Sydney kicks off the World Cup hype

Over four thousand Sydneysiders braved baltic conditions and a super-early start to welcome the world to Australia, marking 25 days to go before the opening games of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in July. This was a first chance for the squadron of volunteers to apply their skills, a first opportunity for all the media outlets to see the scale of what is to come, and a chance for football fans to converge on an internationally renowned landmark and have the Harbour Bridge all to themselves. A well-run event with an uplifting vibe, this surely ends the frustration of seeing the days, the weeks, the months tick by with very little exposure to the unsuspecting public of Australia and New Zealand. This was FIFA and Sydney at their best.

Logistically, this one was going to be a challenge. The odd timing of the event, coinciding with every aspiring young female footballer’s weekend fixtures, was so early that we made the call that we could, theoretically at least, fit it in. Michelle was on volunteer duty at the accreditation centre so missed the early start, Aurelia making the most of the 5.30am departure to get her hours up on her L’s as we made our way along deserted roads in the dark, parking up at Waverton to jump on the train for the two-stop journey. There were two other people on the platform which made us wonder how many people would be making the pilgrimage, but the train was full of green and gold, and we joined the sea of football people at Milsons Point Station and followed the crowd to the check-in area.

This was a taste of things to come – queuing, back checks, ticket scans, and this would have been a great test event for the processes that will be in place on match day around the country in three week’s time. It was still dark. The check-in process was easy, we all got coloured wrist-bands and were invited to walk on around the corner of Alfred Street and on to the Bradfield Highway that runs up to the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Buses blocked the entrance to the roads, there were people of all nationalities and all walks of life, many football families, plenty of young kids on the lookout for freebies and loads of volunteers in the colourful Beyond Greatness shirts, some daring to freeze without any layer underneath. Our wrist-bands took us right to the start of the harbour bridge, whereas the earlier group were held back behind the flag-bearers, obviously something soon to be orchestrated to capture our imagination. We literally had no idea what to expect. This was not the ideal warm-up for a tough 11am kick off in Manly for Aurelia, but she was reluctantly getting into the world cup vibe.

Carla was there, she jumped out at us, Tazuni was doing a fun-loving penguin meet and greet and we were ushered to a point where there was a tiny stage, and a Remy Siemsen look-a-like took the microphone and hyped up the crowd, giving us another go at the Unity Beat. Oh oh oh oh oh oh. One young girl announced that she had lost her tooth just then on the harbour bridge which drew a cheer. This was a crowd pump-up just like the start of the Sydney marathon that does the same route every year at an equally ungodly time on a Sunday morning in September, but this one was fun. A welcome to country ceremony was taking place some way in front, but we couldn’t see it.

This was a post-Covid crowd scene that was such a welcome sight. Not a mask anywhere. People huddled together for warmth. Flags of all different countries flew, the Vietnamese hats proved no match for a stiff pre-sunrise breeze and some went flying. There was an unveiling of a giant Beyond Greatness shirt going on behind us as the sun started to peek through from behind the contours of Sydney’s northern beaches. We couldn’t see that either. It didn’t matter. We finally got moving as the drums and the dancers started drawing near behind. We were walking in the middle of the harbour bridge, thousands of us, empty trains going past on the Parramatta side of the bridge, non-plussed joggers treading past on the Mosman side.

The Columbian dancers were fabulous, the TV reporters loved them, the football tourists too. A giant Women’s World Cup motto was on the ground, surely making for some great photos from the air.

A tall Dutchman with an orange beard was attracting comments, there were Argentinians and Brazilians posing for photos together, whether happy to or not. This was a real World Cup vibe. And everyone was happy. There was nothing to be unhappy about. We eventually approached a stage in the distance, and former Matilda and all-round champion Amy Duggan started to introduce some dignitaries to the stage and ask them questions. We couldn’t really hear what they were saying, and looking at the clock and knowing our packed timetable for the day, we asked a volunteer to let us out of the barriers so we could walk in the other direction and back to Milsons Point station.

The party was still happening at the back and the atmosphere was super-hyped, but once past that final area of action, we were on the one road out of the there, happy kids dancing with flags of different countries down the centre of the multi-lane highway and people stopping for one last photograph of the day.

This was a simple concept of walking the harbour bridge, supporting a football movement and simply being together with fellow football fans. It was well executed and really brought the World Cup feeling to our non-footballing nation. It was aimed at those people in the know who are excited for it, it was designed to leverage off those people to generate the feeling that something great is coming to Australia, and it succeeded marvellously. Now, bottle up that energy and sprinkle it all around our country and let’s make this the best women’s sporting event ever to hit our shores.

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