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Guest Post – Watching the National Women’s League from afar

Photo: Adam Binns Photography

By Morgan Jarvis

Just three weeks ago, I witnessed (and subsequently wrote about) a historic moment in football for the deep south – a women’s national league victory for the first time in more than four years. Southern United’s 3-2 win over Auckland Football Federation at Forsyth Barr had it all, it was a classic ‘David vs Goliath’ battle. But no-one ever pays much attention to the struggle David must have faced trying to pick himself up the following week after causing the greatest of upsets.

After the ultimate high of beating Auckland in round one, Southern United travelled to Palmerston North and crashed back down to earth somewhat after a 3-1 defeat to Central. Understandably, it was always going to be tough to back up seven days after the emotional rollercoaster in Dunedin.

Last weekend, Southern hosted WaiBOP and the side was confident of bouncing back with another win. Despite dominating possession and creating enough chances to win, the team was gutted with a goalless draw. As coach Terry Parle said afterwards, “we’re disappointed with the draw, purely on the basis we were the dominant team today, and we just lacked that clinical finishing up front. But on the positive side of that, I’ve just asked the girls, this time last year, the year before, we’d have been happy with a point. That’s the level of progress we’re making with this team and I’m happy with that.”

Not being able to pick up a win against Central and WaiBOP had probably deflated the team a little, and had seemingly dashed any realistic hopes of making the playoffs knowing that the final four weeks of the league featured games against Canterbury United Pride, Northern Football Federation, Central, and of course the dreaded bye. The team travelled up to Christchurch to face the defending champion Pride on Sunday as heavy underdogs once again.

The match was only a few minutes old though when the visitors tore up the script. Defender Mikaela Hunt stepped up and won a strong challenge, before finding midfielder Shontelle Smith free in the centre circle. Smith deftly timed a through-ball to Lara Wall to absolute perfection, the striker beating the offside trap by the barest of margins. Clean through on goal, the youngster slid a left-footed shot with incredible composure calmly past the Pride keeper Briar Guyan. Seven minutes in, and Southern had a shock lead!

Lara Wall’s opening goal for Southern United vs Canterbury United Pride

Wall’s opening goal was good, but her second was stunning. This time it was Kirsty Hayr who was strong in the tackle and then slipped it to Ellie Isaac in space. Isaac unleashed Wall, who for a moment looked like she was going to break free in identical fashion to her opener. Instead, she cut back onto her right foot 25 yards out, and smashed a powerful, curling effort past a helpless Guyan and into the top-right corner – it was simply a sublime goal!

Lara Wall’s brilliant second goal for Southern United

The Pride finally got themselves back into the game with 25 minutes left on the clock, and the finish rivalled Wall’s second goal in quality. Parle has drilled into his Southern side an intent to confidently play the ball out from the back, but on this occasion, an errant pass was latched onto by Canterbury substitute Macey Fraser. Fraser belted a dipping shot from almost 30 yards out, leaving Nicol with no chance. Fantastic stuff!

Not to be outdone, Canterbury United Pride’s Macey Fraser scored a superb goal

Both teams continued to have chances for the remainder of the match. Southern keeper Tessa Nicol made a handful of brave saves, and both defences were scrambling brilliantly. Hayr could have sealed the win late on with a header from close range that just flew over the bar. Then, as the game entered stoppage time, the Pride were piling on the pressure. But when the fulltime whistle blew, Southern United had held on for an unbelievable 2-1 victory over last year’s champions.

I’ve mentioned previously about the incredible spirit that’s developing in our National Women’s League team. It was fantastic to be able to watch the team play so confidently against such an outstanding opponent… particularly as I wasn’t even at English Park! I was able to watch the entire match (well, bar a few minutes where the stream appeared to drop out) live from the comfort of my office/mancave at home in Dunedin!

Bravo to the Canterbury United Pride and Mainland Football for streaming the match live on Youtube. Sure, it’s single camera, and it may not come close to the production values that our friends at Sky Sports can provide – but, you know what? That doesn’t really matter when you’re caught up in the match. The quality is surprisingly good (quite a lot better than the quality of the above videos that I snipped from the stream), and the Youtube platform is easy to use and familiar.

It’s not just Canterbury that has embraced live streaming of matches – I was able to watch our match in Palmerston North a couple of weeks ago thanks to the team at Central Football – it wasn’t quite as polished as Canterbury’s effort, but it was still amazing to be able to watch it live from 800km away. I could have been on the other side of the world and yet still able to watch my hometown team live!

NZ Futsal has also been doing a great job of streaming Futsal National League matches from various venues across the country. Again, it’s a relatively simple setup, but it works well. Yesterday, I was watching National Women’s League and the Futsal National League simultaneously on two screens!

Down here at Southern United, we pride ourselves on the effort we put into our social media and online presence, but I suddenly feel like we’ve got some catching up to do off the pitch in this regard, or else we’ll be left behind!

I know there’s a lot of conjecture about the recording & viewing rights of the ISPS Handa Premiership and NZ Football’s agreement with Sky TV. Personally, I’m becoming a strong advocate for a dream scenario where all national league clubs are live streaming all matches themselves – although I’m realistic enough to admit that logistically it’s still a fair way from being able to provide a service that’s slick enough to please everybody.

So instead of bickering over that, it’s great to see Federations and clubs focussing on the positives and presenting what they are allowed to show. Successful live streaming of National Women’s League matches can prove to NZ Football that they should seriously consider the potential of embracing the platform across all competitions.

This is also a superb opportunity for the National Women’s League to get a jump-start on the men’s Premiership and nab the ever-growing segment of the audience that doesn’t have access to Sky TV, but is desperately keen to watch high-quality football.

Even as interest in the women’s game in this country grows rapidly, it’s hard to see a time where the National Women’s League is going to be broadcast on primetime TV – so let’s credit the fine folks out there making it possible to watch these games from the comfort of our own homes.

Because, within four hours immediately after the shot had nestled in the back of the net, a short video of Lara Wall’s second goal had received more than 2,000 views across the Southern United Facebook and Twitter accounts. Two thousand people had the opportunity to see a goal that would have otherwise only been witnessed by the players and crowd present at English Park. That’s the kind of exposure that women’s football in this country couldn’t have even imagined just a few short years ago!

[Morgan Jarvis is a football fan & writer based in Dunedin. He is Southern United’s Media Manager and has been a regular contributor to the Otago Daily Times newspaper and other local football publications. You can find him on twitter via @zealmanNZ]

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Enzo Giordani

A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.

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