Matildas’ Mary Fowler takes on new status but avoids the limelight | Mathilde

Less than 24 hours after returning to Australia, Mary Fowler sits on a child’s stool next to a table of kindergartners, sharing morning tea and politely answering their stream of questions.

Whether the Matildas star is navigating a press kit or a room of preschoolers, she remains unfazed.

Her best friend? Goalkeeper Lydia Williams. When did she start playing soccer? Aged seven. Can she give five? Yes, but why do you greet me with pliers?

It’s easy to forget that the now-famous Fowler is only 20 years old when you consider the meteoric rise of her career.

Mary Fowler sits down with the children at Rise & Shine Kindergarten. Photograph: Jessica Hromas/The Guardian

In the last four years she has played in the Women’s A-League, two years with Montpellier HSC, landed a four-year contract with English Women’s Super League club Manchester City and scored a decisive quarter-final goal final of the Tokyo tournament. Olympics – all before the 2023 World Cup.

But it was her crucial role in this year’s Matildas team, after captain Sam Kerr was ruled out for two matches, that catapulted her to national stardom. This year, Fowler was the second most searched Australian on Google according to search trends, behind teammate and captain Kerr.

On Wednesday, she was announced as the latest brand ambassador for Rise & Shine, a change of pace from Marie Claire covers and a never-ending media frenzy over her relationship with NRL star Nathan Cleary.

“Football is something I want to do for myself, but it’s important to give something back to the community and be able to look back on my career and think I did something more,” she says.

Mary Fowler crouches next to three children with soccer balls
A young Mathilde in the making. The kids are more than happy to show off their ball skills. Photograph: Jessica Hromas/The Guardian

“At first you don’t really think about these things too much – I never thought I’d have the opportunities I have now… but being in the spotlight has made me realize the responsibility you have to all these people who are looking at you. I’ve always had a passion for working with children and hope to one day, so… it’s a privilege to be in this position – in a role that inspires the next generation.

Fowler says she got into the sport at the “perfect time.”

When she first started playing football as a child in Cairns, it was on all the men’s teams. The A-League Women had just been created. Today, she is one of 13 Australian rules footballers currently playing in the WSL. Add to that a home World Cup that cemented the Matildas as Australia’s most beloved national team, and the women are enjoying a golden age.

“It’s crazy – I never thought this would happen,” she said.

“It makes me really excited – for me and for the other girls to have the opportunity we have now, it’s amazing the kind of growth the game has seen.”

Fowler, however, remains an expert in the art of staying out of the limelight.

Even though “the phone started ringing for her agents” at the end of the tournament, she still leads a relatively normal life in England.

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Mary Fowler speaks to the media
Mary Fowler says she has “grown so much as a player and a person” since joining her club Manchester City. Photograph: Jessica Hromas/The Guardian

“I feel very ordinary, which I like,” she says. “I take the tram to train, I feel like I’m playing local football. I definitely Googled it after the World Cup, but those kinds of things – I try to stay out of it… to know who I am and not let other people bother me too much.

“I always thought the best way to inspire people was to be myself…I just try to be authentic and if that makes someone want to pursue a dream, that will make me happy.”

Fowler has two weeks off before returning to England, where his club is trying to secure a WSL title against rivals Chelsea.

Before the World Cup, Fowler struggled to get going on the Manchester City bench. Yet, halfway through this year’s season, she has already played more than double the minutes of the 2022-23 campaign.

Mary Fowler with children from Rise & Shine Kindergarten, Calton, Sydney.
Mary Fowler says the World Cup taught her to “have fun and make memories”. Photograph: Jessica Hromas/The Guardian

“Since I’ve been there, I’ve grown a lot as a player and a person,” she said. “For me the most important thing is that I enjoy it, we have a really good group of girls at the club so no regrets.”

While she waits out flooding in North Queensland, she plans to spend Christmas in Cairns with her family, who have remained safe. In the meantime, Fowler still reflects on how the Matildas have shaped the future of sport in the country.

“It’s been an incredible year, it’s hard to put into words how great it has been… we’ve been very lucky,” she says. “The whole World Cup was an incredible experience for me – I learned at this tournament to have fun and create memories and I think that’s exactly what happened.

“It gives me goosebumps when I remember moments from those matches – seeing everyone there and hearing the crowd.”

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