The Matildas faced off against Iran in a qualifying match for the Olympics on Thursday evening in Perth. It was my first time attending a live sporting event and it exceeded all of my expectations. While I may not have been familiar with all of the rules and may have used incorrect terminology (it’s half-time, not an intermission), the atmosphere in the crowd was incredibly energetic and I have created unforgettable memories that will stay with me forever.
Similar to others, my introduction to football was through the recent Women’s World Cup. I was aware of the tournament and saw some noteworthy moments on social media, but it wasn’t until I tuned in to Australia’s game against France that I truly became invested.
After that intense penalty shootout, I became completely captivated. I researched all the players’ names, scheduled the upcoming matches on my Google calendar, and had to consult sports enthusiasts in my circle to understand the mechanics of leagues. Is it called football or soccer? And I still have no idea what offside means.
I viewed the Matildas’ final two World Cup games at bars in Sydney and thoroughly enjoyed the ambiance, but I desired more. I longed to witness the athletes in person, mingle with fellow supporters, and be a part of the audience. Fortunately, the football deities must have heard my wishes, as my tax refund arrived shortly after the World Cup – a perfectly timed opportunity for an impulsive buy.
I did not hesitate to book flights and tickets for the opening match, even though it was being held in Perth, which is 3,290km away from Sydney and requires a four-hour plane ride.
On the day of the game, I was filled with excitement as I dressed in green and gold and felt a strong sense of patriotism. As we made our way to HBF Park, I was buzzing with anticipation. We walked past food stands and merchandise booths, hearing children enthusiastically chanting “let’s go Matildas!” and even took a fun photo with a Kangaroo mascot. But once we entered the stadium and saw the bright green field under a beautiful orange sunset, it truly felt like a surreal experience.
At the start of the game, the energy in the stadium was incredible. Every skilled pass and close shot at the goal gave me chills and I couldn’t resist cheering along with the crowd. A particular group of fans maintained a constant drumbeat throughout the entire game, and the traditional Mexican wave made its rounds in the stands.
Despite our front-row seats (still can’t believe it!), they weren’t the greatest for viewing the game. However, there was a big advantage – we were right in front of the bench where players warmed up. And thankfully, players like Sam Kerr, Caitlin Foord, Steph Catley, and Mary Fowler were all substitutes. The sight of these well-known World Cup players just meters away was definitely distracting more than once.
I struck up a conversation with a pair of friends sitting next to us and discovered that it was their inaugural experience at a live sporting event as well. Just like me, they hopped on board during the World Cup (“Prior to that, I would have asked, who are the Matildas?” one of them shared with me) and have been hooked ever since.
There are several factors that led to my 25-year delay in attending a game, but the main one was never feeling like I fit in. As a child, I was focused on dance and never joined a sports team. Even when I attempted to participate in PE at school, the boys would often shout at me to “give them the ball” or “stop doing things incorrectly.”
As a grown-up, the majority of sports on television showcased male players and predominantly male audiences, so I opted to switch channels. I didn’t feel it was for me.
The Matildas have disproven these ideas. Despite my limited understanding of the sport, I felt included in the crowd. After the game, the players went around, taking pictures and autographing shirts. Then, Sam Kerr appeared in front of me. Since I didn’t have anything for her to sign, I anxiously requested her to sign my arm. She kindly agreed and posed for a photo.
The brief encounter meant everything to me, even though it only lasted a few seconds. I found it difficult to control my emotions and repeatedly asked myself, “Did that really just happen?” My smile remained on my face as we strolled through the streets of Perth and took the train back home.
As I type this, I can’t help but look down and smile at my arm. My heart is filled with joy. Although I won’t be able to stay in Perth for the remaining two qualifying games, I am eagerly anticipating my next chance to attend a match.