ALTHOUGH IT WAS PROBABLY John Aloisi’s penalty against Uruguay that opened the eyes of the Australian public to the Socceroos as their national football team, it was in June 2006 that we opened the eyes of the world.
Looking back on Germany 2006, the main thing that comes to mind is the number of ups, downs and contrasting emotions we went through in what was just over two weeks between the opening match against Japan and the second-round match against Italy. I can remember my disappointment when Guus Hiddink told me I would be on the bench in that first game; the joy and pride of scoring Australia’s first-ever World Cup goal; and the elation that came with winning. The final group match against Croatia was one of the most emotionally polarising games I have ever been part of. The full-time whistle brought to reality what so few of us had believed was possible from the beginning: despite being the lowest ranked team in our group, we were going through to the round of 16. The hollowness after losing a match that we could have won against Italy, to get knocked out of the World Cup, was hard to take but I can say with all certainty that every single one of us gave everything we could, and there can never be any shame in that.
Away from the games, I was lucky enough to have my parents come over and sharing the excitement of the tournament with them made my experience even more special. In turn they shared with me the stories of all my family and friends back home in Australia going to work half asleep after watching the Socceroos into the early hours of the morning. The people of Australia gave so much to support our team throughout the tournament. They put in sleepless nights, sent messages of encouragement, and the travelling fans created an atmosphere both at and away from our games that only Australian fans can. To have a whole country get behind you like that is an incredible feeling and one I will never forget or take for granted.
Jesse’s book gives much more than a fan’s recollection of the tournament. He delves into the psyche of a country and how it came so wholeheartedly to support a sport it had always considered foreign. He explores the background movements that brought the important pieces together away from the pitch. Most of all he draws the links between matches, countries, politics and history that make football the true world game and the benefits that anyone who is a part of it can experience. I know that I for one have definitely felt those.
Did I know how much those 15 days in June could change so many lives? I don’t think anyone could possibly have anticipated what would happen and the ongoing impact it would have on football in this country. But the World Cup is the biggest show on earth and in 2006 Australia came ready to play.
New York City, 2014