“What would it mean to me, to hold the 2023 Women’s World Cup, in Australia and New Zealand?”
Why would I wish for this, more than anything in the world?
Well, we see many stories about players facing hardships, during the most critical moments of the year. Don’t we? Where they miss out on all they have worked and hoped for, due to injury, heartache, illness, sudden passing’s of loved ones, battles with mental stability, and more.
But what about the fans?
What about someone like you, who lives and breathes this game, like them, but don’t set foot on the pitch for 90 minutes. Instead, cheer from the grand stands, in our pubs and bars, or in the comfort of our own home. You are someone who has also been plagued with hardship, which is something no one is immune to. We all face it, awaiting for that one year or one moment, where it finally goes right, and there is nothing but good memories, this time…
I repeat this question again, “Why would ‘I’ wish for this?”
The first Womens World Cup I paid any attention to, was Canada 2015, where I watched a few quarters and semi matches. Pretty simple, aye?
But for the second Womens World Cup, I was so heavily invested, I actually booked a flight to Paris, France. It was the first step and motivational push to stick with the plan, get my passport organised, then book for every other city the Matildas would be playing in, and actually go! Why? Because Women’s Football gave me an even greater drive and happiness, that I hadn’t felt before. And I wanted to chase ‘it’.
I have said Football, itself, has changed my life, many times. I sound like a broken record.
… but Women’s Football flipped it and did it all over again, x10.
Before we properly begin, this is an opinion piece, an emotionally written, loooooonng work of writing, that speaks about my experiences, my views, but mostly, it’s a personal story and a side, I haven’t spoken about, yet… it’s taken me a year to recount it all, and to put it into words.
Also, I am an absolute amateur when it comes to stats and hardcore information, so if you’re looking for that and hoping I have those reasons for why Australia and New Zealand should hold the 2023 Women’s World Cup, this ain’t it.
IT’S PART OF IT! But it ain’t stats! This is “Why we should be hosting the 2023 World Cup” EMOTIONAL-WISE!
Don’t get me wrong, I will heavily study and do the research when needed, but I’m a lot better at just writing about the way I’m feeling rather than how many appearances, goals, dribbles, saves and tackles a player has made. Along with comparing percentages and stats on speed and power, crowd attendance, tickets sold, advertisement strategies, pros and cons of our host cities… (Mate, I have meltdowns when numbers come into play. You can probably guess how Math classes went in school, and why I DROPPED that class the moment it was possible.)
But let’s get back to why I’m here and set the scene;
It’s 2019, and I’m a year into working with The Ladies League. We had just released our short Documentary on Womens Football, “She Kicks Like A Girl”, which blew right up. It was our first film, but the Football community in Australia loved it, and honestly after the travelling around, catching flights (“not feelings”, HA, bad joke, inappropriate timing. TLL at it’s finest.), plus the interviews and editing, it was all worth it!
We were on a high, and no matter what we faced with online abusers and people who we thought were our friends (but were actually the opposite), To hell, WE PRESSED ON! For what we had lost, we gained so much more. A backing of a community, new found friends we would call our family, experiences we would recount as stories to tell the next gen, a hard-earned good reputation and a drive to keep hustling’, like never before.
The Matildas were also going to France, and with their own personal Spew 2.0 kit flying off the shelves and being sold out within a few hours of release, the entire country was ready to back these girls. The insane promotion for the game, for the national team’s, and for each individual athlete, was inspiring to see. Women, who worked so hard to be seen, were not just posters on young kid’s bedroom walls, anymore. They were now plastered ALL OVER the cities of the world, on highway billboards, mega screens, sides of buildings, shopping centres, on buses and trains, as well as their stations, and all over commercials, magazines and social media.
And what hit me, was the sight of, not just young girls with our national team Captain, Sam Kerr, on their kits, but young “Boys” wearing it, too. Along with the words of “I wanna be like Sam Kerr when I grow up”.
This time the WORLD knew the Women’s World Cup was on, and not just Football supporters.
This was it; this was the year. I was so ready, so convinced I was gonna finally leave the nest of my strict Balkan upbringing and household, to see the world. And what an amazing time to take that leap, for a Women’s World Cup.
But, things don’t always go as planned…
A previous health issue resurfaced. An immune system shut down, as well as a procedure I had the year prior, didn’t work. And round two, to get it right, was scheduled on (remember this date for later) June 25th, 2019…during the middle of the Women’s World Cup.
I had two options, take the procedure and fix this. Or risk my health, put up with the pain and go to France.
Now, there is no way in HELL my mother would allow me to do that, and with the way I was feeling most days, I don’t think I would have even made it to the airport.
So I stayed, as much as it broke me to cancel the flight, prepare for Plan B, I stayed. I made the best out of the cards I had been dealt.
