home Football, Summer Series Murri fan’s Matildas diary 

Murri fan’s Matildas diary 

Ellen van Neerven reflects on the 2023 FIFA Women’s World cup in this poetic fan diary of all the Matildas matches.

20 July 2023   Australia         1–0        Republic of Ireland   Warrang/Sydney

I feel sick in the stomach. The day has finally come. I have coffee with a journo friend who defends the obsessive interest in Sam Kerr’s calf muscle. If it was Messi, they’d have drones circling the doctor’s surgery. It is a sign of progress. I go to the gym in the hours before to try to expel some nervous energy. When I get home they are showing the first footage of  Stadium Australia. 75,784 people streaming through the gates. Commentators speak over Dharug Elder Aunty Julie Jones and cut to a deodorant ad break during the Welcome to Country.  Deeply hurtful for us mob. So disrespectful during such a momentous occasion and I can imagine the families of the Jannawi Dance Clan dancers that performed alongside Aunty would have felt like their heart was ripped out.  My phone is blowing up at every hopeful chance. Hayley Raso wins a pen and Steph Catley steps up. What a dependable player. A terrifying thirty minutes follows before the final whistle blows. It is a nervous performance but we have got the win and the clean sheet.

27 July 2023   Australia         2–3        Nigeria                      Meanjin/Brisbane

My cousin asks me if I’ve brought the Palestinian flag. We can’t find each other in a packed Brisbane Stadium. Mum and I have a good view of Emily Van Egmond’s goal. We jump up and down, hi-fives all round with the people beside us – united in joy. They are wearing Wallabies jerseys and  tell us it is their first football match. There’s Jenny! Mum says, pointing to our cousin on the screen with a couple of other Murris reacting to the goal in front of the Aboriginal Flag. Nigeria’s goal a few minutes later knocks the elation down a peg. Still shaking our heads, we go find Jenny on the other side of the stadium. We choose the section with Palestinian flag as a landmark. The crowd is overwhelming and I hold my Mum’s hand to weave through. I’m not really impressed by the police who seem to be tailing us. We decide to stay with mob for the rest of the match. We applaud Nigeria’s goals. Asisat Oshoala is a wonderful player.  I can hold duplicities in my heart – joy for Nigeria and disappointment for the Matildas. The bus trip home hurts though.    

31 July 2023   Canada           0–4        Australia                   Naarm/Melbourne

I wish I had tickets to every match. But there is also something really comforting about watching matches from the comfort of your living room with a cup of tea and a kelpie to cuddle.  The stadium experience is incredible but overwhelming. I found it hard to wind down and sleep after group matches in those huge loud stadiums. I am thankful to have had both experiences. My family and I sit down for the do-or-die match against Canada. It feels incomprehensible that we might go out in the group stage. Immediately, I sense something special and determined from the Matildas. Raso puts on an inspired performance. Her two goals feel so good, like a warm hug. We keep attacking. Fowler scores and then Catley. 4-0. Against the Olympic gold medal winners. We dance around the living room. Our dog has never seen us so happy.

7 August          Australia         2–0        Denmark       Warrang/Sydney

No Kerr no problems? We are impressed with the resilience of the group. I work in a bookstore in the city and my colleague Ivy and I create a display with Fiona Crawford’s book The Matilda Effect and Sam Kerr’s and Lydia Williams’ children’s books. Young people come in wearing jerseys and we enjoy how football forward our days together have become, the sense of community around women’s sport. Some of our customers are following the tournament around the country. I really want to see Chidiac get some minutes, one customer says, while another waxes lyrical about the exceptional Mary Fowler. Fowler plays a peach of a pass to Caitlin Foord for the opening goal. I could watch that play one hundred times on repeat. The ride continues.  It takes an hour to respond to all the messages on my phone.

12 August 2023           Australia         0–0 (a.e.t.)7–6 p) France  Meanjin/Brisbane

The most important match ever, on Yagera and Turrbal land and I’m not there! I already have a commitment to the Byron Writers Festival. I’m on three panels that day. A welcome distraction maybe. France are going to be hard to beat but we reckon we can win the whole thing now. I wear my Siren Sport tee and talk about my new book. The festival crowds cheer loudly whenever I mention our team. There’s also a big cultural event that night. Four Bundjalung writers are showcasing their plays at the Brunswick Picture House. My cuz Grace is one of the writers, and we are confident we can watch the Matildas at the pub and make it to the theatre afterwards. We hadn’t counted on extra time and pens. The Bruns pub feels like such a random venue for watching such an important match. There’s about one hundred people gathered in front of the screen.  Grace squeals whenever anyone steps in front of our view. My writer friends are fun to watch with and we make future plans to go to the ALW. I’m stress-eating my parmy and chips. The unimaginable has happened. We have gone into extra time and going to have to choose between Bundjalung storytelling and the Matildas WWC QF. I sit in the back of the theatre with the Optus app open. I sneak out when we go to pens, thinking it will be quick and no one will notice I’m gone. I just can’t miss this. A few people are gathered in the foyer, watching the shootout on the laptop. Hearts in mouths. The longer it goes on, the worse or better the feeling. When Cortnee Vine’s pen goes in, I’m soaring. I sneak back into the theatre and into the power of words by strong Aboriginal women. We won, I mouth to Grace and then go over to give Aunty Rhoda a hug.  

16 August 2023           Australia         1–3        England        Warrang/Sydney

I really want to beat the country that colonised us. On Gadigal land, we honour the people of this place, always was, always will be.  My publisher and friend Aviva texts me shock news that Alanna Kennedy is sick and not on the team sheet. England score first. Then a beautiful moment. Kerr’s goal is so Kerr. 1-1. She is back. We are in this match. Sadly England score soon after that and the game slides out of reach with a third. On another day, it could have been different. We have lived through a beautiful time. I go to bed with a heavy heart.

19 August 2023           Sweden            2–0        Australia       Meanjin/Brisbane

A sombre but proud affair. We made it this far. We lived the dream. We made history.

Ellen Van Neerven is award-winning author, editor and educator of Mununjali (Yugambeh language group) and Dutch heritage. Their latest book, Personal Score: Sport, Culture, Identity weaves history, memoir, journalism and poetry, is now available.

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