Photo (Getty Images : Cameron Spencer)
As a confessed twitter addict I’ve noticed something interesting the past few weeks, the world loves the World Cup. No news there, except that most of my circle of ‘tweeps’ have barely ever mentioned soccer; sorry, football, before the past two weeks. Now my timeline is full of tweets about Mike (Tony, seriously mate) sorry Mile Jedinak, personal favourite Marco Bresciano and of course legend goal scorer and all around good guy Timmy Cahill. I’d look down my nose at these bandwagon fans, if I wasn’t shamelessly one of them.
That’s not to say I don’t love ‘The World Game’ and have a history with it, I do. As a kid I was a reasonably typical country sporting lad playing Aussie Rules in the Winter, Cricket in the Summer and Basketball year round. We’d play some soccer at school but the game wasn’t big in my neck of the woods so it passed me by for much of my childhood. That was until I made friends with a mad Manchester United fan in high school and was introduced to very late weekend nights watching the English Premier League. My interest piqued in the early days of Harry Kewell’s career at Leeds United, and once he was joined by Mark Viduka I was hooked. 1am on a Sunday morning would roll around and I’d make my way to the couch and hope the brilliant Martin Tyler would be calling and a good game was in store. I never became a fully fledged fan of a team in the EPL, though I had my favorites, rather I tended to follow the Aussie guys.
My love of the English competition meant when the World Cup’s rolled around every four years and we weren’t there I’d follow England, with a bit of a soft spot for the Italians and their natural flair.
It became every Aussie’s right to choose a team every World Cup, whether by their families heritage or on a whim, and support them like they were your own. Anyway back to the EPL.
At the time there was Kewell and Viduka and later Paul Okon (another personal favorite) at Leeds, Stan Lazaridis and Hayden Fox at West Ham, Lucas Neill and Brett Emerton at Blackburn Rovers, Mark Schwarzer at Middlesbrough, Mark Bosnich at Aston Villa and several more – before they all changed teams!
Without really meaning to, by following all of these guys and some of their predecessors like Robbie Slater, Kevin Muscat and Ned Zelic; I was actually following the majority of the Socceroos team, even though the National team hadn’t had a lot of impact on me prior to that. That all changed in 1997.
Having, as usual, won their Oceania qualifying group, the Socceroos would come up against Iran in a two leg qualifier that would go down in history for many reasons, but personally for introducing me to the joys of International football, a hatred for serial pest Peter Hore, love of a young Harry Kewell, and utter heartbreak.
Most will remember that, well, we blew it. Needing only to win or hold the Iranian’s to a scoreless draw at a packed MCG we were two goals to the good thanks to wunderkind Kewell and Aurelio Vidmar just after half time – and on our way to the World Cup for the first time since 1974. Anyway then pest Peter Hore jumped on the goal, damaging the net and stopping play for 5 or 10 minutes, Iran staged a furious comeback after the break scoring two late goals, we blew it, and I was gutted.
Blew it again 4 years later against Uruguay in the heat of Montevideo, capitulating late to lose 3-0 in a game we needed to draw.
But every sporting fan old enough to pay attention remembers that finally we would break the run of heartbreak spectacularly in 2005 following a quickly shirtless John Aloisi scoring the final goal in a penalty shootout and head to the World Cup in 2006, and since then we’ve been to 3 in a row including the current spectacular going on in Brazil.
Not that I’m here to give a history lesson on the Socceroos as there are thousands more qualified to do that, but these heartbreaking losses, for me at least, form a key part of the Socceroo fan psyche. A kind of temporary insanity that will see me on the couch cheering until 4am tomorrow morning, despite Soccer (football, seriously if you don’t want me to call it soccer don’t call our National team the SOCCERoos guys) not being in my top few sports most of the year.
It’s part of what evokes such passion for this armchair fan when we score, and such disappointment when, like in our first game of this cup against Chile, we lose. We’re the underdogs in every game we play at a World Cup, a comparative footballing minnow on a stage this large, but one who take pride in scrapping with the big boys.
It’s what Pim Verbeek, the less than likable Dutch coach (who became a bit less likable today) who took the Socceroos to the 2010 World Cup never understood about us – and we dare say the reason he’s not still coach. He was coaching a team of underdog scrappers not to lose rather than to win, he was coaching them to play like they were scared of their opponents individual superiority, rather than coaching them as the underdog team of fighters that they so wanted to be. If the reports that came out of the locker room after the Aussies 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Germany in our first game of the 2010 World Cup are true, it infuriated his players close to point of mutiny.
Ange Postecoglou knows better. He has under his command the youngest Australian team to ever go to a World Cup but he’s not going to die wondering. He’ll let the team have their head, tell them to brave, and take what comes. Like he did against the highly fancied Chilean’s when we gave them the fright of their life in game 1 and probably had the better of the contest if not the score sheet.
Yep we love the Socceroos because they have a crack, we love them because against teams like the Dutch in a few hours we really shouldn’t have any hope at all yet always consider ourselves some kind of sneaky chance, but most of all we love them because they’re Aussies doing us proud on the biggest stage of the biggest game in the world. We could get smashed tonight by a Dutch team whose captain earns more than our entire squad in a season, but even if we do we’ll play with a fight that will make idiots like me IV’ing coffee in my 2006 era yellow shirt proud; and glad they gave up a night’s sleep.
Go get em boys.
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