Why can't Mary Fowler have her moment?

When Australia’s world-class football team the Matildas won their match against Chinese Taipei in Perth, I, like the rest of Australia, should have been ecstatic. Instead, I was disappointed.

To set the scene, the Matildas are in the middle of their series of olympic qualifier matches and yesterday’s match against Chinese Taipei proved that I am a walking cliche because I was quite literally on the edge of my seat.

(Now bear with me as I navigate the world of professional athletes because I am not a sports reporter — just a huge fan.) Right up until the 62nd minute, the game was tied 0-0 until Mary Fowler scored what the sporting world calls “a long-range strike”, meaning she scored the first goal of the match putting Australia in the lead and it was very impressive because she was very far away.

I, like you — I assume — if you're reading this story, have so much love for our Matildas. Like my colleague Holly Wainwright said, they’ve “made an entire nation understand that there is nothing second-rate about the work women do.”

Watch: The story behind the Matildas mural on the iconic Bondi Beach Sea Wall. Post continues below.

Video via Football Australia.

My friends and I screamed when Mary scored that first goal in yesterday’s match. Then we went silent. Instead of capturing Fowler’s celebration with the rest of her teammates, the cameras immediately panned to an audience member. Nathan Cleary.

Nathan Cleary is a professional rugby league player in the Australian NRL's Penrith Panthers. As a born and raised Penrith girl, I’m not shy to admit that I’m a huge fan. I’ve cheered him on, especially in recent years, as he won three consecutive championships for our community. In short: he’s really good and is considered a national icon.

A few days ago, it was partially confirmed that Fowler and Cleary are dating. Spotted together at a park in Perth, it was pretty obvious that the two are very close. Being a huge fan of both of them, I absolutely love the idea of them being Australia's sporting power couple.

However, I immediately forgot about that little bit of gossip when I was watching the game last night because I was only focused on… dare I say… the match.

The shot to Cleary, instead of keeping the cameras on Fowler, made me feel not only disappointed, but worried. Worried that the reporting on the future of Fowler’s career will constantly be tied to her dating life. I'm certain it won’t be the same for Cleary.

I enjoyed watching the rest of the match and celebrated as the Matildas ended up winning the game 3-0.

The feeling of disappointment in missing out on seeing Fowler celebrate her goal stuck with me the whole night. So in efforts to read about her outstanding goal, I decided to Google her name. The results were unfortunately less than inspiring.


Search results for Mary Fowler on 02.02.2023. Image: Google.

I had to scroll to the second page to find an article that didn’t mention Nathan Cleary in the headline. 

The search results made me think back to earlier this year when dating rumours between Fowler and Cleary started as they were spotted getting icecream together. They were both in the middle of their seasons — Cleary, leading up to the NRL grand final and Fowler, towards the end of The World Cup representing her country on the INTERNATIONAL STAGE (sorry, I had to).


To try to prove myself wrong, I Googled them both during this time period. On the left are the search results for Mary Fowler during this time. I've (*cough* very neatly) circled the ones that only focus on her as a professional athlete. On the right are the search results of Nathan Cleary in the same time period, where I’ve also circled the ones that only focus on him as a professional athlete.

Search results August-October 2023 for Mary Fowler and Nathan Cleary. Image: Google.


I'm not alone in sharing our thoughts over the coverage of Fowler's goal last night. Many expressed their disappointment on X (formerly Twitter) and TikTok too.


Mary Fowler is just getting started. At 20-years-old, she’s already an international star. CODE Sports reporter, Lachlan Mckirdy, tweeted: “To put into perspective how good Mary Fowler is… Sam Kerr had three international goals when she was 20. Mary Fowler already has 13!!!”

During the FIFA Women's World Cup, I was moved to see our entire country show up for the Matildas. But we can't let the progress of women in sport stop there. And the next step is defining our Tillies by more than their relationship status.

If you want more from Emily Vernem you can follow her on Instagram @emilyvernem or listen to her Mamamia podcast Things You Should've Learnt In School.

Feature Image: Getty.

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