What was meant to be a day of celebration, Sydney FC Women’s members’ day, went from self-congratulation and back-slapping to the most alarming non-performance from a team still stacked with stars. Wellington Phoenix showed determination and a work ethic that was far superior to their illustrious opponents, and Sydney FC got what they deserved for a showing of such ineptitude that the fans in the stadium could only shake their heads and laugh at the final whistle. Wine was turned into water at a sunny Kogarah, this result and performance was not in the script.
Our Saturday started early – we had late notice on Friday to be at Kogarah for a 12.30pm start for Sydney FC women’s members day, so we assembled at 11.30am, setting off soon after for this trip down south for our second visit to Jubilee Stadium in six days. Membership guru Shane was there to welcome us, and guided us through a trade entrance, past the drug testing lab and through past the Wellington Phoenix changing room that was being set up ready to welcome the players. The Sydney FC changing room was on the other side of the walkway and was split into two parts. The first area was like a gathering area used before heading out onto the field, the second was where the players would get ready for the game.
What struck me first was the missing names above the shirts for the players who had just signed. Of course this was due to Sydney FC having a mass shortage of players for this fixture due to Matildas Under 20s action, injuries and suspensions. It may have been a better look to take them all down or replace them with something other than names, but still, it just looked a little ragged – as if the names had been stolen or knocked off by the cleaners. There was a table of nutrition, similar to a table you might see en route in a long-distance running race, and a table of exercise equipment, weights and bands, that sort of thing. This was definitely a place of preparation, and it felt like we were intruding a little on the serenity of a hallowed space for the players. The fitness tracking devices were charging ahead of the game, ready to slip into their harnesses to provide vital data about the physical performance of the players.
We were then led into the members’ lounge upstairs and invited to take the time to get photos with the women’s trophies that had been placed out for our viewing delight. The second wave of members would be coming through, and we waited a few minutes for them to catch up and join us in the members’ lounge where we sat. The rugby league line-markings were rather unconvincingly being covered over in green as we watched out of the window. Shane invited questions and giving us an introduction, before handing us over to our fearless women’s capo, Michelle.
This was great, Michelle having a forum to explain what active support was, why it was important, and why more people were needed to help the women’s Cove grow as a concept. Up next was Ante Juric, super coach of the women’s team, who gave up his time for a Q&A with the very appreciative members. And then we had the suspended Nat Tobin, captain of the squad and long-time Sydney FC player, who was open and honest with her audience, and answered a flurry of questions.
We were genuinely pumped for the football, and we could see fans arriving into the stadium and the coaches setting up ready for the warm-ups. The idea that we had a threadbare squad was barely discussed; after all we had lethal weapons in the starting line-up and we would be fine. We were offered raffle tickets to win prizes at half-time, four lucky members were chosen to watch the game from the player’s enclosure, and two others were invited to partake in the half-time entertainment, a cross bar challenge. Capo Michelle shot her hand up, and immediately nominated my Michelle as her adversary. Game on!
We filed down into the seating area and through the tunnel onto the field where the players had just started to warm up. We strode out hand in hand like a player with their mascot. We were pitchside, watching on like a pack of photographers scrutinising the players’ every move. The main stand, at least the bottom section, was starting to fill up, and we eventually found our way back to the stand, and took up position in the north end, the area chosen for the women’s Cove when the actual Cove area is closed.
We had every reason to be cheerful. Sydney FC had beaten the league leaders here last week. We had a few out, but we had top-class players across the park and there was nothing to suggest that basement team Wellington Phoenix would offer much resistence to this classy Sydney FC team. No time to get to Kogarah Club, we had to take our pick of the stadium offerings, which to my delight, was delicious – light and fluffy fish and a generous helping of chips, and I was enjoying mouthfuls in between verses of “We are Sydney…” as the players came out, did their line-up and the game kicked off.
