The Gabba is better known for hosting Ashes Tests, the Brisbane Lions, and the odd Adele concert. But on 24 September 1921, the Brisbane cricket ground hosted one of the most significant fixtures in Australian women’s football history – the first representative match.
The Queensland Football Association (QFA), the tightly clenched men’s state governing body, had taken no small amount of convincing to include women’s teams on their match-day card. However, funds raised from the estimated turnout, newspapers report about 10,000, certainly eased their torment. That would remain a record crowd for a women’s match in Australia for nearly a century, when the Matildas defeated Brazil at a sold out Penrith stadium with 17,000 watching on in 2017. The women got a cut of gate takings too – their £90 share is the first recognised income for women’s football in Australia.
Wedged between two men’s fixtures, the game has often been portrayed since as an exhibition, a one-off novelty. But it was the first of a short series of representative matches in south-east Queensland which proved immediately popular, but quickly faded after the ban on women’s football in England a few months later.
Formed a few months before the match, the Queensland Women’s Ladies Soccer Football Association had attempted to affiliate with the men’s association almost immediately but were refused. Not to be deterred, the women approached the burgeoning Australian rules football competition to see if they might play a curtain raiser. The men took the mark, welcoming the women with open arms (Australian press had reported on large crowds attending women’s football matches in England). It was only then, after the resignation in protest and subsequent reinstatement of a chagrined QFA chair, that the Gabba match went ahead.
Served by political agendas and spurious arguments about women’s health, the English Football Assocation (the FA) banned women’s football on 5 December 1921, which officially lasted another 50 years in Britain. Australian women continued to play, but interest was affected. An article in April 1922 reported that women were reluctant to play as a result of their fear of public opinion.