Football: Record crowds leave Football Ferns elated as excitement builds for 2023 women's World Cup

Less than six months out from the women's World Cup, Kiwi supporters have shown they're on board to support the Football Ferns and the upcoming tournament at home. 

On Wednesday, a record 12,508 fans packed into Sky Stadium for the first of two friendlies between the Football Ferns and world champions the USA. 

Then, on Saturday, that record was broken again when 12,721 turned out at Eden Park to see the first women's international held at New Zealand's national stadium.

And as part of a boom in women's sport in Aotearoa, with cricket and rugby both having successful World Cups on Kiwi soil in 2022, football is in position to join its rival codes in capturing the nation's imagination. 

Ali Riley takes photos with fans.
Ali Riley takes photos with fans. Photo credit: Photosport

Without question, the women's Football World Cup will be one of, if not the biggest sporting event held in New Zealand. 

The 2019 women's World Cup in France broke viewership records, with 1.12 billion viewers globally. For comparison, the men's Rugby World Cup that same year drew in 857.28 million viewers. 

That support shown by fans during the two friendlies will hopefully translate to similar scenes when the World Cup begins, starting with New Zealand against Norway at Eden Park on July 20th. 

For defender Anna Green, the fan support over the past week shows the appetite for the game and hopes to see it carry on during the World Cup and beyond. 

"It's just such a momentous occasion for us as a team, for us as individuals that have been starved of home games," said Green.

"Having the fans turn out to Wellington, having an opportunity to play in Auckland - which is home for a lot of the girls - it's an experience that's second to none and one we can't wait to have going into the World Cup, during the World Cup and moving forward as well.

"It's really important that this is the start of the legacy of this team, that we are going to have home games post-World Cup as well."

The Football Ferns themselves will be the first to admit the two matches against the USA didn't see them hit the standards they'll want to reach during the World Cup.

A record crowd at Eden Park watched the Football Ferns v USA.
A record crowd at Eden Park watched the Football Ferns v USA. Photo credit: Photosport

A 4-0 defeat in Wellington and 5-0 loss in Auckland show there is still more work to be done.

But for coach Jitka Klimkova, the support of the fans even in defeat, is a luxury the team will forever be grateful for.

"It's so unique for New Zealand," said Klimkova. "It's so unique and we are so thankful that we can play in front of a home crowd that's so supportive.

"Knowing that we're playing against No.1 in the world, knowing that they're such a strong team. But everything that we've done well, they were celebrating.

"We said before the tour, let's celebrate every moment on the field. Knowing that the fans are celebrating with us is an incredible moment.

"I had goosebumps when I could hear the fans. That's a huge motivation for our players to keep working hard and keep connecting, keep looking for those little wins on the field."

However, in reality, the Football Ferns won't face any tougher fixtures than what they just have against the US.

Although Klimkova will have all her best players to call on come July - a feat not afforded this time around due to the tour falling outside of FIFA's international window - the Ferns know that they'll continue to improve with the more time they spend together.

And following the waves of support for cricket and rugby during their respective women's World Cups, the current side are hopeful 2023 will be a groundbreaking year for Kiwi football.

"[We need] time together as a team," added Green. "We've got a pretty comprehensive schedule into the World Cup, that always helps.

"Having the fans behind us definitely helps, more time on the pitch and more connection as a group - working on our team culture [and] tapping into the communities.

"The legacy piece around this Cup is going to unlock a lot of potential for this team. 

"We've seen what it can do for the Black Ferns, we've seen glimpses of it with the White Ferns as well.

"I'm just really excited that we have the opportunity to do that too."