by Pam Fraser, Parent of Macey Fraser – NZF U17 Mid-Fielder
I’m not sure who gets more nervous, the players or the parents. Through the selection process you watch your child work so hard toward their dream, and then the daunting wait for the final team announcement. Knowing there could be complete elation and celebrations, or total devastation and pieces to pick up.
Fortunately, it was the former, and we were soon winging our way to South America to support Macey at the FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup. Our plan was always to only go for the three pool games, although we did feel reaching the ¼ finals was within the grasp of this talented bunch of girls.
It had already been a tumultuous year, with Macey having a serious ankle injury putting her on the sidelines for most of the season, and then arriving in Uruguay to find she had been in isolation with tonsillitis was just as frustrating for her as us. Even though they are elite athletes, as a parent you still ride every wave of emotion, so it was awesome to see her walk onto the pitch in the starting lineup for the first match.
I get pretty emotional listening to any playing of the National Anthem, but when your daughter is standing in the lineup at a World Cup it is pretty moving and tears were definitely held back. Our parent support group was loud, and enthusiastic, but I think there was a lot of nervous energy helping us chant, sing, and cheer the team on. The teams first goal was unbelievable. We were hugging and screaming, and there was a lot of jumping up and down. And then the final whistle signaling a win at a World Cup was the most joyous sound. Witnessing their sheer delight and smiles is a sight etched in my mind forever.
The opportunity to play against the hosts, Uruguay, was a tremendous experience for the girls. We were rather outnumbered in the crowd that night, and when Uruguay scored first and the stadium erupted, it felt like our little bubble had burst. Two goals later from our girls, and we were hoarse, exhausted and ecstatic all at the same time. Suddenly our wee zone was making the most noise. An amazing result which also meant the girls had qualified for the ¼ finals and history had been made.
After the third pool game it was time for us to say goodbye to the tour party. As much as we really wanted to stay, the logistics just seemed too much in every sense, and we were content to watch what we guessed would be their last game, at home. We did joke that we would be back for the final! It was sad to say goodbye to the parent group who were all kindred spirits. That parallel desire to support the team as a whole really bonded the group together. When we arrived home we realised just how much support there had been. The girls had some idea through social media but I don’t think they were cognisant of just how much of a ride they were taking the country on.
We watched the ¼ final on the couch with friends and family. But having been in the stands among that atmosphere meant the TV didn’t quite cut it. We did have the benefit of replays and close up shots, but that just couldn’t make up for feeling you get in amongst it. And then a penalty shootout. We could only imagine the parents in the stands. We could barely watch at home, nor dare to dream. But those girls did, and more history was made. NZ was in a World Cup semi final! I turned to my husband, Gordy, and said we have to go back. Crazy I know, but would this ever happen again. Only once did we question if we were being impetuous, but by then washing from the first trip was dry, leave was extended, and tickets were booked.
On the eve of the semi final, with the help of team management and the volunteer media crew, a fake conference was set up, and we, along with the Wisnewski family, were able to surprise our girls walking in mid interview. The look on Macey’s face was worth every cent.
NZ has played against big powerhouse football nations before, but never in a World Cup semi final. It was the things dreams are made of, but I don’t think anyone had ever dreamed this. It was a truly gutsy performance against Spain, and as supporters we gave it everything we had too. It was oh so good to be back among them. Even though the scoreboard said we lost to the European champions, we still felt like winners.
A medal still beckoned. For me this was the most nerve wracking game. After all the training, dedication, and belief the girls had put into this campaign, we all so desperately wanted them to come home with something tangible that would serve as a reminder for years to come. What a start it was. More history, the quickest goal in U17 WWC history. Canada were shocked and I think we were too. And then another goal not long after. It seemed this was really going to happen. We were riding a high in the stands. And then that last 20 minutes as Canada began to dominate and our lead was cut to one goal. That was heart in mouth stuff. Six minutes of added time was cruel and wretched. I could barely watch, just managing to peer through the NZ Flag draped over my head.
And then that glorious final whistle. Those glorious girls who dared to dream.