Australia 1-3 England: Told from Sydney, London, Gold Coast and Rotherham


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England are through to their first World Cup final since 1966 after the Lionesses beat host nation Australia 3-1 in Sydney.

How did the game feel for fans watching in both countries? What was the reaction of a coach who worked with three of England’s heroes in their younger days? How did supporters in the clubhouses of local football teams with connections to some of Australia’s stars react as hopes of a home triumph were dashed?

The Athletic sent reporters to tell the story of the match and wider occasion, from the fan zone outside the stadium to a working-class pub in London, via some of the players’ childhood clubs…

Before kick-off…

Melanie Anzidei at the Mudgeeraba Soccer clubhouse in Queensland — Australia midfielder Tameka Yallop’s first club 

There are still two hours until kick-off and the fields outside the Mudgeeraba Soccer clubhouse are buzzing. Soccer is everywhere at this semi-professional club. Youth players are scurrying off one pitch, while teenagers set up a match on another. But it’s the sounds inside the clubhouse just yards away that will soon have everyone’s attention.

Members begin setting up for people to come to watch their beloved Matildas take on England in a historic semi-final that kicks off at 8pm local time. The crowd slowly grows and it includes a couple in matching kits, a mother and daughter, and some of the club’s players sporting painted faces. Some people are standing because they are too nervous to sit down.

(Melanie Anzidei/The Athletic)

News that Sam Kerr will start is greeted with joy by the crowd inside the clubhouse, but Kerr won’t be their favourite player on the pitch, that distinction falls on Tameka Yallop, a former player at the club who grew up in this Queensland neighbourhood. Yallop’s green and gold jersey hangs below the giant screen, beside a headshot of her as a 12-year-old in a football kit.

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(Melanie Anzidei/The Athletic)

“We always knew she would become something,” says Jodie Paine, the club’s senior vice president. The crowd are ready to see what she and the Matildas can do tonight.

Tim Spiers at Signature Brew in Haggerston — a pub in east London

It is 10.30am in Signature Brew in Haggerston, but you would be forgiven for thinking it is 10.30pm the place is so lively and ready to party. This venue has become the Glastonbury of the World Cup, with tickets selling out in just one minute for today’s semi-final. There is a strong contingent of Australians present and the lagers (and coffees) flow before kick-off. People are singing and smiling, but the nerves are kicking in…

voices spiers pub scaled

(Tim Spiers/The Athletic)

Tamerra Griffin at Emmanuel College in Gold Coast – Australia winger Hayley Raso’s old school

It’s lunchtime at Emmanuel College, a co-educational junior school in Gold Coast.

The pupils are decked out in Australia gear and are wearing wigs with fluorescent shades matching those of their World Cup heroines.

“I really think the Matildas could do well,” said one 11-year-old, who was quickly surrounded by a gaggle of friends eager to share their opinions. “They’ve already come so far and I’m really proud of the country.”

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(Tamerra Griffin/The Athletic)

He was stressed by the endless penalty shootout against France, but was, of course, relieved and happy when the Matildas came away with a victory.

Emmanuel has been in the throes of World Cup fever since the tournament kicked off. “Everyone’s talking about it,” the boy continues. “Everyone is so excited and nervous.”

Most of the kids play AFL, but they are quick to point out that they love Hayley Raso. “Like, really, really love her,”  says another boy. “She’s a great leader and she went to Emmanuel.”

When I asked the group for predictions, they erupted into a chorus of score lines that became increasingly loud and flamboyant: sensible 2-1 and 3-2 predictions quickly climbed to 8-0, all in favour of the Matildas, of course.

They will all be watching the big match at home; they do, after all, have school tomorrow and it’s a late kick-off, but said they will all have the popcorn ready for the inevitable drama the game will bring.

Phil Buckingham in Rotherham, England – watching with Scott Duncanson, who coached Mary Earps, Millie Bright and Bethany England at Doncaster Belles

“I’m nervous for them,” says Scott Duncanson. “I’ve been like this for every game.”

Duncanson, now head of academy recruitment at Rotherham United, has skin in the game as he sits down in an executive box at the New York Stadium (which hosted four games at Euro 2022). There is an emotional attachment to Mary Earps, Millie Bright and Beth England, a trio he helped on their way with the Belles back in the day. “My heart is racing when I’m watching them,” he says.

