The old Canadian 1-2 as stadium shines

Just when you thought you’d had the best day out ever at the Matildas in Brisbane, along comes another one to run it close. The Australian women’s national team graced the new Allianz Stadium for the first time, and put on a great show. Whatever happens between now and next July, the FIFA Women’s World Cup will be the greatest football event ever held in Australia; if tonight was anything to go by, the party will be pumping in 2023 and the fervent active supporters from the world’s powerhouse nations who arrive in their thousands to sing and dance in our marvellous stadiums will still be attracting grief from the seccies.

The school day finished and we were on the train by 4.30pm, and trying to avoid being taken out by fire trucks on the light rail up to Moore Park. What a difference it makes – in only a few minutes you’re off the tram in front of the SCG; matchday will never be the same again. Destination the Olympic Hotel, a hotel so quiet a week ago after the World Cup trophy event that they closed the doors when we left, but tonight would surely be different. Aurelia said hi to the GSAP team from her club who were eagerly awaiting the pre-match events, and we took the time to say hello to the Sydney FC membership crew outside Gate 3. Johnny Warren was in danger of being swamped by the Cupra cars and we jagged our customary Matildas pre-match snack of Qukes at the “activation” that was only just opening up.

The Olympic was busy. All designs we had of grabbing a feed were dashed; no tables left, so we opted for the liquid dinner, over-ordering beers to avoid the immense queue at the understaffed bar. The Matildas Active crew were there in force, with former Matildas, journalists and a boistrous atmosphere, the chants eventually starting up with a Waltzing Matilda at full throttle.

Met a few new people in there. Big highlight meeting Michelle Escobar from Optus TV, who posed for a photo with a bestselling female fiction book in exchange for a “Go Matildas” cheer into her mobile phone. Optus are obviously beginning to ramp up their involvement in the women’s game, with the World Cup not far away. The release date for the new Matildas shirts was also a topic, chatting with a member of the Rebel Sports football division. He remained tight-lipped about that one; hopefully we’ll see them in the shops before the World Cup comes around!

We left the pub way after the rest of the Active fans had left, but still with plenty of time to comfortably make kick off- we’re learning! Time then to get a makeover at the face-paint tent, meet Nat and Bob from Sydney FC who signed our Qukes ball, and then in to Gate 3. No gate specified on our ticket, it just said GA, but Gate 3 is behind the goal so it made sense. Getting into the stadium was no drama at all, and we found the rest of the Matildas choir (no Fatty – ou es-tu?) down at the front of the active bay, and we took our customary position, with the cross bar obscuring the far end of the field.

There was a great deal of anticipation for this game. Saturday’s match was entertaining, this one was extra special under lights, and the firewaorks and mood lighting really hit the spot for the welcome to country and the national anthem. Again the rendition of O Canada was fabulous, there’s a note in there “Oh Canada, we stand on guard for thee” that I can imagine Canadians tearing up to. Advance Australia Fair was equally spellbinding, the number of people around still singing “young and free” suggesting that the revised lyric hasn’t quite sunk in yet.

Some changes to personnel in the Matildas line-up. Cortnee Vine in. Yessss. A few of the big names missing, boooo, Alanna Kennedy injured, Steph Catley out, but we looked good. The game was off to a cracking start. The crowd were really into it. The Matildas struck gold early on, Kailen Sheridan’s goal kick a little flat and Mary Fowler cut it out. Vine did well, and a completely blind cross from Sam Kerr was straight into the path of Fowler again who drilled the ball home, a goal in the first three minutes. Incredible! Matildas had players forward and were starting the game off with a bang. More incredibly, Lewis managed to navigate his way back to his seat with his two beers intact after arriving in the active area as the goal went in.

We looked good in the first half, Caitlin Foord’s clever turn and run into the box somehow not resulting in a penalty when she was tripped on the edge, and she had another good run and shot that was very close. The crowd were lapping it up. Football could really make a statement here. Half time was greeted with a big roar before the half-time entertainment made its way onto the field. The atmosphere was jubilant. This was a taste of 2023.

The liquid dinner continued, and the impressive machine that Rampaging Roy Slaven used to pour the Tooheys New was a cause of much fascination. Pouring four beers at once and offering only one option made the acquisition of drinks much more effficient than usual at the dedicated section at the end of the bar. To be fair, there wasn’t much in the way of queues anywhere, everything seemed to be working correctly. The view from the bar area does not quite allow you to see the field – it’s too high up – but there are screens everywhere. The camera crew was again planted in the active bay at half time, this time interviewing some of the young kids who were kitted out in their club colours after the pre-match entertainment.

