It’s been a big challenge for New Zealand Football over the last several years.
It’s been a challenge, and, this June, they’ll rise to meet it. The team our Ferns will line up against on June 10 at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium is Japan.
And that is a really big deal.
Japan is ranked 11th in the world right now, but they’ve been as high as 3rd. They reached that level in 2011, the same year they took out the FIFA World Cup. So, reason-it’s-a-big-deal number 1: The Ferns are playing the former World Cup Champions. On principle, I don’t want to contextualise that with a men’s team and so I won’t-I’m sure the magnitude of this game is not lost on anyone.
The Japanese are playing well at the moment, too. In the last two weeks, they’ve taken out the AFC Cup, securing their place in France 2019 and beating the high-flying Matildas in the process. That has been no easy feat of late, which leads us to reason number 2: Japan will undoubtedly provide a very stern test for the Ferns, as well as a benchmark. New Zealand will get to measure their progress against a team that is firmly among the favourites for the World Cup next year. Now is a good time for the Ferns to experience that test, with the FFDP (Future Ferns Domestic Programme) entering its second year and beginning to produce ‘graduates’ with professional contracts. The express purpose of the programme was to bridge the gap between us and sides like Japan. What better measuring stick is there than this match? That’s reason number 3.
The final reason that this announcement is a really big deal takes the form of the aspiring Ferns, who will hopefully white-out the yellow seats in Wellington come June. We talk a lot about how important it is for young footballers to actually see their idols in action. Visibility is key to encouraging girls to play the sport and stay in the sport: it’s much easier to move forward when you can see where the pathway leads. Recently, it’s been obscure. Ferns games have been infrequent, often untelevised and almost never in New Zealand. That has made it difficult for young female footballers to look up to the players who they could one day emulate. The effect of this is to push girls instead to watch only the male athletes, all the while making the dream of representing their country feel less realistic. Now, young female footballers get to experience the sheer magic of seeing their idols live. It becomes real: a real option, a real goal. There’s plenty of work to be done to make said goal not just real but also achievable, but nevertheless, the impact this home game will have on the future generations of our national team cannot be overstated.
If you possibly can, please go along and support the Football Ferns at Westpac Stadium on June 10th. For those of us who follow female football in this country-both at the grassroots level and in the Ferns, this is the moment we have been waiting and asking for, for so long. Make it worthwhile for New Zealand Football and for Japan, and for any other teams who may venture to our shores. Make it an inspiring environment for the young footballers who’ll be there. This is an incredible opportunity for us, and it is a really big deal.
A lover of the game since the age of 4. Living and playing for club and school in Auckland and loving every second on the pitch (apart from the end of a losing match).