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Photos: Getty Images; design: Archi Banal
Photos: Getty Images; design: Archi Banal

SportsJuly 21, 2023

‘The best day ever’: Fan highlights from the Fifa Women’s World Cup opening match

Photos: Getty Images; design: Archi Banal
Photos: Getty Images; design: Archi Banal

The greatest moments from last night’s epic Eden Park extravaganza.

A crowd of more than 42,000 cheered New Zealand on to a historic 1-0 win over Norway at Auckland’s Eden Park last night in the opening game of the Fifa Women’s World Cup. It was a dream start for the Football Ferns, who went into the match very much the underdogs, and a much-needed boost for Tāmaki Makaurau following yesterday morning’s fatal shooting incident that threatened to cast a pall over what should have been an exciting day for the city.

In addition to Toby Manhire’s full match report, we’ve gathered together a selection of highlights from fans young and old.

‘The best game of football I’ve ever seen’

“What a dream start for the Ferns and for the tournament,” says The Spinoff comic artist Toby Morris, who went to the game with his kids Max (11) and Iggy (9). “They were so great, so fearless. I even really liked the opening ceremony bit, very impressed with the robust zip action. Crowd was cool, very family-friendly again like the Black Ferns games, with good energy. Not exactly a hot take: was a lot of fun, 10/10.”

Iggy says it was “the best game of football I’ve ever seen”, with Max adding, “The atmosphere was booming.”

‘It was amazing fun’

“The starting ceremony was amazing, there were fireworks that were AMAZING and there was a stingray and I think it was an eel and everyone was holding them up and there was kind of like a haka,” says Thea (8). “It was a great spectacle and it didn’t go on too long, that was nice,” adds her mum Sophie. “The game was incredible, it just grew in intensity,” says Sophie. “Everyone was on the edge of their seat and everyone around us became friends and it was just thrilling. The crowd was so lovely, there were so many women and children compared to rugby games where it’s just marauding groups of men. I think this is another great boon for women’s sport following on from the Rugby World Cup. I expect ticket sales will skyrocket – the children are already asking if we can please buy more tickets to more games.”

“It was amazing fun and I had a photo with Benee!” adds Thea, referring to the New Zealand pop star who performed in the opening ceremony. “And Chris Hipkins was there.”

Thea (centre) and her friend Livvy meet Benee at Eden Park

‘I want to say it was f-word cool’

The Spinoff CEO Amber Easby went to the game with three generations of her family. A memorable moment was when Chris Hipkins came on screen and there was “an audible cheer”, she says. “The guy behind me yelled ‘you’re doing an OK job!’ while the kid next to me asked ‘who’s the guy with the red hair?'”

Amber’s daughter Mae (10) says, “It was really surprising that New Zealand won since it was the first time we ever won a game at the World Cup. It was very memorable.” Her little brother Emil (6), adds, “I want to say it was f-word cool but I’m not allowed to say that.”

‘I just goddamn love it’

The Spinoff’s partnerships editor Alice Webb-Liddall has this to say: “They unfurled a lot of flags and colourful sheets during the opening ceremony, but by the closing of the game they’d also unfurled a new football fan in me, and I can only assume thousands of other New Zealanders. I love sports. I just goddamn love it.”

‘Soccer is my life’

“As we made our way through the gathered and rugged-up masses to Eden Park’s Gate E, Henry (7, aspiring striker) told me, ‘This is going to be the best day ever’,” says Matthew McAuley, The Spinoff’s commercial creative director. “As we slunk off the Western Line train at Avondale Station three hours later, Henry told me, ‘That was the best day ever.’ Sitting in Great North Road traffic this morning, the rain that blessedly stayed away during last night’s game forming ominous puddles in the bus lane, Henry told me, ‘Soccer is my life.'”

‘The whole city had been transformed’

“I could hear the cheering from my flat in Sandringham, the glow of the Eden Park lights flowing into the sky and buses full of fans streaming down Sandringham Road, like the whole city had been transformed by the football,” says The Spinoff staff writer Shanti Mathias. “Even as a non-soccer fan it felt VERY exciting and made me extremely thrilled that I’m going to a game next week.”

The best thing: ‘That we won. And James – or whatever that man sitting beside me was called’

Hex Work Productions producer Natalie Wilson took her nine-year-old son Gale and it was the first game he’d watched at Eden Park. “He said it seemed heaps bigger than it did at Te Matatini,” says Natalie. “He loved it when people yelled ‘Siuu!’ I asked him this morn what his favourite things about last night were and he said, “That we won. And James – or whatever that man sitting beside me was called.” The stranger who happened to be sitting beside G answered all of his questions, laughed at all of his jokes and chatted to him without missing a beat of the game. And Gale packed a book to read at halftime, which he did.”

‘The dream result’

“New Zealand were way better and Norway far worse than I and a lot of other armchair experts expected – Stuff’s Big Data-driven match forecast only gave the Ferns a 14% chance of winning,” says The Spinoff deputy editor Calum Henderson. “Watching on TV, the match and the atmosphere at the ground seemed to take a while to rise to the occasion – the crowd doing the wave (the universal sign of mass boredom) within the opening 30 minutes must be a new World Cup record. But once it became clear that somehow the Ferns weren’t just in with a chance, they were the better team, things picked up considerably. And from Wilkinson’s goal onward, Eden Park looked like it was approaching Rugby World Cup levels of magic and excitement. (There’s now a chance we could see the Ferns back there for the round of 16.) The dream result, and a performance that should have converted its fair share of Kiwi tyre-kickers, fence-sitters and football sceptics.”

‘You could tell it meant everything to them’

This was my first ever time watching women’s football so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as we entered Eden Park. I’d been here a few times before but never with it this crowded; there were an astonishing 42,000 people in attendance whereas the Wellington Phoenix and All Whites matches I’m used to going to they mostly can’t fill half of the stadium.

As they kicked off I knew we were most certainly not the favourites going into the match but the Football Ferns kept the ball well for the first half without really having any chances. Any little chance we had there was immense noise from everyone in the crowd. The football was played at a good tempo and I was enjoying it more than I thought I would! I’m always watching football games on TV at home but being there live for a World Cup is a whole different experience.

The second half started off with drama as the Ferns goalkeeper found Jacqui Hand on the wing who drove it forward and expertly found Hannah Wilkinson, the team’s marksman, at the back post. As she tucked it away for the first goal of the match the crowd went completely ballistic. She ran towards the corner flag thumping her chest as her team ran towards her and we were all overcome by emotion. It was the whole of Eden Park screaming at the top of their lungs for a full minute because the Football Ferns were on their way to their first win at a World Cup. 

Now I could see that the women were playing with a newfound passion as they dominated until the 88th minute when a Norwegian player’s hand touched the ball in the box. After a long VAR review the penalty was awarded to the Ferns. Wilkinson had just been subbed off so Ria Percival stepped up to take it knowing a goal would secure victory. No! She hit the inside of the crossbar and the keeper claimed it.

It seemed like Norway had been thrown a lifeline and you could hear the groans when nine additional minutes were added on. Norway threw everything they had at the New Zealanders but the defence stayed solid and the game ended 1-0. The crowd went absolutely wild as this was probably the biggest win in their history, their first at a World Cup and in front of home fans – you could tell it meant everything to them.

I feel that women’s football is really growing. All the coaches, referees and staff were women and you could tell that most of the people in the crowd were families like mine. I think this event is going to really positively affect women’s football in New Zealand with young girls having these fantastic role models.

–  Elliot Stranan, Year 10, Whangarei Boys High School


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