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An Open Letter to the Young Football Ferns

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To our bronze medal-winning, history-making, nation-inspiring Young Ferns,

What you have achieved in Uruguay may not yet feel real to you. But the joy and excitement you created in New Zealand over the past month is tangible. Your success was beyond any of our dreams, but now, following your path seems achievable to generations of Kiwi kids, especially girls, who watched you represent the Fern with skill, togetherness and pride.

For us at In The Back of The Net, who first met you on suburban pitches in club colours on a Sunday afternoon, it has been an at times surreal, and awe-inspiring experience to watch your journey. We want to thank you for all you have done, and we are not the only members of this community who felt that way. So we have compiled a series of thank you notes into one thank you letter. Every single one of us- coach, player, journalist, blogger – has been inspired by your achievements. We are so proud of you. Welcome home.

Sam Tawharu

Junior Football Fern and Member of the 2016 Young Football Ferns World Cup Squad

I’m totally and utterly speechless! You have all created a spark within the young girls, the women, that we are good enough. Your strength and passion has changed the way women’s football will be viewed forever. You have empowered us to continue reaching for success. Thank you. We are so proud of you ALL.

Ben Bate

Head Coach, Forrest Hill Milford 

Congratulations to all the squad and staff. Your achievements are incredible and (although I hope they are) they are unlikely to be repeated any time soon. You’ve provided inspiration to an entire generation of future football ferns who all sat in front the television and who will now one day dream of being the women they saw achieve so much these past few weeks.

To the Forrest Hill girls who played their part in the achievement, I am immensely proud of all four of you. You are all incredible ambassadors for the club and role models for the next generation of Swans who one day hope to follow in your footsteps #SwansUp.

Caitlin Campbell

Member of the 2008 Young Football Ferns World Cup squad

To all the YFF players, staff & families.

A massive congratulations to everyone for your unbelievable achievement at the U17 WWC. Your tenacity, belief and most importantly togetherness have inspired a nation and is a true depiction of what it means to be Kiwi.

Parents and families, this is your success too. Your sacrifice and support is something that will sometimes go unnoticed but believe me it is never forgotten.

Enjoy your moment — you will remember this for the rest of your life.

Cordwainer Bull

Former Waikato United and Waikato FC programme columnist

Thanks to the U-17s for killing forever New Zealand’s former default status as rank underdogs on the international football scene. Are “overdogs” a thing? I also love the fact that our players are so much part of our everyday football fabric, a product of our domestic competition, that we can enjoy in the flesh weekly in the women’s national league. Better still following the recent rucks, our U-17 coaching staff “belong” in exactly the same manner. Indeed, so much so that my first inclination is still to think of coach Leon Birnie as a jobbing Napier national league midfielder-striker who finished third in the race for the Golden Boot in 2005-06, rather than our most successful international coach. (Though it is fantastic Leon no longer has the Clint Eastwood demeanour, and is refreshingly eloquent.)

Katie Bowen

Current Football Fern, Member of the 2008 World Cup Squad, Utah Royal

Girls, or Queens, as you rightfully call yourselves, you have made the nation of New Zealand so proud. Leon said dare to dream and boy did you do that. No words will be able to express how inspiring your journey has been for all the youth football players in New Zealand. It has been an incredible one to watch, and one that the football community will remember for years to come. Keep pushing yourselves to be the best players you can be and never forget the memories you have created over the past month. Congratulations again. Thank you for inspiring the next generation.

Dale Warburton

On behalf of Yellow Fever

Astonishing. Amazing. Stunning. At some point you run out of superlatives to describe their achievements. But when you do, they deserve every single one of them. And yet it seems like it’s still not enough.

Third in the world. Remarkable.

After a dark year for football in New Zealand, the sport needed a shining light. Guided by home grown coaches and playing in a manner we were told was not possible just months ago, the Young Ferns provided it. They we’re just happy to be there. They weren’t just happy to make the quarter finals. They weren’t just happy make the semis. And weren’t just happy to finish fourth.

We may never know the impact their performance will have on the sport. Hopefully it inspires other players, coaches and the governors of the game to greater things. Regardless they’ve already built their own legacy and all before they’re 18. Remarkable.

Gareth Turnbull

Coach of the U20 Football Ferns, Manager of the Future Ferns Domestic Programme

Thank you. Thank you for elevating the women’s national programme to the global stage. You have forever changed how the world will view NZF. Congratulations on your achievements and building these glorious experiences that you have worked so hard for. Hopefully you can reflect and feel that your sacrifices and commitment to being the best footballer possible is worth it, and then some. There will be plenty more challenges around the corner for you to face and conquer. Take confidence from this adventure and approach those new challenges with the same ambition, desire and fight that you have shown us and the rest of the world in these past few weeks. You are all legends in my eyes.

Suzanne McFadden

Editor of LockerRoom

To the incredible young women of the New Zealand Under 17 side. Not only have you reached heights no other kiwi football side has come close to scaling, you’ve also inspired a whole new generation of young Kiwis-especially girls-who want to be just like you. I can’t wait to see what you go on to do. You now know, nothing is impossible.

Rosie White

Current Football Fern, Member of the 2008 World Cup Squad, Chicago Red Star

U17s you are nothing short of legends. From all of the Football Ferns, we couldn’t be prouder of what you’ve achieved this year. You’ve all proved to New Zealand and the world what is possible and you certainly dared to dream. You have broke through the glass ceiling that was once set, and I hope that spirit continues with you in your careers and in your lives. I can’t wait to play alongside you.