So we prepared for Plan B, Talkin’ Tilda’s TV. Prepared props, put that bloody round table together without instructions and painted it green and gold, studied our teams, travelled between work and Rosa’s apartment through the freezing cold winter months, on 3 DIFFERENT TRAIN LINES with a bad leg, while mates were kicking back in European summer… oh man, I was pissed off, envious and more, but, it was still WORTH IT! Just like the documentary, the hustle was worth it.
What can I say, I’m sucker for punishment and pain. I THRIVE off of that stuff!
…but too much of something, no matter how strong you think you are, will soon break you…
You see, what I didn’t show and didn’t intend on showing, was what happened BEHIND the “behind the scenes”.
Once the procedure was done, on the 25th, the aftermath is something I will never forget… Withdrawals from painkillers is not a joke, ladies and gentlemen…I found out just how serious rebound pain is, on the morning of the Women’s World Cup Final.
I woke to the sound of my alarm and pulled my laptop from my side-table. It was 2am, I was tired and I was still in recovery mode. While watching the pre-game show and checking Instagram stories, from friends who were over in France, and Twitter, for line-up’s and pre-game details… the pain came, and it came like the force of a freight train.
From my post-operated leg, to the depths of my rib cage and up to my chest, I was in a pain I had never felt before. By some miracle, my mother had woken up at the same time. It was either the sound of the coverage coming from my laptop that did the trick, or maybe it was a mother’s instinct.
I spent almost 2 hours, like this. Shaking, rapid, yet shallow breathing…and just crying, as quietly as I could.
Now, I brush a lot off. A lot of people think I’m insane for doing so, but it’s all I know. I’m a stubborn Wog…haha. But the words that came out of my mouth that morning scared my mother, and it scared me, too…
“You need to call an ambulance, I think I’m dying.”
The last thing I remember, is looking at my laptop screen. It was still playing the coverage.
The whistle blew and Finals had just kicked off between the USWNT and the Netherlands. And all I could think about, was how so many people around the globe were enjoying the greatest day of the last 4 years. Perfect strangers and friends were on the other side of the world, witnessing and being part of history, in France. Living their best lives, in an Arena full of pure happiness, excitement, experiencing the pure joy of Football, as it should be.
…and I was on the opposite side of the world, in the dark of my room during the early hours of a cold, July winters morning…in pain.
I was so scared.
…everyone was so far away.
I had never felt so alone in my life.
And then it went black.
I woke up with a damp, cold cloth on my forehead and the sound of the USWNT lifting the Women’s World Cup Trophy, for a second time. Mum had left me to rest, with my laptop still open, probably thinking the sound of Football in the background would keep me calm.
I remember the moment I opened my eyes, seeing the close-ups of the Trophy, the golden confetti, the sound of the crowd in the background of the coverage.
My god, they won.
The US won, again. And the first thing that went through my mind, was;
“OH F*CK SAKES, I missed the whole thing!?”.
YUP! 3 hours ago, I thought I was seeing the light, and now I’m pissed off at myself that I had watched EVERY SINGLE GAME, and then I end up missing the ENTIRETY of the most important match of the whole tournament!?
I realised that I must have passed out from exhaustion, gotten the recharge rest that I needed and later, came to. It was like nothing had happened. The storm passed, and it was quiet, now. There was only the sound of celebration and the shared voices of Mel McLaughlin and the rest of the panel from the Optus coverage.
I grabbed by phone, checked Twitter, scrolled through the timeline filled with comments on the win, photographs and videos, both from fans, friends and our homegrown photographers like Rachel Bach, Ann Odong and more. And before I knew it, the stadium was empty, celebration was taken to the dressing rooms, the coverage had moved to the post-game show and I was left sitting in my room, still scrolling. Finished with Twitter and then checked Instagram, catching up on stories, on friends… and smiling, while catching up on what I missed.
It was all there, from the electric atmosphere of the crowds – to the calm, quiet aftermath of an empty stadium, with gold confetti scattered all over the surface of the pitch and the stands.
ONE full month of amazing, history-making Football, and it was over.
I’ll never forget it. For me, it was so bittersweet.
Over the remaining months of 2019, friends returned home and told me all about their time in France. The W-league started, new faces arrived in our league, but familiar faces like Sam Kerr parted ways with current team’s, Perth Glory and Chicago Red Stars, to sign with English Powerhouse, Chelsea FC. And in time, other Matilda’s who made their mark during the World Cup, joined her, with already signed West Ham United Aussie, Jacynta Galabadaarachchi, in the WSL. Caitlin Foord to Arsenal, Hayley Raso to Everton, and Chloe Logarzo to Bristol City. As well as our sisters across the ditch, with Hannah Wilkinson playing for Portuguese powerhouse, Sporting Lisbon and Ali Riley, captaining the Orlando Pride.
