S R Silcox - Author

Blog updated 2-3 times a month.

Category: Sport

Out of the group and into the round of 16

There’s nothing better than a player backing their words up with actions.

And that’s exactly what Sam Kerr and the Matildas did against Jamaica, with Kerr scoring all four of the Matildas goals to send us to second in Group C, and a date with Norway on Sunday morning in the Round of 16.

It also sent her to joint top of the Golden Boot ladder along with Alex Morgan (who scored 5 in the USA’s route of Thailand).

Suck on that one indeed.

Before I get into my thoughts, I want to give a shout out to Molly at Molly’s Footy Rants for getting her analysis up straight after the game. Check out her thoughts on the game here.

I needed a nap and more coffee to make my brain work after the early morning start before I dug in to get this recap done.

Okay, let’s get into it.

The Good

Sam Kerr’s Moment – After the waves she caused with her candid remarks after the win against Brazil, it was great to see Kerr in the thick of it. She scored two off the head (her speciality), dug one out from under her feet to sneak the third one and then pressured the ‘keeper into the mistake and dabbed in the fourth. And thank goodness for that – that fourth goal saved us meeting either France or Germany in the next round.

Ellie Carpenter put it all together – Carpenter seemed to be half-way there in the first two games. Attacking well against Italy, but lagging in defence, and then defending well against Brazil but being off on attack. Against Jamaica though? She was everywhere. Her defence was strong, she made some great attacking runs down the wing and when she lost the ball, she tracked back well to allow us to reset at the back. If it weren’t for Kerr’s four goals today, Carpenter was my best on ground for us.

Jamaica scoring their first Women’s World Cup goal – It was unfortunate it was against us. They came out firing in the second half and I have to be honest, they deserved that goal. They probably deserved a couple more, but I’m glad we held them to just the one.

Karly Roestbakken gets her chance – Roestbakken got a couple of minutes against Brazil and had a few touches, but she was given the chance to start in this game and played the whole 90 minutes. After a bit of a shaky start, she found her feet and although she wasn’t the quickest, she chased hard and chased down breakaways on her wing capably and had great awareness in getting her body behind the ball. I’ll be honest, I had no idea who she was before this tournament and when Alleyway left the team because of injury, I asked “Karly who??” She’s proved a more than capable replacement and will hopefully be a regular member of the team.

The Not So Good

Defence – We’re still not settled. We can probably put that down to a change in personnel over the three games, and that’s understandable because the backline has to do a mountain of work at the World Cup (especially against the opponents we’ve had this time around). However, from the outside looking in, it still seems we’re lacking a strong backline organiser/leader.

Wayward passes – We’re still giving away far too many balls from easy passes. Whether that’s lack of communication (where the receiver wants it – to feet or into space), tired legs or just poor decision-making, there’s still plenty to work on. We played well over the top in this game, which is of course why Kerr scored two of those four goals but we need to get our close ball play humming, and balls to feet under pressure if we’re going to compete over the next few rounds.

In the same vein, our off-the-ball movement is lacking some creativity, but that’s just match awareness, and I suspect adjusting to Milicic’s ways of playing. After listening to his press conferences, it seems like he’s trying to give the Matildas the tools to make decisions on the pitch for themselves and that’s going to take some time to get used to.

Where’s our goal sneak? – One of the things that’s glaringly obvious for a lot of our matches, and has been for a while now, is that on attacking raids, we don’t seem to have someone hanging around a couple of metres outside the 18 yard box waiting for the attempted clearances to pop the ball back in or take shots. We seem to have a gap in the midfield there, which means we’re allowing the opposition to get out of trouble and we’re doing way too much work in transition then to turn and chase.

Which is why, in her wrap-up, Molly mentioned that we looked a little lethargic. I agree. And it’s because we’re doing far too much running off the ball because we’re losing our shape – either everyone’s attacking or everyone’s defending and there’s a swathe of space in the middle we’re not taking advantage of.

Apart from all of that, we’re building nicely I think, and we seem to be fixing mistakes as we go. Each opposition will have their quirks, and it seems like Milicic and the coaching team are doing some good work in the background to give us the best chance of success.

