The day Football arrived in Australia

15th November 2005 to me is the day Australian Football burst onto the Australian sporting psyche.  The moment John Aloisi struck the back of the top right hand corner of the net the game changed in an instant.  Not only had Australia qualified for the World Cup Finals for the first time since 1974, but the game was now big news and started a wave that has continued 9 years on from that magical night.  As I have not been married nor had the gift of having a child I count this as the greatest day of my life.  I went to Sydney with a bunch of mates who have all had their hearts broken by the Socceroos in their quest to make it to the big dance.

Let me introduce you to Bill, Andy Boy, Louie, Stevie K, Bibies and Bibies girlfriend at the time now wife Mel. We all worked together, but our main topic of conversation was football.  When I first met Stevie K his first 2 questions were who do you like in music (answer U2 which got me big points) and what sports do I follow?  Once I mentioned football it was then preceded by a series of questions on how much I knew about the game.  Once I passed the test I was introduced to Bill, Bibies and Andy Boy who were all brothers and it was then a friendship and bond began that has not broken since.

We talked about the heartbreak of 1997 where Australia stuffed up the Iran game, watched the demolition Uruguay gave us in 2001 and looked on in frustration as the game in Australia was lurching from one bad news story to another. Crowd troubles, clubs going broke and finally the disablement of the National Soccer League compounded our misery of the game here locally.

When FFA chairman Frank Lowey announced that Guus Hiddink was taking over as the national team coach we were shocked. Here was a guy who had done it all.  Won Champions League, league titles with various clubs, lead Holland to the World Cup Semi Finals in 1998 and was the mastermind in South Korea’s 2002 progress to the World cup Quarter Finals.   Suddenly we had hope again.  We had a squad that on paper was the strongest the Socceroos had in our history and now a coach who could guide us to the promised land.  When the announcement came the playoff home leg would be in Sydney we decided that we would go to back the lads and head up to Sin city.

After the first leg in Montevideo where the Socceroos held off Uruguay to a 1-0 loss we were confident we could prevail in the home leg considering Australia had a chartered flight back to Sydney while Uruguay have to slum it flying economy with 3 stops. It is very handy to have a Billionaire as the Chairman of the FFA.  Stevie K was proclaiming to everyone it was in the bag we are going to Germany.  Bill and I were more nervous, we had been in this position before and had our hearts broken (remember 1997).   So thanks to some good fortune I managed to get tickets for all us for the game at Homebush.   We booked flights, accommodation and ready to head off to fulfil our destiny.

On arrival at the airport I kept bumping into mates I have played football with, friends who loved the game, workmates, relatives and sports nuts that were all doing the same thing, heading up to Sydney. On arrival in Sydney we dropped off our luggage, got changed into our Socceroos gear and headed to Central station to catch the train to Homebush.   Now as someone from Melbourne who is used to our major sports grounds being within a 10 minute walk from the CBD.  The one hour train ride was a shock for all us and we were grumbling how you can have a stadium this far out of town.

Once we reached Olympic Park things thankfully picked up. We got there 4 hours before the game and were surrounded by a sea of green and gold as we headed to the stadium.  Bibies noticed a pub near the stadium called the Homebush Brewery.  Well we needed to pass the time and what a better way than to calm the nerves with some amber fluid and to chat about the game.   Now Bibies brought an air horn that was bloody nuisance on the train.  However at the pub as we had a few ales Bibies and Louie were making a racket with the air horn that was getting the crowd at the pub more pumped up for the game.  It got to such frenzy that the local pub band stopped playing and Bibies and Louie took over the stage to get the crowd chanting Aussie chants without the Oi, Oi, Oi.   Everyone was giving us high fives, we educated the supporters not familiar with the football chants and being given free drinks for our entertainment.

