A remarkable journey that had its early stages in the grounds of St Martin’s Catholic Primary School at Carina has reached its largest stage as Clare Polkinghorne steps out for another FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Clare has become the first Australian woman or man to play in five soccer World Cups, starting with the Matilda’s opening win over Ireland last night at a sold-out Olympic Stadium in Sydney.
Their tournament continues in Brisbane on Thursday with a match against Nigeria.
Clare will be cheered on from the grandstands by her mum Britha, who has been the finance secretary at Our Lady of Mt Carmel Catholic Primary School at Coorparoo.
As a student at St Martin’s, Clare had her sights on representing her country at the Olympics, but most likely through her booming athletics career. A young Clare was the national 100m hurdles champion for her age.
Clare would reach the Olympics as part of a football career that has realised more than 150 matches for her country. She has played more matches for Australia than any soccer player.
And Britha has watched her daughter’s journey closely along with her late husband Tony, who proudly followed his daughter’s career until his untimely death after the 2019 World Cup.
When the massive crowd roars for the Matildas across this World Cup, it will be a long way from Britha’s memories of watching Clare play for Australia against North Korea in driving rain in Brisbane’s northern suburbs in 2010.
“There were probably 50 people there that day although it was very wet,” Britha said.
“To see where women’s football has gone is just so exciting for Clare and for everyone involved.
“Having the World Cup in Australia is great reward for everyone who has been involved for a long time. We’re excited that Clare gets a chance to play this in Australia.”
Clare’s first World Cup appearance was in China in 2007, followed by Germany (2011), Canada (2015) and France (2019).
Her teammate Lydia Williams will also make her fifth tournament appearance this year, having played alongside Clare in each of those World Cups.
Clare has forged a reputation as one of the nation’s most resilient athletes, overcoming injury earlier this year to gain selection for the historic tournament.
That brings her back to Australia from her home in Sweden, where Clare has played in the Swedish league for the last three years.
“Clare doesn’t get the chance to come home too often because of her schedule but it’s always so good to see her,” Britha said.
“She’s very close with her brothers (older brother Liam and younger brother Tom) and they are very proud of their sister’s achievements.
“We’re all sad that her Dad isn’t here for this. She had a very close relationship with Tony. They were like peas in a pod.”
Clare has university qualifications in criminology and psychology along with postgraduate credentials in criminal justice.
She has also studied sports science as she fits her tertiary studies into a football career that has taken her around the world and made her an integral part of a Matildas team that is tipped to play well throughout the World Cup.
Australia plays its final pool match against Canada in Melbourne on 31 July. The finalists for the knockout stage of the tournament will be determined by results in the pool matches.
Caption: Clare Polkinghorne with brothers Liam (left) and Tom (right).