Twelve months ago there was something brewing out at Penrith. There was a sea of yellow and green, scatterings of amazing Chile supporters donning red but no whiff of an Australian chant other than perhaps the odd “aussie, aussie, aussie”. The Chileans completely out performed us, far, far louder than the home crowd.
Now it’s fair to say, it’s brewed.
During the interim there’s been a home international tournament and a World Cup in France. However, back in Sydney was always going to be the true test. Sydney, notoriously poor for supporting sport outside of Rugby League (sorry, but we know it’s kinda true), up against Chile, a side the Matildas played twice only twelve months ago.
Bankwest Stadium on Saturday afternoon with a 20,000 strong crowd was special.
Ok, let’s go back to the start. November is made for a Matildas Sydney visit. It’s a brilliant birthday treat, that I’ve delighted in and made tradition for the third year now.
Leaving the cold Tassie weather behind me, to a sunny, blue sky day in Sydney, was a particular masterstroke. There was an opportunity to watch a pre-season match between the much hyped Wanderers against Victoria’s NPLW side Calder, so I took it with both hands. A special shout out to Eric for offering a lift meaning less train time for me!
The match didn’t live up to the hype, with the feel of “training” stamped right on it. The game simply a death by a thousand pointless passes thanks to an early, lone goal taking any bite out of the contest. However, not even the gum I sat on, with the only pair of pants I had with me on my trip, could dampen my day. Soon it was pub time.
Leaving any illusion of covering the match in a media sense behind, I head to the pub where the Matildas Active Support set up pre-match. Upon entering, I meet friends and twitter, interwebs mates. The back of the pub is packed in yellow, soon after I arrive it begins spilling into the main section too. All these people, together to support the Matildas. Amazing.
Soon after there’s a call out wondering who will be the drummer. Immediately thinking this is a contested position, I put my name into the hat (thinking there was a hat). I was dead serious about wanting the post, I’ve always dreamed of being a drummer and being in the active section. This combined both perfectly. Turns out, there wasn’t a hat and I was soon appointed the new drummer as Maj filled in as Capo (perfectly I might add), with Fatty who normally leads the tribe unable to be in Sydney.
Upon arrival to the ground, it’s buzzing.
The amount of ‘spew’ Matildas jerseys on people young, old, man, woman, child is off the charts. I well and truly lost fingers to count on, and probably numbers to count with to track them all. The symbol of people attending the match, wearing the new jersey is unreal. All these people, all here for this team. Not just because they’re fans of football (though that’s great too), but because they want to be behind the players, the team and want to support them with cold, hard cash.
Truly living up to being that twelfth player on the park.
I’m quickly acquainted with my drum, stationed at the front with the musical instrument I would pummel for the next two hours, the crowd drizzled in. I’ve come to the realisation that it’s not just Tasmanians who notoriously turn up late, it’s an Australian epidemic.
One disclaimer here, pre-match, I didn’t know any of the chants. You see, I’m normally covering matches in someway, with phone in hand and haven’t experienced being in an active support section in my life. Being a loudmouth, singing my heart out to support my team has always been the dream, just unfulfilled until this moment.
And boy, what an incredible way to be part of active support for the first time.
A couple ciders down for courage and rhythm, the match was underway and I was fully focussed on the task at hand, to drum as much as needed and possible. Almost as focused as Maj was in saving a Sam Kerr practice shot pummelling our way.
My back hurt, my thumb has a blister and we discovered if we tape the drum and I stand a step down, my back to the game, it’s a hell of a lot easier on my body. I missed most of the match, saw both of Sam Kerr’s goals, while the rest is a blur of hitting beats, singing, losing rhythm occasionally, finding it again and seeing a range of people come together to support this side.
One of the best moments was seeing young Olive lead us in a Sam Kerr chant. Then for the second half, our section seemed to really find our voice as the Chilean supporters were equally making us work for our money.
I’ve since watched a rematch. Seeing Jenna McCormick debut was really, really special, especially given the poise and security she provided in the back. Aivi Luik also shifted how the Matildas played, with Luik connecting and completing passes forward, while providing a safety net for our defence without the ball. These two additions to the starting eleven helped the side look comfortable and patient in possession.
There’s other areas to pick up on. We played the ball from central areas more than the World Cup, however playing that daring central ball into the middle to an on fire Kerr just didn’t happen often enough. Equally there was rust in seeing the early pass or remaining on side. In addition there was a clunker of a goal to concede, showing our communication in the back is something that needs to be fixed faster than stopping ice cream from melting.
But, this match against Chile wasn’t ever going to be solely about the performance. Personally, the experience of joining in with the Active Section on a day Australia broke an attendance record for the number attending a women’s football match in the country is one I’ll never forget and that I want to replay over and over and over again.
Football is funny, as a nation we are fairly new to this whole singing, dancing and chanting gig. Especially in womens football. We have our voice now. We’ve found it, we’re honing it and the best part is it’s growing.
To anyone who has ever watched people singing in the crowds of matches, wishing to be one of those loud mouths, join in with me next time hey. It’s a totally different experience that is incredibly worth it. Give me the fun and joy of wrapping a scarf around my head and shouting for a side I whole-heartedly love any day of the week. It’s better than chocolate (big call, I know).
If anyone can help me find a bigger drum for the next Matildas match on Australia’s east coast, please hook me up. Otherwise.. Green and yellow flares for round two? We were in West Sydney after all.
For now I’ll leave you with some photos that are too good not to share.