With this we headed off to the stadium to take our seats for the game. Walking in we heard the song You’ll never walk alone and Johnny Warren was on the screen in a tribute to him.  There was not a dry eye in the stadium and even the players in their pre game warm up watch the scenes which must have pumped them up heaps.   The stadium was heaving with green and gold everywhere.   When both sets of teams came out the noise was deafening, but this was just the beginning.  Now I am not one to boo another countries national anthem, but after the way Uruguay treated our players in 2001 they were not getting any charity from us.  When Advance Australia Fair came on I have never sung it with more gusto then that night and the crowd wanted to show the Socceroos we were going to be their 12th man tonight.

Thank god we had kick off so we could focus on the game. The Socceroos were nervous just like us in the stands, the tension was everywhere.  Enter Harry Kewell .  Hiddink brings him on for Tony Popovic and starts to create havoc for Australia.  He works his way into the box where Mark Bresciano scores and then does his Roman Gladiator goal pose which has to be one of the best goal celebrations around.   We were jumping for joy.  Andy boy and Louie jumped on me at the same time and somehow I managed to hold onto them both without collapsing.   Stevie K was hugging complete strangers and Bill and Bibies who were seating 8 rows behind us were giving the small smattering of Uruguayan supporters an absolute gobful on how the party is over.   Come half time we all agreed it was a matter of time and Uruguay would wilt under the pressure of the Socceroos onslaught.   You have to give Uruguay credit they held firm from every Australian attack we had at them.   We then went to extra time and the realisation that it was going to come down to penalties.

Christ penalties, the Russian roulette of sports.   Was this going to be the ultimate heartbreak for us?   Would this mean I would walk away from the Socceroos?   Never to be teased again.   I admit these thoughts were running through my head as the teams prepared for the shootout.   So up first is Kewell who calmly slots it in.  People may bag Kewell at times, but Kewell always rose for the big games for Australia.  Next up Rodriguez for Uruguay who scored in the first leg.  Mark Schwartzer makes a save that starts to put him in Australian sporting folklore.   At this point I am going nuts, could this be happening, do dreams come true?  Then goals are scored by both teams.  With every shot the tension grows.  I am a nervous wreck hoping we don’t stuff it up.

Up steps Mark Viduka to put us into the world cup. He shots and he misses.  What, no this can’t be happening.  We can’t go this close and now we fail.   We have our heads in our hands, I see some men with tears in their eyes.  Everyone is fearful on what could happen except Stevie K.  He is telling everyone “don’t worry lads Schwartzer saves the next and we are off to Germany”.   His confidence shocked me.  How can you be so clam?  I was thinking in my muddled mind.  Up steps Zayalata to take his penalty and Schwarzter like the Great Wall of China makes another great save.   Christ Stevie K was right and he is telling everyone around how right he was.  People are trying to hug him and he just pushes them away telling strangers to never doubt him.   Up steps John Aloisi whose sweet left foot puts it into the top corner.  The moment Aloisi struck the ball I never saw it go in I knew it was going in.  I was hugging and kissing anyone around me.  Louie, Stevie K, Andy Boy and I were embraced by everyone around us.  We were soon joined by Billy, Bibies and Mel and I felt this sense of euphoria that I have never felt since that night.

Heading back into Sydney everyone was celebrating. People coming onto the streets, streaming out of their homes and pubs.  I have seen these scenes on TV from overseas and never thought I would see it in my own country.   We get back to our hotel and joined by other mates who were at the game.  No one had a drink that night as we did not want to forget what we saw.   It really hit home when a mate of Bill’s said “Guys do you realise we are going to the World Cup”.  The room was silent was 10 minutes as we had realised what had happened.

I was lucky to get a couple of hours sleep, but I was not tired. Everywhere we looked people were talking about the game.  Radio and Television were all over it.  Going to Centenary Park to greet the Socceroos we were overwhelmed at the amount of times people were coming up to us to say how great the night before was.   Finally I was sitting with a few mates later that afternoon at a bar at the Opera House looking out to the Harbour with the Sydney Harbour Bridge as a back drop and thinking how lucky I was to be part of history.   To this day I think back to November 15th 2005 and I smile as this started the ball rolling for football in the country.

