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K
aiserslautern began with a pre-dawn alarm, nine and a half hours before kick-off in Australias rst World Cup nals match for 32 years. Even this early, some of the fans were quite overcome, the corridors lled with a common refrain. This is the day Ive been waiting for all my life, I heard as I left room 503. I felt like shadow boxing so I did. Another Aussie fan walked out and caught me. She waved. We were all excited. Inside the lift, optimism was tempered by a sense of gravitas. This is it, said a man wearing a green novelty football pitch on his head. He was speaking to a friend also wearing a green novelty football pitch on his head. Good luck, the friend said, and they fell into a hug. Good luck, I offered. Given wed never met before we went for handshakes rather than the fully-blown embrace. Stay strong, rst pitch-head intoned earnestly. We can do it. Nine hours to kick-off. Others in the breakfast room had been following the Socceroos longer than I had. The lines on their faces and the credibility-enhanced old-school shirts on their backs proved that much. But since Iran 1997, the Socceroos qualication for the World Cup nals had been my number one sporting obsession. Id travelled to Uruguay and Sydney. Id sat through horribly unbalanced Oceania group games. Id written articles for The Age, denouncing the briey-won full spot

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for the Oceania confederation and arguing for our chance to ght it out as part of Asia. And then FIFA had whipped the spot away again and Id felt sick. No, Oceania didnt deserve that spot, but nothing was as unjust as the one-off do-or-die fth place in South America maelstrom. But wed emerged out of it, victorious in the face of a category ve Los Celestes cyclone, and now it was THE DAY. The day Id dreamed about. In my dreams, I had skipped the mundane details like breakfast. Had it been part of my fantasy, I certainly wouldnt have guessed the pre-dawn repast would be called frhstck. After a frhstck not cooked by Frank Farina, we hit the streets as a golden stream, hundreds strong, owing, singing, surging towards the local Frankfurt S-Bahn station. On the way, we painted footpaths and escalators golden, or in my case a fairly alarming shade of daffodil. I was wearing a hideous, skin-tight, polyester yellow, American football-style shirt, with the words Vons Inn, 917 East River Road, Grand Island owing across the chest in lurid green. Even though I had an ofcial Socceroo jersey back in my case, I felt compelled to go with this hideously yellow advertisement for Von for the simple reason that Id picked it up in a second-hand shop on the afternoon of the Uruguay game. Hideously Yellow Von had successfully dragged me through the trauma of the penalty shootout that night, so it was getting another start today. Rationally, Im willing to concede that superstitions are stupid, that what I do has no impact on what people who really matter do. My choice of shirt, even if it were made known to Jason Culina, will not make him run faster. My rabid fear of putting the Mozz on the boys when predicting good results is, of course, ridiculously arrogant, in that it assumes that by merely speaking, I can affect such vagaries as Craig Moores judgement on a slide tackle. Still, I cant help it. In my ultimate powerlessness, I want to trick myself into feeling I can at least do something. And believe me, I do a good job. Most of the time, I can pretend that Im actually making a distance. Its sort of pathetic, but given Im rational on important things such as seatbelts in cars and wearing sunscreen, I think I should be allowed the odd superstitious indulgence. Across the carriages, other fans had their own Hideously Yellow

