For our latest #MidweekDub feature, Ben Gilby spoke to Claire Taylor, Amanda Wetzel, Bekki Spratford, and Jess Kolbas of W-Jets Active, the Newcastle Jets W-League supporters group about their passion for the club, what’s been going on in Newcastle in recent times and how they view this current campaign.
Amanda, Claire, Bekki, and Jess all met at the last Newcastle Jets W-League home game of the 2018/19 season. The group got chatting in the stands after the game realised that they were all going to France to follow the Matildas’ Women’s World Cup journey.
They take up the story: “In France, we all became involved in the Matildas Active Support. It was an electrifying and unifying experience that we wanted to bring home to Newcastle. We set up the W-Jets Active in the weeks before the 2019/2020 season began and within the first week, we’d hit the 100+ mark, and the community was already forming. The momentum that followed showed us there was an enthusiasm for support specifically for the Jets’ W-League side, especially for our home-grown heroes.”
“We approached the club, and they were incredibly supportive. They’ve offered their services whenever needed, made sure we could be visible and noisy at home games and even the away games that we could get to, and have helped us keep the community connected to the players in so many ways that go unnoticed.”
“This is our second official season on Active Duty, and we’re loving how broad and diverse this community has become. Not everyone wants to be on the front line chanting, but there is a depth of support from home and afar. Our mission is simply to make sure the team knows that and to make the game day experience enjoyable for everyone, regardless of the final score.”
That brought us perfectly on to the topic of what a typical match day for the W-Jets Active looks like.
“Great question! It’s a busy day for us. It usually kicks off on game day eve, where we make sure our socials are pointing everyone in the right direction for tickets and pre-game meetups. This is followed up on the morning of the game with info about where and how to watch – in the stands or at home. We also like to get a bit of banter and buzz going on the player’s own game day posts or through our stories.”
“It’s tradition to meet up in a pub nearby pre-game, and we can’t ignore the hospitality that the Commonwealth Hotel and Sunnyside Tavern have always provided before and after home games at Number Two Sportsground and McDonald Jones Stadium, respectively. These tend to range between ten and twenty-five people, depending on several factors. Everyone is welcome – we can’t stress that enough.”
“As soon as the gates open, we’re there setting up our banners, flags, scarves, and the drum. This year, the club has given us designated Active Support bays at both Number Two Sportsground and McDonald Jones Stadium. We like to warm up with the team, with a few pre-game drumming and chanting to lift the energy.”
“From kick-off we live the game with the team – the highs and lows, the ins and outs – right until the final whistle blows. It’s not our aim to make 90 minutes of non-stop noise. Rather, we try to build on the energy and bring the crowd with us when the team needs it most.”
“After the game, we always stick around while the players warm down. This usually gives us a chance to chat with them, and for the little ones to get signatures on their hats and jerseys. Our team are very generous with their time. And, quite often, then we’ll head back to the pub to celebrate or commiserate, depending on the outcome.”
The W-League this season is very different from recent years with fewer internationals, lots of young stars and many new players coming in. I asked the W-Jets Active group how things were from their perspective.
“For us, it’s kind of business as usual. We’ve had a few well-loved internationals in recent seasons but have really relied on our home-grown talent. In some ways, we’re actually the W-League’s feeder team – with younger emerging players often signing for other teams or heading over overseas after a season or two. You saw that very clearly before the start of this season with so many departures from our squad making up deficits in teams that had previously relied on players from overseas.”
“This has definitely opened up opportunities for younger talent to step up into the W-League. So far, it’s proven to make for a much more competitive league – anything could happen on any given game day. I think, over time, this can only add to the depth on offer for our Matildas squad.”
“In terms of new faces ourselves, we had a lot of new players joining our existing legends this season. It was definitely an establishment phase feeling to the start of the campaign, with several new players making their W-League debut and a new-but-well-known-to-us coach, Ash Wilson. It was clear by game two that we could ask a lot of questions of our opponents, and it’s been great watching the team dynamics really shine.”
“We’ve played some excellent football this season but haven’t got the points or ladder position to show for it, but it has to be said, there’s a buzz about the team this year. Ash recruited well, and every new player ‘fits’ the club’s brand of football – staying connected to the community and bringing a never-give-up attitude to each game. That’s what makes them so easy to support through ups and downs. They don’t give up, so neither do we.”
The group’s assertion that the Jets’ performances have not earned the results that that it could have done is one we at Impetus would certainly agree with having seen the majority of the team’s games this season. I wondered who in particular had stood out for the fans this season?
“Every player has had a standout moment so far this season.
