Papua New Guinea
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Fowler puts Kirakira village on the big stage

BY VINCE RUGARI
(SYDNEY MORNING HERALD)

Having conquered the nation of her father’s heritage last week, Mary Fowler can at least count on the unequivocal support of her mother’s homeland as the Matildas look to go deep at the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Kira Kira, a village within the Papua New Guinean capital of Port Moresby, has been decked out in green and gold in support of the 20-year-old, who has become central to Australia’s hopes at the tournament following Sam Kerr’s untimely calf injury.

That is where Fowler’s mum, Nido, is from, and where she met her future husband, Kevin.

The family considered living permanently in PNG at one stage but opted to move to Cairns, mainly to provide better education opportunities for their children – and it was there that Mary was born on Valentine’s Day in 2003.

She is the second-eldest of five football-mad kids who were raised in Australia, but with a deep and powerful connection to both sides of their heritage.

Fowler, who plays her club football for Manchester City, might not be wearing PNG’s colours, but the country is still drawing immense pride and inspiration from her rise to the world stage.

In Kira Kira, hundreds crowded around a small television to watch the Matildas’ 1-0 win over Ireland – many of them in jerseys or hats with her No.11 on them, printed by boys and men from the village in two separate homes, while the women came together to cook enough food to feed them all in a beautiful display of community spirit.

More gatherings are planned for the remainder of Australia’s World Cup games, including Thursday night’s second Group B clash with Nigeria.

Last week’s gathering was concocted by some of Nido’s family friends, quickly organised via WhatsApp, and announced to the village by a man through a loud hailer – or it was, once a couple of people were sent off to find fresh batteries to replace the flat ones.

A large banner draped over one of the village’s streets reads: “Kira Kira Village, the home of Koita Maiyago” – which means “girl from our tribe” – and her full name, MARY BOIO FOWLER. Mary is Kevin’s mother’s name; Boio is Nido’s mother’s name, and an immediate identifier for any unaware locals of her PNG ties.

Fowler, who hasn’t been to Kira Kira since she was a kid, is determined to one day return the love – ideally by staging a series of football clinics in PNG.

“It’s definitely something that I am super interested in doing,” she said.

“Obviously, there’s a whole timing thing that comes with that. But I always say, Papua New Guinea – I get so much love and support from people that I don’t even know.

Sam Kerr will be missed, but she is not the Matildas’ top scorer of late.

“It’s just special to see how much they support me and how much they believe in me and look up to me. And I’m just like, I would love to just be able to give something back to all of you. “If being able to do some football stuff that brings joy to some people there, then that that would be amazing, because there’s just so many good people out there.

“I would love to be able to connect with my mum’s roots a lot more and spend time with her family over there as well.”