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Von equivalents, no doubt having convinced themselves, as I had, that they can make a difference. Thomas Zammit was also wearing his exact November outt blue jeans and two Aussie tops. The only problem was the temperature in Sydney had been mid-teens, whereas the forecast for Kasierslautern was 35 degrees. Even at this time of the morning, I could see the signs of overheating shining across Toms forehead. I dont care, Tom shrugged stoically. I dont mind being hot. Im not taking off either layer. What made this all the more impressive was that in terms of absorbing hits for the team, Tom had already done his bit. The previous day, in Frankfurts old city, the very same ofcial Socceroos shirt he was now wearing had been shat on from above by one of Frankfurts greediest birds, a moment that had Rita shrieking, Its good luck, its good luck! It means were going to win! Tom had been less sure, believing that bird shit equals good luck was nothing more than positive spin dreamed up by some Pollyanna-type unable to accept the raw stinking truth about good things being good things, and bird shit being bird shit. But sitting on the Aussie Express on the way to Kaiserslautern, he was pulling his own superstitious weight. Not only was he enduring a stupidly hot continuity of outt, he also had Gareld. My Nonno Charlie gave it to me at the airport. Hes had major lifesaving operations, and always keeps Gareld at his bedside. Its got him through a few tough times. When I play a soccer game, he gets me to touch it before the start of the game. So when he was saying goodbye at the airport, he handed over Gareld. Rufus from Sydney was doing his superstition by subtraction. He was not wearing a brown corduroy hat. I wore it to the Confederations Cup, he said. And we lost both games. So Ive left it back in the hotel room. The search for assistance was all around us. We met an inatable rock wallaby named Skippy, and a lucky Snoopy who was surprisingly not called Snoopy, but Spike. As we rattled across the Rhine at Mainz, I met the red-bearded Dawson brothers from Sydney, who were quickly dubbed the Groundskeepers Willie, after the red-bearded cartoon character on The Simpsons. Mark Dawson, who if anything,

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was slightly more Groundskeeper Willie-ish than his older brother Peter, produced a crocodile tooth from around his neck. Ive worn this for every game Ive seen Australia play and win. From Uruguay last year, going back to Argentina in the World Youth Cup. I got it in New Guinea when I was nine. A mate of the old mans carved it for me. I bite on the thing when the boys are taking a kick. Groundskeeper Willie-Mark clamped down on it now and, with a mouthful of tooth, introduced me to his brother, Groundskeeper Willie-Peter. They both had defence force backgrounds, and Groundskeeper Willie-Peter had taken a serious physical risk in deciding to come. He had suffered some vascular difculties over the past year and, with painful varicose veins in his legs, he had been instructed by his doctor to stay home. Groundskeeper Willie-Mark explained that it was never really an option. Weve been promising ourselves since last time they made it that wed go next time. I was 12 in 1974. Its justication. Justication. It means were here with the rest of the world. Were not pretending like we were at the Rugby World Cup, were not pretending like we were at the Olympics. Anyone can win at tiddly-winks. This is actually a game that means shit to people. Everywhere on the planet this means something. His blue eyes sparkled with anticipation. And today, were going to win. *** A Japanese television crew wobbled into our carriage and asked us the question, What is football? I weighed my answer, wondering if I should offer some chin-stroking pontication on the Australian politics of the word football - how four codes were squabbling over it as though embroiled in a neighbour-to-neighbour fence dispute. But theres a time and a place for that debate and its surely not when youre an hour from a World Cup venue, on a train full of round-ball fans. The Japanese interviewer had felt the air, and wanted something transcendent. He gazed at us, urging one of us to pull out something special, like the existentialist Frenchman from Algeria, Albert Camus

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much-quoted line: In football, everything is complicated by the presence of the opposite side; or Nick Hornbys lovely quote in Fever Pitch on fandom as a means of escaping real life: Who wants to be stuck with who they are all the time? I genuinely think I was on the verge of something a memorable, pithy aphorism that traversed notions of nationalism and the idea of football as a sort of sporting Esperanto when suddenly the on-board sound system kicked in. Living Next Door to Alice was being played at serious volume. I was going to have to work hard to make the six oclock news in Tokyo. Football is the best international representation of sport Alice! Alice! Who the fuck is Alice? And its never better than um than at the World Cup I was gone. All I could think was that someone, somewhere had to get used to not living next door to Alice. Rita buttered up well, describing football as her heritage, her reason for getting out of bed in the impossibly early morning, and then did us all the favour of asking Kenji, the Japanese cameraman, what football meant to him. I love football because football is very similar to life, Kenji said. Because just like life, you have to take care about the very short-term future, and then that passes to the next future, and then the future after that. The whole cabin nodded, processing a sentence that had wafted across us like a Stephen Hawking thesis. Eventually, I asked Kenji whether he thought there were differences between the way the Japanese and the Australians played football. The Japanese think too much. Australia is much more playing with feeling, with heart. Kenji had barely nished his sentence before a conga line of Aussies emerged through the glass door of the carriage. Sushi, sushi, sushi train sushi train, sushi train, they sang as they snaked joyfully past our cabin. Maybe Kenji was right. From the look of them, they were living for the short-term, with no notion of incremental successive futures. They were just being the best sushi train they could be. ***

