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Mackenzie Arnold of Australia is consoled by Millie Bright of England
AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts

‘Wouldn’t want to be on any other team’: the queer joy of watching the Matildas at the ‘outest’ World Cup ever

When we sat down with friends to watch the Matildas take on England, the two of us played it cool through the pre-match period, as if this was a game like any other.

There was the usual chatter while the mascots ushered our now familiar Matildas onto the field. But at half-time – three pizzas and a bottle of viognier in – we were a little subdued and trying to find distraction.

To mask our own anxiety, we found ourselves commenting on the tension observable in others: the stadium crowd oddly tamped down, the ashen face of Australia’s coach Tony Gustavsson.

We rose as one when Sam Kerr delivered her sensational goal in the 63rd minute, but not long after that the game was over. Our girls huddled down and then took the mandatory lap of honour, stunned and wide-eyed as if they, too, were unable to take in what had just gone down.

We are still coming to emotional terms with the 3-1 result. But the matches on the field weren’t the only World Cup story we were interested in. In our group chat and on social media, another game was taking place: queer DIY commentary on the outest World Cup ever played.

In this virtually expanded world, the Matildas can never lose.

Read more: Connection, camaraderie and belonging: why the Matildas could be making you a sports fan for the very first time

Queer women talking

While women have long been associated with gossip, the World Cup has given this ancient form of political and psychological processing a queer twist.

Watching the games and talking about the Matildas is one thing, but the online alt-commentary on the game has been a joy – even for those with little prior relation to social media or, truth be told, sport.

The barrier to entry is low: you can start with the group chat. Ours began organically with six fellow researchers of queer popular culture and media with varied attachments to football.

Our running commentary kept pace with the on-field action and included selfies at games and venues – but it chiefly focused on queer subtextual and para-athletic details such as height of knee socks, brow styling, headbands and ribbons.

Anyone still struggling with the outcome of Wednesday’s match might find solace, as we did, in learning about the children’s book that accompanies the ribbon Hayley Raso was originally gifted by her grandmother to match her jerseys.

Hayley Raso challenges for the ball with France's Sakina Karchaoui
Hayley Raso wears hair ribbons which match her jersey. AP Photo/Tertius Pickard

That’s the kind of thing lady-amateurs process while the professional commentators beam in on the corporate media channels. They talk about the on-field action, while we tap into the expansive alternative universe of queer social media commentary.

Read more: ‘Felt alienated by the men’s game’: how the culture of women’s sport has driven record Matildas viewership

Learning the code

Our chat has been wide-ranging and quizzical as some of us learn the new code.

It has shifted between pure sports commentary – fuelled by our Angel City FC expert, who has a side hustle as a queer sports podcaster – and non-FIFA-approved content sourced from TikTok and Instagram as others like us caught on to the magic of the tournament.

We knew we weren’t alone when comedian Bec Shaw asked why other sports communities weren’t more like ours: up-to-date with game strategy and player performance histories, but also invested in the soapy off- and on-screen melodrama.

The Penrith Panthers and a huge number of other mainstream clubs came online with their reactions. Under their club social media accounts, these teams demonstrated their unequivocal, unquestioned passion for elite sports performance outside of their own codes and genders.

In this respect, they were in line the rest of the world, fully under the spell of the Matildas’ version of queer authenticity.

As queer viewers, our emerging expertise was not limited to the play.

We began trawling through the now infamous “woso chart” (“woso”, of course, short for women’s soccer), modelled on the relationship chart from The L Word, which maps all the intimate relationships, breakups and rumours (aka replays and substitutions) between players.

But, like game plans, diagrams can’t capture the real life drama. For that you need to turn to Brooke’s TikTok serial where she lesbian-splains the intricacies of girl-on-girl attachments to a sweet young hipster who believes they are all just friends.

One of the beautiful things about this World Cup has been the diverse engagements of fans around elite team sport and all its dimensions.

As comedian Mel Buttle captured beautifully, these virtual and actual conversations about women’s sport between friends, colleagues and strangers were unimaginable only a few years ago.

It has been queerly thrilling to be at the centre of this global shift – and to understand that all the feelings we have had along the way have been shared at scale with people we mistakenly think are not like us.

Queer closing fixture

There are not many moments in everyday life where you see euphoria and despair in such painfully close proximity, as we did on Wednesday night.

As one of us said from the house in Tempe where we were babysitting a next-generation sports star while his two mums were making the overlong journey back from Homebush, “It feels like World Pride is over.”

But here’s the good news. It’s not. After the final whistle, the cameras find Kerr. She puts it straight into the top corner for queer Australia with her powerful proclamation, “Wouldn’t want to be on any other team”.

Nor would we. We can’t imagine this World Cup without our virtual team huddle.

It’s not too late to join us. The third-place playoff will be the “gayest” FIFA final ever.

Just pick up your devices and come find us in the virtual dugout, where pop cultural crossovers keep the Matildas effect forever in play.

Thanks to our chat-buddies Cherine Fahd, Annamarie Jagose, Sarah Kessler, Alice Motion, Maddy Motion and Karen Tongson, who all play for SSSHARC FC.

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