Story: Football

Page 6. Women's international football

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In February 1974, women’s teams from Sydney clubs played their counterparts in Auckland. The following month, an Auckland representative team toured Australia. The national women’s team first visited Australia in 1979 and then hosted Australia in 1980 in a return series for the Trans-Tasman Cup. New Zealand won the inaugural Oceania Cup tournament in New Caledonia in 1983, beating Australia in the final.

Record goal scorer

Amber Hearn represented New Zealand 125 times during her career with the Football Ferns between 2004 and 2018, including playing at two FIFA Women’s World Cups and three Olympics. Her 54 international goals are the most scored by any New Zealand footballer – male or female.

A New Zealand Women’s Football Association had been formed in 1975, when a national side was invited to compete in the Asian Ladies’ Football Confederation Cup in Hong Kong. Remarkably the untried Kiwis defeated Hong Kong, Malaysia, Australia and Thailand to claim an international trophy at the first attempt.

In the 1980s the national team finished second (1981), fourth (1984) and second-equal (1987) at World Invitational Tournaments in Taiwan, unofficial forerunners of the FIFA Women’s World Cup. The 1987 team which achieved New Zealand’s only victory over the US included the first mother–daughter combination to appear together in an international match, defenders Barbara and Michele Cox. The New Zealand team – then known as the Swanz – appeared in the first FIFA World Cup tournament in China in 1991, but fell behind Australia and failed to qualify for the next three events.

The New Zealand Women’s Football Association was declared to have ‘merged’ with Soccer New Zealand in 1999 and formally dissolved in 2004, the year Michele Cox was appointed Head of Women’s Football.

By 2007 the national team was known as the Football Ferns. They returned to the World Cup stage that year and in 2011 earned their first point in the tournament. The Football Ferns achieved two draws in pool play in 2015 but lost all three matches in 2019. New Zealand and Australia jointly hosted the 2023 World Cup, with 29 of the 64 matches played in New Zealand. The Football Ferns beat Norway 1–0 in the first match of the tournament, but failed to qualify for the knockout stage. In the early 2020s the Football Ferns were ranked between 20th and 30th in the world.

Record number of caps

English-born defender Ria Percival retired from international football in 2024 after playing 166 international matches for the Football Ferns since 2007, more than any other male or female New Zealand footballer. Percival played at four Olympic Games and five FIFA World Cups.

Women’s football was first played at the Summer Olympics in 1996. The Football Ferns have qualified for every Olympic Games since Australia moved from Oceania to the Asian confederation in 2006. In London in 2012 they recorded their first win (3–1 over Cameroon) and reached the quarter-finals, losing 2–0 to USA.

At the 2013 Valais Cup in Switzerland the Football Ferns became the first New Zealand football team to beat powerhouse Brazil with a 1–0 win. The Football Ferns went on to defeat China 4–0 in the final to claim their first trophy outside their home confederation since winning the 1975 Asian Cup.

New Zealand also had success in the annual Cyprus Women’s Cup tournament, reaching the final in 2010 (losing to Canada 1–0), and placing third in 2013 and fourth in 2009.

Under-17 and Under-20 Women's World Cups

The first major FIFA tournament to be hosted in New Zealand was the Under-17 Women’s World Cup, in October and November 2008. Sixteen teams competed in matches played in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch. New Zealand beat Colombia 3–0 thanks to a Rosie White hat-trick, but did not progress out of its group.

New Zealand under-17 and under-20 teams performed increasingly well in the 21st century, beating Colombia, Chile and Switzerland at FIFA World Cup tournaments. In 2018 the under-17 team finished third at the FIFA World Cup, the best result by a New Zealand national team at a FIFA tournament. The under-20 team reached the quarter-finals in 2014.

Coaches and officials

The first head coach of the national women’s team was Wellington-based Dave Farrington, who held the role from 1975 to 1979. Roy Cox was team manager and then head coach from 1983 to 1987. In 2021, Czech-born Jitka Klimková became the first female head coach of the Football Ferns.

Campaigner for the cup

Johanna Wood became the president of New Zealand Football in 2019, the first woman to reach the top of the administration of New Zealand football. In the same year she was elected to the FIFA Council, representing the Oceania Football Confederation. She led the successful campaign for New Zealand and Australia to jointly host the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the most-attended standalone women’s sporting event ever staged.

In 2016, New Zealander Sarai Bareman became the most powerful figure in women's football when she was appointed as FIFA's first Chief Women's Football Officer.

Anna-Marie Keighley began refereeing in 2008 and has been a FIFA-accredited referee since 2010. She refereed at the 2014 Under-17 Women's World Cup and the 2018 and 2022 Under-20 Women’s World Cups. She has also been called up to men’s tournaments, including 2016 Oceania Football Confederation Champions League, and played a supporting role at the 2017 Under-17 Men’s World Cup. She officiated in five matches at the 2015 Women’s World Cup, the first person to do so at a tournament. Anna-Marie regularly referees New Zealand Football and Oceania Football Confederation matches, as well as officiating in the A-League Women.

How to cite this page:

Neill Atkinson, Steve Watters and Alida Shanks, 'Football - Women's international football', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 May 2024)

Story by Neill Atkinson, Steve Watters and Alida Shanks, published 5 Sep 2013, reviewed & revised 7 Jun 2023 with assistance from Alida Shanks