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A day that is a contender for best of life wants to have a pretty good middle section, and Kaiserslautern started delivering right from the rst step off the train. We disembarked as a mob into a mob, and although mobs sometimes get a bad rap, this one was friendly, and singing in the way that only mobs can. Apart from a brief hiatus in the train cabins, we had been singing, chanting, and howling pretty much since we left the hotel. We werent about to stop now. Aus-sie Aus-sie Aus-sie Aus-sie, we boomed in the acoustically impressive echo-chamber of the station platform. It was pointedly not the Aussie Aussie Aussie, a chant that would be joyously absent from the supporters song book for practically the entire World Cup. Instead, it was an adaptation of the old Ol Ol Ol Ol. Yes it was simple, and yes it was derivative, but it had notes, and didnt require some Aussie Aussie Aussie wanker to mount a rostrum, and demand noise in the form of grunted ois. Even more excitingly, there was some variety on the song front, and as we snaked our way from the station to the town centre pedestrian zone, the golden throng veered from Waltzing Matilda to Skippy to Elton Johns Crocodile Rock morphed into Aus-stray-lee-aaaaa, la-la-la-la-la-la-laaaa. It seemed we were standing at the precipice of a new, more musical barracking era. The Aussie choir had its ugly moments too. A group of supporters grabbed hold of the inammatory English 10 German Bombers song, which England coach Sven Gran Eriksson personally requested be ditched for the tournament, and adapted it to Three kamikazes in the sky. The tune is Shell Be Coming round the Mountain and in verse one, we learn at considerable length that there were three kamikazes in the sky. Then the Royal Aussie Air Force arrives to shoot one down, so that there are two kamikazes in the sky. Then it drops to one kamikaze, so you can see its just like 10 Green Bottles but historically and racially provocative. The same group of Aussie yobs also served up the Id rather be a convict than a Jap again an English rip-off, but one that lacked for something given the Japanese fans were quietly going about their business, and hadnt called us convicts to begin with.

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But these were some of the few hiccups for what was generally a happy, enthusiastic, multitudinous, witty choir. It was the tournament where the football fans taught the newcomers to sing. The reality is that singing is not a big part of Australian sport. In cricket, it may be that in the games gentlemanly traditions, singing was seen as boisterous, rowdy behaviour that simply wasnt cricket. The Barmy Army are in the process of turning that on its head. In Aussie Rules footy, its almost completely absent maybe because the grounds are bigger, and so dont lend themselves to the intimate act of singing. Maybe its because integrating two sets of fans dissolves potential choirs. Maybe its because the thrill-a-minute, wham-bam action of Aussie Rules doesnt sit well with singing, which ourishes in a lull. As for rugby, it does have singing the Welsh, Scots and English are particularly strong of voice but it tends to be old standards sung boisterously at the start of games, like Land of Our Fathers or Scotland the Brave. Football is the code where singing thrives before, after and during games, and where the song book is vast and ever-changing. Its not, as many heathens claim, because the game is boring and theres nothing else to do. Its more that between the intense but often sporadic climactic highs and cathartic lows there is down time. Time to absorb the rhythm of the game. Time to study the patterns the players make in position or with the ball as they strive for advantage. Time to fear. Time to fret. And certainly, time to sing. Kaiserslautern was easy to love. For starters, it is a great word to say the locals put the accent on the slough part of the word, (possibly to deect attention from the Kaiser bit, possibly for the simple love of the slough). With a centrally located, beautifully cobbled Old City (Altstadt) within, and a population of 100,000 it was small enough to be engulfed by the visiting fans. Even by 11am, the main pedestrian street was so packed that anything quicker than an amble was impossible. And so we ambled, snapping photos of the svelte Japanese woman in the spectacular owing blue-and-white kimono, and the not so svelte Australian man with the stuffed bra and the Dame Edna wig. On either side of the street, the locals had set up a long row of white tents and the smell of

