A Tuesday night game back at CommBank Stadium in Parramatta saw our Matildas given a reminder that we’re not going to have it all our own way when the big show comes to town in 2023. We’re going to have to earn it.
A late midweek kickoff that coincided with a return to school for most kids and clashed with many NPL women’s trials across the city that would have included a good number of the potential audience, this one was almost guaranteed to be a smaller crowd. There was an early meet at 4.45pm to set up for the Matildas Active – more flags, an extra drum and a megaphone hopefully giving more atmosphere. The Brazil active fans were setting up at the far end, and there were some yellow seat covers being put on two sections of seating in the main stand. Friends and family of players? Emergency services volunteers? Special dignitaries?
That was all wrapped up very quickly and we made our way through the concourse that was only just being set up to the home of the Eels at Parra Leagues. There we met up with the rest of the gang and enjoyed some hospitality on the balcony as afternoon turned to evening.
After being stopped to declare the megaphone on the way in, the initial view of the stadium inside was again awe-inspiring. What a great stadium this is. Easy to move around, great views from every seat. Plenty of facilities and a seat pitch that gives you vertigo the higher you go. There was some lucky souls on the pitch-side having a close look at training and the stadium was starting to fill up as night fell.
The Ladies League gang arrived just on time to get the party started. With the majority of the Matildas Active being from outside Sydney, the presence of these three football addicts was vital to make sure the Brazilians had at least some competition in the battle for volume.
The national anthems were stirring, the lively Brazilian tune always evoking memories of watching some of the great Brazilian teams in World Cups over the years. Advance Australia Fair was sung with big voices as the players linked arms. The scene was set for another rip-roaring duel between these two well-matched countries. And Michelle had the megaphone. Look out!
The game was exciting from start to finish. There were less stoppages than Saturday even though the Brazilian players got themselves into some heavy scrapes. It was a game that turned on its head in the second half as Brazil laid siege to the Matildas half and deservedly came out with a result.
Clare Polkinghorne got the first goal, an awkward height to strike a ball after being set up by a wayward headed clearance, but she lashed it home at the far end of the stadium. She loves a goal and a celebration. Brazil had plenty of the ball in the first half and seemed to be given free rein to romp forward in midfield until they hit the stubborn Matildas back line. Polks headed one off the line from a cross from the Brazil left, and there was good reaction and blocking from the defence to keep them at bay. Ellie Carpenter was terrific, bombing up and down the right, but the clear cut opportunity wouldn’t come and one goal was scant reward for their endeavour.
A fun moment at half time came as two young fan girls came to meet their TLL idols. Michelle and Rose battled over their Ladies League shirt to sign it, bickering like the sisters they clearly are. Honestly, a reality TV show based upon these three musketeers would be priceless.
The second half started with the Matildas at full electrifying pace. A glorious flowing move that started in defence saw Ellie go for the one-two with Sam Kerr, but instead the Matildas striker drilled in a cracking shot low into the net for 2-0. The Matildas were humming, but the game changed before the hour mark and Brazil started to dominate. A free header from a corner and then a brave follow up to a Lydia Williams save had Brazil back in the game as they completely overran the Matildas, teeing us up for an immense final flourish. A passage of play that ended with Mary Fowler’s dancing feet leaving two defenders for dead was an inch away from a goal, while there were chances at the other end as the Matildas scrapped to stay in the game. A break in play caught Tameka Yallop eating an energy bar on the bench as the camera fixed on her, and Kyah Simon was laughing on the field as it played on the big screen. The draw was about right – most Matildas fans would have been happy with it given the way the game turned.
The Matildas Active section did good work tonight, despite being out sung by their counterparts. Two young ones with drums were invited to join the Active drums, which made their night, and there’ll be plenty of new young fans after their first taste of singing and chanting at a big stadium. The “let’s go Aussie, let’s go” chant still gives me a cold shiver, but credit to everyone for singing along. The clean up operation happened as we waited for the players to come around and say goodbye, which brought up some of the best moments of the evening.
The pitch side presenter, who was doing the rounds all night through the crowd, gave her final wrap up from the Active support which had everyone singing again. Then we had a lady who had painted a picture of Lydia Williams get it signed by the player herself, after a frantic search for a pen. One (un)lucky fan got Sam Kerr’s sweaty sock and the players spent a long time signing shirts that had been thrown on the field over in the main stand. Tony Gustavsson made his way around to applaud the fans and ended up with a Ladies League scarf around his neck.
It took an hour for us to eventually leave the stadium. The drum got a final beating from a sleepy young girl on her Dad’s shoulders as the occasion came to an end. What a night of entertainment, and a free block of chocolate courtesy of Football Australia on the way back to get the drum back in the car. Out of the car park with no sign of the players having got in their buses yet. Home by 11.30pm, straight to bed.
The next Matildas fix is a double-header against the United States at the end of November. That’s only five weeks away. What a time it is to be a Matildas supporter. The lead up to 2023 has started. Get excited! The full Active area will be back and buzzing by then, make sure you keep the date free.