The storm has passed, the rain has finally settled….kinda…we’re still awaiting the sunshine and rainbow to appear… it’ll show up, eventually.
The World Cup road has come to an end for the Matildas, and it was one hell of a battle. From the moment of controversy that took place 6 months ago, to yesterday morning…it has been one – HELL – of – a – battle…yet I’m proud to have stood by these girls, from start to finish. And here’s why;
It’s Sunday, 3:15am, on the 23rd of June. It’s 2 degrees, the darkest time of the night, and kick off is in exactly 1 hour and 45 minutes. It’s a familiar setting, as it has been the same routine over the last 3 weeks. Early, dark, cold mornings and late nights. Anything to watch our girls in green and gold.
I’m up, dressed, sitting there with a heat pack on my left leg, which is jarred up from the freezing cold, as I’m waiting for my Advil to kick in, to numb the pain from a personal illness that I am working on battling and fixing via surgery, in time.
I’m meant to be heading to Rosa’s place to meet up with her and Roops, so we can make our way to The Star Casino, to watch and pray that the girls make history…a history they have worked so hard to make a reality. And eventually, after about 30 minutes of waiting for my leg to work, I’m off to Rosa’s. I finally arrive, we pack ourselves into the car and make our way to Darling Harbour.
4:45am, 15 minutes to kick off. Sitting and waiting, we consume our first round of coffee. Roops and Rosa with a latte (how typical east Sydney of us) and myself with my famous short black. Soon the famous Sky-blue, MichelleMorrisTV, arrives and the Australian National Anthem is blasting through the 24/7 Sports bar, and the game kicks off.
The first 30 seconds, the ball is in Sam Kerr’s possession and we come inches from an early goal, only to have it roll past the outside of the post, scaring the living hell out of the Norwegian defence and goalkeeper. A dangerous attack, as if to say, “We’re not here to f*ck spiders” ladies and gentlemen!
Now…I’m not going to recount the entire game, I’m not going to repeat what we already know, what most of us have already witnessed and read about, and talked about, and argued about. What I’m going to talk about is how it felt. Because this game is strategic and statistical, debated about, and full of technicalities, oh so much, that we forget the emotional side and turn into robots. “This should have been done better, she should have started, she should have timed it better, they should have kicked harder, run faster, captained stronger, organised their lines and planned the penalty takers better, chosen a different starting, a different formation, won games at the beginning to avoid this” and most mostly discussed “kept the original manager”
So let’s step back for a second, throw stats out the window because you can get that crap from any other serious footballing organisation. This is The Ladies League, we were built by fans for fans, on emotion and passion, as well as sarcasm and humour. So I am now going to recount the bloody game like it’s a dear diary, a very emotional one too, where I speak about what was going through my head and heart (and maybe everyone else too), for 120+ minutes, plus penalties.
And then Heartbreak…
We all know and remember the feeling that hit us like a tonne of bricks when Norway scored the first, when Isabell Herlovsen punished our hesitant defense. But we all held onto hope, repeating the comeback against Brazil in our heads, over and over, telling ourselves we can return from this and win the whole damn game, make the Quarter Finals.
After controversy and a continuous blow to the heart from the VAR and Referee, 2 handballs and 2 penalty opportunity that were torn away from us, we needed to give the travelling fans and the ones back home, something to cheer, cry and chant about.
And we did, we answered back on the 83rd minute with a corner kick from Elise Kellond – Knight, that sent my heart roaring with pride, for the Matildas and my country. A beautiful curve from the corner, that sent the ball swivelling into the net, surprising and shocking all of Norway and once again, the rest of the world. The Matildas have made a comeback, with hope to turn this game around in the next 10 minutes or in extra time.
It made it’s way into extra time. And at this point, Norway were tired and scared. They knew we had 2 more substitutes up our sleeves, with each woman in green and gold, on the field and bench, with a NEVER SAY DIE attitude. But the odds were in their favour, as on the 104th minute, another controversial decision by the Referee sent Alanna Kennedy into the dressing rooms early, after a ‘shirt pull challenge’ that gave her a red card. An extremely harsh decision, that many, including myself, thought was a yellow card foul, instead of a red. The ball was no where near a chance of a goal opportunity and there was no malicious attempt to injure the player severally. But the decision stood, even after a VAR review to try and sway the referee, we were down the 10.
But we held on so well, with the girls holding the fort as best they could and Lydia Williams defending the goals with all her heart and souls, it ended up going to penalties.
120 minutes, of walking around the 24/7 Sports bar, sitting down, standing up, sitting down again, standing up, screaming, yelling, falling to my knees, holding back tears, it has come to this. Roops trying to hold me in place so I don’t fall over from over excitement, mixed with fear and heartache.
The Talking Tilda’s panel all stand, shoulder to shoulder, as if we are part of the Matildas, all lined up, ready to take out own penalty kick. I was convinced this was going to be our’s. Why? Because good always prevails…that’s what I’ve grown up being taught to believe. That hard work, struggle and hardship will be earned with victory. I turn my phone camera on to capture the moment, a moment I will want to share with others.