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pork and the mist of barbecue betrayed the culinary emphasis of the day. We were in south-west Germany in the Bundesland of RhinelandPfalz, and never mind that the French border was less than an hours drive away. In Kaiserslautern, even though the town was named after a Roman Emperor, this day the sausage was king. The beer was owing too, but despite a sense of elation and a day that was already nudging 30 degrees, I resolved to wait a few hours. Basically, I didnt trust myself. The further we traipsed down the pedestrian mall, the better the party seemed to be, and I was worried that with four hours to go until kick-off, early drinking might lead to later drinking which could possibly jeopardise a lasting memory of the game, or even worse, cause a frantic mid-match toilet stop. And for anyone who has read Roddy Doyles brilliant sporting essay on Irelands passage through the 1990 World Cup, The Beautiful Republic (contained in My Favourite Year, published by Phoenix, edited by Nick Hornby) it contains a great sporting truth: Wed discovered this years ago. When one of us went to the toilet, a goal was scored; not always, but it was frightening how often it happened. In 1990, with his head against the tiles of a Dublin pub, Roddy Doyle scores the equaliser for Ireland against England, even if the history books say it was former Everton left-winger Kevin Sheedy (no, not the former Richmond back-pocket-plumber) who scored Irelands rst ever goal in a World Cup nals. Given I was already doing my omen work with Hideously Yellow Von, I wanted to see the goals, enjoy the glorious agony of the full 90 minutes. One of the drawbacks of not drinking, however, is that its much more annoying when people throw beer on your head, and that was very much the case down at the Fritz-Walter-Stammtisch, an improvised bar and outdoor music venue that had been set up in front of the oldest church in Kaiserslautern, a patch the Aussies dubbed Burger King. This was the epicentre of the pre-match party, visible from three blocks away as a mosh pit of Australiana, and a place where you could catch up with hits from home, such as Hunters and Collectors Holy Grail, Slim Dustys Pub with no Beer and The Choirboys Run to Paradise. The boys (and it was mainly boys in the

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mosh pits hot pumping heart) were celebrating the high notes with some fairly erratic cup work. *** Theres something about football that lends itself to externalised optimism. In the ush of a big tournament, everyone will say that their team is going to win unless its playing Brazil, in which case its at least going to draw. Its because goals are so difcult to score, which means that the gap between two teams of vastly different abilities, at least in the optimistic mind, can still be closed down. The rst round game between Sweden and Trinidad and Tobago was a perfect case in point. The Swedes were clearly superior, possibly by as many as three or four goals, and yet with the Trinidadian keeper Shaka Hislop strung across the goal on a string of elastic, a 10-0-0 formation, and Swedens Zlatan Ibramovic spraying his shots, 0-0 became a tournament-rattling reality. For the World Cup minnows, it was a miracle to justify miraculous hope not just for T & T, but for all of us. I interviewed hundreds of people in Germany, and the only person I spoke to at the entire World Cup who predicted a loss for the team he was supporting, was me. Its not that I wasnt barracking with all my heart for the Socceroos. Its just that I have a problem with the Mozz. I fear it, worship it, loathe it, am controlled by it. For those unfamiliar with the Mozz, think of it as something akin to The Force in the Star Wars movies. Invisible, omniscient, vindictive, vigilant. Some incorrectly refer to it as the Mocca (which just makes the Mozz angrier), others as Murphys or Sods law. What the Mozz does is inhabit the ether of the entire universe (try to stay with the science here) wafting around, waiting for the faintest murmur of expressed opinion. Then It will act, swooping down, striking hard, possessing any relevant animal, vegetable or mineral, and transforming the result to the opposite usually one that is profoundly shit. Here is a list of notable occasions where the unwary have been struck down by the Mozz over the course of the last century (from the Mozz bible, I Wish I Hadnt Said That, Christopher Cerf and

