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The World Cup and my daughter

The mum of Matildas goalkeeper Lydia Williams on perseverance and prayer

The Matildas have made it to the knockout stage of the Women’s World Cup in France and one proud mum is praying for Australia to go all the way.

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More than that, though, Diana Williams – the mother of Matildas long-standing goalkeeper Lydia – reveals that she prays “for no injuries and for each player to do their best, no matter the score.”

“Lydia knows each game is monumental in itself and to get through each one is the focus.” – Diana Williams

“Lydia doesn’t talk much about the games or the pathway of how far they can go. She knows each game is monumental in itself and to get through each one is the focus. But, of course, they want to go as far as they can and hopefully make one step better than the last World Cup.” Australia was defeated 1-0 in the 2015 Quarter Finals by Japan.

The pastor of Canberra Chinese Christian Church, Williams is away from her congregation so as to travel across France with Australia’s leading female goalkeeper. She is enjoying the opportunity to support her daughter at the pinnacle of female international football.

“To be able to be here in France with Lydia and the team has been wonderful and a bit of a miracle,” Williams tells Eternity before she travels from Grenoble to Nice, following the Matildas 4-1 win against Jamaica. Australia’s finest female players take on Norway on Sunday in a match they must win, to remain in the World Cup.

“I had a hip replacement a few months ago and did not think I would be able to come but, thankfully, it all worked out.”

Lydia Williams is playing in her fourth World Cup – fourth! – and her mum vividly remembers what it was like cheering from the stands at the 2011 tournament in Germany. But this year, the Matildas goalposts have been shifted by higher attendance at games by fans (“The Aussies can be spotted everywhere, wearing green and gold”) and increased media attention.

“It’s been fantastic for the team,” says excited spectator Williams, who also is savouring the spectacular scenery, history and ambience of the various French venues.

“Getting together with the team families has been special since we are the main ones who know what the girls go through to be here,” continues Williams. “Most of the parents and family members are here. Football Federation Australia has cared for the families and had pre-game functions, as well as buses to the stadiums and [providing opportunities to] see the team after the games.”

Something significant that also has changed for the Matildas at World Cup 2019 is the amplified expectations upon our national team, who are ranked sixth in the world. Like other parents of professional athletes, Williams has discussed with Lydia the intense demands of what she does.

“Lydia and I have had numerous conversations and prayer about the aspects of sport, including the commitment and the determination. Lydia has had two ACLs [anterior cruciate ligament 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.”

“The position of goalkeeper … is the most pressured and stressful one.” – Diana Williams

Diana Williams admits she never has been able to understand how her daughter handles the critical role of goalkeeper. “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.”

“Lydia has had many ups and downs during 15 years in the national team. But I know it has made her into a resilient young woman.

“She 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.

“Her church family from Melbourne keeps in regular contact for prayer and the church I pastor in Canberra prays for her.”

The power of prayer behind the last line of the Matildas defence is only part of how Diana Williams sees God at work in the world game. Many of the determined characteristics of professional footballers reminds her of aspects of Christian life. “No wonder [the apostle] Paul spoke of athletes as a symbol of endurance in the faith,” Williams alludes to New Testament passages about “running the race” such as 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, 2 Timothy 4:7 and Galatians 5:7.

“Perhaps God sees the World Cup as an example of how He wants to bring us all together in his kingdom.” – Diana Williams

“I can see God at work first in my own daughter, then in how we can interact with people,” says Williams. “I think that God is at work whenever we have discussions and interactions with others. When each believer is able to share their faith in an atmosphere where determination and commitment are so important, then that is a wonderful opportunity.”

“On a personal level, 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.”

As the Matildas stride on towards what Australia hopes will be its greatest success at any World Cup, Diana Williams sees other blessings already flowing from global focus on the round ball.

“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.”

“Perhaps God sees it as an example of how He wants to bring us all together in his kingdom and appreciate the cultures that He has allowed to flourish.

“During these times when the world comes together, there are no barriers nor hate, but openness and interest in the ‘Other’ and welcoming each other.”

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