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'The Matildas are our life, our passion, our everything'

Sam Kerr of Australia celebrates after scoring against Brazil at Pepper Stadium in September.
Sam Kerr of Australia celebrates after scoring against Brazil at Pepper Stadium in September. DEAN LEWINS

SAM Kerr sent social media into overdrive when she gave her jersey to a fan who had to turn an old Socceroos strip into a Matildas one at the recent Brazil games.

For her, it wasn't even a question, or a hassle.

It says much about her and is a snapshot of why the Matildas have endeared themselves to the Australian public recently - without losing that humility that made them so likeable in the first place.

But, amid the joy, Kerr makes a wider point as well, as she does in all her answers reflecting on the current positive position the Matildas find themselves in.

"Someone tweeted me the photo after the game and I never thought anything of it, I just thought 'I have to get this guy my jersey'," she said.

"Lucas Neill is a legend of the Socceroos ... but (this fan replaced his name with mine) because there was no merchandise for the Matildas there.

"That's kind of funny, but then also a wake-up call for the FFA that people do want to wear our jerseys and if it's there, people will want to buy it."

With the W-League around the corner, and Matildas games against China later in November, it's a seminal moment for the game in the country.

Suddenly, the women's side of the Australian football, with flagbearers like Kerr, Lisa de Vanna, Kyah Simon, Emily van Egmond and co, are household names attracting as much excitement as their Socceroo counterparts.

The Matildas are now as important a route for football to the hearts and minds of Australians as any facet of the code, and it's not something lost on Kerr, whose stunning form on a global stage has put her front and centre.

In a wide-ranging chat, the Matildas sensation talks about the side's growing influence, the upcoming W-League season and how Alen Stajcic's side has won the Australian public.

 

Sam Kerr of the Matildas during a team training session in Sydney.
Sam Kerr of the Matildas during a team training session in Sydney. DANIEL MUNOZ

On the Socceroos:

"Being there (against Syria), it was so interesting to watch," Kerr said.

"I think it's a men's game thing: they get paid so much more for their clubs so to come to their country to play, it doesn't seem like it has the same feel - not that it's about money - as it does for us.

"For us, the national team is the be all and end all. It's the highest. I just feel people feel the Socceroos are there because they can be.

"When we play for the Matildas, it's our life, our passion, our everything.

"It's not just about football, it's about the Matildas.

"Maybe the Socceroos are in a bit of a changing period, but they don't have those people like the Vidukas, who played for this country. I feel like Timmy (Cahill)'s definitely got that, but maybe some of the young ones, I'm like, do you want to be here?

"That's how I feel watching them.

"Go in and make a tackle!

"I just feel we've lost that Australian grit - if you looked back to World Cups previously, we were Australia!

"We tried to play football but we had that toughness and roughness. Now, trying to play football, maybe we've lost our Aussie way. We're never going to be a Germany, an Argentina, so maybe losing that aspect of our game is a massive loss for us. I don't know if people see that.

"I'm not saying go in and hurt people but in the first five minutes of a game, let them know you're here in Australia.

"I felt like it was Syria showing us 'we've come to play tonight'.

"I also think it falls back on to the Australian public too - I was looking at the Syrian crowd ... if you didn't have colours and you wanted to be part of a cheer squad, you'd chose the Syrians.

"We don't give the boys anything to get up for. The crowds were very quiet; the supporters' end was just dead. You go to an AFL game, it's the same ... it's just the Australian way. You look at the Syrian crowd and go 'I'd love that (atmosphere) to be the Socceroos'."

 

Sam Kerr of the Matildas in action agsinst Brazil in Newcastle last month.
Sam Kerr of the Matildas in action agsinst Brazil in Newcastle last month. DARREN PATEMAN

On why fans feel such a connection with the Matildas:

"It comes from the Matildas not being a mainstream team and now that we are, we feel we have a closer connection," Kerr said.

"People have commented that the boys' team feels untouchable, whereas they can have a conversation with us girls; they know us by name, because the fan base is smaller, sometimes we recognise fans. I think the girls enjoy that part of the game.

"You can't make everyone happy, but a lot of people commented after the open session in Newcastle and Penrith we were out there for 45 minutes connecting with the fans.

"We enjoy that and appreciate it because we haven't always had it.

"I think it's something we can keep up ... but I don't think you'll be able to ever please everyone.

On this being the biggest season yet in the W-League:

"It's still a difficult challenge: when the Socceroos did well at the Asian Cup it didn't mean the A-League (became) the EPL (English Premier League)," Kerr said.

