Newcastle would be a “natural fit” as a home-base for the Matildas, after their clash with Brazil at McDonald Jones Stadium drew a record crowd on Tuesday.
That was the opinion of Newcastle’s lord mayor after almost 17,000 people descended on Broadmeadow to watch the Matildas romp to a 3-2 victory.
The turn-out, a record for the national women’s football team on home turf, has raised questions about whether the squad could set up a home-base in Newcastle – in a similar relationship to the one-time partnership between the Wallabies rugby union team and Coffs Harbour.
“I think it’s a fantastic idea for the city,” Cr Nuatali Nelmes said.
“Particularly given that we have produced so many high quality Australian women footballers, it’s a natural breeding ground for that type of talent. So basing their training camps here would be a really natural fit.
“It takes people putting their money where their mouth is and voting with their feet and Novocastrians came out in spades on a Tuesday night – that’s a fantastic outcome, not just for the city and football but also for women’s sport. The quality of those athletes is just phenomenal.”
The atmosphere in the stadium on Tuesday night had Football Federation Australia CEO David Gallop “delighted”.
Mr Gallop would not be drawn on whether the Matildas would consider setting up a home-base in Newcastle.
But he acknowledged the city’s “long history in football and its support for the game”.
“We know the players felt the crowd was a big factor in their victory over Brazil,” he said.
“We will continue to look for opportunities to play national team matches in Newcastle as part of our commitment to taking these important events to venues around Australia.”
The Matildas have no fixed home-base for their training camps, though they conduct many at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra and at Valentine Park in Sydney.
Two current squad members – Gema Simon and Chloe Logarzo – play for the Jets in the W-League and former Newcastle player Emily van Egmond is a regular face in the national team.
The Hunter is regarded as a stronghold for junior football in NSW and the number of girls taking up the game in the region in recent times has been growing significantly.
According to Northern NSW Football figures, there were 130 girls-only football teams between the under-6 and under-11 age groups in the Hunter this season – up from zero in 2011.
The number of girls playing in a Newcastle-affiliated football team in those age groups jumped 137 per cent between 2011 and 2017, to 1187 players.
CEO David Eland said he was “blown away” by the community’s support of the international fixture on Tuesday.
When asked whether the Matildas should consider using Newcastle as a home base, he said: “the clear response is – why not?”
“If the FFA is looking for a base for the Matildas on home soil, Newcastle would be, in my view, the absolute perfect location,” he said.
“We know from the Asian Cup that we not only have a good stadium but we’ve also got two fantastic training venues right in the heart of Newcastle.
“We’ve got, what I think is, a fantastic airport. It’s certainly a lot easier flying in and out of Newcastle than it is Sydney Airport in my opinion. [There are] stacks of accommodation options and there’s just less congestion.”
Cr Nelmes said Newcastle City Council had strong ties with the FFA, which were cemented during the 2015 Asian Cup.
“We had record crowds watching football here, we saw record visitor numbers – on the basis of the success of the Asian Cup, we’ve been able to leverage several other big sporting events in Newcastle,” she said.
The FFA announced on Wednesday that Australia would play a two-match series against China in Melbourne and Geelong in November.