It was a huge ask for a new coach to come into an established set-up so close to a major tournament, and while there are obviously growing pains, I think the team is adjusting nicely.

Bring on Norway, 5am Sunday!

Final random take-away

It’s much easier to get up and watch a 2am game than a 5am game, because it’s easier to go back to bed when it’s still dark. One reason I’m extremely happy to be working for myself from home these days is that I get to sleep in.

Suck on that one

Suck on that one t-shirt

(Or the one where Australia came back to beat Brazil 3-2)

First, the recap.

After the game against Italy, I was hoping for an improved back-line at the very least, and what we got was that, and a much-improved side overall.

After a little bit of a shaky start, and still missing passes, we started to play more confidently, and really grew into the game.

A couple of silly mistakes let Brazil jump 2-nil up, and it would have been easy for the Matildas to shut up shop and stem the flow to get to the half-time break and reset.

But they didn’t.

They worked and fought hard, all the way to the break, and Foord’s goal (coming off the back of a Kerr run pulling defenders away from the play) shifted the momentum just enough to give us a sniff.

What an amazing thing half-time breaks are. I’ve seen plenty of matches where that break was the difference between a win and a loss, and this game was no different.

The Matildas came out swinging in the second half, and we looked much freer in the middle and up front.

It wasn’t so much about feet on the ball in the second half, but the way the Matildas created space and chances. Though we still played a little slow from the back-line, we had the personnel to deal with counterattacks.

And it was the taking of those chances that made the difference. (And a little bit of luck, thanks to the no offside call on Sam Kerr in the own goal that won the match).

In the end, the Matildas came out on top because they played confidently. A couple of tweaks to the run-on side made a huge difference, and for the first time in a little while, Kerr and Foord are working well together, and Chloe Logarzo playing in behind is a big reason for that.

All-in-all, we still have a few things to work on, but we’re getting there. Very few teams go into the World Cup 100% on their game, and the Matildas are building nicely.

Four Little Words

Who would’ve thought that four little words would make such a huge impact.

Suck on that one.

Sam Kerr, 2019

It was authentic raw emotion, elation, a big up yours to those, in Sam’s words, ‘haters’, who she later called out on twitter just to show the rest of us a little of what she and the rest of the team cops on a daily basis.

T-hirts have already begun to pop up around the place immortalising those four words.

I know for some people a statement like that coming from the captain of one of our most successful national sporting teams might seem trite, immature, and in bad taste.

But when you put them up against everything the Matildas have been faced with over the last 5 months, the constant speculation over Alen Stajcic’s sacking and the rumours and innuendo that continue to swirl around the team, whether Ante Milicic was the right coach for the job, and all of the trolls and sexist, homophobic and misogynistic bullshit that they put up with constantly, we shouldn’t be so surprised.

Add to that the constant battle for recognition that all our women’s teams go through, along with equal pay and opportunities, better facilities and coaching, I think those four little words sum up what the Matildas team was feeling quite succinctly.

Now excuse me while I go find a ‘Suck on that one’ t-shirt to add to my collection.

(PS Bring on Jamaica!)

If you’re after more Women’s World Cup analysis, check out Molly’s Footy Rants – here’s the latest on the Aus v Brazil match.

And if you’re after a much more nuanced opinion on Sam Kerr’s calling out of sexism etc, check out Kate O’Halloran’s article here.

Women’s World Cup game recap – Italy 2 – Matildas 1

Not the start we were hoping for.

The Matildas went into the World Cup as they always seem to in tournaments – full of hope and optimism and ‘this is our time’ hype. All teams do that, to some level, but this Matildas team was going to be different.

We’ve got some of the best strikers in the world in our team and some great up-and-coming youngsters alongside some experienced campaigners. Sounds like a pretty balanced mix.

Except.

We have a new coach who came in under some controversy and has only been in charge since mid-February. Since then, we’ve had an almost constant chirp about ‘bringing back Staj’ and questions still hanging over the team about what actually happened. That sort of thing is distracting and while I’m not saying it affected last night’s result, it has to have an impact mentally on the team to continually have the coaching questions still hanging over the team’s head.

Despite all of that, we forged ahead on the road to France with high hopes and optimism.