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Victor Navasky, Harper Collins Publishers, 2000). Ive listed the top three, in 3-2-1 order. Three votes: I believe it is peace for our time go home and get a nice, quiet sleep. Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister of Great Britain, September 30, 1938, after friendly discussions with the German Chancellor, A. Hitler. Two votes: One hundred years from now it is very likely that of (Mark) Twains works The Jumping Frog alone will be remembered. Harry Thurston Peck, editor of The Bookman, January 1901. One vote: The singer will have to go. Eric Eastern, new manager of The Rolling Stones, in a remark to partner Andrew Oldham, assessing Mick Jaggers value to the group, c1963. While the Mozz doesnt mind interfering in such affairs as these, for recreation it likes nothing more to kick back on some intergalactic couch and mess with sports fans. So it was that when I was invited onto a panel called World Cup Corner for the FairfaxDigital online forum, I played it safe with the Mozz, and tipped a 1-0 loss to Japan. My co-hosts Ian Syson and Jason Steger both predicted narrow victories for the Socceroos, but I was happy taking on the Mozz placatory role. Doing my bit for Guus and country. The problem though was explaining all this to Socceroos fans in Kaiserslautern when they asked me whether I thought the boys could win. With the songs and the throngs, with the most electrifying pregame atmosphere Id ever been a part of, the temptation was to throw the Mozz away, to let my guard down and scream, Aussies 2-0! But I had to be strong. The next future, Kenjis next future, our next future, might be depending on me. Eve approached with the apple just after wed passed through security. She came in the form of Steve and Nick from Sydney. Earlier, Id seen them prevail 6-4 in a classic game of table football (or foosball) against two Japanese opponents, thanks to what they described as some high pressure attacking and defensive efforts. Theyd claimed the win as an omen, and said the ratio would be maintained for the real thing in an hours time. So thats either 3-2 or 12-8 to the Socceroos, Nick said, without cracking a smile. What about you, Tony? Whats your prediction for

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the game? Of the thousands of kilometres wed covered to this point, it was clear the last one would be one of the toughest. The stadium was on top of Betzenberg Mountain, and we were just beginning what appeared to be a lengthy ascent. A cyclone fence ran at either edge of a concrete stairway, and beyond that, an elm and poplar forest did its best to provide some much needed shade. For me though, the Mozz lurked behind every tree. I actually reckon 1-0 to Japan. What? Nick, who was a few steps ahead, stopped in his tracks. Steve stared at me accusingly, as if hed just seen me smack someone elses kid. You dont think well win? His eyes bulged still further. Steve honestly couldnt believe what he was hearing. My choice of the 18thranked team (Japan) to beat the 42nd (us) was about to lead to an ugly dispute. You dont think well even draw? Nick added, riding the last syllable in disbelief. The apple was so red and shiny. How crisp and refreshing it would be in this stiing heat. Well, I must admit I did make that prediction a few weeks ago, I said, quietly, steering a dangerous path. And Ive since read that (champion Japanese midelder) Hide Nakata reckons the Japanese are playing without heart So you do reckon well win then? Nick said. I looked around, carefully. The Mozz ran strongly in me. Id already sorted out the 1997 decider against Iran (were playing too well to lose, we should be ve up) and two US Presidential elections (the US Supreme Court must force a recount). This was dangerous territory. I lowered my voice. You know I reckon we probably will win it, I said. Hideously Yellow Von was saturated from the extended climb. The Fritz-WalterStadion was the playing eld of the gods. Commit to a score, Nick ordered. Commit to a winning Aussie scoreline. Okay. Australia 2-1, I offered, falling into line with the dozens of others Id interviewed who predicted a similar scoreline. Cahill and