Will that trio be the same? “Mary? Nerves. No chance. None whatsoever.”

Duncanson brought Earps to the Belles in 2011 on the strength of one game. He had gone to scout Leeds United against Nottingham Forest and was compelled to sign the teenage goalkeeper. There have been no regrets. “A lot of coaches have played a part in her development, but 99 per cent of her journey is down to Mary. She’s so demanding and now the best goalkeeper in the world.”

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(Phil Buckingham/The Athletic)

Bright and England also retain Duncanson’s affection. They were brought in from Sheffield United as teenagers and given the chance to launch careers. “They were little sponges because they were so young, so easy to coach. It’s fantastic to see how far they’ve come.”

Sydney is a long way from South Yorkshire.

Georgia Soares at the fan zone outside the ground in Sydney

The atmosphere outside the stadium and around the fan zone is electric. Fans from different nationalities are mingling but, naturally, most of the support is for Australia.

The locals expect Australia to win and go through to the final and they are very optimistic about it happening.

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(Georgia Soares/The Athletic)

It’s hard not to get lost among the crowds, with one heading to the stadium and those not lucky enough to have tickets watching in the fan zone instead. A nation expects.

Joey D’Urso at a traditional pub in south London

I turn up at my local pub in south London just as it opens at 11am (and as the game kicks off). It turns out I’m the only person in The Kings Arms and barman Tom Flynn, from County Meath in Ireland, refuses to let me pay for my Coca-Cola while being frank about the limited appeal of this game compared to men’s football in his pub.

“This is a working-class pub,” he says, a rarity in inner London, where gastropubs selling craft beers increasingly dominate. “The beer is more or less what the average man in the street drinks — Carling, Fosters, Stella.”

England v Australia is on TV and as we are the only people in the pub, we are the only ones watching.

voices pub 1 scaled

“It’s always busy for Premier League games,” says Flynn. Today’s early kick-off time is no doubt a reason for the lack of a crowd, but he says the pub was rammed during the men’s World Cup for daytime matches. “People were trying to jump the walls.”

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(Joey D’Urso/The Athletic)

Women’s football is certainly a long way from reaching that, but Flynn thinks things are slowly changing.

“My granddaughter Holly, her dad takes her to Wembley (to watch England), she loves it,” he says.“It’s going to get bigger and bigger.”

England go 1-0 up after 35 minutes thanks to an Ella Toone goal

Melanie Anzidei at the Mudgeeraba Soccer clubhouse

England score and it’s quiet. No one reacts. The only England fan in here — one of the club’s coaches — cheers jokingly as his young players with their faces painted green and gold boo him. The mood is noticeably down now. It even feels colder.

Tim Spiers in east London

What a goal! The whole place is up (except for some glum Matildas). There are huge celebrations and every replay is cheered like England have scored again and again. There’s a mixture of shock and awe at what Toone has just done.

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(Tim Spiers/The Athletic)

Tamerra Griffin, now at Palm Beach Soccer Club – where Raso and midfielder Aivi Luik played

There is a real living-room feel at Palm Beach Soccer Club in Gold Coast, where club members and their families have gathered to watch the semi-final.

A couple of children in Australia shirts are sat cross-legged a few feet away from one of the many big screens, eyes fixed on the game as they dip french fries in ketchup. Meanwhile, adults nurse beers and cans of Diet Coke and analyse the game. Everyone is sporting thick yellow and green stripes across their cheeks.

England’s goal in the 36th minute changes the atmosphere, though, and it becomes more subdued.

However, it only takes one positive play from the Matildas to bring the optimism back. The club’s owner passes by shortly before half-time and I tell him there is still plenty of time left. He responds only with a sharp intake of breath.

Joey D’Urso in a south London pub

The only reaction in the Kings Arms is from me, letting out an involuntary yelp as Toone’s strike hits the net. My new friend Tom is having a smoke out the back, so it’s just me in here.

My phone, though, explodes. I’m in a couple of big WhatsApp groups with friends from school and university. Until a few years ago, it would only ever be the men speaking about football, but last year’s Euros changed everything and my female friends are hugely into this tournament. Friends of both genders react with glee as England take the lead.

Georgia Soares at the fan zone in Sydney

The local fans weren’t expecting the goal, but they are still singing “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie” out loud. They are very optimistic that their team can fight back and go through to Sunday’s final.

