Last chance saloon for Sydney women’s

Sydney FC 0 Western United 1

A second-half onslaught was not enough to salvage the A-League women’s semi-final and send it into extra-time. Instead, Sydney FC were condemned to another semi-final at home to old foes Melbourne Victory next week, a match that no one wanted. A fired-up Cove capo Michelle MMTV was left cursing chief time-waster Hilary Beall at the final whistle, but all had been forgotten as the players made themselves extra-available for the fans at the final whistle.

The Texi Hierarchy of Footballing Importance (THFI) © was put to the test as NPL and local club football clashed to provide a dilemma – which game would take precedence over the other? In the end, 3pm kick offs for West Ryde Rovers Over 40 women and Over 45 men ranked higher than Sydney FC men 3pm kick off, but that was only with the compromise of getting to Allianz Stadium in time for the women’s semi-final. Setting off at 5pm after a quick change of shirts, we just missed the train that would have got us to Moore Park at roughly the advertised kick off time, so two minutes of hasty deliberation led us to Uber in. That gave us a chance to take in the sights of a beautiful autumn Sydney dusk, the city sparkling and lit up in a pink hue. The driver in front of us on the Anzac bridge, holding his king-size mattrass on the roof of his car, reminded us though of the utter loons that proliferate our fine city. We were at the gate not long after kick off, after admiring the glowing Allianz Stadium forecourt that was shimmering in the late-afternoon sun.

The game had already started, and loaded up with post-match recovery beers, we ventured into the thick of the action in the Cove. The Cove was pumping. The aftermath of the men’s game and the unusually big margin of victory meant that there were many more people in the Cove than would normally appear for a standalone women’s game, and indeed on the walk through the concourse outside, the surprising thing was the number of people going in as opposed to coming out. Perhaps we weren’t the only ones with personal football commitments.

Sydney were in total command. We had just got to our position and were in danger of losing our beers when Cortnee Vine lashed in a low shot that was well saved at the other end, Princess Ibini unable to convert the follow up. The “Where we go…” chant was echoing around the stadium and the extra gusto given to the “F*ck Melbourne and the westie scum…” was so loud. This was a women’s Cove full of mischief and ready to take the noise to new levels, MMTV screaming into the megaphone, making any fan who didn’t participate quiver in fear.

The call and response “Come on you girls in blue…” was well responded by the main stand as well a Cove Heights. Just as the game looked to be building into a one-sided affair, and the call and response was moving to the “hill” side of the stadium, a raid down the Western United left, following a cheap giveaway in midfield, saw the ball swung across goal and ace striker Hannah Keane got across Charlotte McLean to stab the ball under Jada Whyman, right in front of us. In true Australian football fashion, the chant continued meekly as the majority of fans let out a collective groan at the goal, and we knew now that we had a game on our hands.

A new Sydney FC chant, or not one that I’ve heard before, then got traction “Everywhere we go…” building as the fans became accustomed to the words. Western United’s number 19, Tyla-Jay Vlajnic then went down in a challenge and was visibly very angry, attracting plenty of vitriol from the Sydney fans. Half time was approaching, and we were keen for the whistle to change around and get some much-needed wisdom from Ante Juric at the break. It could have been 1-1 though, Beall rolling a ball lazily to her defender allowing Rachel Lowe to pounce. She advanced on goal and shot low to the left, the ball just rolling the wrong side of the upright and Western had survived.

Half time came and we went on the hunt for food. The promised screen directions to find open outlets were not forthcoming, and our quest for sushi was to be fruitless after we found our favourite kiosk with the shutters down. Pizza was the next in line and we grabbed one each, magnificently priced, and took them back to the Cove as the game was soon to restart. Alas it weas a big negative for the pepperoni pizza (see the pic), and judging by the amount of half-eaten pizzas discarded at the end of the game in the main stand, we weren’t the only ones to give them the thumbs down. Definitely not what we would expect from a quality name like Merivale. The second tray of beers hid the disappointment though, and still rehydrating from 90 minutes earlier in the afternoon, we were set for a rip-roaring second half.

