Almanac (World Cup) Soccer: Aussie, Aussie




Our club gets whitewashed by the other club. A bad day, but nobody died. Exhausted from playing my guts out without getting nearly enough of the ball, then running water for the Ones, I make my way, with wife and child, back through the farming plains towards the RSL, then the hour’s drive over the ranges.


We just want to go home, but the club’s brought into the RSL, so we do our bit, stopping in for the length of a drink.


Inside are the club’s true believers, the local players, committee and their families, the rusted-ons. A table full of netballers, which is always good. Bush footy in Victoria would be nothing without netball. Somehow, it would lose its soul. The mood is flat as a tack after our various beatings.


The women’s soccer is starting: France v Australia. I’m too tired to drive another hour and cook. We order a meal.


My wife, Elena, watches the soccer, mesmerised. Her country of birth, Venezuela, is not in this World Cup, but she’s an Aussie now. The footballers, and our supporters gradually, one-by-one get drawn into the game. Even the ones sooking about it. We throw off clichés, pass jokes, but start to barrack all the same.


After ten minutes of back and forth, an Aussie gets the ball into the six yard box, but doesn’t get a shot off.


Ohh, something almost happened!’ somebody laughs.

Our casual humour, ignorance of the sport, and piss take, drive Elena nuts. She wants to be watching with a room full of Latinos, shouting, passionate, intense, turning the room into a bloody-minded festival. I suspect she misses the abandon of such cheer. The collective obsession. I want to take her to a Collingwood vs Carlton game. But then we would have to watch Collingwood and Carlton.


Aussies take the piss. We’d do it about our mums racing to the bingo hall.


France, it seems, are playing the entire game in their forward third, but just can’t break through that last line. The Australians seem to be aiming for a penalty shootout. They just don’t look otherwise dangerous.


We’re working the Steve Bradbury game-plan,’ I tell my great mate, Sean Maxwell, who is watching with us.


Gradually, I notice the whole room has gone from being focused on their meals, to facing the telly wall. The game enters extra time.


The jokes still come. A few of our players are fascinated by a boyish looking French player with a boyish haircut, and boyish build. Insanely tall with massive cheekbones, their captain scares everybody. I tell them for all we know, she’s a gentle soul.


Elena flinches. She wants to cheer, be shouting tactics!


Extra time fizzles into 15 minutes each way. Our crew at the RSL are starting to be impressed. The game goes, and goes, and goes. There is an insane work ethic they can – or dream of – relating to. One French woman goes down as if shot, for the third time in the match. Rolls around, 10/7ths dead. Pop, she’s up again.


A miracle,’ someone says.


Theatre,’ I think, but whatever. That stuff has never bothered me.


The French captain drags an Aussie defender down, leading to a French goal. As plain as day. Just grabs the woman’s shoulders and throws her. When the ref pings her, disallowing the goal, the French captain does what every AFL defender does every game, every week; holds baffled hands up to the ref, and gives puppy eyes.


What was that free for!?’


If you just went by their reaction, you’d believe them every time. I want to believe them every time. To see her do that, something universal sweeps over me. A World Cup quarter-final is on. I’m with wifey! I’m buying in.


Elena loves it. She’s warming up with the RSL crowd, telling me about her first years here, like 2010, when the Pies drew with St Kilda for the Grand Final. She thought it was insane they had to play again! ‘That day! They have to decide who the winner is on that day! Play until they’re dead, if they have to!’ she laughs. ‘There’d be riots if they made you wait another week in Europe!’


It was the same era Cadel Evans won the Tour de France. ‘EVERYBODY was obsessed!’ She admires the way the whole country gets on board anything Aussies are a shot at. Pole throwing? We’re in the final!? GO YOU GOOD THING!


The game reaches the shootout stage. Almost to a one, we hit our phones, looking up the rules. The room is full of excitement, laughter.


All chairs are now facing the telly. The Aussie goalie saves, everybody cheers! An Aussie’s kick is saved, we moan! With each goal or miss, the tension builds.


The Aussie goalie saves again! Maxie and I keep sharing stupid grins. Goal, miss, goal, this is going on forever. For-ever! We think it’s the funniest, more brilliant thing! It’s good to know someone so well, no words need be said. These women are amazing, This moment is historic.


I still remember stopping in a university corridor with many students, watching Greg Norman simply chew up a golf course! The momentum of it, the force, was palpable.


And being a student before that, cheering like a dickhead, with all the other students, in the high school library, as Australia II got home. Yachting? Why the hell would working-class kids like us give a flying fig about yachting!? But there we were, shoving it up the Yanks, going apey!


I have 1,000 things against nationalism, but it can bring people together. The RSL was electric.


More shots missed and didn’t. The Aussie goalie took a shot for all the bickies…and missed. Jokes flew everywhere. Laughter, moans, more tension.


Golden goal was upon us!


I pointed out to Maxie the beauty of golden goal, how fascinating it was. ‘NO brilliant piece of play will win it. No individual effort. You’re expected to kick the goal. It will be decided by personal tragedy. Somebody missing.’


Sure enough, a French woman picks her spot, wrong steps the goalie, but puts too much slice on it! The ball bounces off the woodwork! She cries and prays to Heaven, and cries and prays to Heaven. But the Aussie puts her shot in! The RSL rises! Everybody goes loopy!


I hug my wife! She supports my footy 100%, but, like vegemite and the Logies, just doesn’t quite get it. Right now, though, we’re sharing something!


This has been the best ten minutes stop-in ever!


I want to give Maxie a hug, too. I can’t believe he stopped drinking an hour ago, so he could drive home to wife and family. I can, but I can’t. Surely, in this moment, he should have a beer in his hand, and a few in his belly!


A few of the wowsers moan; ‘Okay, let’s get the footy on, now…’ but are fooling no one. They loved it.


Elena wants to leave, but I insist we stay a bit. The reactions, the human drama and celebration, are, for me, what it’s about. The higher the stakes, the more I’m fascinated. I watch the French woman who missed, her head buried in another teammate’s shoulder, crying uncontrollably.


It’s not fair on her. Sport is not fair, nor life. But that’s what makes the golden moments so golden!




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  1. Malby Dangles says

    You’ve captured a lot of truth and emotion with this post, Matt. Wonderful! Carn’ the Tillies!

  2. Great piece MZ, and good to see everyone get on board, the Matildas are impossible to resist. The doco series on Disney is fascinating in exploring who they are. You’re point about the human drama is spot on and the Matildas story and their efforts in this World Cup really speak to that. I’m with Elena about getting emotionally involved with the game. It’s not for nothing it’s called the beautiful game. Cheers

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