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Viduka to score. Thats better, Steve said in a headmasters tone. He offered me his hand. Dont worry, mate. Its destiny. Its all going to work out. I shook his hand, and stared at the concrete monolith before us. The roof was being held up by diagonal red beams. Below, we were surrounded by lush, green forest. Steve and Nick said their goodbyes and moved forward to scan their tickets. In seconds, they were inside, celebrating the moment with raised arms. Along the turnstiles, others were doing the same. I was at a sporting event where the very fact of entry was being celebrated like a 20-metre, curling wonder strike. I watched Steve and Nick disappear into the crowd and contemplated what had just happened to me. After weeks of resisting, Id done it. Id tipped the Socceroos. Forgive me, Mozz, for I know not what I do. *** Number one, Mark Schwarzer. Yeeeeeeees! Number two, Lucas Neill. Yeeeeeees! Number three, Craig Moore. Yeeeeeees! I was holding back just slightly on my Yeeeeeeeses trying to leave some crescendo room for when my favourite player was announced. Viduka, Kewell, Grella all great, but not my adopted son. Number 14, Scott Chippereld. Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeesssssss! Tam took a photo of me as I leaned back and gave it my all. How could anyone not love Chipper? The Socceroos didnt have a Zidane-type talent, but at least in Chipper, we had a Zidane-type bald spot. I loved the fact the scouts missed him until late. I loved that he races dish-lickers. I loved the way that he constantly uses the expression beers with mates. And I loved that he was driving buses in Wollongong at 23 and now, seven years later, was about to walk out in a starting XI at the World Cup.

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My favourite Scott Chippereld quote appears in Andy Harpers prole of the squad, The Socceroos: Voodoo to Destiny: I used to drive the bus from Stanwell Park into Wollongong every day. It was a beautiful drive down the coast road from Stanwell Park. Id meet a lot of people and a lot of them were Wollongong fans and they would want to talk soccer on the bus. I worked there right up until I came to Europe. I am thinking about going back to it. I certainly wouldnt mind. It was pretty relaxing and you meet a lot of people. I gave another cheer for Chipper, and didnt mind when it coincided with the announcing of John Aloisi, another favourite. Heres to the bus driver, bus driver, bus driver. Heres to the bus driver, bus driver man. *** Our anthem sounded deafening, while the Japanese anthem sounded like the theme from Brokeback Mountain. Apparently, it began life as a 31-syllable poem or waka, and the funereal melody was added by a composer called Hayashi Hiromori in the latter half of the 19th century. In the patriotic fervour of the moment I preferred ours, although still believe that the plodding rhythm and girty words leave Advance Australia Fair very vulnerable in any serious anthem-off. The Egyptian referee blew his whistle and suddenly it was no longer about newspaper pundits or earnest men sitting around television panels. It was nally about the players, the substitutes, the coaches and, given it was now 38 degrees, the water boys. We had our role too. In the aftermath of Sydney, Mark Viduka had talked about the Aussie fans as a collective 12th man. Again today, we were delivering passionately and yellow-ly. In the rst minutes, the blaze of yellow rose and fell with the ebb and ow of the game, and also with the steady succession of Stand Up for the Socceroos chants descending from the rafters. Our seats were near the front of the rst tier, just to the right of the goal Australia was attacking. At ve minutes, directly below us, Viduka red the teams opening shots rst with his right foot, and then on the rebound again with his left.
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Ooooooooooo, we ooo-ed boisterously, applauding the Aussie skipper. Corner to us. Go Bresh! Around us, noise billowed from a crowd that was blooming like a eld of canola. Yeeeeeeeesss! we screamed again, thinking that the Bresciano corner kick had found the head of Viduka, but suddenly the goalkeeper was there too and he could use his hands. We groaned as he punched the ball away. The ball pinged around the park, and such is the lot of the terried fan, almost no section of the pitch offered any respite. At our attacking end, we suffered the possibility of a golden moment tempered by the disappointment of each opportunity unravelling. At their attacking end, we endured the panic of imminent disaster, tempered by relief when disaster was averted. The only time to relax was when the ball was out of play on the halfway line being retrieved for the throw. And even then, only when it was our throw. To fans of other football codes, the ones who accuse soccer of being too low-scoring and therefore boring, the only way to discover the beautiful game is by abandoning neutrality. Take the plunge. Pick a team. Make the fans decision to pin a healthy slice of your temporary happiness to the fortunes of that team. Suddenly youll discover why football is the most blissfully stressful of all games to watch. Become a barracker and, in an instant, the ridiculous skill of curving a ball 35 metres onto a teammates moving forehead wont just be a matter of abstract beauty, a sporting curiosity to hang on the wall; it will be of living importance to the chances of your team. To be a fan is to experience the explosions of joy and the daggers of disappointment a single goal can bring, and in all the time and space between, there is the fear. The fear of what might happen. The knowledge that in such a low-scoring game, every act is important. I thought back to what Kenji had said on the train. Watching football is indeed about mapping futures, moving from one to the next. Even an inexperienced football fan will quickly start spotting patterns. That team goes wide to the wings, a player is released near the corner ag, the ball is crossed to the strikers, and hopefully, it connects sweetly with a foot or head. But the magic of the game is that the predictable pattern is sometimes tossed aside by a burst of

