If you Google New Zealand’s squad from the 1991 FIFA Women’s World Cup, you may wonder why prolific goal-scorer Wendy Sharpe’s name is absent.
Six months prior to the inaugural global women’s tournament, Sharpe’s eight goals helped New Zealand earn their spot at the event as the Kiwis claimed the OFC Women’s Nations Cup title in Australia.
Known at the time as the OFC Women’s Championship, the tournament consisted of only three teams as New Zealand and Papua New Guinea joined the hosts.
New Zealand beat Australia 1-0 in their first meeting with Sharpe’s goal proving the difference before Australia returned serve by the same margin in their second encounter.
Given there was no final, World Cup qualification came down to who could produce the superior goal difference at the continental tournament as both heavyweights eased past Papua New Guinea.
The last match of the competition left Australia needing to beat Papua New Guinea by more than 16 goals.
When the clock ticked past 90 minutes the Australians were only ahead 8-0 and New Zealand were on their way to the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
“The OFC tournament was so exciting as it was the first-ever qualifying games for New Zealand and to score the goal against Australia knowing it could get us to the World Cup was a thrill for me,” Sharpe said as she cast her mind back 30 years.
“I was lucky enough to score goals but credit has to go to my team mates for supplying me the ball to do so.”
She returned to New Zealand a football hero but an ordinary day at work in Auckland as a Courier Driver took an unexpected turn.
“I was at work when I got a positive pregnancy result and thought, ‘oh heck I better go tell my partner,’ so that’s what I did,” she said.
“That’s why I never went to the FIFA Women’s World Cup, I had to withdraw from the team at my six months mark. I also didn’t know I was pregnant during the qualifiers too.
“Not going was difficult to comprehend at the time as all I had done was play New Zealand football since I was 16 but I learned quickly that things happen for a reason.”
Old football habits die hard and Sharpe was determined to bounce back after her pregnancy.
“I went for my first short run five weeks after birth and it felt like a marathon, it was hard, but every run after that got easier and I was back playing three months later,” she said.
“In 1992 I played in the National Women’s League for Auckland and because I was still breast feeding my daughter, I remember having to top her up at halftime on some occasions and this wasn’t an issue at all.
“I believe there is a place in sport for women that have had a baby at any level.
“I was then voted New Zealand’s Players’ Player of the Year from that tournament, which was a huge surprise and selected for the Ferns again before an injury forced me to retire in 1995.”
Although Sharpe’s name isn’t on the 1991 FIFA World Cup squad list it’s etched in New Zealand Football’s history with 34 goals from 47 international appearances.
“I didn’t realise until I was presented with my New Zealand blazer how many goal-scoring records I had achieved, hearing them read out was a proud moment,” she said.
“Looking back now having my first born daughter was worth it. An unconditional love that only a mother can feel.
“I also had my second daughter throughout that time so being a mother while representing your country is possible with good support around you.”
Nowadays you will find the 58-year-old coaching the next generation of footballers, including her grandchildren, in Kaitkati in the Bay of Plenty.
Sharpe said ensuring there’s a strong women’s presence in the game in our region is vital for its growth.
“My hope for the future is to see the female numbers grow every year so if we can get former Football Ferns into coaching roles that could be a draw card for the female players too,” she said.
“I would also love to see my three grandchildren play for New Zealand one day, that would be another one of my proudest moments if that ever eventuates.”