A few days down the track and I’m still in a sober mood. The players have gone home, the coach has moved on, AFL and league has returned to the back pages… Has the last month been a dream?
Then I see a replay of that penalty, and I’m gripped by sudden compulsion to scream. I was watching an interview with Tim Cahill this morning when my flatmate – who by the way dislikes football – overheard him commenting on the loss. Her immediate reaction was to ask why he doesn’t ‘get over it’? It may be a blunt way to express the sentiment, but it was also a perfectly valid – if the game was simply a rugby league match where there would always be other opportunities, or a cricket match where you’re guaranteed to meet the opposition in the future. But there can be no recovery from an event that may have been a once-in-a-lifetime affair.
After all the trials of watching the Socceroos trying to qualify in 1997 and 2001, this World Cup has been really, really special because I myself had been disappointed by those failures. Their presence in 2006 further enhanced what would have ordinarily been a great event anyway. It was thrilling because I was proud that it was my team out there in the field, my players, some who grew up close by, playing against those superstars. If I, a casual supporter, could feel like this, then what must it have been like for the people more intimately involved – current and past players, coaches, support staff, and their associated families – for which the event seemed like a cumulation of a dream?
Many, if not all, have sacrificed much for the game. I have heard that it’s not uncommon for parents of prospective players to mortgage their house to send their son overseas in order to ‘make it’. Harry Kewell started at Leeds at the age of 14, a ridiculously young age to leave home. I don’t think Lucas Neill was much older when he too moved to England. I can’t imagine how much they’ve had to struggle in those early years away from their families, and then in the years of tireless work that followed. It has undoubted made them tough, and determined.
Now they have made it, and in making it they were also hungry to prove they belonged. The team put in everything into this World Cup, and it was evident to all who saw them play how much they wanted to be there since they, and the country, had waited so long. So when the end came, the Socceroos, as well as us, found defeat very difficult to take. The way we were defeated was certainly painful, but the loss of opportunity must have been worse, especially when there can be no guarantees that we may return. That’s a rather pessimistic view to take, I know, but it’s my realistic side taking over. What I mean is that I’m confident that they will be there in 2010, but after previous stuff-ups you can never take anything for granted.
And that’s the difference between football and other sports where Australia is dominant. I can’t count the number of times in recent years where I’ve bemoaned that cricket (a game that I do like watching) had become sooo boring because Australia was almost always winning. In fact, the last Ashes series was only exciting because there was true competition and that element of uncertainty made the game compelling. Well, nothing was more compelling than a Socceroos game of late. In fact, you could easily have a heartattack watching them. Being unable to take anything for granted makes any kind of ‘success’, whether it’s an actual win or just being able to match a past World Cup winner, all the more sweeter.
Makes football extremely attractive, doesn’t it? Well, it certainly has a lot to offer, and it’s understandable why Aussies jumped on the bandwagon. If they have any sense they will stay on it, and their support may ensure that another opportunity will come along.