Steve Cox

Head Coach, Hamilton Wanderers

To Leon, the players and all the staff, a big thank you for the incredible journey that you’ve taken an entire nation on. Savour the moment and embrace the recognition your exploits deserve. We are all so proud of what you’ve achieved and know you have reinforced the foundations for future generations to come.

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Holly Nixon

New Zealand Football Women’s Development Manager

Dear New Zealand Football Womens U17’s team,

Thank you for inspiring New Zealand and showing us how to dare to dream a little bit more. It is hard to put into words what your achievements mean and I am sure you will be struggling with comprehending how massive your bronze medal at a FIFA World Cup is. Take the opportunity to reflect on this, because as young women having achieved what you have, you may find that your bar has been set higher. Embrace this, use your resilience, your leadership, your teamwork skills to build on the experience you had at the World Cup as it does not stop there. How can you tell your stories and help the next generation of young girls experience what you have just experienced? How can you positively influence the World more than you have already? If you take the passion and resilience you showed in the last 30 minutes of the game against Canada into your everyday life, I have no doubt you will all succeed in whatever pathway or journey you life takes. Thanks again for daring to dream.

Jason Pine

RadioSport Journalist and SkySport Commentator

To the players, coaching staff and management of the New Zealand Under-17 women’s side:

It’s hard to put into words just how much I’ve enjoyed watching you strut your stuff on the world stage. It wasn’t just what you achieved, but how you achieved it – playing within a highly effective structure, but also showing flair and fearlessness. Watching you celebrate your successes as a team and with your travelling family members was utterly heart-warming.

At the end of a difficult year for our game, you have been a shining light. Thanks for reminding us all what is possible when you combine skill, team spirit and a love of our beautiful game.

Tracy Wrigley

Head Coach, Auckland Football

The U17s have taken us on a ‘glorious’ ride proving that Kiwi grit can combine with football nous. Even better; football in NZ is small enough that all of us feel just a little connected to the spunk, toughness & audacity that characterised their performances. Thanks to the entire u17s group for getting the whole country talking about women’s football & allowing us to feel like we shared the journey.

Noel Barkley

Chief Executive Officer, New Zealand Football Foundation

This week was immense for the women’s game, with both with the Ferns in New Caledonia and the Young Ferns in Uruguay.

With 6 girls in both teams coming from the FFDP, the Foundation is delighted and honoured to be involved in this programme. The 17s made the the impossible achievable which will serve all future national teams. They have set the bar high for those that will follow and they have put NZ on the Football map.This team were fitter faster and stronger and those involved in preparing them deserve much credit along with coaches Leon and Gemma.

Ole Academy


Dear U17 Women’s National Team,

First and foremost, congratulations on your EPIC 2018 World Cup Campaign! The Olé staff and players were rooting you on all the way.

We have a saying at Ole Football Academy “Teaching Kiwis How To Fly.” Your team truly demonstrated to New Zealand and the entire world what the Kiwi is capable of, flight on the biggest stage. We hope that your team’s great work goes noticed and is a catalyst for football in our incredible country.

We wish you all the best as you return home and in all of your future football endeavours.

Sarah Gregorius

Current Football Fern, Board Member of the New Zealand PFA

What a ride you have taken us all on! We have followed you every step of the way, throughout the camp in Auckland and the Qualifiers in New Caledonia. Whether it was waking up early, racing back from trainings, furiously searching the web for streams (both dodgy and legit), or huddling round phones being held up to TV’s back in NZ – we were spellbound. As the tournament went on, we could see in you and your performances so much of who we strive to be as a team – passionate, resilient, courageous, and connected. And your incredible results are a reflection of this.

We speak a lot about legacy, us Football Ferns. We do our best to honour, respect, and inspire those that have come before and those that will come after us. We acknowledge that, as players, the sun only shines on us for a finite amount of time and that we are a part of a history that stretches on. It is an absolute dream to know that as the sun moves to shine on you, the legacy is in great hands. More than that, you created your own legacy that will last and inspire so many, us included. Thank you for showing us this, Little Fernies. We are so, so proud.

Thank you again, from the entire football community.

From us at ITBOTN: Please add to this thank you letter in the comments and on Twitter. We’d love to keep adding to it.

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Categories: Football Ferns Youth Football

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Helena Wiseman

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).

3 replies

  1. Hear, hear! In addition to all the wonderful comments above, which I echo wholeheartedly, for me the abiding memory of this team will be the SMILES!

    The passion, the skill, the commitment, the togetherness were all there for everyone to see. But, then when goals were scored, and even more so when final whistles were BLOWN, those HUGE SMILES… Yuuuussss!!!

    Impossible to forget.

    What team!?
    ONE TEAM!!
    One team!
    NEW ZEALAND!!

  2. The results were amazing, the journey so inspiring but I agree the highlight to me was your obvious enjoyment.
    A good positive team environment creates results.
    As an old footballer I can confirm that when your playing days are over all you have left are the memories, the friendships and the injuries.
    You made New Zealand proud and never forget that.

  3. From a Dunedin football supporter who has resented the assumption that a centralised programme is the only option for success – congratulations for showing it is about being fantastic footballers, playing to win with your friends, and being able to live at home, go to school with your friends, play for your local clubs. Thank you so much for showing it can be done. There is football success South of the Bombay Hills.

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