The 31/7 email logotype in purple and orange
Good morning fellow football fans,

It’s a happy day. When this lands, England will be about to kick off their first World Cup match. Enjoy.
And look out for this — before I left for Oz, I wrote a 20 page World Cup minizine that TSB have printed up so it can be scattered throughout the city of Leeds for people to pick up and say, 'Look, that's Priscila Chinchilla!' If you're not in Leeds, or in Leeds and can't find one, don't worry. Just click here to grab a digital download version, or to get a paper copy sent to you for nothing more than the cost of postage.
As I write I’m between Sydney and Brisbane, travelling north to see ‘em kick it in high definition. I’ve shared some reflections from the first day of the tournament about:
  • mourning my innocence
  • the thin line between playing smart and playing dirty
  • playing football with your ex
I’ve not seen what’s happened on the second day as this train has no wi-fi, so if you’d like to catch me up with all the gossip I’ve missed please do so by hitting reply! Likewise, feel free to share any pics or tales or reflections on watching Rachel Daly running RIOT against Haiti. I wanna know what’s going down.

Thanks for reading,
Flora xxxx

Child's play

“Welcome to the FIFA Women’s World Cup, for Australia’s first game of the tournament against the Republic of Ireland. Go Tillies!” comes a cheerful voice over the tannoy. I’ve not even left Olympic Park stadium yet and I’m crying a little bit.

I sometimes wonder if I’m too emotional for football.

How am I expected to react to this? The epicentre of a nation’s hysteria, the culmination of months and years of anticipation, where hope and optimism top out. The kids who have been counting down the days, staring at tickets on the fridge for weeks are now clutching them in their hands as they toddle between a forest of legs toward the huge bowl of Stadium Australia.

What a kid won’t realise, though, is that the concrete blocks they’re plonked atop to munch on a pre-match cheese burger are there to stop a terrorist ploughing a car through the crowd.

Nor will they notice when their glitter-glued ‘score a goal, it’s my birthday’ sign passes through security without further scrutiny in the designated ‘flag and banner evaluation area’ set up at each entrance to prevent overly-political messages making it pitchside.

Young’ns will gasp with wonder at the flashy pyrotechnics which line the path to the stadium, ignorant to the fact that the people running the show found space in the budget for spectacle but not to reward the competition winners with a prize more than a quarter of the value of the men’s.

For fuck’s sake. Why did any of us ever grow up?

Sneaky McSneakersson

If FIFA wanted hearts and minds ticking on Thursday night, then an injury to Sam Kerr was a spanner in the works. Australia’s heroine, their leading lady, the country’s proudest soccer export, the highest national goalscorer of any gender, the first female in history to feature on a FIFA 23 cover.

I laughed but understood when I read that sports commentator Jordan Patu described Kerr’s absence as ‘a national tragedy’.
Sam Kerr pulls out of the Ireland game
It might not have felt like that, had Australia head coach Tony Gustavsson not engineered the most dramatic possible breaking of the news. One hour before kick off, Kerr dropped an Instagram post which revealed she would not be playing, having stayed silent about an injury they had all known about for the 24 hours since she suffered it in training.

By then, kids had been up past their bed the night before, working by the light of their Nintendo Switches to craft signs for her. And for what?

After the game, Gustavsson revealed the two reasons why he kept Kerr’s absence a secret, confessing that it had not been ‘honest’. Firstly that when Kerr, the national captain, joined him at the MD-1 press conference, her calf was not long injured and, feeling emotional about missing this big game, she couldn’t face questions from the media about it.

Secondly, that Sam Kerr is the tactical lynchpin of Australia's team. The Republic of Ireland face an exceptionally difficult group and were expected to show up to the toughest game of the trio and defend for their lives. Preparation would have been orientated around what to do about one of the world’s deadliest strikers - why not make them sweat over a surprise change of personnel?
Australia coach Tony Gustavsson gives the thumbs up
So Gustavsson chose to turn a weakness into a strength. It was too late for coach Vera Pauw to change Ireland’s game plan when she saw the teamsheet just an hour before kick-off and she discovered what they’d really be up against.

Clever, or unsportsmanlike? It’s a really tough call. Like Alex Carey's controversial stumping of Jonny Bairstow in the second Ashes test, Gustavsson’s move was totally legal but has left a good number of people feeling rattled.