The game last night was not the Matildas I thought I’d be watching. It was frustrating at times, seeing how easily the Italians broke our backline, and how big a hole we have in the midfield.

The only thing that stopped me from yelling at my TV in frustrating at seeing another wayward pass or sloppy defending was my sleeping wife.

We have so much pressure at the back (sometimes self-inflicted) and yet play slow football there when we gain possession – I know there’s this new philosophy where goalkeepers are seen as the 11th player and are used as such, but boy it’s annoying to see the ball go backwards when a forward pass is on offer, especially when we don’t use that backward pass option to reset in the mids and offer options to go forward again.

Sam Kerr is always going to be marked out of the game – or attempted to anyway – and we know that. So we have to come up with better ways to counter that and bring Foord into the equation to offer an alternative.

Kerr can beat a single marker easily – heck she can beat a whole backline if she gets the right ball – and if you’re playing everyone else in except Kerr early, you draw players away from her. Someone will always have the job of sticking with Kerr, but using alternative attacking options as a ploy to draw players away from our best striker will free her up for those runs only she can make.

Defensively, we’re a schmozzle. Clare Polkinghorne is one of our best defenders, but someone isn’t communicating at the back at all. There seemed to be a distinct lack of organisation, especially during set plays. We seem to be taking a tactic and not deviating, which from an outsider’s point of view, looks like we’re not giving the players enough confidence to call plays as they see it, and make their own on-field decisions.

And the most frustrating part about that is it’s nothing new.

Defence is something we’ve been struggling with for a long time, and putting someone in charge of organising and moving players around at the back, changing tactics when needed on-field, would go some way to improving that.

A coach I had back in my junior days (when I was an attacking mid-fielder) said to me that football is like a game of chess, and I never really understood that until I pulled on the gloves and started playing in goal.

That was when it occurred to me that as the only one on the field who could see everything, I could move my players around as I needed, which, if we were good enough and trusted each other enough, would make our opposition play their game the way we wanted them to.

Simple things like knowing an opposition striker only kicked with their right foot meant the defender only needed to turn them onto their left to make them less potent.

Or seeing a runner positioning themselves wide to make a run in on a free kick and alerting a defender to mark them and blunt the attack.

It was fascinating to be able to dictate play from the back, and when you watch professional games from a high enough vantage point you can see where runs are going to come from. You can see patterns forming, movement happening, spaces opening up.

Someone on the field needs to take charge of that sort of vision, and that someone is normally the goalkeeper.

I don’t know what sort of set-up the Matildas have with their defence, and while I think Kerr makes a good captain of the side in general, someone needs to take charge at the back. Polkinghorne has always done such a good job for the Roar, and is most comfortable playing a bit of a sweeper-ish role at the back when it’s needed, and sneaking up the field when the play allows.

The way we’re playing in defence at the moment pulls her away from that natural game.

Playing high in the backline works when the opposition aren’t making runs in behind, and when we have enough speed at the back to cover counter attacks.

Put simply, we just don’t have the types of players required in defence to play a high defensive line, so we need to change, and play to the strengths we have instead of trying to make players adapt and play roles that are unnatural for them.

Now look, I’ve never played at an elite level. The extent of my experience is in over 20 years (almost 30) in local amateur leagues, most of that time spent between the sticks. I also did some time as a senior women’s coach (again, local league) and as a kids’ coach.

And though I know a local league is far from the heights and complications of international football, there are some things that are universal.

A coach’s job is to bring disparate individuals, with different strengths, weaknesses and superpowers, together into one cohesive unit.

To look at the players they have and mould the strategy around them, not the other way around.

Coaches will always have preferred methods of play, preferred set plays, preferred shapes and formations.

But there’s no point in sticking blindly to those preferences if you don’t have the players to fit them.

We have some truly great players in the Matildas set up, and some fantastic players knocking on the door of selection.

As an outsider looking in, it just seems that players are being asked to play outside of their natural abilities.

That does nothing for the player or the team.

Let’s hope that at the very least, we plug our gaps in defence before the Brazil match rolls around. Because it only takes one goal to win a football match – but a whole bloody lot of effort to defend it.

Want to be proud to be an Aussie cricket fan? Start watching the women.