The entertainment was fantastic. It was wave after wave of attack from Sydney FC, and the odd hairy moment for Wyman. Indiana Dos Santos was sacrificed quite early, the appearance of Madison Haley reassuring the home fans that Sydney were going on the offensive, and she hit one across the face of the goal soon after coming on. Ibini danced down the left and was adjudged to have taken the ball out before crossing, Nat Tobin rifled a shot from distance that went way wide, and Cortnee Vine was close to unlocking the defence on a number of occasions until her withdrawal. Perhaps Ante was saving her for the next semi-final if the defeat did eventuate.

The best chance was created by Haley and Ibini in midfield, and Rola Badawiya was away down the right, her cross parried and Tobin, now committed to attack, followed up with a left foot strike from a slightly acute angle towards the empty goal, but she inexplicably sent the ball into Beall’s hands. The Cove was in a frenzy by now. We’d had injuries, Beall going down clutching her calf after fielding a simple ball and milking it for an eternity as the fans behind got more and more agitated. Ibini then almost got into a fight, JD and the supporter marshall had arms on shoulders in unison with the fans, it was non-stop action on the field and non-stop fun and games in the crowd. There were missing airpods after a comedy tussle, rubbish flying through the air, and the vibe was still ultra-poisitive, the Cove trying their best to suck the ball into the goal in front of them.

Angie Beard then went down with an injury and was receiving plenty of heckling, but it did look like something serious as she was helped off the field in distress, and Western United had a chance when Tobin cleared straight to the attacker who let rip from distance, the ball just over the bar. After last year’s semi-final had taken the same trajectory, we were still hanging on to hope, and when Haley lifted the ball over to Hawkesby, she had a clear shot on goal, albeit with a high difficulty rating given the bounce, and her shot went wide with the goal at her mercy, the disbelief in the home end palpable with hands on heads and fans doubled over in anguish.

We were now deep into injury time. And there was a lot of it. We had missed the number of minutes, but it would have to be near ten. Sydney poured forward, Badawiya again having chances to get the ball in, Sarah Hunter trying her best to unlock the defence, and Ibini almost dribbling all the way through. Western United were trying to manage the game, running to the corners, but Sydney were remarkably proficient in winning the ball back, and the half-chances continued, but Beall was always in the right place as if the ball was attracted by some voodoo magic to her gloves.

The final whistle confirmed our fate. The final whistle saw MMTV offload to Beall after her time-wasting antics, and the Cove boys folded the flags with such military precision that the watching mums would have been cooing about how domesticated they are.

At such a moment after a defeat, it is difficult to know what the players would do, but to their credit, they came across to the Cove, and applauded. After all, it had been an unprecedented display of support for the women at Allianz Stadium, the chants had continued to the bitter end and the players were surely encouraged to get that elusive equalising goal.

The players then all stuck around to sign autographs, to take selfies and to chat with the fans. It was all positive and happy, and a lovely gesture to the patient fans. Indiana Dos Santos is revelling in her new found fame and there were a handful of Sydney FC players that were there until the rest of the stadium had been packed up. There was a sweet moment for Aurelia, chatting with Nat Tobin – Aurelia goes to the same school as our fearless leader and now has the same PDHPE teacher that taught our Sydney FC captain all those years ago.

And there was a sweet moment for me too. The book that I’ve been trying so hard to promote during the lead up to the Women’s World Cup, Anna Black This Girl Can Play, found it’s way into the hands of our young superstars. Word is getting around, as some of them had heard about it, and they were all happy to pose with the book, following in the footsteps of a lot of Matildas superstars lately. Promoting books, especially in the nichest of them all, female football fiction, is almost impossible, and I have had comments that it is ‘cringe’ and that it is over the top. A big f*ck you to anyone with that attitude, I’d like to see you do better, and you’ll be seeing more of the book everywhere you look on social media in the lead up to the biggest football tournament to hit our shores.

A seamless transition from light rail to train, the train pulling up to the platform as we walked up the steps, and we were home at a reasonable time around 9pm. What a game, though. The first time I’ve missed one half of a double-header, but we got to see a an intense match of high drama and excitement and had a great time making atmosphere with the most boisterous of women’s Coves in memory.

Next Saturday 3pm we get yet another chance for revenge against Melbourne Victory, and it will be tough, but this time a standalone game at Allianz Stadium should attract a decent turnout. Alas, the THFI may dictate my attendance, and only a rain event later this week will allow me to attend. Don’t let that stop you though! Forza Sydney FC.

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