Tara Andrews’ four goals in the first four games was exhilarating, and we loved being able to celebrate her hundredth game with the club at Cromer Park away to Sydney FC. She’s Newcastle through-and-through, a role model to so many of those coming up through the ranks, and absolute asset to the team.”
“Lauren Allan’s brace in Round Five against Western Sydney Wanderers was an absolutely joyous moment as well. She’s such a quiet achiever. She exudes a team mentality – poised to strike when needed but also ready to assist or elevate others when that’s right, too.”
“Sunny ‘Sunnybadger’ Franco and Rhianna ‘Mini’ Pollicina are both a joy to watch on the ball. Their hunger and drive make for such entertaining football. We were delighted to see Mini bag her first goal in Round Seven, staying so composed as she chipped it over the head of Gaby Garton. We were delighted to Sunny break her drought against Perth Glory. She deserved to finally be rewarded for all the great chances she creates.”
Jets’ start to the season came with the backdrop of growing uncertainty over the ownership of the club. In early January, the club CEO Lawrie McKinna announced that owner Martin Lee had not put any money into the club for at least fourteen months. Consequently the club appeared to be in debt and a group of A-League (Australian men’s top tier) investors had taken over the running of the club for the short term. I asked the supporters group how this had impacted on the club.
“The impact of the uncertainty around our ownership, and the lack of investment in the club from its owner, really can’t be underestimated. It shook every level of the club, all the way through to the players. We started our season running on the smell of an oily rag, and a lot of people were certain we simply wouldn’t have a season at all.”
“The commitment of those within the Jets, especially those behind the scenes, really needs to be applauded. They held the club together with support from the community at large, several loyal sponsors, and their own blood and tears.”
“The stability provided by this interim ownership model was such a relief. With the Women’s World Cup coming in 2023, it’s critical that we continue to have a W-League to showcase what we have to offer. This guarantees that the Jets will be able to maintain those pathways for our region. We have such a rich football history, which deserves to be recognised at the professional level.”
On top of everything else the club has had to deal with, there has also been the coronavirus pandemic. Australia’s international borders have been closed for over a year now and that does not look like changing for a long time to come. Ever changing state border restrictions have also had a major impact on signings and match schedules. I asked the group how the situation had specifically impacted on Newcastle Jets.
“Let’s not overlook the impact of the fixture changes – we’re on version ten of our season calendar now! It is inconvenient from a fan perspective, but it’s been close to unmanageable for the players. Despite being professional footballers, W-League players typically have primary jobs or study commitments. Juggling these is hard enough in a predictable season, but the last-minute leave requests, possibility of unexpected quarantine, uncertainty around accepting shifts, or missing classes is a tough and unreasonable ask. This highlights the need for policies to move us into a fully professional league.”
“In the stands, it has definitely changed attendance. Not only in numbers, but in the whole fan experience. The club bent over backwards to make sure that we could still come together as an Active group with distanced seat allocations in the same bay, so we did what we could to provide a visible presence. But we couldn’t make the same level of noise at the start of the season because chanting and drumming were banned and masks had to be worn in the stands. We were just incredibly grateful to be able to attend home games!”
“That said, it feels like more people tuned in from home, and as a result started to demand a lot more in terms of the quality of broadcasting for W-League games. This is definitely the season where W-League fans took to their socials to call out the inequalities and demand better. We still have a long way to go, but the more people involved in the movement for change, the better.”
As our discussion moved towards its conclusion, I wanted to discover what the W-Jets Active group think the short term future is like for the W-League.
“Football Australia obviously have a lot of work to do before 2023. That’s going to require investment in the women’s game before and after the World Cup. This event will shine a light on Australia’s women’s football league from around the world, so it’s time to really live the values we’ve hearing about for years.”
“A full home and away season has been talked about for too long – it’s time for action. Along with a clear plan to make the W-League fully professional. There also needs to be investment at grassroots level, with clearer pathways for girls to progress into the professional league domestically.”
“Stepping up the supporter experience also needs to be a part of this. That means easier access to accurate information about how to attend games or watch from home. Designated home grounds for W-League teams! We know how much our W-Jets prefers playing at Number Two Sportsground, and the atmosphere it allows can be a game changer. And quality broadcasting, with pre-game commentary, replays, half-time analysis, and commentators who can pronounce our player’s names should be on the agenda immediately (we got you, Coehlo!)”
Impetus’ coverage of Australian Women’s Football is supported by The Chicken Salt Co. They are offering every Impetus reader 5% off all orders of Chicken Salt from their website. Go to https://www.chickensalt.co.uk/?mate=impetus and place your order – 5% will automatically be taken off of the cost. The coupon code is impetus.