After reading about the recent review into Australian cricket, I wanted to write a post about how short-sighted Cricket Australia has been in their follow-up statements, and how I think they can start to ‘fix’ the culture around the Australian men’s cricket team.

When CA make comments about changing the culture of cricket, they’re referring to the men’s team. The men have always been, and apparently still are, the centre of CA’s universe. And although the language says ‘we’, what they’re really referring to is the men.

They seem to forget that as an association, they actually encompass much more than just the elite Australian men in these statements, and really, they need look no further than our Australia women’s cricket team, the Southern Stars, for shining examples of what a cricket team should look like and play like.

While we seem to be unable to find a winning mix of players in the men’s team in all forms of the game, we have an abundance of talent in the women’s competition.

This is despite the fact that a majority of female players aren’t full-time professionals. Some of them are barely part-time semi-pros, but they’re toiling away for their clubs and state sides, hoping for a chance to get an Australian cap or a call-up for a WBBL team each summer.

The Aussie women are playing good, solid cricket, and are winning games and series overseas.

And not a scandal among them.

Imagine that.

What’s the difference?

Well, apart from the massive gap in pay, since the women have just recently been given enough funding for our top players to go full-time, there’s one massive difference I think the review has missed the mark on.

Our women’s players do a lot of work in their communities. They visit their old clubs (and play for them while they’re not on rep duties) and they visit schools and junior clubs to run training clinics. They stick around for hours after matches to sign autographs and talk to fans.

The majority of them also study part-time or hold down second jobs that they go back to in their off-season.

That’s another huge difference.

The women have an off-season.

Though some of our best players had a stint in the Kia Super League in England this year, most of our players came home or travelled for some much-needed time off away from the game.

How do I know? I follow a lot of them on social media and love seeing what they get up to in their downtime. (If you don’t already, you should seriously seek out some of the Aussie women’s cricketers and give them a follow – they’ll brighten up your social media timelines).

Off-seasons are few and far between for the men now, with overseas tours and stints in T20 leagues all around the world eating up more and more time. Off-seasons help with rest and recovery and provide time for players to ground themselves in other pursuits. It also helps with mental health, which is so important in elite sport.

So having said all of that, here are my top 3 things I think CA can do to improve the men’s team and make them more like the women’s team:

  1. Enforced off-seasons – CA already have the option to disallow players from playing in T20 leagues if they think it will interfere with their representative duties. I think CA (and player managers) can go further and require all players to have time off between tours and seasons. They should also look at how many games they’re trying to cram in each year and reduce them so that players are physically and mentally fit. I love my cricket but I’ve switched off from the men’s game because there are way too many games and series to try to keep up with now.
  2. Community work and charity work – Rather than just making players available for state and club duty each summer, they should be required to be available for much more charity and community work. This could be done during their off-season. Plugging things for sponsors is all well and good, but it’s the grassroots that matter most for a sustainable future in cricket, and CA could do well to get our top players to spend more time with those toiling away each week for the fun of it to keep them grounded. And finally,
  3. Semi-professionalism until players reach their mid-20s – Holding down other jobs and/or study early in their careers means players don’t get caught up in a cricket bubble so early. Steve Smith and many other young players who were pipped early for elite sides have suffered from this problem. When all you know is cricket, you don’t have any other context outside of sport for moral and ethical dilemmas, or for success and failure. Also, when you have a second career/job option to fall back on, it means the decision to train and play hard to reach the top levels of cricket is much more worth it.

So before you switch off from Australian cricket because you think the men aren’t redeemable (we disagree on that point if that’s what you think), start watching the women’s game. I will absolutely guarantee they’ll restore your faith in cricket in this country.

And if you have kids who love cricket, you need look no further for role models than our women’s cricketers.

They’ve played in obscurity for so long that it’s now their time to be elevated to our country’s favourite sporting team. (Along with the Matilda’s – but I’ll leave that for another post).

By the way, I reckon Meg Lanning’s got the best job in Australia.


Want to support the Aussie women’s cricket team? You can follow them on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. And look up your favourite players on your preferred social media platform. They’re fantastic value.

