The Matildas veteran combining football and faith

In her fifth World Cup for the Matildas, goalkeeper Lydia Williams represents not only her country but also her faith.

The Matildas, who are through to the quarter-finals clash against France in Brisbane this Saturday, have taken the nation by storm and driven the public into a frenzy of support for the green and gold. Whether you’ve been actively following the FIFA Women’s World Cup or not, there’s no denying the excitement felt as our country proudly hosts one of the biggest sporting events of the year.

With hopes of a potential Aussie World Cup victory ahead of us, many have been flocking to the local games and tickets have become scarce. A photo from the Matildas’ recent 2-0 win against Denmark captures this enthusiasm, where a young girl holds a sign claiming that she “gave up Taylor Swift tickets for the Matildas”.

Fan of the Matildas

The whirlwind of excitement from the World Cup is felt keenly by Diana Williams, mother to the Matildas’ goalkeeper and longest-serving player, Lydia Williams. Over the 17 years and 5 World Cups of her daughter’s career, Diana has experienced the highs and lows of international football. However, despite the immense pressure felt by the family, the Williams’ have maintained a prayerful approach to the game, highlighting how Jesus remains at the centre of it all.

“A goalkeeper can make many saves but the one that goes in is always lamented.” – Diana Williams

Speaking to Eternity during an interview for the 2019 France World Cup, Diana shared how their faith has tied in with Lydia’s football fame. “Lydia and I have had numerous conversations and prayer about the aspects of sport,” she commented. “Lydia has had two ACL injuries to deal with in her career, as well as [finding] the ability to persevere through all sorts of things such as injury, criticism, despondency, doubt, the constant pressure to do well and the mental fatigue.”

Diana admitted she has never been able to fully understand how Lydia handles the intensity of being the Matildas’ goalkeeper, playing a crucial role in every game. “The position of goalkeeper, I think, is the most pressured and stressful one. There have been many articles written about the mental stress, the need to focus and be able to switch on at any second. And, of course, a goalkeeper can make many saves but the one that goes in is always lamented.”

“No wonder [the apostle] Paul spoke of athletes as a symbol of endurance in the faith.” – Diana Williams

Lydia’s faith enables her to persist in the face of these pressures, with the prayerful support she receives from family, friends and fans helping to spur her on. “[Lydia] has learned to utilise all the supports around her – the team doctor, the psychologist and close teammates. Also, much prayer from family and Christians around the world.” Diana, who was previously a pastor of the Canberra Chinese Christian Church, commented that both the Canberra church and Lydia’s own church family from Melbourne keep in regular contact to pray for her.

Diana also noted how she can see God in the game itself, because many of the characteristics of professional footballers remind her of aspects of Christian life. “No wonder [the apostle] Paul spoke of athletes as a symbol of endurance in the faith,” Williams reflects, alluding to New Testament passages about “running the race”, such as 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, 2 Timothy 4:7 and Galatians 5:7.

God’s involvement in the World Cup extends even further for Diana, with the Matildas’ community providing an environment for her to share the gospel. “On a personal level,” she commented, “since the team’s families know what I do as a pastor, it opens up conversation and opportunity to talk about the endurance of faith and the encouragement of teamwork.”

“It does bring the world together more than any other sport.” – Diana Williams

Diana believes that the World Cup is a beautiful image of how God brings people together from every nation, tribe, and language and how we as Christians can “appreciate the cultures that he has allowed to flourish”.

“I think the world’s love of football is unique in that it does bring the world together more than any other sport. The opportunities to experience the variety of God’s world through football is a special thing.”

Diana’s prayer for her daughter and her teammates is “for each player to do their best, no matter the score.”

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