Why are Australia called The Matildas? Here's where the football team's name came from

Following their semi-final match against England's Lionesses, we take a look at why the Australian women's football team are called The Matildas.

The Australian women's football team known as The Matildas lined up on a football pitch
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Following the team's defeat against England in the World Cup semi-finals, football fans want to know why Australia are called The Matildas.

Football fever has well and truly descended on Australia, who are co-hosting the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup alongside New Zealand. With the final scheduled for Sunday 20 August, the tournament is now in its final stages. Now that England have secured their place in the final, football fans have been brushing up on their knowledge - from who the Lionesses are to why Sweet Caroline is sung at football matches. Some even want to know why the Lionesses aren't wearing white shorts this tournament.

But one question that has occupied many supporters' minds concerns the Australian side's nickname: The Matildas. The England team is called the Lionesses, a nickname that was born out of the men's team name The Three Lions, when in 2015 #lionesses was used on social media to differentiate from the #threelions during the Euros tournament. However, the Australian nickname remains a mystery to many - we've done the detective work, and here's why they're known as The Matildas...

Why are Australia called The Matildas?

The nickname 'The Matildas' was chosen for the Australian Women's National Football team in the run-up to the 1995 World Cup, and many believe it comes from the popular Australian song 'Waltzing Matildas'. 

The team had previously been known as 'The Female Socceroos', but before their first Women’s World Cup campaign in 1995 the Australian Women’s Soccer Association (AWSA) held a competition in which fans were asked to pick a new name from the following: Soccertoos, Blue Flyers, Waratehs, Matildas and Lorikeets.

The poll was held after a friendly against Colombia, when the name 'the Female Socceroos' featured in the official match programme. After the match, one of the major local television stations, SBS joined with AWSA and launched a competition to find a nickname for the Australian women's team. 'The Matildas' was the winning choice.

And it wasn't the first time that the name Matilda had been used in an Australian sporting environment - in 1982 Matilda the Kangaroo was the official mascot for the Brisbane Commonwealth Games.

Since 1995, Australia have played in every Women's World Cup - meaning they have competed in all but the inaugral edition. 2023 marks the first year that the team has made it past the quarter-finals, following their win against France.

Waltzing Matilda

The nickname 'The Matildas' comes from popular Australian song 'Waltzing Matilda'. The style of the song is what's known as a 'bush ballad', and many Australians consider it an unofficial national anthem.

A matilda is a swag - the roll or bundle of possessions carried by a 'swagman'. The lyrics of the song describe a swagman travelling across the country looking for work on a farm. 

In the song, the swagman steals a sheep and is pursued by the authorities. Rather than be captured, he jumps into a nearby pond and drowns.

Moya Dodd, who played 24 times for Australia before becoming a leading football executive, told The Sydney Morning Herald why she thought the link to 'Waltzing Matilda' was fitting for the football team: "I think it did capture a sense of rebelliousness, if you like, which is women’s football. It was banned for a long time. To be a woman playing football was a social transgression. In a way, it identifies well with a song about a guy who’s defying authority by stealing things, and then making sure he doesn’t get caught."

Meanwhile, Sharon Young, who played four 'A' internationals for Australia and put the name 'The Matildas' forward, expressed some frustration that many assume the name was solely inspired by 'Waltzing Matilda'. She told the publication: "They asked us for suggestions. That’s when I said, 'Well, what about Matilda? You know, the kangaroo that went around the stadium, the one that winked?' I thought that’d be a great name." 

Young was referring to the 13-metre tall, six-tonne Kangaroo from the 1982 Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony, which famously winked towards the crowd.

Who are the Matildas?