But as Sam Kerr steps up to the penalty spot…and misses…my heart drops..and so do I.
Shutting my camera off after the second penalty miss, I still return to standing and linking arms with the team, praying it turns around…but it doesn’t.
Norway are through, our result ends in 1 – 4 …and our journey ends here.
Tears and silence fills the bar and between us, we check twitter, our phones, instagram stories and then depart. Silently making our way to the car and driving off.
With a heavy heart, I’m not ready to go home yet, so I request to be left in the City of Sydney, to roam around the famous sites till my leg refuses to carry me anymore.
Roops and I are dropped off at Circular Quay, and after an hour of coffee, discussion and reflection, we go our seperate ways as I continue my walk around the Harbour, the Botanical Gardens, and the rest of the busy concrete city. At one point, sitting for hours on the same harbour steps where, TLL had interviewed Kyah Simon, only months ago at the FIFA WWC Trophy launch, for our TLL Documentary, in front of the Museum of Contemporary art. I’m left gazing at the city I call home, and I can’t help but cry. Why? Why am I crying over a 23 woman squad on the other side of the world that has no f*cking idea who I am?
Because these girls represent all the hard work, sacrifice, abuse, harassment, doubt and fear, along with positives like passion, love, support and heart, that every single woman in football has had to feel and endure in this industry. Whether on the field or sidelines, media boxes and stands, the grassroots, NPL and W-league fields back home and the ones around the rest of the world. Because they gave me a dream and drive to pursue it, and a hand to take hold of, as they bring me along with them, for each journey. A journey and game, that saved my life, GAVE ME a life, just like they have given to many others. And through all this, I have become part of them, spiritually, mentally and emotionally. I am on this rollercoaster ride of emotions with them, while I am on my own personal one, as well.
So, when they fall, I fall.
When they rise, I rise.
“We are Matildas”, are we not?
It’s taken me a full day and a half to write this damn thing up, and there are still many things I want to say, re write, add to or delete. God know’s if any of this makes any sense. There is heaps I want to say, to the people of this country and to the girls in France, as well. To the Matildas and media reporters, along with the travelling fans, both friends and strangers. But it will honestly take up too much time …so if I ever get to meet you or see you when you return, trust me, I’ll get a chance to say it. There are also things I would LOVE to say about the negativity that has been playing out from 6 months ago, to the moment we lost against Italy and the unbelievable ‘if you only knew what I knew’ bullsh*t (WE GET IT, YOU KNOW PEOPLE ON THE INSIDE, ENOUGH! There’s nothing we can do about it while everyone is in France, put in on pause, ffs and just focus on supporting the girls till the last whistle blows)
But as for now, to sign off on this article, until the next, I will say this…
The results were not as we hoped, the play was not always as strong as we wished, the mistakes were as costly as we feared and the chances slipped through our fingers…
But the time to argue about the last 6 months and tournament results, it is over. The time to compare this national team to the mens side is useless. The time to debate and strategise for the next fight is welcomed and good, but you each are mature enough to know the limit and line you must not cross, that will make it toxic, rather than constructive. The time to point blame is unneeded. The time to back the girls for future games is now, more than ever. We must continue to wear the colours with pride. The time for a victory is very soon, after we heal. A brighter future for womens football, AND football in general, is today.
And if anyone from France is reading, this part is for you.
I am proud of each of you, from the Veterans to the Rookies, our Captains to Keepers. The Coaching Staff and Media contributors. The active supports, Families and Friends who travelled to France, from city to city, sacrificed sleep, uneven eating patterns, decent living space and money, to bring us the game first hand, for ALL of this to happen. You have made all of us, back home, proud. And for me, I have to say, you have made me the proudest Australian I have ever been. I will never be ashamed to wear that kit and point to this team and say “THEY ARE MY GIRLS AND THIS IS MY COUNTRY” and in the near future, maybe even get ‘Suck on that one – Samantha Kerr” tattooed on me… :’)
I know the results mattered, but the passion you gave for that crest on the front of that kit, that sits over your heart, mattered more, and you made sure of that.
We look to Tokyo 2020, ladies and gentlemen, and I know this road will ALSO not be easy…is it ever? Australians are notorious for taking the hard road, but so be it. The hard road breeds legends.
So until then, let’s enjoy the rest of this Cup, let’s enjoy the skill and class of womens football, comebacks and also the controversy that keeps us on our toes, we all need it to keep the heart rate up (lol, Still, F*CK THE VAR). Let’s applaud how far football has come and let’s continue to use the next 2 weeks and the future ahead, to inspire the next generation. As Marta said this morning, after the Brazil v France match, “We have to cry at the beginning, to smile at the end” and that line hit me hard…
We cry now, but this is not the end for the Matildas, no way. Our squad is young, our determination to return is very much alive, in every single one of us. We have 2023 over the horizon, another shot to make this ours. I know it will be our one day…
Remember, our hearts bleed the words ‘Never Say Die”
And we never will.
By Christina Trajceska