socceroos in love-in shock
After several years of estrangement I find myself slowly falling back into the warming embrace of the Socceroos. Where once they seemed determined to take me for granted with a string of surly public statements and by-numbers performances, I started to get the feeling recently that they really, really wanted me back and missed the old days as much as I did. Newly humble Lucas Neill talked passionately of how much he and the boys needed me in this, their most difficult time, and maybe, just maybe, that things between us hadn’t been what they might have. Sure, it wasn’t all their fault, but hadn’t I always stood by them, regardless? Hadn’t I turned up for countless meaningless hit-outs on cold dreary nights with thousands of others? Hell, I’d even gone to the concrete desert that is Homebush to see them, let alone Germany in 2006 when all good sense said they’d never make it past the group stage. But I believed in us, in what we had, and we were both richly rewarded with a night to rival that 2005 Uruguay qualifier as Croatia lost out in Stuttgart and we subsequently drank the place dry till dawn. Special times, and a love that was nurtured over 30 something years of following Australian sport’s ugly stepchild turned into full-blown, head-over-heels love. Green and gold merchandise was purchased, love songs composed and heroes elevated. The fact that pantomime villains Italy batted their come-hither eyelashes at the ref and conned us out of a quarterfinal place only sealed the deal – we now had a genuine shared grievance against the rest of the sneering outside world. Cruel, corrupt and more than a little sneaky: we knew we were better than that. Let them win the whole bloody thing if that’s the way they wanted it. We had something better. We had Something Real.
The mutual PDAs back home in the immediate afterglow were genuinely heart-felt – there was a real feeling a corner had been turned and we both were beginning to finally understand each other. But then somewhere soon after, the cracks started to show. Calls weren’t returned, feelings were hurt and a fractious sense of entitlement now seemed the order of the day. Just like so many other great loves, they started to take me for granted. Star Harry Kewell, never the easiest to love, seemed to personify the new universal breed of football prima donna; in it for himself, his agent and the money, while more than a few others spoke their minds a little too freely on how tough it was to be in their expensive sponsor-supplied shoes, forgetting who put them there to begin with: me, and thousands like me who saw the national team as not representing Australia, but instead the whole history of struggle for the very future of our game in this country. The ones that were there when corporate sponsors weren’t and it felt like an away match at most Socceroos home games, such was the level of general disinterest. For us, the years when only sheilas, wogs and poofters cared don’t seem all that distant in this bright shining present, but before the heroics of Germany 2006 and to a lesser extent, the recent A-League, they were pretty much the norm. For Joe Aussie, every four years there surfaced a ripple of casual excitement at the idea we might finally get invited to the Ball, but every four years we’d go straight back to the dark ages as we failed. Again.
With that in mind it feels only right and proper that the matchmakers at the FFA have had a rethink and decided a slice of humble pie might be more to the current taste. Tim Cahill notwithstanding (“this would be my third World Cup” Yours Tim? How about “ours”?), the older heads have checked their churlish attitudes while the up and comers have brought back some much-needed excitement, energy, and well, joy to the honour of wearing the shirt. Some of them look like they might even shyly return our affections, just for the pure old-fashioned romance of it all. The once cooling embers, newly prodded and stoked, have sparked again into life and the old warm glow is returning – suddenly, it almost feels like the very first time. And while a year is a long time in any relationship, if this keeps up, come June next year I might just book in for a Brazilian.