Reflections on the Matildas Euro tour

Sally Shipard gives her insight into what it was like being in the media box instead of the 16-yard box on the Matildas recent tour of Europe.

Football has been a good provider for me, but the opportunity to travel to Europe as the Westfield Matildas media officer came as a wonderful surprise. I have always thought of myself primarily as a footballer, yet opportunities seem to be presenting themselves in ways I find difficult to ignore.

I am currently rehabbing my knocked knees in Brisbane, having only recently resumed running.

While I-m looking forward to the W-League pre-season I am also a little anxious. If my knees cannot handle the progressive load, then perhaps a role such as a media officer may be my future.

Leading into the Matildas European tour I was highly anxious but very much looking forward to the challenge that lay ahead.

What a contrast. I didn-t pack boots; I sat at the staff table; I socialised with the staff; I travelled at the front of the bus; I wore blue; I attended official functions; I was privy to conversations I had never heard before. Here I was touring with the Westfield Matildas as a staff member - the official media officer. The difference between my new role and that of a player was bewildering - even though it-s the exact same game.

I knew I-d be essentially learning on the job but I did not anticipate how different the game is when not on the pitch. Overwhelming feelings of apprehension and unease were familiar emotions by the end of the 16 days. I accepted my naivety and tried to embrace all as best as I could.

We had two internationals against New Zealand in Canberra before embarking on our trip to Europe. I was flown in to learn the ropes. Russ Gibbs (Capital Football Media) talked me through the composition of the match report during the first international, of which the Matildas beat New Zealand.

Assessing the game from afar was so much different from being out there in the thick of it. Put my boots on and give me a ball at my feet, I-m set. Give me a computer, or even worse a microphone and I freeze. The ABC chose to broadcast our second match against New Zealand and I was invited to commentate alongside Peter Wilkins. This was a nerve racking experience, given you can-t rehearse live commentary but one which I will take great confidence from next time around.

So on to Europe, and although working towards the same goal as a collective the contrast between being a player and staff member was very evident. For starters, work began post training. For two hours the girls will run around the park. As the media officer, interviews were conducted post-session, if there were external media on site then answering to them was my priority before fulfilling my duties in generating content to then send home.

During the day of a match I would try hard to maintain my concentration. The unpredictable nature of sport meant that there was only so much I could prepare before the event. The entire process was exhausting; watching the game, taking snaps, updating Twitter/Facebook, recording minutes, reviewing crucial moments. Post-match on the bus, this was my time to shine. I would interview Head Coach Hesterine de Reus for quotes, which would help drive the formation of my work.

When concluded, my overriding emotion was one of satisfaction but exhaustion and anxiety soon followed. I have sent something away - just like submitting an assignment at school or university. Your work is about to be critiqued - does it even make sense? Was it accurate enough? It gave me great pleasure to wake up and see the report had been given the all clear, even if it had been “tweaked".

While appreciating that good match reports are a difficult thing to master, the position I find myself in is one of privilege. I have been granted a wonderful opportunity to travel with the team and witness first-hand the dynamics driving the continual evolution of the Matildas toward becoming a real force on the world stage.

Collectively, we experienced a wealth of emotions with the magnificent win over France being so very important in the grand scheme of things - a great rebound from the unexpected defeat at the hands of the Dutch club team.

A question from Matildas Tameka Butt was posed towards the end of my time away: “Which role is more difficult for you, player or staff?”

My response began with a delay as I hadn-t really given the two roles much consideration in isolation let alone comparison. All I could really say was the pressures are very different. Having seen and experienced the direction De Reus wants to take the Matildas my aim is to play an integral role in that but my preference would be from the pitch rather than the press box!