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speed, or a brilliant pass or a step-over dribble, and suddenly the brain is working again, casting aside the predictable future outcome and re-evaluating for the next most likely event, given the surprise change of circumstances. Its a continual guessing game, and when theres emotional investment in the outcome, its continually stressful. At the 20-minute mark of the rst half it was still 0-0. Tam felt sick. I was exhausted, unable to hit the high note for the second Waltzing in Waltzing Matilda. Heaven knows how many futures we still had to go. *** How on earth had it happened? Nakamura, with his red Dorothy slippers, had only been looking to cross, lobbing the ball gently into the penalty area, hoping for a friendly head or boot, but somehow, horribly, before you could blink, Schwarzer was lying on the ground and the ball was in the back of the net. The goal happened at the other end, so I saw it through binoculars. It was as though the tragedy unfolded in slow motion. The achingly slow parabola of ball in ight. A mess of bodies in front of goal. The dawning realisation that the ball was still in ight and that there was nothing between it and the net. The desperate shout of Noooo! and a jerking attempt to nd the referee in my glasses. The silence of our crowd, and the distant roar of somebody elses crowd. The referee pointing towards the centre. The sound of a seat being kicked. Come on ref! COME ON REF! The goal played and replayed on the big screen. Then Goleo IV, the World Cup lion mascot arrived in animated form to rub our noses in it. GOOOOAL! he roared. Piss off Goleo IV. I was still swearing at cartoon characters when Harry hit the crossbar, directly below. Our clapping had an air of desperation. Stand up for the Socceroos. A few hardy fans were trying to lift the rest of us with Pet Shop Boys tunes. I stood up, even though I didnt feel like it. I felt like complaining about the referee, sharing wisdom harnessed from a red bucket seat at 150 metres. The ref-er-ees a wan-ker! The ref-er-ees a wan-ker! It clearly wasnt just me who felt that way. Guus Hiddink was being

