The Hill’s own Matilda

The first in an ongoing series honouring RDA Far West Sporting Hall of Famers.

 With the whirlwind of support for the Matildas’ football team as their heroic run to the FIFA Women’s World Cup semi-finals unfolded, it seems only right we kick this series off with the Silver City’s only female soccer player to represent the country at international level – Broken Hill’s very own Matilda.

Growing up in North Broken Hill, and attending Willyama High School, Natalie Sargent only took up soccer, representing West Panthers, as a means to an end to fill up her Sundays.

“I took up soccer roughly when I was about 15, so I was a bit late to the game, but it gave me ample opportunities in the short time that I played it,” Ms Sargent told the Truth.

“I didn’t really have anything to play on a Sunday, and I think one of my friends was playing it at the time.

“I asked my folks, and they weren’t too impressed because obviously, I played sport every day of the week. And I just fell in love with it. It gave me all the opportunities to succeed.”

And succeed she did. Ms Sargent was picked to play for the Matildas in 1998 in the women’s World Cup qualifying campaign. And on debut against American Samoa, Natalie helped herself to a hattrick of goals.

“I was a late call up. I had 24 hours to prepare as one of the other girls had pulled out with injury.”

The lack of preparation had no effect on the finest soccer export the Silver City has ever produced.

“I had so much energy and zip around the park. The girls just kept feeding me football and I just seemed to be in the right place at the right time and had a couple of cracking finishes. I was on a massive high.”

Natalie would go on to feature a further 12 times for the Matildas, but said it is night and day when you compare the Matildas team she played for and the current environment around today’s Matildas squad.

She is proud to have played a part in the early days of Australia’s women’s national team.

“These girls have really paved the way in this last month or so with the World Cup and I’m just proud to know that we were one of the early pioneers of the game and have had that journey with them, and seeing how much it has developed since we’ve walked away from the sport. It’s jumped ahead in leaps and bounds.”

Following her career with the Australian women’s national team, Ms Sargent went on to play AFL. And just like she had with the round ball game, she excelled. She took part in the first ever AFL sanctioned women’s fixture, playing for the Western Bulldogs against Melbourne at the MCG.

“I really have been blessed with the career I’ve had through sport overall,” she says.

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