The big screen on the far side remained turned off for the duration of the game, and Sydney started the game in confident fashion, shooting towards the empty southern end of the stadium. Anna Green got hold of a ball from a melee in the penalty area to loop a shot goalwards, the Phoenix keeper touching the ball over. Cortnee Vine looked lively when Sydney found themselves on the break, and with Rachel Lowe in attack, and full of praise from Ante in the pre-match chat in the members’ lounge, we were confident to see some goals. Lots of promising attacks on the right ended with the wrong option though, but we had the possession and the firepower to get in behind the Phoenix defence.
The game didn’t pan out like that though. Sydney were weak in the challenge and Wellington could sense that the game was there for the taking, and they started to look more and more confident. Sydney FC’s midfield seemed to be the issue, the link between defence and attack simply wasn’t working. Sure enough, half an hour in, a corner from the right was half-cleared and Kate Taylor was unmarked to smash a shot past Katie Offer for a deserved lead to the visitors. Half time came and whilst the performance was below par, the vociferous Cove fans had no doubt that we’d come good in the second half.
The Sydney subs were about to have a warm-up with one of the coaches, but the ball crew took all the balls and wouldn’t give them back, leaving them with nothing to train with. The Michelles went on the field for the crossbar challenge, Prasad’s choice of thongs for footwear never going to aid her quest, and after four efforts each, only one close range shot from Morris was remotely near the cross bar. That was good entertainment, and the half-time members raffle saw members of the Cove score some booty too, as signed shirts and match balls were handed out to lucky recipients.
The second half got underway as the fans were still getting settled, and the Cove did its best to get the atmosphere going, but this was a tough watch. Mackenzie Hawkesby repeated her trick from the first half and her corner went behind the goal to puffed cheeks from the crowd, Kirsty Fenton looked sluggish, Charlie Rule seemed to be running in weighted boots and even Cortnee Vine was struggling to execute the basics, far too often the ball played from midfield to the strikers being intercepted or miscontrolled. After all the pre-match inflation of Rachel Lowe by Ante Juric, it was staggering to see her substituted on the hour, and the younger stars of the squad were being called on to rescue the game.
Our main threat would come from Princess Ibini down the left, and she bundled into shooting positions twice without pulling the trigger. Former Sydney FC winger Paige Satchell was lively until her withdrawal. The chances started to come for the Sky Blues, but Brianna Edwards was equal to everything that Sydney threw at her, and she played an immaculate game, taking the time to go to the floor to eat up valuable seconds as Phoenix sensed victory. The diminuitive figure of Michaela Robertson was outstanding for the visitors on the left, linking play beautifully. Auntie Carol was getting agitated by the referee’s refusal to award Sydney FC free-kicks, but to be honest there was little to cling on to for the Sydney FC fan.
Wellington did notch a thoroughly deserved second goal, with not long left on the clock, but an offside call ruined the moment. Vine seemed to spring into action with time running out, and galloped through on a lung-busting run, the fans on their feet, and young Indiana Dos Santos showed incredible feet to skip down the left once the game seemed to be out of reach, increasing her stock even further. “We are Sydney…” rang out loud and proud as the whistle sounded, the Phoenix players racing to congratulate each other, and the Sydney FC players remained in the technical area, a picture of disconsolation, as Ante tried to find anything positive to take from the game.
The players and fans interacted well after the game, one youthful Cove member getting phone numbers or instagram handles from players, and the parents of the young Sydney FC stars showing how proud they were despite the result. The goalposts were immediately removed and replaced by the rugby league version in preparation for the Sunday St George game here, and we were in a daze as we left the stadium, the life having been sucked right out of us. It was great to see the Phoenix fans enjoying the moment, and there were family and friends of the Wellington players with broad smiles. We couldn’t begrudge them their happiness, and the Western United result having gone in our favour did nothing to lift our spirits.
Luckily, after an easy drive back to the northern suburbs and a couple of beers in a friend’s swimming pool, we had washed away all memories of today’s horrible performance. The members open day was well received, loved that and thanks to Shane for organising, hopefully Jasmine Black enjoyed her Anna Black book, and we hope our girls rouse themselves ahead of a difficult trip to Melbourne City on the weekend.