Phil Buckingham with Scott Duncanson, who coached three of England’s players

“What a strike that is,” says Duncanson, eyes wide. “Oh wow. Top bins. It gets better every time you see it. And some men think girls can’t play football…”

Half-time. England are 1-0 up in the World Cup semi-final

Georgia Soares at the fan zone in Sydney

Fans are spread around the huge field at the fan zone with blankets covering themselves because it is starting to get cold out here. Overall, they are still optimistic for the second half and believe the Matildas can turn this game around.

Some of them didn’t like the first half and believe manager Tony Gustavsson needs to make some changes for the second half in order to win the game.

Joey D’Urso in a south London pub

There is one other man in the pub now, but he is doing puzzles and facing away from the screen.

Tom the barman has seen the goal and agrees with me that it was pretty special. As an Irishman, he’s not invested in the outcome but is impressed by what he’s seen so far.

He says that some of his regulars have been critical of women’s football in the past but that the mood is changing very quickly with more girls and women playing the game after England’s success last year.

“Success breeds success. It’s like when I was a kid and you watched Wimbledon, the next week you want to go and hit a ball around.”

Melanie Anzidei at the Mudgeeraba Soccer clubhouse

It’s half-time and the entire clubhouse has emptied. The mood was very positive at the start of the night, with even injured players in medical boots jumping with every Australian attempt on goal, but England’s goal has changed that.

Though optimism is muted in the clubhouse right now, before the match, Mudgeeraba’s veteran members said that no matter the result, Australia’s accomplishments this tournament will change women’s football in the country.

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(Melanie Anzidei/The Athletic)

Tim Spiers in east London

Half the pub pile out into the street at half-time to soak up some sun and breathe — it’s been an intense first 45 minutes but the majority of this crowd are feeling confident. Less so Elise, an Australian who was actually at the quarter-final against France but is now in England for a few weeks. “The energy of this place is incredible,” she says. “I don’t normally follow football but the tournament has captured everyone’s imaginations back home and I’m firmly on the bandwagon now.”

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(Tim Spiers/The Athletic)

Phil Buckingham with Scott Duncanson, who coached three of England’s players

“Feeling OK now,” says Duncanson. “You look at Sam Kerr and she doesn’t look right up to speed. I don’t see Australia scoring two, so another goal would be nice.” And a puff of the cheeks. “I honestly don’t get this wound up watching the men’s team.”

Australia equalise in the 63rd minute through a Sam Kerr wonder goal

Tamerra Griffin at Palm Beach Soccer Club

The crowd absolutely erupts when Kerr scores. They can’t get enough of it and they cheer and scream at every replay.

Joey D’Urso in a south London pub

“That was ridiculous, nobody was closing her down.”

I’ve got a bit of company in the pub now — Ronnie is a regular here and has been watching lots of the World Cup.

“That has to be the goal of the tournament.”

He is Irish but has lived in England for 45 years, so wants the Lionesses to win.

Melanie Anzidei at the Mudgeeraba Soccer clubhouse

The clubhouse has exploded. Every single person — apart from the English coach — was on their feet. They cheered and slammed the tables. Someone in the kitchen even started clanking on a bowl. The energy is electric and every person is on the edge of their seat. The noise has become deafening.

Tim Spiers in east London

Around 170 pairs of hands cover 170 mouths in unison. There is stunned silence apart from the 30 or so Aussies jumping up and down. The replay elicits gasps. This could be a long afternoon. “I’m going to need a nap later,” one England fan says. “This is just too much.” There’s a lone cry of “Come on England!” but no one else has the heart to join in. It’s tense.

Georgia Soares at the fan zone in Sydney

The place goes wild. Everyone is screaming, jumping around and cheering at the top of their lungs.

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(Georgia Soares/The Athletic)

Phil Buckingham with Scott Duncanson, who coached three of England’s players

Duncanson knows it would take something special to beat Earps and it arrives from the boot of Kerr. “It’s only her that can do that,” he says. “It’s genius. Mary can’t do much about that.”

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(Phil Buckingham/The Athletic)

England go 2-1 up in the 71st minute as Lauren Hemp scores

Melanie Anzidei at the Mudgeeraba Soccer clubhouse

The mood has dropped. Everyone boos when they show the replay. But, like the Matildas on the pitch, they don’t seem to be giving up.