"If we're going up each year, that's good. I think with the Matildas doing well, more internationals want to come out and more people are respecting the league.

"I know people going to the game just to watch specific Matildas players.

"I think it'll be our best league yet, it's our 10th year - not many have (leagues) survived that long, it's something to celebrate and be really proud of. All the Matildas girls are really proud of playing for their club teams and those overseas, this is the hardest time of the year for them. They hate missing out, they want to be home playing for their home club, state."

 

Australia forward Sam Kerr reacts after scoring against Japan in San Diego during July's Tournament of Nations.
Australia forward Sam Kerr reacts after scoring against Japan in San Diego during July's Tournament of Nations. Gregory Bull

On why it is important to make the most of this wave of publicity:

"The media attention is great for growing the name of the Matildas but that type of stuff falls back on the resources we get: we've hired strength and conditioning coaches, psychologists," Kerr said.

"It's great for the Matildas brand but it means us girls can act more as professionals and be treated more as professionals. FFA now is behind us and truly believe the we can sell out an 80,000-seat stadium.

"17,000 is a great start, Melbourne is next. Hopefully more people come and get behind us. But the most important thing about growing the Matildas brand falls on the Matildas being able to be more professional and compete with the powerhouses of USA and Germany.

"FFA kind of realise that, (speaking to a few people in Penrith, Newcastle). It was an eye-opener. I heard people, who have been fighting for the women's game, were crying. The women's game is growing so much, not just here in Australia.

"If you're standing still, you're going backwards in the women's game. FFA have to keep up. They're doing well so far but it's about going forward."

On the Matildas' responsibility alongside, not up against, the Socceroos:

"I think it's important the Socceroos qualify, everything crossed, but now, we feel more of a responsibility in growing the game from a younger age. The sport is the most highly participated in Australia ... but everyone supports an AFL team, or rugby league, but in soccer that doesn't happen," Kerr said.

"Matildas, being such great role models, we feel the responsibility to give people something to strive for, young girls with Matildas role models, something to stay in the game for.

"I feel we lose a lot people at age 14, 15, because they get over it or there's nothing to strive to or they move to AFL.

"I feel now, we see the comments, people bagging the Socceroos but flipping to the Matildas.

"My Twitter is hot during Socceroos games - everyone wants me to get subbed on. We prefer to stay together with the Socceroos, the girls never talk badly about them, they've supported us, even through the CBA negotiations.

"I think it's a responsibility as a whole, not just the Matildas; we want to just keep the sport growing."

 

Matildas forward Sam Kerr after being named the 2017 PFA Women's Footballer of the Year.
Matildas forward Sam Kerr after being named the 2017 PFA Women's Footballer of the Year. SUPPLIED

On the journey with Stajcic's Matildas ....

"It's not all been smooth sailing," Kerr said.

"You go through times you love the coach, you hate the coach.

"But the last year or two, he's kind of listened to the players a lot more and still been really strong on what he wants with the team.

"It's not the men's game; we're women, we react differently, it's hard having 20 girls there - you can't force them to all get along. But he's been transparent in that this is what he wants and if you don't meet those standards, you won't be there, no matter who you are.

"I think he's been really good for the team, (he has) a really good philosophy and the girls have all bought into it.

"He's got that kind of chip on his shoulder about growing women's sport; the girls feed off that, when you have someone fighting for you it makes you feel so much better.

"When the Newcastle or Penrith game came out he showed us his phone - he had messaged 1000 of his friends to buy tickets. That's unique, I find. I don't think you'd find many men's coaches trying to sell tickets to their game. I think the girls appreciate that."

Could Stajcic take over from Ange?

"I think it's different - could Staj coach the men's game? I don't know, people underestimate what women's coaches have to be. He's not just our coach, he has to manage all of us. Girls go through things and maybe they're not even that bad, but he's almost like a father figure, worrying about things off the field, whereas men have a different mentality," Kerr said.

"It's not been all smooth sailing. There have been times he has clashed heads, but we've always had a common goal.

"I don't think anyone wants to lose him the way things are going!"

On China in Melbourne on November 22 and 26

"I put out the challenge to prove they're the sporting capital of the world. If they don't beat 17,000, they're gone!" Kerr said.

"Yeah it'd be great to sell it out, but just beat 17,000, start there and that's ultimately going towards Asian Cup and then 2019 France."

Topics:  ffa matildas sam kerr socceroos sportfeature

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