Karina Grigorian grew up surrounded by football. Every Sunday, she would watch her father play in a social competition. It was something that was always around – either on TV, or in the form of her siblings practicing and competing.
“There was nothing else but football,” Grigorian said, when asked if there were other sports in her life when she was younger.
She started playing at 13 years of age for Curl Curl Football Club, on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. It was then that she began to fully embrace her love of football - something that would have a lasting impact on her life.
“I starting playing in a mainstream club, then got really into watching the EPL, and then it kind of just developed from there,” she explained. “I was like, hey, I kind of love this sport.”
“Then I just eventually went to Cerebral Palsy Alliance [CPA] Football Camps, and the ParaMatildas were established last year.”
She was hugely inspired by the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™ that was held in Australia and New Zealand this year. She went to the CommBank Matildas opening match against the Republic of Ireland, as well as the final, but one of her favourite experiences was watching Colombia defeat Germany in the group stages - where she said she “fell in love” with Colombian player Linda Caicedo.
She draws inspiration from the forward in her own playing style.
“I’d say I’m a very dynamic player,” she said. “I have a great view of the ball and how the ball can move, and where it can move in open spaces. I’m a great communicator, for sure.”
“I think I have a passion for the sport that you can’t really build and you can’t really make out of nowhere. I think it being so rooted in my family just made me love it even more, and made me want to play the best that I can.”
The 18-year-old is a relatively fresh face in the CommBank ParaMatildas. She made her debut against Japan in September, even finding herself on the scoresheet.
The goal came as a shock to the defender, who had been practicing shooting in training just the day before.
“We were doing a 5v5 game,” she recalled. “Kelly [Stirton], the coach, was saying ‘Karina, shoot!’ I remember, I tried, I got caught underneath my legs and I fell down and I looked like I was being dramatic. I was like: guys, I literally can’t shoot!”
“Then the next day I shot. It was a rebound off Marie, so she tried to shoot and then the goalie kind of pushed it out. And I was just there like, I just love it when someone’s there at the right time! And I just did a little one-two, and yeah, it was great. I felt amazing.
“I think everyone knew how excited I was for it because we didn’t expect it!”
She recounted how even her family was surprised – in a good way! Her Mum sent a photo of the social media post highlighting her goal in the family group chat, with a comment that asked ‘Karina, is this for real?’
“My Mum’s a very emotional person, so she was on the phone crying,” Grigorian laughed. “It was the best.”
It meant the world for football-obsessed Grigorian to pull on the Australian shirt for the first time in Japan.
“I’m putting on the jersey for the first time in my debut game, hearing the national anthem for the first time, and I was like wow,” she remembered.
“You know, every minute you’re in there in that jersey, you kind of just really think about what you’re doing and who you’re representing. I think that’s something so special. You obviously want to play your best for your country.”
Now selected in the CommBank ParaMatildas squad for the IFCPF Asia-Oceania Championships, Grigorian wants the recent success of the CommBank Matildas to carry into the para football space.
“I think the enthusiasm that we had from the World Cup is only going to continue in para sport,” she said. “We’re just a bunch of fun girls who love what we’re doing. And I think everyone’s going to see that we have such passion and love for the sport and our country.”
The accessibility of the tournament – every game broadcast live and free on SBS on demand, and on YouTube for international viewers – is a huge gamechanger. Grigorian has been able to tell her friends exactly how to watch, and she is excited what the new eyes on the sport might bring.
She also wanted to highlight that the ParaMatildas and Pararoos showcase diversity across sport in a number of ways, especially in a multicultural country.
“Being a first generation Australian is something that’s super special to me,” she said. “But I also want to highlight that when you see my last name – Grigorian – I want you to know who it’s for, and that’s the Armenian community too.”
Finally, she put out a call to action for all Australians to come down and watch, either in person or on TV.
“I think we have a spirit unlike any other,” she said. “We’re currently first in the FIFA Rankings. We have an amazing coach Kelly [Stirton], an amazing assistant coach Charlotte [Ercil], and we have great co-captains. So I think with our team bond and our team spirit, we can definitely lift up Australia.”
“I am so certain in this team that we can dominate and we can win because that’s what we do. We don’t settle. And you’ll see that – live in action – during this tournament.”
2023 IFCPF Asia-Oceania Championships
Match Day 4
Australia v Nepal
Date: Wednesday, 8 November 2023
Venue: Home of the Matildas (Field 1)
Kick-Off: 4:30pm AEDT
Broadcast: SBS On Demand, YouTube (international viewers only)