The first FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup was held in 2008 and New Zealand embraced their role as hosts.
Chris Simpson served as the CEO of the Local Organising Committee and said there were a number of unique challenges to ensure the tournament was a success.
Inspiring the public in rugby-mad New Zealand was one of the key points to ensure there were strong crowd numbers.
As a way to generate interest from people other than just female football players, his team developed a programme aligned with primary and intermediate schools from the four host cities who let their students study the countries that were playing in their patch.
Schoolkids flocked to the first wave of matches that kicked off during school hours, leading to big crowds.
Simpson said the “nightclub effect” then took over for the 16-team tournament as more people wanted a glimpse of the action. They also had a different marketing strategy for each round of matches.
“Because members of the general public saw the first week of full stadiums watching a FIFA World Cup, they needed to all get behind it, so we had great numbers,” he said.
Simpson, who has worked in a range of large-scale sports events in New Zealand, learned a lot through the planning process.
His first task when he began as the head of the Local Organising Committee was to deliver a presentation at the FIFA offices in Zurich.
He also worked as a General Coordinator at the men’s U-17 World Cup in South Korea in 2007 where he was in charge of a venue.
“That was my first experience in FIFA at the coalface and that sort of gave me a good hands-on, practical feel of what the expectations are.”
Simpson said the U-17 event in 2008 laid the groundwork for future FIFA events to be held in New Zealand.
They went on to host the men’s U-20 World Cup in 2015 and have bid to co-host the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup alongside Australia, a proposal that Simpson helped develop.
New Zealand previously hosted the men’s U-17 World Cup in 1999.
On the field in 2008, North Korea edged USA 2-1 in the final in front of a record-setting crowd of 16,162 in Auckland. The total crowd figure for the event was 212,504.
New Zealand were unable to advance to the knockout stages as they finished third in their pool, but the undoubted highlight was their 3-1 win over Colombia in their final Group A match.
Rosie White, who has since gone on to amass more than 100 international caps for New Zealand’s Football Ferns, bagged a hat-trick.
White is one of a handful of players from New Zealand’s U-17 squad in 2008 that still play for the Football Ferns, including Annalie Longo, Katie Bowen and Victoria Esson.
Paul Temple coached the New Zealand U-17s at the 2008 World Cup and said the squad still held a reunion every year.
They received a lot of media attention during the tournament and were swamped for autographs by Kiwi fans when they left their team base each day.
Temple also led New Zealand to the 2012 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup where a number of those players took inspiration from watching a global tournament in their backyard a few years earlier.
“That 2012 team was made up of kids that basically idolised the ’08 group,” Temple said.
The women’s game in New Zealand has continued to grow during the past decade and Temple, who is now the academy manager at the Wellington Phoenix, said the legacy of the 2008 tournament was two-fold.
Firstly, it exposed the game to girls who started playing football for the first time, and, secondly it gave existing players a World Cup to aspire to.
“It certainly surpassed my expectations, that’s for sure, and I think it was a real inspiration for a number of girls out there.
“I’ve got two daughters and there’s a signed shirt from the ’08 group with the team photo hanging up in our house and my daughter looks at it and constantly asks me about it and wants to hear about it and she’s met some of the girls in the team and she wants to do it. So, I think it just keeps having this knock-on effect.”
The advancements in the women’s game in New Zealand were put on show when they finished third at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Uruguay in 2018, a result that was 10 years in the making.