About Vaughan Menlove

Obsessed with Richmond, Luton Town, Melbourne Victory and Arsenal. The Dr had a soccer career hampered by the realisation he was crap, but could talk his way around the game. Co host of It's Not Called Soccer podcast

Comments

  1. Jim Johnson says

    For my family the day Football arrived in Australia was the 9th of May 1892 when my children’s GREATt Great Great Grand Uncle, John Mc’Inerney, played for Collingwood against Carlton in Collingwood’s first match in The Victorian Football Association and won by two points.
    The Argus Monday 9th May 1892
    CARLTON V. COLLINGWOOD.
    The Collingwood club, which has this season been
    admitted to the senior association, opened its carrier
    and the season on Saturday with a match against
    Carlton, the game being witnessed by over 10,000
    people. The playing-ground in the Victoria-park is
    all that could be desired for football, the stiff clay
    composing it having been freely top-dressed. An em-
    bankment covered with cinders has already been run
    round the ground, and a grand-stand is being built,
    so that the new club starts under very favourable
    conditions. Locally great interest is taken in the
    team, the club flag, hoisted for the first time on
    Saturday, having been presented to the club by its
    president, Mr. Beazley, M.L.A., while another resi-
    dent, Mr. Vincent, presented the players with a set
    of caps. Collingwood took the field with a team com-
    posed largely of juniors, though seven of the twenty
    had played as seniors either in Victoria or Tasmania.
    In physique they can hold their own with the heaviest
    of the older senior twenties. In the absence of Dela-
    hunty, who has been elected captain, but was
    unable to play, Watt, the vice-captain, led the team.
    Their colours are black and white in diagonal stripes.
    In the opening play Markham was conspicuous in de-
    fence for Collingwood. Allan early in the game became
    prominent for his good all-round play, and forced the
    ball to the Carlton end, where Sutton stopped a rush
    that was looking dangerous. Collingwood were play-
    ing the little marks better than Carlton, and broke
    the rules less frequently. Proudfoot helped Allan in
    another charge, and next Strickland, Simpson, and
    G. Williams were conspicuous by their good work for
    Carlton. In the ruck Collingwood early showed the
    possession of two hard workers in Langford, of Tas-
    mania, a splendid all-round player, and McINERNY,
    formerly of Fitzroy. With a rush, in which M’Owan
    and Simpson were the prominent men, Carlton took
    the ball the length of the ground, and Mathieson
    scored first goal for the visitors. With Collingwood
    on the defensive, Jones, Murphy, and McLaughlin in
    turn came into notice, Murphy especially being in-
    valuable to his side. In addition to work-
    ing hard, his height helps him in marking
    amongst the ruck, but he kicks poorly.
    P. Williams and Roberts were forcing the Colling-
    wood defense when the quarter closed with Carlton
    a goal to the good. On changing ends Langford and
    Allan did some rattling work in the ruck, and there
    was loud cheering when Toll kicked first goal for
    Collingwood. Roberts retaliated with one of his
    paralysing rushes, and Geddes, who was playing as
    finely forward for Carlton as was M’Owan back, got
    second goal for Carlton from a close shot. The game
    was fast enough for the closing day of the season,
    and Collingwood had clearly not taken the field un-
    prepared. In a period of brilliant play at this stage
    Allan, Langford, and Murphy on the one side, and
    Simpson, Geddes, and Roberts on the other, scored
    all the honours. One of Carlton’s new wingmen,
    Bowen, was also playing a very cool and thorough
    game. Smith, Langford, and M’Loughlin had in
    turn chances to score for Collingwood, but all missed.
    Up to half-time Allan and Smith were the workers
    for Collingwood and M’Owan for Carlton, who still
    kept their lead of a goal.
    After half-time Walton had his hand bound up, his
    finger having been broken in a struggle, but he still
    kept command of his team. Murphy twice turned
    Carlton charges that promised ominous endings for
    their opponents. Richardson gave Matheson another
