Deep down, on some fundamental – even spiritual – level, most of us are aware that watching Channel Seven is an unfortunate thing to do. This is a universe of infinite wonder and only finite moments with which to absorb it, so none of us should ever watch Channel Seven lightly. It is a mind landmine owned by a mining company; a mosaic of terrifying foreigners on Border Security, annoying environmentalists on Channel Seven News, insipid plastic music on The Voice, and dole-bludging single mums that Centrelink’s automated killbot army are hunting for on the breakfast and current affairs shows.
None of us should ever watch Channel Seven and yet 11.5 million of us did just that on Wednesday night. Such was the power of the moment the Matildas graced Australia with, we watched Channel Fucking Seven. I even downloaded the app. Ick.
For all but the staunchest of football tragics, the World Cup typically passes Australia by without the unshakable everythingness it acquires in Europe or South America. As sporty sorts we enjoy it, but we do not mainline it into our eyeballs at the expense of our routines, hygiene, nutrition, everything else in our lives. But this time. This time we rode the same heady trip – and it took the women to get us there.
In an age of endless streams to drown in, the Matildas graced us with a rare moment of focus and national unity, their galant semi-final defeat to England toppling the record TV audience set by Cathy Freeman’s 400 metre gold medal win at the Sydney Olympics. Nearly half the country watched. This was big. Old-school big. Kylie Minogue getting married on Neighbours big.
Such was the power of this World Cup run. Bursting with inspiration on and off the field, everyone wanted a piece of it. Even people like Barnaby Joyce tried (and occasionally failed) to watch it.
The footy obsessed boys clubs at the Herald Sun and Daily Telegraph scrambled for YouTube primers on the offside rule and dusted off ancient forbidden texts about what women are so they could sound like they understood the history unfolding before them. Everyone wanted in on this.
The Prime Minister even tried to bask in the glory of association, wasting our dwindling attention reserves with populist prattle about a public holiday should the Matildas go all the way – unhelpfully adding the weight of millions of potential days off to the Matilda’s already overburdened and underfunded shoulders. Play your best and an entire country gets a holiday. If not, they don’t. No pressure, now pose for this photo.
The fact that multiple former players scorned the PM’s posturing and requested more funding for grassroots football should not go forgotten or unacted upon. “Albanese keeps talking about this freaking public holiday. How about you just fucking fund our sport properly,” Melissa Barbieri said on the site formerly known as Twitter.
But all of this is besides the point, because for once the point is football and the people playing it. The point is that rocket of a shot fired from the right foot of Samantha Kerr. A ballistic missile launched from too far out to make hitting the target plausible. And yet that’s what Sam Fucking Kerr always does. And that’s what she did again on the world’s biggest stage.
good morning to this sam kerr goal only pic.twitter.com/wwR89MT8cA
— andie (@anndeejam) August 16, 2023
We might have lost to our oldest, bitterest foes, but goals like Kerr’s are a gift to football fans who ever-vigilantly await these pieces of divine inspiration, energy that miraculously flows from foot to ball to net to the universe around it; the stadium erupting, almost half the country watching at home on TV along with it. That moment will last in the memory far longer than the bitterness of defeat, and feeling shattered by the end of this World Cup run only proves that we understand the enormity of what the Matildas have achieved.
This is a nation examining its soul in the lead up to a referendum that will question who we are as a collective. After recent devastating periods of self-reflection, of the horrors of the Morrison Government and the Jenkins Report, of the revolting soap opera radiating around Bruce Lehrmann and Brittany Higgins, there lingers the fear that Australians are so stubborn, blinkered, scared, conservative, misinformed and demographically top-heavy that we are incapable of change.
And yet we saw the capacity for something new this month over and over again. I quickly became acclimated to the fact that male friends were popping over with beers to drink and watch women’s football, and fucking none of it felt weird. It did feel different, though, and that is presently what the country is seeking. If you’re grasping for signs that we can change and grow, witness it in the intricate passing of Mary Fowler, the “fuck you, this is my net” grit of Mackenzie Arnold, and the mesmerising boot, injured or otherwise, of Sam Kerr.
Australia can change, and for the better. It happened this month on the back of the mighty Matildas and it can happen again in October.
Let’s just hope it doesn’t involve watching any more fucking Channel Seven.