Why, as a Queenslander, I’m fine with NSW winning Origin this year

Queensland scarf at the ready for the final game of 2018

I’m not as disappointed as I probably should be that Queensland lost this year’s State of Origin series.

Why?

Because I played and coached sport for over 20 years myself. I understand the ebb and flow of team success. I know that just one retiring champion player can change the entire dynamic and mental fitness of a team.

Those players are irreplaceable.

We saw what happened to the Australian Test Cricket team when we had Gilchrest, Langer, Warne, McGrath, Hayden and Symonds all retire over the course of three years. Losing that sort of talent in such short order can rip the guts out of a team, especially if plans haven’t been put in place to bring in younger talent to replace them.

In the Queensland Origin side, we’ve been lucky enough to have several once-in-a-generation players in our team for nearly two decades. Players who can change the game in a second are rare, but we’ve been blessed by some of the greatest names in the game: Lockyer, Thurston, Smith, Inglis, Slater, Boyd, Cronk…

We’re sure as hell going to miss those retiring players not just because of their talent, but because they’re playmakers. They’ve always been the first ones picked. They’re the players coaches can build a team around.

But when I look at the players coming through for Queensland in Holmes, Munster, Hess, Kaufusi, McCullough, I see the next generation of a Queensland team that can build towards success.

And rather than trying to be the next Thurston or Smith, they get the chance to redefine the game in their own images. That’s the power of Origin.

I don’t like it when my team loses. But it’s always been bittersweet to win against a side that sometimes lacked competitiveness.

NSW seems to have finally discovered that the secret sauce to winning isn’t just great players with amazing talent, but team players who’ll do what’s needed to pick each other up and do their job. Games are won and lost on the workload of everyone, not just the one or two stars in a team.

I love that NSW are more competitive. It means Queensland need to work harder to get on top again. Origin can make a good player great, and I’m looking forward to seeing our younger players grow over the next few years in one of the toughest series on the sporting calendar.

And besides, some of the Queensland players coming through now haven’t really experienced the sort of losses the older players have gone through prior to their dominance from 2006 to 2017. Always winning can breed apathy, which is a hard mental block to get past. It won’t do Queensland any harm to have lost this series to a better NSW side.

Having said all of that though, I’d hate for us to be Blue-washed so for the last time in 2018, [Billy Moore voice] QUEENSLANDER!

‘Girls’ or ‘Women’? What’s the big deal??

On Friday night, I got to watch the inaugural Women’s State of Origin footy match on national TV. It was a historic moment, as it was the first time in the rebranded format after almost two decades of being played in relative obscurity as the Interstate Challenge.

And although the women aren’t yet fully professional (heck, they’re barely even semi-professional) and the Origin is contested over a single match instead of like the men’s three-game series, it was a joy to watch a women’s rugby league match on a Friday night in prime time.

NSW won the match which, as a maroon-blooded Queenslander I’m still raw about, but it was bigger than the women who actually played the game, so I’m prepared to overlook the result – for now.

It was about all the players and coaches and administrators who came before, setting the stage for a cracker match. It was about all the girls and boys in the crowd and watching on their TVs at home having new role models to look up to and to sign their jerseys and caps and footballs.

All-in-all, it was a great advertisement for rugby league, especially seeing the crowd swamp the field and the players after the game, getting up close to their new heroes, who seemed to be just so stoked and honoured to be there.

I say all this as a rugby league agnostic. I’m not a fan of any single team, and I pay attention to rugby league only during Origin, sometimes during Tests and World Cups, and if a Queensland team (including the Storm) makes the final 8. Other than that? I don’t go out of my way to watch it during the season.

But I also say this as a woman who played soccer for over two decades back in the 80s and 90s and into the 00s when we had to use the men’s hand-me-down jerseys every season and be thankful to get an hours training run before the youth and men’s teams took over the fields. We got to use the dressing sheds only when the men or youth weren’t playing, or when we made finals. Other than that, we changed in the toilets or on the sideline.

Back then, we had to be grateful to even be playing in our own competition. We never aspired to be more because we never knew we could.

Watching that game Friday night was less about the game itself, and more about seeing women elevated to the same stage as men. We’re not fully there yet, but we’re on our way.

The one single thing that grated on me just a bit was the use of the word ‘girls’ when commentators were talking about the players.

