home By The White Line, Siren Collaborator, Women in Sport Media Serendipity: the first time I photographed the Matildas

Serendipity: the first time I photographed the Matildas

In only her fifth match photographing football, Rachel Bach was given the assignment to shoot her first Matildas game. Read about that life changing day.

It was June 2016, and I was four games into my photography career. My weekends were carefully planned out, trying to balance both photographing and playing football. There were days when I’d step off the pitch at 5pm, and race across town to shoot a 6pm kick off. 

That month, the Matildas were coming to Victoria, before heading to the Rio Olympics. First, they’d play at Ballarat’s Morshead Park. Three weeks earlier, I played in a match there. The pitch was like carpet – easily the best in the league. It was a game that I looked forward to each season. A fierce rivalry existed between my club and Ballarat. The drive home felt neverending if you lost. Fortunately, on that occasion we did not.

A lighter moment during the coin toss. Image by Rachel Bach (@bythewhiteline) Photographing the Matildas
A lighter moment during the coin toss.
Image by Rachel Bach (@bythewhiteline)

The trip to Ballarat weeks later was vastly different. There was no team minibus blasting hits from the 90s, as we pulled into the stadium car park. Instead, I drove alone, and parked in a residential street across from the ground. I was nervous. I wasn’t only about to see the Matildas play live for the first time. I would be sitting pitchside, snapping away.

How did my fifth game of photographing football end up being an international match? A mixture of support from Football Victoria and luck, I’d say. I didn’t feel remotely like I deserved to be there, but I had nothing to lose by trying. Three days before the match, I received an email. My accreditation request had been approved. 

When I arrived at the stadium, there was a long line of people waiting at the gate. It took two laps of the venue for me to build up the courage to approach the security guard at the gate. “Hi, I’m here as a photographer.” He opened the gate, and I walked towards the fence surrounding the pitch. It was early, and no one was around. I tried to take it all in. I couldn’t believe where I was.

Related—From Prague to the Pitch: how one conversation sparked a photography career

Morshead Park, Ballarat. 
Image by Rachel Bach (@bythewhiteline) Photographing the Matildas
Morshead Park, Ballarat.
Image by Rachel Bach (@bythewhiteline)

Eventually, the other photographers started to arrive. There was no work room – instead, we prepared our gear under a staircase inside the venue. I was quiet, mostly observing. I didn’t know anyone, and I was feeling anxious as a result. At some point, I was introduced to another photographer also shooting for Football Victoria that day. His name was Matt Johnson. It was the first of the many games that we’ve covered together since that day.

By the time we emerged from under the stairs the gates had opened. The crowd piled in, filling the grandstand and lining the fence. I entered the field of play donning a comically oversized orange photographer’s bib, courtesy of the FFA. I was too nervous and self-conscious to look around. I followed Matt to the sideline adjacent to the New Zealand bench. I didn’t think about variables such as light, or whether the lineswoman would obstruct my view. I had no strategy. I was more focused on trying to go unnoticed, and making sure I didn’t inadvertently break any rules.

Caitlin Foord celebrates her first of two goals for the match.
Image by Rachel Bach (@bythewhiteline)
Photographing the Matildas
Caitlin Foord celebrates her first of two goals for the match.
Image by Rachel Bach (@bythewhiteline)

If you asked me to give you a recap of the game, I’d fail miserably. That’s often the case when I shoot. The moments that stick out to me aren’t always reflective of the action. I remember feeling overawed – being so close to the action felt surreal. The pace of the game surprised me – only in the sense of trying to follow it with my camera. It was much quicker than NPLW, understandably.

Long after the final whistle had blown, I was packing up under the stairs. There was one other person doing the same, and I recognised her. I’d consumed many pieces of women’s football content from Ann Odong, and there she was. After a brief internal battle, I convinced myself to say hi. It was probably the shortest conversation we’ve ever had, we now struggle to keep chats under an hour, but it was perhaps the most significant. Ann offered me an opportunity to cover the W-League later that year.

Truthfully, when I look back at my photos from my first Matildas game, I’m not truly satisfied. I can’t help but cringe at the settings I used, after all, I’m a perfectionist. I barely shot anything post-game – I was too afraid to get close. However, I have to remind myself that this was only game five. When I think about it, the memories from that game force an overwhelming sense of nostalgia upon me. It was the start of my journey following this team, and nothing can take away from that.

Lydia Williams and Steph Catley share a hug after the final whistle.
Image by Rachel Bach (@bythewhiteline)
Photographing the Matildas
Lydia Williams and Steph Catley share a hug after the final whistle.
Image by Rachel Bach (@bythewhiteline)

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