Actively awesome

The Matildas Active Support were out in force on Saturday for the first of a two-game series against Olympic champions Canada at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium. A good crew of seasoned supporters and some fresh faces made sure that there was atmosphere at this grand venue, but that was not until the pub had been serenaded with some classic chants over a hatful of beers and an impromptu march. A glorious day then continued into the night as Brisbane’s hospitality took some victims and made sure there were some sore heads on Sunday morning.

We had arrived in Brisbane the night before and sampled the lively nightlife, but on Saturday morning the sky was looking heavy and the rain that had fallen all night suggested we’d be in for a soaking at Suncorp. Staying on Caxton Street, a strip of busy bars and cafes a short walk from the stadium, we found that an early breakfast just doesn’t seem to exist on match day, and the venues were geared to starting the day early on the cans, or at least on the poutine. After the fruitless search for a fry-up, we ended up at the Lord Alfred, the meeting spot for the Matildas Active Support, and a steady stream trickled in as the age-old debate over whether these pints were the same size as the pints elsewhere in the country.

Familiar faces, former Matildas players and the hardcore of the supporters of the women’s national team were all there, and the atmosphere bubbled up to the point where the songs started. What a great scene, a pub full of fans dressed in green and gold, singing at the top of their voices – a precursor to next year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup, but then it will be the tournament du jour and there will be even more people interested in being part of the Active Support.

The march was assembled in good time to make the walk down to the stadium well in advance of kick off and the threatened rain was nowhere to be seen. By now the streets were thick with Matildas supporters, the odd Canadian jersey here and there showing that there would be at least a presence for the visitors. With capo Michelle in fine form, this was destined to be a classic afternoon. The queues at the merch stall were impressive. The entry into the stadium was slow but kept moving, and once we were in, the active part of the bay was established at the front and ready to rock and roll. Beers acquired, drum out, scarves in the air, it was time for some anthems, and a fabulous rendition of O Canada brought us into a well delivered Advance Australia Fair. The scene was set.

The game was off to a flyer. Sam Kerr flicked a header across goal which was saved, and the Matildas looked bright, but they were caught out on ten minutes by a moment of magic. A free kick from the Canada left was headed away by Mini Gorry but ended up at the feet of Adriana Leon at the corner of the box, who unleashed an unbelievable shot over the Australia defence and past Lydia Williams into the corner of the net. I was standing right behind it, and I couldn’t help but give a cheer as the ball hit the net, what a goal!

The excellent Gorry then fed Kerr who was in the clear. She seemed to stumble when making up her mind and the ball was easily saved by the Canadian keeper, Em Gielnik not having the composure to lift the ball into the open net, the ball sailing over. The visitors’ keeper Kailen Sheridan then made another stop to deny Kerr, and the Aussies were making a real go at this. No further scoring, and at half time the Canadians had the edge, Tony G with a bit of work to do to turn the game around.

A quick scout around the stadium saw some familiar issues, massive lines at the toilets but no lines for a beer. Half time saw a camera crew install themselves right in the middle of the active section, such was the interest in our fearless capo’s rousing of the masses into song. The customary warning for standing on a chair was dished out and the second half got under way.

The second half was lively. Williams saved to deny a second goal from a clear opportunity, then Michelle Prince raced through after Polks was caught up field and looked to steer the shot past Williams, but hit it wide of the post and held her head in her hands. A trio of Sydney FC stars warming up eventually led to Cortnee Vine taking the field and she almost finished a thrilling move, advancing onto a clever Sam Kerr touch to get the ball onto her right foot, but the curled shot was just wide. A second goal just wouldn’t come, but when Cloe Lacasse was played through and waltzed past Williams it looked nailed on. Her shot though was inexplicably wide of the open goal and Australia still had time to rescue a draw.

There was a great chance when Vine chased scraps and kept the ball in on the byline to set up Kerr, but the difficult shot was screwed just wide of the post. A quite brilliant header from Gorry’s corner then saw Sheridan tip over Kerr’s effort with almost the last touch of the game, and that was the end of the action.

The young fans (and some older ones) made their way to the front of the seats to get a chance to meet their idols as the clear up started. Unfortunately, and understandably, the focus was on the players’ families, and the majority of players stuck to one section of the stadium and there was minimal interaction elsewhere. The players’ kids were instead the stars of the post-match. Worrying stuff as a stretcher and paramedics were on scene and someone was being helped away in the corner, and we were ushered out, almost the last ones in the stadium.

The after party was underway when we got to the Caxton Hotel, an area out the back serving cans and a good crowd in. Despite losing the game the mood was buoyant and mischief was sure to be had. Officials and former players turned up, there were fly overs by jets and helicopters as part of a river festival happening that night and everyone was up for a big one. What a shame then that we had to draw a line under proceedings early, pick up our bags and head to the airport to fly out on the last plane out of Brissie. We weren’t the only ones with the same plan, but for those staying in the Queensland capital, they would wake up to scenes from The Hangover on their mobile phones.

We touched down in Sydney and made it back home just after the final whistle of the early Liverpool derby, ready to go for a night of EPL action. What a day. What a blast. The active support movement may still be in a building phase, but it has strong foundations from years of travelling the globe, and in preparation for the World Cup next year, this was an enticing taste of what is to come, but on a much bigger scale. We should be excited, our country is going to rock the Women’s World Cup and it will be an amazing event.

Next up though, the second leg of the two-match series with Canada on Tuesday. Allianz Stadium hosts its first football game after being well and truly worn in up by the other codes over the weekend. We’ll be at the Olympic Hotel pre-game. It’s time you joined the singing section. It’s a great day out. Don’t be shy. Your country needs you!

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