You are a bubble on the tide of empire. When the poet Robert Penn Warren wrote that phrase in 1946, he was talking about me. He was talking about how the Matildas fought England in the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup semi-finals. He was talking about the fact that I got invited to this game and became one with the crowd in its stands.
Part One: Ball Go in Goal
On 16 August 2023, a FIFA Women’s World Cup semi-final match took place at Sydney’s Homebush Stadium. I went to this event and was joined by 75,783 other people. This was my first ever time attending a live sporting match, so I was a mixture of excited and nervous.
However, when England kicked the ball to start this game, something peculiar happened. I felt my individualised excitement and nerves merge with everyone else’s emotions. I became a part of an amorphous creature with one primal desire. That desire being: Ball go in goal.
Everyone in the stands became bubbles creating an ocean. The Matildas and England became two empires. It stayed like this for the entire game.
When Ella Toone scored the first goal for England, the crowd, the ocean, the creature all crashed with despair. But when Sam Kerr smashed Australia’s goal, we went from standing to waves upon waves of pure joy.
The ocean loathed every time England’s goalkeeper stalled. The creature was furious when England scored a second time. And when Alessia Russo struck England’s third goal, a collective dream died in those stands. After those two back-to-back goals, the crowd knew it was over. Ball go in goal? Not much chance.
At the end of this match, England was the empire still standing, 3-1. The crowd became people again. I left Homebush Stadium stoked about this experience but wishing that the Matildas had won.
Part Two: Winning the War
On 17 August 2023, I woke up at 6.45am. At this point in time, the FIFA creature had 100% left my body. My sole desire wasn’t for a ball to go in a goal. And from this vantage point, a few hopeful facts entered my noggin.
While the Matildas didn’t win last night’s semi-finals, they have instead won a war. A legitimate cultural war. They have cemented the fact that Australians now deeply care about women’s football.
When the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup took place in France, the Matildas were relegated to the back of the newspaper. In 2023, the Matildas’ match against England was broadcast to over 11 million Aussies. It’s now the most-watched TV event in over two decades.
What’s more, our politicians were also swept away by the action. If the Matildas had won the grand final, our Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, would have given us a public holiday. Likewise, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton pitched $250 million in funding for women’s sports.
Now, it’s worth noting that the Matildas haven’t created this cultural shift on their own. In recent years, Australia has rallied for the likes of Ash Barty and the Women’s AFL. Our dads are starting to understand that women’s sports are just as engaging as the games men play.
However, while Australia cannot assign this cultural shift solely to the work of the Matildas, they should still be commemorated for their efforts. ‘Cause through their exceptional sportsmanship, they have created a tonne of women’s soccer fans and inspired a new generation of players.
The Matildas’ final FIFA match is on 19 August against Sweden. They will be fighting for third place. We are but bubbles on the tide of empire. So let’s give them the sail-off that they deserve.