Tim Spiers in east London

“Hempo you beauty!” Order has been restored. England are back in front thanks to Hemp. An England fan called Lauren is almost too excited to speak but gathers her composure for The Athletic: “We deserve that, this team never gives in. It felt like the tide was turning after Kerr’s equaliser but they have responded brilliantly. We’ve got to go and win it now, I cannot handle extra time physically or emotionally.”

Joey D’Urso in a south London pub

Wow! Again, there is far more reaction to the England goal in my WhatsApp groups than there is in the almost empty pub I’m sat in.

It’s really noticeable how before the Euros, people would have wanted England to win but wouldn’t really know any of the players or have opinions about tactics and selections.

Now lots of the England players — Toone, Hemp and Bronze to name a few — are becoming household names. However this match finishes, women’s football in England will continue to grow in popularity, but as the empty pub demonstrates, there are still plenty more people to convert.

England go 3-1 up in the 86th minute through Alessia Russo

Tim Spiers in east London

The cheer is almost deafening, the whole place has gone absolutely wild. “Russo, Russo, Russo” they chant. Almost 90 minutes of nerves unleashed.

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(Tim Spiers/The Athletic)

Georgia Soares at the fan zone in Sydney

Australia’s fans are in disbelief. They are shaking their heads and they look really heartbroken. The atmosphere has changed and everyone is silent. Some are getting up and leaving.

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(Georgia Soares/The Athletic)

Phil Buckingham with Scott Duncanson, who coached three of England’s players

An Earps save has kept out an effort from Cortnee Vine. “That’s Mary at full stretch, superb,” says Duncanson. He wonders out loud if Russo has run her race before she answers him emphatically with her goal. “Now I can relax. Fantastic.”

Melanie Anzidei at the Mudgeeraba Soccer clubhouse

It is an emotional rollercoaster inside the clubhouse. Every attempt by Australia is received with screams of encouragement, but with each miss, empty water bottles are being thrown in frustration.

England win 3-1 and will face Spain in Sunday’s final, with hosts Australia eliminated

Phil Buckingham with Scott Duncanson, who coached three of England’s players

There are tears in Duncanson’s eyes as he watches the celebrations and he’s not hiding it. “It’s a World Cup final,” he says. “We still talk about 1966 in this country and now I think we are going to do it again. People will be glued to their TVs and that is what it is all about. People won’t see this as a flash in the pan anymore. We’ve done it in the Euros and now this. This will inspire so many young people.”

Tamerra Griffin at Palm Beach Soccer Club

As the crowd filters out, many remain at their tables in silence. Some are shaking their heads.

“Awful.” That’s how a 14-year-old Palm Beach Soccer Club defender describes how she’s feeling. Someone has lowered the volume of the TVs and the sounds of clanging dishes replace broadcasters’ voices. The night, and this nation’s dream, have come to an end.

The young defender has taken lots of notes during the game and she isn’t happy with how Australia set up defensively. She says she will cry herself to sleep tonight and it is hard to tell if she is joking.

Joey D’Urso in a south London pub

“Some of them play better than the f***ing men and on the fraction of the money,” says one of the observers in the Kings Arms as the full-time whistle blows.

Nobody is doing puzzles any more — all three of the men in the pub are now glued to the TV as England reach a football World Cup final for the first time since the men in 1966.

Overall, it is fair to say there’s a lot less hype for this tournament than the Euros last year, which makes sense given that was a home tournament and the time difference for this one isn’t ideal.

But the final will be huge. Barman Tom expects the Kings Arms to be much busier than today. It will be a huge day for women’s football in England.

Tim Spiers in east London

There is disbelief, tears and unfiltered ecstasy. The second the final whistle is blown, Freed From Desire is on and the party starts. “I cannot believe it!” Jenny yells in The Athletic’s ear. “What a match, what a team, I never doubted them. I’ve got so many friends who’ve never watched much women’s football but are obsessed with this tournament. Sunday is going to be incredible.”

Melanie Anzidei at the Mudgeeraba Soccer clubhouse

The clubhouse is silent and there is visible sadness and disbelief. However, despite the loss, Bron Lee, the club’s female ambassador, says: “Women’s football is the winner.”

(Top photos: Getty Images)

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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