I know, I know, it’s such a small, seemingly insignificant thing in an otherwise amazingly magical moment in time. But it’s something that once you become aware of how often the word ‘girls’ is used in relation to adult women, it’s not something you can unhear.

So why does it annoy me?

As an author, I know how important word choice is. My editor asks me to ‘be specific’ when choosing words and conveying my ideas because the wrong word can totally change the meaning I’m trying to get across. Even unintentionally.

That’s why I think the connotation of the word ‘girl’ is important in the commentating context.

A girl is a female child – not an adult. Not someone with their own agency. Not someone who can make their own decisions yet. Not someone who is ready to go out into the world and make their own mark.

I know that’s not what was meant with its usage Friday night, but I really wanted to make a point about why it’s problematic, and how easy it is to fix.

When I made this comment on Twitter:

it was quickly pointed out to me that Ruan Sims, (the injured NSW player who did a great job on sideline commentary), as well as Karina Brown (QLD captain) and Maddie Studdon (NSW captain) all referred to their players as ‘girls’.

That was right, of course, but this is down to context.

For the record, I don’t think women should refer to other women as ‘girls’, and we shouldn’t refer to grown men as ‘boys’, but that’s just my opinion, and each to their own.

I do, however, think there are certain circumstances where calling women ‘girls’ and men ‘boys’ is acceptable. We see it all the time in team environments and amongst friends and family. Familiarity, and being part of the team is the key.

Karina Brown referred to the QLD team after the game as ‘my girls’, and that’s because she’s part of the group. Maddie Studdon did the same thing when referring to her team for the same reason.

But you wouldn’t have heard Karina refer to the NSW team as ‘girls’ because she’s not part of that team.

To make things a little clearer, because I know that explanation isn’t the best, consider when men use the word ‘boys’. Listen to any football coverage, and a player in a team will refer to his own teammates as ‘the boys’, but wouldn’t refer to opposition players as ‘boys’.

Used in this way, it’s a term of endearment and familiarity.

The word ‘girls’ as used by male commentators, (or just one, actually) as it was on Friday night,  is something else entirely.

However, I’m prepared to give that commentator the benefit of the doubt, because I really think the use of ‘girl’ when he was calling the game was more about not really knowing what he should call the players. That’s understandable with him not having had the opportunity to call women’s matches much (if at all).

I mean, every summer we hear male commentators fumbling over the word ‘batsman’ during the WBBL and women’s internationals when it’s simply just ‘batter’. Fieldsmen long ago became fielders, and bowlers, well, they’re still bowlers.

The only exception in cricket, of course, is 12th man and third man, which are fielding positions and it would be pretty silly to change them to 12th woman or third woman. Although I do recall a commentator asking the question as to whether he should be referring to those fielding positions with ‘woman’ instead of ‘man’. I distinctly remember the female commentator at the time assuring her colleague that ‘man’ was fine in that regard.

So what could the commentators have used instead of the word ‘girls’ on Friday night? ‘Women’, ‘team’ or ‘players’ would have been perfectly fine.

But in reality, they could’ve called on anything they would have used when calling a men’s game. There are plenty to choose from – ‘backs’, ‘forwards’, ‘pack’, ‘wingers’, ‘halves’, ‘centres’… You get the idea.

I guess this is a long-winded way of saying that language matters and having commentators, particularly male commentators, refer to women as ‘girls’ instead of ‘women’ or any other term they could have used, perpetuates the stereotype that the games aren’t as serious as the men’s competitions.

That’s definitely not the intention – I know that.

I guess the key is to just treat a football player, or a cricket player or a soccer player or [insert sport here] player, whether male or female, as a player. Use the same words when referring to women when commentating on a game as you would the men. They do, after all, play in the same positions and play under the same rules (mostly – I’m looking at you AFLW).

It’s not that hard really.

 

** NOTE: I’ve left the comments open on this one because if you’re reading this, I know you probably have an opinion on this subject, as I do. I’d love to hear it because I enjoy intelligent and reasoned debate. Be aware though, that if you play the player and not the ball, you’ll get a quick send-off and suspension. Cool? Cool. Drop your thoughts in the comments below. **