Match sparked passion

What a game.

On Sunday night, I joined the masses and packed into Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr Stadium for what is undoubtedly one of the most exciting nights of sporting action I have ever seen.

And it was a women’s sporting event, making it even more memorable.

I must confess I have never been much of a football fan — my son played when we first moved to Cromwell and we spent a winter freezing on the sidelines as we traipsed around Central to take him to games.

My daughter later ditched netball to take up rugby and football, playing goalie for the U17 boys team, which she loved.

Growing up in rural Southland, Friday and Saturday nights were spent out at family friends’, watching the rugby on the TV, parents and children cheering alongside one another whenever the Stags / Highlanders scored.

As a student, I have many fond memories of watching the Highlanders on the Terraces at Carisbrook, where just as much time was spent watching the antics of those around me as the game.

The loss of rugby on free-to-air TV saw me lose interest in the sport — apparently I was in it more for the social aspect than anything else.

Funnily enough, I was volunteering with Red Frogs at a Highlanders game earlier this year and realised the last game I had watched was at Carisbrook more than two decades ago. (Tell me you’re old without telling me you’re old . . .)

That match was a Super 12 final against the Canterbury Crusaders and had a rather unfortunate result — let’s not talk about that.

I had no clue about the score — once again I was distracted by the Terrace antics — but I do remember the excitement of the crowd, the grab-the-person-next-to-you as you hold your breath in anticipation while waiting for the team to score.

That was the same feeling I experienced watching the Football Ferns take on Switzerland in the knockout of the FIFA Women’s World Cup match.

It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me; this was the first time I had watched any NZ representative team live in action, and who knows when I will get the chance again.

The Ferns gave their all on the pitch — the skill, speed and determination they showed was like nothing else I had seen.

The unbelievable moment when it looked like New Zealand goalkeeper Victoria Esson was about to headbutt the ball into the goal was one of the most exciting and devastating sporting moments I have experienced.

While it was not the result any of us wanted to see, the Football Ferns managed to achieve something more powerful than any World Cup title — inspiration and permission.

Not only have they sparked a generation of young girls’ passion for football, inspiring them to take to the pitch and give it a go, but the Ferns have also given them permission.

Permission to chase the impossible, to give something a go when the odds are against them, permission to succeed, permission to fail and try again.

That’s something even us adults can learn from.