It wasn’t long before Canada were level, and it coincided with Vine’s substitution, Em Gielnik on for the second half. It was a lovely goal too – two bites at the cross and the hopeful arm up for offside by Tameka Butt wasn’t going to cut it as Saturday’s goalscorer repeated the feat, Adriana Leon finishing superbly at the near post. And the game turned completely on its head as a brilliant move carved the Matildas midfield apart. Jade Rose did her best Virgil Van Dyk impersonation and strode through the middle with magificent posture, her through ball was dummied and Leon raced away to finish perfectly for 2-1.

The Active fans in the home end continued their non-stop repertoire of songs, “We love Matildas…” must have gone on for more than five minutes and there was a very good attempt at a new song, that I can’t quite remember, but it sounded great. As always though, when everyone is having a great time, it was time for the yellow vests of the security team to start their usual shit. First it was one of the security guards from the right, beckoning us to sit down. This was 65 minutes in and we hadn’t sat down yet. He was waved away with puzzled looks. Soon after, a bunch of vests appeared from the left, looking a lot more determined. Again, thanks to the intervention of the active crew, who pointed out that they were in the active bay, being active, the situation was diffused. Oh my god, if this happens next year, this will be to the utter shame of Football Australia. And let’s see how Sydney FC get on in a month when Melbourne Victory come to town – the “lo lo lo” chant will be the litmus test!

If you buy a ticket in the Active area, you have to join in or tolerate. Joining in would be great, and you’ll have so much more fun. You’re not in Category 1 seats, there are people who love to encourage their team and be vocal, and Football Australia are more than happy to get the cameras in to show the world how good the active area is. Something’s not quite right yet, hopefully the Kogarah Oval security team are not invovled.

Rossco was spotted, walking around checking on his ball crew. What he didn’t notice was that he had a new ball boy in the crowd, a cheeky young fella grabbing a ball and hiding it, much to the amusement of everyone around him.

Back on the field, the game was coming to a crescendo, even if the Mexican wave suggested otherwise. The Matildas threw on more fire power, and Alex Chidiac had a shot expertly blocked from close range and with it our chance of an equaliser. The non-award of the corner was baffling, and the Canadian keeper was keen to see out a few minutes with some game management that drew some ire from the crowd. The big finish did come, a lot of action including a dangerous free kick out right making a nervy conclusion to the game for the Canadians. In the end, our girls ran out of time. The whistle sounded to much applause. It was a good game, it was played in good spirit. The sight of Mini Gorry being carried off the field was concerning and she appeared soon after in a knee brace.

The youngsters in the crowd had already congregated five deep at the front, all the way around the stadium, and we would wait patiently to see if any players would make their way around instead of staying in the one section next to the benches. We did get a sight of some players. Jordyn Huitema stopped by for a chat, Chids picked up a Ladies League scarf, Prinny raced to the far side of the field to launch something into the crowd, and again the stars of the show were the youngsters.

The crowd was eventually wrangled by security and asked to leave, but we went by the players tunnel and there was more action, Chloe Logarzo giving out goodies and a good crowd of onlookers still hoping for a sighting of their favourite players. Just as we were heading off, out came one of the support crew with a pair of boots and handed one each to two people in the crowd. One of those was Aurelia. Sam Kerr’s left boot, from the game in Brisbane. How happy was Aurelia? Sam Kerr’s mum was outside the stadium too as we left, and photographer Michelle was on the spot to capture the moment. What a thrill!

We made our way back to the light rail, which was not crowded at all, and had a relatively quick changeover to the train at Central. Back home at 11.30pm; on a school night, that’s a punish, but we were full of joy from a fabulous night out at the football that it wouldn’t matter until the morning.

This football experience had it all. Entertainment around the stadium, a pub just opposite welcoming football fans, kids on the field having a ball, top quality football from two energetic teams, great singing, readily available beer and a beautiful setting. Free transport, minimal queuing, happy staff, this could be a little window into the World Cup experience in 2023 when the world’s best descends on Australia for a month-long party.

Plenty of love for Anna Black – This Girl Can Play tonight. Surely the word will get out before long to the general public that there is a young adult / adult fiction novel out there all about women’s football just waiting to be read by anyone who loves the world game. It’s so relevant right now, and is going to capture the hearts of readers young and old as we approach next July.

Next up, we have the big farewell game for the Socceroos in Brisbane. Hey, that’s soon! How good is football? Catch up with you all soon! What a blast!

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