As sleep continues to overtake the occupants of the houses surrounding her, Pippa Bowen awakes to darkness and silence. The clock reads 3:45 a.m. With a cup of coffee she opens up her laptop, loading up one of the dozens of streaming subscriptions she’s accumulated over the years, and cozies up with a blanket as the announcer signals for the teams to walk out onto the pitch, ready to cheer on her favorite player.
Half a world away Katie Bowen steps into the light, flanked on either side by an entire team, as the intro music pours out from the speakers signifying the impending start of the match. Following the conclusion of the anthem she makes her way to the center of the field awaiting the starting whistle, the time is 10:00 a.m. MT and the game has just begun. And while she can’t hear it, she can feel the support of her biggest fan, even from 7,230 miles away.
This routine is a new one for the mother-daughter duo from New Zealand, born out of necessity to carry on tradition and more importantly, a legacy. For years Pippa stood beside her husband, Dave, who played the primary role as the “soccer parent,” waving the flag, screaming from the sidelines, critiquing matches and providing feedback after every game. But after the Bowen’s lost their family’s patriarchy nearly three years ago Pippa has stepped into those shoes, fulfilling a role she was never meant to hold.
The Bowens were born with soccer injected into their veins. They are true, through and through, Red Devils, outfitted with Manchester United jerseys at the moment of their birth. Endless photos filled with red and black line the walls of the family home, but unlike her husband and her four children, Pippa did not grow up in a soccer household. She was never much of a fan and the extent her football knowledge is limited to the hours spent on the sidelines of youth matches and from sound of Premier League matches playing out on the television in the next room over as she folded children’s jerseys or cooked pregame meals.
“Mom was always incredibly supportive, but football was more of something my dad and I shared,” Katie Bowen said. “She never played football, everything she knows about the game is from watching us and listening to him as he would give us his assessment of the match in the car rides home.”
Despite not sharing soccer, Pippa and Katie share an inseparable bond, in many ways cut from the same cloth. As the youngest sibling Katie was always left straggling along, holding her mom's hand, and as a result the two spent countless hours together. And in recent years, despite the great distance between them, they have continued to maintain that closeness.
“She is my best friend, she is the most giving, caring person I have ever met,” Katie said, “She is the type of person who would bend over backwards to help in any way she could and she has tried her best to instill those principles in us.”
While Pippa may have not passed down an extensive soccer knowledge to her children, it is clear that she has succeeded in teaching them how to be caring and giving people. As a friend and a teammate Katie takes the time to truly get to know someone, making sure to give her best and bring out the best in others. She possesses an infectious energy that demands attention, pulling people in without even realizing it, and a laugh that reverberates the walls of every space she enters. Much like her mom, she is always willing to lend a helping hand and while she may not have all the answers she does her best to provide maximal support -- A trait she is proud to inherit from her mother.
“In nearly every way I am a replication and representation of who my mother is,” Katie said. “We see the world the same and tend to react similarly, she has this way of understanding just what I need in any and every situation and my greatest desire is that the people in my life feel the same about me.”
This past summer as Katie prepared to join the Football Ferns in her third FIFA Women’s World Cup in France she knew she would be doing so without her father. In the previous two tournaments he had attended every match, with a flag in hand, ready to lose his voice cheering as loud as he possibly could. Post matches were spent in his arms, sometimes in a congratulatory manor and others more somber, mourning a tough loss. They would go over every moment of the match, each touch Katie took and each pass she played, all in an effort to make sure she was best poised for the next one.
The gravity of his absence was more than just one less member of her support system, it was a missing coach, one less voice cheering from the stands, empty postgame hugs and so much more.
Heading into the first match of the tournament against a tough Netherlands side both Katie and Pippa felt the weight of his absence, knowing this match would bring about feelings well outside those of a normal football match.
“It wasn’t just hard for me, she was going through her own trials and tribulations,” Katie said. “This was never something she wanted or planned to experience alone. It’s easy during the tournament to become narrow-minded and focus on what you need to do to be your absolute best, but I had to realize that while this was something I would have to walk through she too would be walking with the same pain.”
Throughout the 90 minutes New Zealand was able to hold off the highly-touted Dutch side and were nearing a 0-0 finish, earning themselves a point closer towards the knockout stage, but in the second minute of stoppage time Jill Roord headed in the game-winner.
Elation broke out across the faces of the Netherlands and in the same moment shoulders sunk from the opposing side as the final whistle blew and utter exhaustion set in. While it was only the first match of the tournament and the result didn’t hold as much weight as the ones forthcoming the importance could be seen on the faces of the Football Ferns, including Katie who started and played every minute.
Like many of her other teammates Katie made her way over to the stands where the squad’s family and friends had been seated. The mother and daughter spotted one another through the sea of black and white jerseys, Pippa squeezed her way through to the front of the stands and allowed her daughter to fall into her open arms. For a moment the world stilled and all was quiet as the two stood in one another’s embrace. To an outsider it was a touching moment between a mother and daughter, but to them it was filled with reverence, a picture of a family learning to live in their new normal.
“We had worked so hard and it all just felt so defeating,” Katie said. “There were tears, complete exhaustion, and I just collapsed into the arms of my mom, she didn’t say anything, we just stood there holding one another and that was enough, exactly what I needed.”
For the remaining two matches the two found themselves repeating this action, finding one another amongst the stands of fans to simply enjoy the feeling only a mother-daughter embrace can give.
At the end of the day the tournament didn’t end how either of them would have dreamed. New Zealand failed to qualify for the knockout round and had lost all three matches of the group stage. When all was said and done Pippa brought her daughter on a vacation to England where they spent time reminiscing and building new dreams, a welcomed break from the hustle that can be life as a professional athlete, before she returned to Utah for the remainder of the National Women’s Soccer League season.
“She didn’t force me to talk about it and waited for me to bring it up,” Katie said. “It’s a tough thing to grapple, losing something you’ve worked so long for, but she was so good about just giving me the time and space that I needed to process and move on.”
Somehow Pippa has always known exactly what her daughter needed. Recently, it’s not uncommon for Katie to open up her phone postgame and find a text that her mom had sent during the first half, hoping she’ll read it at halftime. And while in most cases it’s not until she’s showered and ready to go home that she opens them up, she still finds it comforting to know that they are there, that even from a world away she’s watching.
Unlike her father’s postgame routine, Pippa has a more softer approach, choosing to see the positives in every situation. Unless, she finds herself watching the match with her two sons, which in that case she can be known to regurgitate what they say, positive or not.
“I think what is nice about having all those years with my dad is that I know what he would say, I don’t need her to try and be that for me,” Katie said. “She is just supportive, it’s like you can see her smile and positivity just through her voice. It’s never forced, she’s willing to wait for me to be ready. She’ll shoot me a text and let me know that she is there if I want to talk, or if I’d rather her give me the night to sleep on it.”
But regardless of the result or the performance she is always there, doing her best to make the vast ocean between them a little smaller.