The Daily Telegraph called it “sneaky”, while ex-journalist Mark Stevens tweeted that Gustavsson “needed to be held to account” for his “silly Matildas selection games”.

God I love football.
A salty tweet levelled at Tony Gustavsson

Enemies to lovers

If you’re following the World Cup, I suppose there’s a high probability that you are:
  1. Female
  2. Queer
  3. Someone who plays football
If not - congratulations on saving yourself a lifetime of drama.

I’m actually too exhausted to paint you a vivid picture of what happens when a bunch of gays meet several times a week and start dating each other and dumping each other and confessing and denying their love for each other, with friends and enemies mixed in between. You can imagine. It can be a bit of a mess.

I have often wondered what this would look like in a professional context. This week, we got a peek.
Littlejohn shoots daggers as McCabe
When I first saw this picture after the final whistle, it made sense to me. Toward the end of the game, Ireland were really hammering Australia - doing anything to score. Katie McCabe had the pick of the chances and it’s not ungenerous to say she fluffed it. So here’s her teammate, looking disappointed.

I thought it strange that so many were circulating this image, often with glee, and a suggestive caption affixed such as ‘a picture tells a thousand words’ or ‘says it all’.

That felt unfair. McCabe had had a great game. Ireland's only real attacking outlet, she was running the show, drawing my eye from up in the stands by directing traffic with big sweeping gestures. If there was going to be a player to win the match for Ireland, it was her - so why was her teammate throwing her this look?

Not long after I saw the picture, this clip of the pre-match handshakes emerged, in which the player shooting daggers at McCabe in the photo snubs Australian attacker Caitlin Foord.

Those of you who fit the profile detailed above may be beginning to put the pieces together.

The scowler is Ruesha Littlejohn who, until recently, was going out with Katie McCabe, who plays at Arsenal with Caitlin Foord. On Thursday, the Gunners’ TikTok fandom rejoiced as the incident seemed to convert a heavily rumoured intra-club relationship into certified ‘canon’.

Ignorant to the details, someone on social media mentioned Littlejohn giving Foord ‘the John Terry treatment’, referencing the 2010 incident in which the former Chelsea man got no handshake from Wayne Bridge, whose girlfriend had been cheating on him with Terry.
John Terry gets the treatment he deserves
In a world where your ex’s new bae is as loathed as your cheating girlfriend’s lover and we, the fans, get to watch it all unfold on colour television - don’t tell me you’re sorry they cancelled Neighbours.

Spectacular bird of the day

Before I boarded the long train to Brisbane on Friday morning, I took a turn around Sydney Park with Fiona, who I’ve been staying with, to enjoy a peaceful bit of green not far from her house.
A lovely park in Sydney
Well, it was peaceful for a while. At the centre of the park lies a lake, wild-looking, unmanicured, populated with wildlife - where I was disturbed to spot a snake in the water.

It dived under water, travelling silently, not disturbing the surface, then popped up somewhere else, bobbed its head once or twice, looking around for victims, I supposed, then disappeared again. At one point it emerged next to a coot and my heart was in my throat - but it did not attack.

I hated it but could not take my eyes off it.

Eventually, Fiona convinced me that it was too sharp, too beaky to be a snake. I googled ‘Sydney Park freshwater birds’ and found this….!
A scary bird
And sure enough, not long after the little bastard hopped onto a post, revealing its entire birdy body.

Look at that neck. Clapped. Well, help me out here. I'm telling you, when you see the way it moves underwater you'll agree.

I guess, then, instead of a carnivorous snake on its way to scran a chick, it was fishing underwater then coming up for air. Did it have to look so evil while it went about it, though? Truly, a stealth machine.

The Square Ball 2023 Summer Special

The cover of the TSB Summer Special 2023, featuring Abbie Brown of Leeds United Women photographed by Lee Brown
  • Abbie Brown talks to Flora Snelson
  • Ross McCormack with Rob Conlon
  • DJ Emily Pilbeam speaks to Moxco
  • The best of Klich
  • Best flair players
  • Fiction by Sara Sherwood
And more! • 164 pages • £8
31/7 logotype in purple and orange