The Matildas are the Australian Women's National Football team. The current squad for the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup includes:

  • Lydia Williams: Goal Keeper (Brighton)
  • Teagan Micah: Goal Keeper (Rosengard)
  • Mackenzie Arnold: Goal Keeper (West Ham)
  • Courtney Nevin: Defender (Leicester City)
  • Aivi Luik: Defender (BK Häcken) 
  • Claire Polkinghorne: Defender (Vittsjö) 
  • Ellie Carpenter: Defender (Lyon) 
  • Charlotte Grant: Defender (Vittsjö) 
  • Clare Hunt: Defender (Western Sydney Wanderers) 
  • Steph Catley: Defender (Arsenal) 
  • Alanna Kennedy: Defender (Manchester City) 
  • Tameka Yallop: Midfielder (Brann)
  • Katrina Gorry: Midfielder (Brisbane Roar)
  • Kyra Cooney-Cross: Midfielder (Hammarby)
  • Clare Wheeler: Midfielder (Everton)
  • Alex Chidiac: Midfielder (Racing Louisville)
  • Emily van Egmond: Midfielder (San Diego Wave)
  • Cortnee Vine: Forward (Sydney FC)
  • Mary Fowler: Forward (Manchester City)
  • Hayley Raso: Forward (Manchester City)
  • Sam Kerr: Forward (Chelsea)
  • Caitlin Foord: Forward (Arsenal)
  • Kyah Simon: Forward (Free agent)

England vs Australia: What was the result?

England won their match against Australia in the FIFA Women's World Cup semi-finals, securing their place in the final. It marks a historic win for the Lionesses, who will be going to their first ever World Cup final.

The final score was 3-1 to England, with Ella Toone,l Lauren Hemp and Alessia Russo scoring for the English side, while Chelsea's Sam Kerr scored for the home team.

It means that England will face Spain, who won their match against Sweden 2-1 on Tuesday, in the FIFA Women's World Cup final, while Australia have been knocked out of the tournament.

It was a tense match, with England the current European Champions after their victory last summer - but The Matildas are the only team to have beaten the Lionesses since manager Sarina Wiegman took charge in September 2021 - at a 2-0 friendly defeat at Brentford back in April.

Other women's football team nicknames

  • Argentina: La Albiceleste (the white and sky blues)
  • Brazil: Las Canarinhas (the canaries)
  • Colombia: Superpoderosas (the Powerpuff Girls)
  • Costa Rica: Las Ticas
  • China: Steel Roses
  • Denmark: De rod-Hvide (red and white)
  • France: Les Bleues (the blues)
  • Germany: Die Nationalef (national eleven)
  • Haiti: Les Grenadieres
  • Ireland: the Girls in Green
  • Italy: La Azzurre (the blue)
  • Jamaica: Reggae Girlz
  • Japan: Nadeshiko (Yamato Nadeshiko translates to 'ideal Japanese woman')
  • Morocco: Atlas Lionesses
  • Netherlands: Oranje Leeuwinnen (Orange Lionesses)
  • New Zealand: Football Ferns
  • Nigeria: Super Falcons
  • Panama: Las Canaleras (referring to the Panama Canal)
  • Philippines: Filipinas
  • Portugal: A Selecao das Quinas (referring to the crest of the Portuguese kingdom)
  • Spain: La Roja (red one)
  • South Africa: Banyana Banyana (girls girls)
  • South Korea: Taeguek Nangja (referring to the country's flag)
  • Sweden: Blue and Yellow
  • Vietnam: 'Golden Girls' or 'Golden State Warriors'
  • Zambia: Shepolopolo or Copper Queens

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Ellie Hutchings
Family News Editor

Ellie is GoodtoKnow’s Family News Editor and covers all the latest trends in the parenting world - from relationship advice and baby names to wellbeing and self-care ideas for busy mums. Ellie is also an NCTJ-qualified journalist and has a distinction in MA Magazine Journalism from Nottingham Trent University and a first-class degree in Journalism from Cardiff University. Previously, Ellie has worked with BBC Good Food, The Big Issue, and the Nottingham Post, as well as freelancing as an arts and entertainment writer alongside her studies. When she’s not got her nose in a book, you’ll probably find Ellie jogging around her local park, indulging in an insta-worthy restaurant, or watching Netflix’s newest true crime documentary.