NEWCASTLE, England (AP) — For Canadian women’s football coach John Herdman, his homecoming nearly ended in disaster.
The 37-year-old Englishman hails from a town just outside Newcastle and he grew up supporting the Magpies. So, he wrote a script for his return to St. James’ Park for the match between Canada and Sweden.
His opponents, however, nearly tore it up by scoring two early goals Tuesday and threatening to eliminate Canada from the Olympic football tournament. Luckily for him, the Canucks fought back to earn a 2-2 draw and qualify for the quarterfinals.
“We had a script written for this game,” Herdman told reporters after the match. “For me, this game was personal, you’re in your hometown. You’ve got your family here.
“I wanted to make sure we got something out of this game, and that they got to speak some ‘Geordie’ words.”
The residents of Newcastle call themselves “Geordies,” and Herdman said of his players, “They’re no longer girls. They’re lasses.”
Herdman even went so far to make his players wear the black and white colors of Newcastle during the warm-up at the stadium, aware that the red and white jerseys of Canada have the same colors of the Magpies’ most bitter rival, neighboring city Sunderland.
“I think the crowd were pretty fair to us,” Herdman said. “We put our on black and white shirts. The Geordie fans were getting behind us. It felt like a home crowd.”
At first, the gimmick didn’t work because Sweden scored twice in two first-half minutes. Herdman became increasingly agitated after that, berating a lineswoman for not giving a couple of fouls against his players. At one point, he screamed at her, “What game are you watching?”
But later, he joked about Canada’s early misfortune: “Seeing the team go down 2-0, it wasn’t too dissimilar from watching Newcastle at times.”
Canada forward Melissa Tancredi saved the day for Herdman, pulling a goal back just before halftime and scoring a late equalizer. Herdman jumped up and down after Tancredi’s second, hugging other team officials and substitutes. It seemed like he wanted to hug everyone at St. James’ Park.
“A Geordie boy has come home,” Herdman said in relief and then went on to laud his players for showing “Geordie spirit” to come back into the match.
“All local players dream of playing here and I’m so proud of the girls for playing like that,” he said. “I’m black and white through and through so I hope it’ll give the Geordie lads good luck next season.”