He told us so… didn’t he?
13 glorious years ago, in a two story brick veneer house in West Sydney, you could hear the voices of Simon Hill and Craig Foster throughout the household.
The cheering echoes of a green and gold crowd through the TV screen.
Car horns in the distance.
My father, running around the living room, shouting “WE’VE DONE IT!”
And 7 year old daughter of Macedonian immigrant family, who was not sure what was going on to an extent because I hadn’t fallen in love with the game yet. As a kid, and a complete and utter tomboy, she just saw football as another game with a ball. One she did enjoy playing with her cousins in the typical Southern European backyard, with dedo watching for the ball, incase it had entered his garden, but that was all. She turned to her dad and went “what’s so special about that game?”
What’s was so special? Kid, we qualified for the World Cup. It’s been over 30 years, WHAT’S SO SPECIAL?
If I could go back in time and sit there with my 7 year old self, I would. We’d watch the game, I’d probably cheer as ballistically as I do these days, I would probably still yell at the ref, even though I know every single minute of that game off by heart. I would probably stand up from my seat and fall to my knees like my father did when Viduka missed. I would probably get back up and shout at the top of my lungs when Mark Schwarzer saves the penalty. And I would put my hands together, cross all my fingers and pray that Aloisi’s goal goes in, even though I know it will.
And then I’d cry, like I still do today, every single time I rewatch that shoot out. It’s just a natural reaction, it’s like it’s built into every Australian football fans heart and soul, to react that way, no matter how many times it is replayed.
What’s so special about that game?
It gave a nation hope. To return to a world stage that they had been starved of for years. It gave us pride and passion and happiness. It reignited a fire that had been laying dormant. It gave a golden generation an opportunity, a shot, a name, a voice. It gave dreams to the next generation, gave us heroes to look up to and to surpass. It gave a stronger foundation for football in this growing country. It gave us strangers who became our friends and friends who became our family.
It wasn’t just any qualifier, it was THE qualifier. The game that this nation will talk about for years and years to come, even when we’re not here anymore.
So, what’s so special?
I’m turning 21 in a month, I’m in my third year of being a freelance football reporter/contributor who has worked 90% of the time, for free. I have worked on radio, been in front of cameras, working behind the scenes, during earlier mornings and late nights, sometimes with no sleep at all. I have travelled across towns, cities, states. I’ve reported through horror chest infections, headaches, common colds and blunders live on air. I have been put down, judged, spoken to with utter disrespect, pushed around, embarrassed. But I have also been praised, welcomed, created life longs friendships, bonded with The Greats and taught by the best, with so much more to learn.
I have had broken bones and chipped teeth, received black eyes and dislocated fingers. Played in rain, hail and shine. Worn kits that are too big for me and worn 3 pairs of socks, so old boots from relatives can fit me for a game. I have frozen to near death on sidelines and almost passed out in the scorching heat.
I have run onto fields, hugged players like they are my brothers and sisters, cheered and cried in active supports, put my arms around strangers and sung songs with them, like I have known them since birth.
I have played in backyards and stadiums, I have played for fun during birthdays and special holidays…and in a cemetery car park with my cousins and brother, to ease the pain, after burying someone so close to our hearts…
7 year old me would NEVER have thought that any of this would have taken place if I told her. She’d probably look at me and think I was nuts. How can this one game impact someone so much? This game where you kick a round ball around for 90 minutes.
You see, if I was sitting next to my 7 year old self and she asked me “What’s so special about this game?”, I’d have to pause for a second, remember all the times this game has saved me and my family, get my breath back, and just smile and say…
“Because it’s so much more than just a game.”
13 years on, so much has changed but the passion is still the same, if not greater. We’ve qualified for 3 more world cups, and I have had the honour to witness it all and work in the football industry during the last World Cup. We’ve silenced elite nations, had our asses kicked as well. We’ve traveled distanced we could only dream of as children. We have our own league and have teams that are still young and full of potential. We have talented young players rising from the grassroots and breaking our records. We have former heroes coaching our next generation and analysing our games. We have a growing popularity and supporters that can move mountains. We’ve had bumps in the road but that is not stopping us, no, no…if anything, it’s driving us.
4 years to go and we’ll be preparing ourselves for another set of qualifying rounds and hopefully, another World Cup. Whatever happens, we’re green and gold, through and through.
And that day 13 years ago…if it wasn’t for that game, none of us would be here.