It was the touch that summed up the connection between Melbourne Victory’s Westfield W-League squad.
Less than half an hour into Victory’s season opener, Natalie Tathem – making her debut for the club – suffered a knee injury that ended her campaign.
But, in a way, Tathem would remain part of Victory’s matchday squad for the whole season, one which culminated with a second championship courtesy of Sunday’s 1-0 extra-time win over Sydney FC in the Grand Final.
The 25-year-old’s number six shirt was left hanging near the Victory bench in matches throughout the campaign.
“That was totally led by the players. When you look at these little things and you see them you know how invested in each other they are,” Victory head coach Jeff Hopkins said.
“Obviously it was definitely the lowlight of the season for myself and for the group as well, Nat getting injured in that first game. For a new player coming to the club, for a player that has done the hard yards, moved house and home down to here and put in a real hard shift in all pre-season and all the games through the pre-season, for that to happen and the way that it did, it can be quite a tragic thing.
“But, again, Nat’s been amazing as well. She’s been at every training session just about that she was physically able to make, she supports the players, she flew herself up to Sydney to support us and she was obviously there with us at the Grand Final.
“She’s made videos for the girls, her season was over straight away after half an hour of the first game, but she still knew she was part of this squad and she wanted to contribute in some way and she has done. She’s been amazing as well.
“And the girls have reacted to that as well. They’ve given her a lot of support and she’s coming on nicely with her rehab now, most probably was doing a little bit too much jumping up and down in the celebrations, got the coaching staff a little bit worried.
“I think that’s one of the stories that you look at the culture of the team and that sums us up, what we’re all about.”
Along with the returning Lisa De Vanna, Kyra Cooney-Cross and Tiffany Eliadis, Victory had new signings Tathem, Gaby Garton, Claudia Bunge, Natalie Martineau, Catherine Zimmerman, Kayla Morrison and Maja Markovski.
But it also retained a strong core of players, with captain Angela Beard, Annalie Longo, Polly Doran, Melina Ayres, Amy Jackson, Lia Privitelli and MelindaJ Barbieri.
“It’s a funny thing really. I think it’s easy to say you’ve got a great culture when things are going well for you, there’s no problems there,” Hopkins said.
“It’s at times like when you do lose a couple of games on the spin and you get a really heavy defeat and you’ve lost a few players, you then look around to see how people react. It’s easy to talk about working hard and respecting each other, but we worked really hard at that as a group.
“Gareth Turnbull did a lot of work in terms of the workshopping in the early part of the season and the players have got to buy into it and they invested a lot of time and energy in getting to know each other. It’s a new group of players. We had a core group of players that were back again that have been here over time and knew what the culture was all about, knew what the club was all about, knew what the expectations of playing for Victory are all about.
“Stuff like that doesn’t just happen though. The players make it happen and if they want to work at it and want to make things better and when there’s tough decisions to make they make the right decision by each other and by the team and they’ve definitely done that this year. It’s been great to see.
“Angie Beard, another one of those players that has been around the club for quite a while. She took over the captaincy this year and has really just taken it so seriously that she didn’t want to take it on and it wasn’t just an armband for her, it was a really important role and she’s led so well this year. I’m really proud of what I’ve seen from her in terms of her leadership. Most probably go away from the football, just one proud thing for me this year is seeing how she’s grown as a person, she’s been absolutely amazing this year.”