I didn’t come from a football family despite playing my whole life. I would have an interest around World Cup times and I would sometimes go to Mariners games five minutes up the road from where I grew up, but honestly, cricket was my game. Rugby League as well, as a fan, to a lesser extent. I think the only reason I thought about the 2011 Women’s World Cup was that Ellyse Perry scored a worldie, and I think that I only loved her because of cricket.
I didn’t know anyone who liked football at all, really. The boys generally played a code of rugby in the winter and cricket in the summer. My female teammates played every Sunday but wouldn’t have been able to name a single Matildas player. They maybe could’ve named Tim Cahill but not much else for the men.
That’s why social media was so important to get me into the game, and that’s how Ashlyn Harris, and the rest of the USWNT, comes in.
Picture a bored 18-year-old looking for something to do to procrastinate studying. That was me at some point 4 years ago. For whatever inspired reason I decided to look up a game of women’s soccer. Fast forward a few months and I had followed just about every US and Australian player I could find on social media, I was screaming about whatever drama was happening in #woso, and I stan you all, god dammit.
Hey, a lot of this is slightly embarrassing now that I’m older and wiser (Tumblr? Ugh), but given the real affect that this stuff has into bringing people (including me!) into the game, it’s worth writing about.
Ashlyn Harris was one of the first players that I began to look up to. A goalkeeper, like me, she has been second choice for the US team for several years – firstly behind Hope Solo, and now behind Alyssa Naeher. She’s openly queer and quite open about many other parts of her life too, including mental health struggles. It was all stuff that as a young moody baby dyke I could relate to and I was so, so grateful that there was someone out there (a goalkeeper, like me!) being so open about all of this.
I remember getting my Dad (begrudgingly) to watch the 2015 World Cup with me a few months after the fact. We groaned as the Tillies got knocked out. We giggled as the US found themselves 3-0 up in the final before we could blink. I went through myself and watched every minute of every game I could find, trying to memorise the players, the teams, the way that they played and who they played for.
I started watching the NWSL before I started watching the W-League. Largely, it’s because it was so easy to watch. I spent hours sifting through YouTube watching full game replays and catching every live game that I could. Orlando was my team, originally, because of Ashlyn Harris. I was converted to Portland later, but those early days were all about watching Orlando. It was watching Americans wave pride flags and a sea of Orlando purple in the stands. It was about watching Harris yell at her defence.
I watched every game that I could of the 2016 Olympics live. I cried as the Tillies got kicked out. I knew the name of every player. It hurt.
If I hadn’t been so invested in people like Ashlyn Harris as people first and not just players, I would never have been invested in football at all. It’s the thing that I strongly believe that women’s game has over the boys – engagement with fans. It’s this that gets people on board, and it got me.
Not only did I find that I was inspired by Harris’ words in interviews about overcoming mental health issues, in doing so I found a whole new women’s football community. It’s still a community that is mostly online for me – although I am bringing real life people along with me as I go. I’m making new friends by dragging teammates along to W League games (and they’re loving it!). Even my partner who is far from engaged in sport will watch a Tillies game with me if it means she gets to watch Sam Kerr. I doubt she will go on quite the journey as me, but it follows a similar story – she is engaged with the people first, before the sport.
Ashlyn Harris inspires me as a person due to what she overcame. More importantly for me, her and her teammates inspired me to love football. I’m so, so grateful for that.
By Taryn Heddo