By Lucie Morris-Marr
Walking through Adelaide Airport with me after a dance competition this week, my 13-year-old daughter and her friend suddenly shrieked and went running off so fast I thought someone was chasing them.
“It’s Sam Kerr! It’s Sam Kerr!!” they shouted back to me, racing towards a WHSmith store; there indeed was the world-renowned Australian women’s football team captain – a life-sized cardboard cut version.
Did it make any difference or dampen their enthusiasm? Not in the slightest. A smiling selfie with the 29-year-old Chelsea forward was soon spun across their social media channels.
Such is the utter frenzy currently whipping through Australia about the forthcoming FIFA Women’s World Cup semi-final against England that anything related to the Matildas is prime currency, with super-striker Kerr the darling of the nation.
A nation that this week, following the penalty shootout win against France, is fast becoming a green- and-gold-tinged emotional, excitable mess.
But it’s also creating an awkward dilemma for the one million British expats living here.
In normal circumstances anything significant emanating from the motherland, from rugby matches to the King’s coronation, gets our full support; the Union Jack flags come out along with Pimms, breakfast tea and scones. When the Queen died we were all bereft.
Such sentimental moments are a tangible bridge to home, to childhood memories and deeply missed family and friends. For a short time we don’t feel quite so ridiculously far away.
These events are especially poignant among thousands who still haven’t been able to visit England since before the pandemic, due to extortionate long-haul airfares which are now the norm.
Yet it’s clear the mood among expat friends here, many of whom hold dual Australian and British passports, is veering towards supporting the Matildas on Wednesday. I admit I’m among them, along with my husband and children.
I may have been born and bred in Hampshire, but this week I watched in awe as the Australian team navigated their way through a see-sawing penalty shootout against the French with the might and nerve of warriors.
In the instant Australian player Cortnee Vine stepped up to take the 10th penalty and sealed their path to a first-ever Women’s World Cup semi-final they shook off years of sexism and ridicule from what is often a macho-skewed sporting culture.
Grown men wept and screamed just as much as female fans whether at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium – or while watching on big screens in pubs and in homes around the country.
It’s a seismic shift from dismissal to respect, which is why the Matildas are being credited for changing the face of not only women’s football in Australia but Australian sport in its entirety.
I’d go further than that; this week the Matildas may have just made life brighter and more equal for women here as a whole.
It’s clear there is similar respect being shown to the Lionesses among fans in the UK, but Australia is so obsessed with sport, that in my state of Victoria alone we are granted two public holidays for sporting events: the Melbourne Cup and the AFL grand final.
So, where to test our loyalty? Tickets for the event itself at Stadium Australia in Sydney have sold out, but BBQ and pizza home parties are being planned along with jaunts to watch in pubs.
There are also a range of sites where fans can gather to watch the match with hundreds of other supporters on the big screen, including the official FIFA Fan Festivals in each of the tournament’s host cities.
In Sydney, the Fan Festival is based at Tumbalong Park, while Melbourne’s is at Federation Square, where I’m planning to watch with my own children.
There are still some English-themed pubs – nearly booked out – screening the match for ex-pats. Some corner of a foreign city, for those whose hearts will be forever England.
Save me a seat, in case I change my mind.
Have you ever swapped sides at international level and supported a different nation? Let us know why in the comments.
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