Football a family affair for Australia’s Nash
Chonburi: 14-year-old Jessika Nash has impressed many with her on-field leadership at the AFC U-16 Women’s Championship Thailand 2019, but just as impressive are the globetrotting efforts of the Australian captain’s biggest fans – her family.
More than 50 family members and friends of Junior Matildas' players have made the trip from Australia to Thailand, with the Nash contingent among the largest in the travelling party.
There are three generations of Nashes in Chonburi, with a fourth represented by a great-grandmother watching every kick of the ball from back home in Australia, as Rae Dower’s side chase a maiden Asian title.
But, as Jessika’s mother Katherine revealed, this is far from the first away day for the family, some of whom have racked up over 45,000 kilometres of football-related travel since the tournament’s first qualifying stage last September.
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“We’ve been to Kyrgyz Republic and we were in Laos. This is our third trip following her now,” said Katherine .
“This time my mum has come along - she’s been along for the last two trips as well. I’ve got my son here. Jessika’s dad is here as well, my aunt and uncle, my sister and her son and daughter, so I think there’s about nine of us in total.
“I was never getting on a plane (before this) and Jessika’s certainly changed my views on that. I’ll get a plane anywhere to watch her and this amazing team.”
Decked out in yellow t-shirts - many of them with their surnames on the back - the families have been a fixture at both of the team’s matches so far, bursting with joy when Alana Jancevski slotted Australia's opening goal of the tournament against Thailand on Wednesday.
Like many, the Nash family’s support has expanded beyond international borders to coincide with Jessika’s national team call-up, but the talented youngster said she has always been able to count on her family to cheer her on.
“Just like they’ve supported me throughout my childhood,” said the Sydney-based teen. “I think it’s good, them being here, because it just drives and motivates me more because of the hard work and dedication that they put in for me in the sport.
“It’s very important. I think it’s important for my mental health as well. Just knowing that they’re in the same country and supporting me like all my teammates are. I think it’s just great to have my family there for support.”
Jessika developed a passion for the game at an early age, with her family happy to accommodate her dedication by driving her to training, team camps and matches throughout her youth.
Now leading her country, the results speak for themselves, and Katherine – a teacher by profession – is acutely aware of the positive influence her support can play on daughter’s path.
“Jessika was playing football, probably, at the age of four and she had that twinkle in her eye. Even back then, she was very dedicated,” recalled Katherine.
“I just say 'support the player, support the person and support the child'. It isn’t something that we’ve driven, it’s something that she’s driven, and we’ve supported her and it’s not just here. It’s to and from training, to and from camps and just all that emotional support as well."
“Not just the support you can hear now, it’s really bigger than that. Supporting the whole child. The physical and the mental side of these amazing athletes.
“Words can’t express (the pride I feel). It is just amazing. It’s amazing to see all the girls. Supporting your daughter, but also this team, which is just doing amazing things at the moment.”
Strong early results - a draw with Japan and a 6-1 win over Thailand - have Australia on the verge of a first semi-final appearance at the AFC U-16 Women’s Championship since 2009, with another victory over Bangladesh needed on Saturday to secure their place in the final four.
That would also keep alive their bid to qualify for the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in India, but, whatever the final destination, one thing is certain: there will be plenty of familiar faces cheering them on every step of the way.
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