    chance, but he missed it, and Simpson similarly
    favoured Roberts, with the same want of success,
    though the last shot was a good one. A fine kick by
    Roberts gave G. Williams a mark right in goal, but
    he missed an easy chance. Some fine play by
    Strickland kept Collingwood still on the strain,
    which was eased in the wrong way when Geddes after a
    splendid mark got third goal for Carlton. Toll
    then had two long shots at the Carlton
    goal, and showed that he could get over an ex-
    ceptional distance, but he failed to score. Just before
    the last change Collingwood was being seriously
    menaced. Although leading by two goals Carlton
    were not yet quite safe, as their goal-kicking was not
    too good. Langford made a bad mistake on the
    change of ends by racing away with the ball in the
    wrong direction. Carlton kept it there, and had
    three close misses before it was got away. When
    Collingwood did attack they did it with effect, and a
    fine long kick by Proudfoot just got the ball through,
    and scored second goal. Nothing but bad luck kept
    Carlton from going ahead at this stage, for several
    good shots for goal were all only slightly astray.
    Watt set his team a bad example in aiming for goal,
    and getting as far away from the posts as he well
    could. From some hard play in front of the Carlton
    posts Lamley passed to Proudfoot, who failed to get
    to goal, and this was Collingwood’s last chance, though
    Carlton went very close to a fourth goal from a fine
    shot by P. Williams just before the bell rang. Col-
    Lingwood, although beaten, are to be congratulated
    on playing a fast and fair game, Carlton breaking the
    rules about twice as often as their opponents all
    through. The new club’s form in this match was
    superior to that shown by either Richmond, St.
    Kilda, Port Melbourne, North Melbourne, Footscray,
    or Williamstown last season, and they promise to be
    a formidable team in the second flight. For the
    winners, M’Owan, Simpson, Geddes, Roberts, Strick-
    land, P. Williams, and Sutton were the more notice-
    able players; while on the Collingwood side Allan,
    Langford, Murphy, Mc’INERNEY, Lamley, Proudfoot,
    Toll, and Jones were best. Hayes, a junior umpire,
    officiated in the match, and, like some of the junior
    players, did remarkably well, for although he
    missed a few breaches of the rules, this is almost
    inseparable from the present method of umpiring,
    and otherwise he was fast, cool, and prompt in his
    decisions, though a bit too quick sometimes in calling
    the ball up from scrimmages. The following are the
    scores :-
    First Quarter.-Carlton, 1 goal 3 behinds; Colling-
    wood, 2 behinds.
    Half-time.-Carlton, 2 goals 4 behinds; Colling-
    wood, 1 goal 5 behinds.
    Third Quarter.-Carlton, 3 goals 6 behinds ; Col-
    lingwood, 1 goal 6 behinds.
    Final Score.-Carlton, 3 goals 13 behinds ; Colling-
    wood, 2 goals 11 behinds.

  2. David Zampatti says

    I look at 15th Nov 2005 like the bunch of blokes setting their oyster traps must have felt when the first fleet came sailing into Sydney Harbour.
    Pretty sure one of them turned to his cobber and said “No good’s going to come of this”.

    Too bloody right.

  3. Sensational story Vaughn, One of the great days. I was in Boston watching with a small group. I was too nervous to sleep before the 4am kickoff. Well and truly too excited to sleep after.

  4. dennis gedling says

    Great stuff Vaughan. I remember that air horn at the pub! Completely passed me by that the anniversary was on Saturday. 10 years next year :o. Just came back from backpacking when I should’ve stayed in the UK, was broke and had someone lend me the money for the ticket and plane fare as they didn’t want me to miss this match and I’m forever grateful they did that for me. An amazing night until it came to getting back in to Sydney to find hardly anywhere that was open to drink in.

  5. The description of Sydney-siders making their collective ways out onto the streets after the final whistle has me thinking of the final 10 minutes of the film ‘Fever Pitch’ – where the residents of Highbury come out to party after the Gooners knock off Liverpool in the 89 title race decider.

    Great stuff Vaughan!

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