As one of the leading nations in the women’s movement for equality, it is no surprise that New Zealand was also a trailblazer in the early development of women’s football.
A PIONEERING NATION
Women’s football in New Zealand also had informal beginnings with girls and women taking up the game at social level in the late 1960s. That dawning popularity resulted in the formation of organised competitions in Auckland and Wellington with 1973 seeing the creation of the first women’s football leagues in New Zealand.
Following the emergence of an international women’s football movement in the 1970s, New Zealand was one of the first countries to assemble a women’s national team.
An invitation to the first Women’s Asian Cup in 1975 led to the formation of the New Zealand Women's Football Association (NZWFA).
Coached by David Farrington and captained by Barbara Cox, the first women’s national team in 1975 comprised players who would become New Zealand Football legends including Cox, Marilyn Marshall, Debbie Leonidas, Carol Waller, Kathy Hall and Nora Watkins.
The first squad departed for the 1975 AFC Women’s Championships – the first Women’s Asian Cup – in Hong Kong and returned two weeks later as Champions.
New Zealand’s first international match saw them account for hosts Hong Kong (2-0), before taking care of Malaysia (3-0), Australia (3-2) and Thailand (3-1) in the final.
Following their first meeting in 1975, Australia and New Zealand would continue to build a friendly association that would span the next four decades. This included a Trans-Tasman series where Australia played their first “A” international match in October 1979.
As women’s football expanded globally in the late 70s and early 80s, New Zealand became one of the founding members of the Oceania Women's Football Association in 1982, alongside Australia, Fiji and Papua New Guinea.
The following year the Kiwis recorded another first as the inaugural winner of the first OFC Women's Championship in 1983.
In 1991, the New Zealand Women's Football Association underwent a name change to become Women’s Soccer Association New Zealand (WSANZ) and the national team became known as the SWANZ.
New Zealand continued to be one of the pioneering national teams in 1991 when it became one of 12 nations to compete in the first FIFA Women’s World Cup™ in China.
A NEW CENTURY, A NEW RISE
The mid90s saw the SWANZ participate in several international invitational tournaments including the CONCACAF tournament (where they finished second), India's Gold Cup tournament.
While the SWANZ were busy on the road in the late 90s, their close rivalry with Australia meant that New Zealand was absent from the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ and the new Summer Olympic Women’s Football Tournament until 2007.
Australia’s departure to the Asian Football Confederation in 2006 opened up possibilities for New Zealand. The newly named women’s team, the Football Ferns, took advantage of the opportunities.
2007 saw the Football Ferns return to the top of Oceania as they claimed their third Oceania Women’s Championship and, crucially, qualify for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2007™ in China.
The qualification phase and China 2007 saw the emergence of several young players, including Ria Percival, Abby Erceg, Ali Riley, Katie Duncan and Annalie Longo – who would be stalwarts of the Ferns for the next decade.
The Football Ferns returned to China in 2008 after qualifying for their first Olympic Games. That tournament saw a little more history as they recorded their first points with a 2-2 draw with Japan.
Women’s football continued its growth in October 2008 when New Zealand hosted the inaugural FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup Finals. An extraordinarily successful tournament, the Young Ferns acquitted themselves well with narrow defeats to Canada and Denmark before recording New Zealand's first win in a FIFA Women's Finals event against Colombia.
FOUNDATIONS FOR THE FUTURE
By the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011™, the young Football Ferns were picking up momentum. Drawn in a competitive Group B, New Zealand pushed eventual World Champions Japan and group winners England, before picking up their first senior FIFA Women’s World Cup™ point with a 2-2 draw against Mexico.
The national team’s re-birth continued at the London 2012 Olympics. The tenacious Ferns opened with two narrow 1-0 losses to Great Britain and Brazil before soundly defeating Cameroon 3-1. The victory was New Zealand’s first at a FIFA Women’s World Cup or Olympic Games and resulted in the national team progressing to the knockout stage for the first time.
Sustained investment from New Zealand Football saw the Football Ferns continue their upward trajectory with more matches against high quality international opponents. Strong performances against the world’s best saw the national team reach their highest world ranking of 16 in 2013.
At the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015™, New Zealand produced more positive performances and results, taking home two points and respect from their opponents for the level of play. That time period saw seven Ferns – Percival, Erceg, Riley, Hearn, Duncan, Longo and Hassett – reach the milestone of 100 international appearances.
As a legacy of the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup 2008™, an emphasis on women’s and girl’s football transformed into a strategic priority for New Zealand Football. This investment started to bear fruit, with several talented juniors coming through the system, eventuating in the NZ U-17 Women’s Team claiming bronze at the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup 2018™.
That same year saw changes for the Football Ferns with seasoned coach Tom Sermanni appointed as the head coach to take New Zealand to the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019™.
Once again, the Football Ferns demonstrated why they are a tough and well-respected side with admirable performances against eventual finalists the Netherlands, Canada and Cameroon.