Women’s Football grew further, in Australia, Oceania and the World, with young girls and boys inspired further by the Women who graced the Football pitches, that year. The likes of our very own Sam Kerr and US star, Megan Rapinoe, became staple role models, making appearances as dress up inspirations for the younger generation (and some, older). New documentaries and interviews we released, adverts continued to grow with female representation for Nike, Adidas, Puma etc., and the world had their eyes on the Ballon d’Or Feminin.
It was a heartwarming dream come true, to see Women in Football, be given a spotlight, like this.
I went on to have my third and final surgery on my leg, in December. Now, for the first time in 2 years, I’m pain free, and my body is starting to heal and combat the last 24 months of excessive medication and painkillers. I still have rough moments, but I guess it’s my body’s way keeping me on my toes and making sure I’m still this small, but tough, little 5ft 2 thing.
I’m still with The Ladies League, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this. We’re still making memes, having fun and expressing and promoting the beauty of this game, while juggling our day jobs. And if we speed up to 2020, we qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, after a last-minute switch of stadiums and hosting rights for the qualification matches to be held in Australia, due to COVID 19. That alone, and how well the FFA organised all of that, is enough to prove how amazing this country is, how dedicated we have become to ensuring our Women’s Football is taken care of, grown and improved with each passing day!
Our W-league games have increased in crowds, support, promotion, quality of professionalism from clubs and in players. As well as a plan to expand further, and linking with New Zealand to bring in a women’s team, for the Wellington Phoenix.
Our grassroots tier is growing at such a fast rate, for young girls who have signed to play. Football NSW is holding seminars for women who want to be involved with Football, whether coaching or refereeing. Women are writing and/or commentating about and for matches. Optus Sports has gotten together an amazing panel of past and present Female Footballers to represent them, as well as given opportunities to many, and hired only the Best of the Best journalists, to write, interview and present for them.
And last but not least, our Matildas and Ferns are fire crackers, waiting to be lit. This World Cup that just passed did NOT show their full potential, yet the Tokyo Olympics (even though they have been postponed) will show the world what is to come, AND what world class National Team’s, we have. Along with what “Football loving” and “frequently growing” nation’s, we are.
Now, remember how I mentioned to keep “June 25th” in mind?
It was ‘that’ date, which was the date of my surgery, in 2019. Fast forward a year later, the 25th is also the date of the World Cup Bid decider, for who’s going to be hosting the next World Cup.
These two dates are exactly a year apart from each other.
For someone who has become a cynic over the years, this little spark of coincidence has awoken the child-like dreamer, that I once was. The dreamer that’d say “this is no coincidence.” Why?
The number 25.
It has been a staple number, a spirit number, some might say. It has appeared through many moments in my lifetime, that have brought miracles, or given me direction when I have been so lost. So, here I am, hoping that this is a sign from above, or whatever higher power, reminding me that this one number, is a signature of hope. Not only for me, but for so many who have been waiting for this moment their whole lives. To make history, capture it, write about it and be part of it.
So, what would it mean to me, if Australia and New Zealand hosted the 2023 Womens World Cup?
It would mean a nation of young girls and boys, who dream of becoming a Matilda or a Fern, or even a Socceroo or an All Whites, will get to see their heroes take to the pitches in their hometowns, as well as bring Legends from across the oceans, that they could only dream of seeing through a screen. It will reignite a fire in old flames. It will bring people together from all corners of the world, to explore 2 beautiful and culturally rich countries. It will give a younger generation of girls, a better opportunity than any of us ever had before, to say to their parents “See, Mum? See, Dad? I can be a Professional Women’s Footballer. This is real! Look at what I CAN become. I’m going to be the next ‘Sam Kerr’!” …Or maybe on the opposite side of the field, as the next Lydia Williams or Erin Naylor, in between the goals? Or a code juggler and brick-wall in defence, like Jenna McCormick? A history maker and record breaker like, Ria Percival? A speedster in the backline and down the sides of the pitch, like Ellie Carpenter? A winger who can take a hard hit and still get back up, like Hayley Raso? Or maybe a game changer and risk taker, defying the odds, like Aivi Luik or Kyah Simon?
Now, wouldn’t that be beautiful to hear and to see…
But it would also mean ’I’ get to witness history before my eyes, that I didn’t get to be part of, a year ago. And this time, in a country I call home, which has given me so much hope, when I thought I had none left. And I get to sit in a stadium with my friends who will be by my side every step of the way, and be awake to sit through an entire Women’s World Cup Finals match … no pain, this time.
Nothing but good memories, this time…