Watching Real Madrid play in their city is to watch a whole bar breathe as one.

A large projected image invites all, swearing in unison, hands flailing at the officials.                 

At the Algarve Cup in Portugal, there are a handful of fans.

The stadiums are remote.

I find myself walking down an isolated country road in the rain for twenty minutes before I stumble upon another fan.

She’s young too.

We laugh about the absurdity of being a 20-year-old woman walking alone in the Portuguese countryside to watch a woman’s football match.

To our friends, it seems ridiculous to travel so far to watch a game. 

Most of the women I’ve met at the Algarve Cup have been alone.

Carla is a nineteen-year-old German on a gap year supporting both Canada and Australia because Germany isn’t playing.

Ally is an Australian studying in Europe for a semester who couldn’t miss the chance to see the Matildas live.

I meet another girl from Northern Spain who travelled with her mother to meet her Matildas hero, Steph Catley only to arrive and find her injured.

Her mother recounts to me in Spanish about how she pushed her daughter to get the Matildas tour bus doors to open so she could meet her after coming so far.

We sit on the empty train platform in the dark and tell each other our plans to go to France next year for the World Cup. 

There have always been stories about men doing crazy things to meet their sporting heroes but something feels different about the women at the Algarve Cup.

These women have travelled through countries to watch their team play.

These young women have travelled alone for the first time not expecting anything in return.

There is no party, no crowd to walk with and sometimes nobody to talk with at halftime.

As I arrive at the stadium to watch the Matildas face off against Portugal, I meet a group of Matildas fans eagerly waiting to be let in

They are all holding Australian flags and I learn that this patriotic bunch are actually Portuguese locals.

They met the Matildas at the Algarve Cup in 2017 and assure me they’ll be loyal to their heroes.

Speaking to the fans, it is clear that they all see something beautiful in the way the Matildas work as a cohesive group. 

Tameka Butt, the integral Matildas midfielder also observes a difference in the women’s game.

“I definitely think there is more of a connection between fans and players,” she said.

“I don’t know whether that’s credited to the way we connect through social media or if it’s a certain struggle that the fans see in their lives.”

The women at the Algarve Cup have come because watching women play sport is powerful.

Not because they can do the same things men can but because despite the fact that they aren’t afforded the support or the money, they live doing something they love.

It is a visceral embodiment of the struggle all women face and a visual representation of female strength.

“That’s what the Matildas are emulating right now, we’re a team that’s really strong and a collective female group…that’s a drawcard,” Butt said.

In World Cup commercials, football has always been something that’s described as bringing people and cultures together.

Football is conveyed through the images of boys kicking a soccer ball on the beach, in the school playground and eventually through men in a sports bar.

In many ways, this ‘coming together’ has always seemed like false advertisement. 

Women are scarcely included in this image. 

The building mainstream support of the Matildas is exciting and long overdue but the quieter revolution in how young women see themselves and find community within the sporting world is what’s different to the atmosphere in European bars. 

Football can be a universal language, and with women included it can communicate something far deeper.