Saturday 23rd October saw a welcome return to being football fans, and what better way to rekindle the joy than to watch the Matildas at the newly named Commbank Stadium in Parramatta.
An early start for this one saw our crew of Michelle, Aurelia and Anna set up the flags and banners in the active area, meeting Active Support’s Nawal at the gate. The process of entry with scanning in and vax checks was in line with everything that you’d expect in this new age of freedom, and seeing the stadium from the inside for the first time in months was a real buzz.
At this early point of the day, the concourse was still in set-up mode. The Football Australia merchandise store was up and running, but strangely enough they didn’t have any Matildas shirts to sell. Maybe a hangover of lockdown with supply or maybe there’s a new shirt design on the way. Either way, a bit of a missed opportunity. The venue for pre-match for our gang was at Parra Leagues Club.
The logistics of getting everyone into the club was hampered by a fairly low cap on numbers and an inability to book, so some of us were upstairs in Pablo’s Cantina and the rest were downstairs in the outside bar. Either way, it was a good feed and a jovial atmosphere as we filled up with traditional pre-game pizzas and burgers. Not a bad spot up there, a good view of the stadium as the storms started forming and plenty of good beers on tap. Met up with the future of Australian football coaches in Brendon and Lucas, good to connect again ahead of a busy NPL season.
Conscious of a potential queue to get into the stadium, we made our way in via the forecourt, which was by now buzzing, TV interviews happening, Brazilian fans congregating and a festival feel on a humid spring evening. The stadium was looking amazing as night fell. The scene was set for an enthralling game.
The active support area was busy, which was a relief, the drum started up and the Ladies League crew were giving it their all to create an atmosphere. Any crowd with a heavy South American influence was going to be a tough one to out-sing, but we gave it a go. The national anthem was fabulous, the kick off was met with a roar and the game got underway at an unexpectedly high tempo and some fierce tackling.
Thanks to the fabulous new coverage of football in Australia, the highlights of the game are everywhere, try this link to the Matildas website. What you won’t see on there was a foul by Alanna Kennedy early on to prevent a goal scoring opportunity that could easily have been a red card on her 100th cap. It didn’t look good from where we sat but yellow was the colour. There was also a bit of samba magic from Ellie Carpenter to dance past a tackle on the sideline that drew a big roar, and a perfect nutties from a Brazilian player on the far side by the visitors’ bench which got the crowd off their seats.
The goals were good. Polks guided the ball home – it didn’t seem like a shot, more of a caress – and she was over the moon with the goal. Mary Fowler was just terrific and wouldn’t have expected the ball to beat the last defender from Emily Van Egmond’s teasing cross for the second goal. A lovely guided header though, that left the Brazilian keeper on her backside in despair. Brazil had chances to get back into it, Lydia Williams saving well, and they did get one back as Kennedy was served up a hospital pass and had her pocket picked to bring the game back into the balance. Marta’s appearance from the bench drew cheers from the strong Brazilian contingent, and plenty of applause from the Matildas fans too.
The final goal killed off the contest, Steph Catley doing brilliantly on the by line to beat two players and pull the ball back for Van Egmond to finish low into the net in front of the Matildas active area. There was still time for some kamikaze defending that could have made the last few minutes uncomfortable and Williams dallied on the ball to screams from the crowd. A tough game concluded and the players must have had a protocol of not shaking hands as they made their way to their respective fans to thank them for their support. Either that, or Brazil and Australia hate each other.
There was a lot of fun as the players made their way around the stadium. Remy Siemsen and Bryleeh Henry, who had made fleeting appearances for their first Australian caps, were given plenty of love from the crowd. It was heart-breaking to see the players kept separate from their friends and family in the crowd, and the desperate young fans were left without signatures or selfies with their heroes. Charlotte Grant had a massive smile on her face, and even Tony G had a chant.
It was tough to leave and accept that our long-awaited football fix had ended, security getting prepared to evict the stragglers, and various nights out continued to make it a memorable experience. What a great spectacle this was. Top quality football in a fabulous venue, happy faces, lots of atmosphere, singing, chanting and beers. We get to do it on Tuesday again, it’s great to be back.