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Falling in love with football all over again

by Ashley Morrison on Jul 10, 2011

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Travelling with the Matildas in Germany has reminded me why I love football so much.

For a start the Germans just love the game, whether it is played by men or women. They are loyal to their teams no matter what level they play, just as the British are, and one has to wonder why these two football loving nations fans do not abandon their teams and follow the big name clubs as fans in other countries tend to do. (Yes I support Swindon Town!)

The stadia in Germany are wonderful too. If they are small like Bochum, you are close to the action and feel very much a part of the football experience. If they are big like Bayer Leverkusen’s, they are superbly designed so that no matter where you sit you have a first class view and the noise of the crowd resonates around the stadium creating a fantastic atmosphere.

Then we come to the Matildas, the Australian team with the youngest average age in the tournament. Maybe it is their age that makes them so fearless. Maybe it is their age that makes them believe that they can go all the way to the final, and not in a remotely arrogant way. It could however be because they have already won one trophy, the Asian Cup, and thus they’ve learned how to climb mountains.

I would like to believe that one key to their success is that these girls who are paid a pittance by comparison to their male counterparts simply enjoy playing football. When you attend training there are no players dragging their feet to get out on the paddock, all of them are keen to get out there and do what is required, laughing when appropriate and being totally focused when needed.

Those who are injured can’t wait to get out there and join their teammates, and are never simply trying to get out of a training session. They are downright irritable not to be joining in with the others.

When they are injured on the pitch, they do not stay down longer than they have too, quickly getting to their feet, hobbling for a few minutes and then going in just as hard and committed in the next tackle.

When Kyah Simon ‘popped’ her shoulder against Norway, she never sought the sanctuary of the bench as many other players of both sexes may have done. She calmly waited for her shoulder to pop back in and went on to do her job scoring twice for the team and at the same time becoming the first indigenous Australian player to score in a World Cup finals male or female.

When Servet Uzunlar went from being heroine against Brazil to villain against Equatorial Guinea, none of her teammates pointed the finger of blame. In fact Heather Garriock ran back to console her before the team kicked off, and post game all stood as one and supported her.

Last night captain Melissa Barbieri, made an error of judgment, but she stood in front of the media and put her hand up and admitted she was at fault. Showing again an honesty that has frequently been abandoned in this era of high paid players and spin doctoring media managers.

What has also been wonderful is the way the Germans have adopted Australia. Seeing Michael, a German lawyer, and his wife wearing and Australian shirt dancing in the aisle of the Bayer Arena and then turning to Norwegian fans in high spirits and punching their fists in the air, before becoming friends with the opposition fans, is what following football is all about.

It is a game of passion yet how many times will you witness an international player walk through the mixed zone after the game and give you a high five, as happened to me after the Norway game?

The game of football is a joyous one, it is as exhilarating as it is frustrating, but it is truly a wonderful elixir when played and enjoyed in the right spirit. Everyone wants to win, but as the Matildas showed after the Norway game when they made a guard of honour for the Norwegian team as they returned to their hotel, it is also a game of friendship and respect.

The Matildas are truly a team to be proud of for the ideals that they hold and the way in which they carry themselves on the world stage. They and the German public have restored my faith in football, and have made me understand why the women’s game is growing so fast in Australia.

Take a bow girls.