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tackled by the fourth ofcial to stop him plying some justice ClintEastwood style against ofcials further up the chain of command. You know what? I think it might have been Schwarzers error, some renegade said as the goal was replayed again. Im not sure thats a foul. Schwarzer kind of runs into him. He was a better man than me. I wasnt in the mood for objective analysis and neither was Tam, whose precious Schwarzy had been barrelled. We were in the mood for some lynchin. *** Although some blamed Schwarzer, most blamed the referee. I was the only one blaming Steve and Nick from Sydney. Why me, Mozz? I asked as the second half slipped away, the sand funneling through the hourglass at a rate that deed the laws of physics. Please Mozz, listen to me. I didnt mean to tip Australia. I really think Japan will win. 10. Like I said so many times. Have some mercy, Mozz. It was one slip up in the jingoistic heat of the moment. But it seemed the Mozz was having none of it. Around us, some were turning to more traditional prayer forms, others to a strained rendition of the national anthem. For his part, Guus was turning to strikers. Tim Cahill, Josh Kennedy and John Aloisi were subbed on at the 53rd, 61st and 75th minute respectively. We were playing more positively now. When Viduka rocketed a powerful skimming free kick under a jumping Japanese wall, I honestly thought wed equalised, but goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi was down quicker than you could say Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi. Despite some shoddy Japanese defence all around him, he was having a blinder. *** A few years ago, I attended the famous Story scriptwriting course run by Robert McKee (the same Robert McKee screenwriter Charlie Kaufman portrayed in the lm Adaptation). At some point he talked about structuring a story in three acts, and how at the end of the

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second act, the hero should be facing his or her greatest obstacle. For example, in a romantic comedy, the couple has to be torn apart, vowing never to speak to each other again, not until Brad respects Angelina for who she has to be. In an action/adventure, Bruce Willis has to be tied to a chair in a burning primary school, mistakenly believing that his son is dead and that the dyed-blonde guy with the nasty scar is on his way to blow up New York. It sets things up for Act Three, the third act climax. Angelina and Brad fall in love again. Bruce Willis rediscovers his roundhouse. Its the way of the classic Hollywood ending. Do anything else, and its arthouse. Unfortunately, sport is often unsympathetic to this sort of storytelling. Woody Allen, a keen Knicks fan, once famously said that he loves watching sport because its the only theatre where even the actors dont know how it ends. (have to check quote!) There was no reason why Vidukas beautifully timed free kick, and Kawaguchis stunning save should have been the rock bottom that set things up for a third act climax. It could so easily have been an arthouse ending, the sort where Icelandic songbird Bjrk plays over the credits. Instead, we got an ending straight out of the McKee lecture notes. At 83 minutes, a Lucas Neill throw catapulted into the box, Kewell ung his boot at the ball, and to supplement his famously handy miskick to Bresciano for the goal in Sydney against Uruguay, jammed it over to Tim Cahill. Somehow Cahill steered it between a thousand legs, and into the back of an unguarded net. Suddenly, the world was in magnicent disarray. My most vivid memory is the jumping. Yeeees! Yeeees! I screamed, hugging my beloved partner, before the guy from the row behind leaned over the top and took over. Next he turned his affections to me. Yeeees! Yeeeees! he cried, as my binoculars bounced up and nearly hit him in the face. I knew what he meant. The boys were on level terms, and we had the run of it. Soo-per, Super Tim Soop-er, Super Tim Soo-per, Super Tim Super Timmy Cahill!

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We sang it loud and strong, back to our barracking best. Unfortunately, we were cut short by a Japanese attack. Oh God, surely we wouldnt concede now? Fukunishi, his hair dyed red like the rising sun, was the one with the ball. He was charging at Schwarzer, just him and the keeper. Yeeeeeesss! we screamed as the shot screamed narrowly wide. Now the barracking was back at full volume. Aus-stray-lee-ahhhh, la-la-la-la-la-la-la A minute passed. Australia took it forward. Just outside the penalty area, Aloisi tapped it deftly to Cahill, who stopped, checked the ball, ripped off a shot, and as the ball pin-balled from post to post, unleashed 10 million screams across Australia. I was exhausted now. Wed been bouncing for seven minutes and, in the 38 degrees heat, I wasnt sure I was t enough to be this happy. It was impossible. Praise be to Josh Kennedy, with his giraffe gait and uorescent yellow boots. He was the one who had sparked this. The boys had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, and unbelievably with 92 minutes on the clock, the Socceroos were 2-1 up and charging forward for the rinse and oss. Aloisi! Aloisi! Aloiseeeeeeeeeeeeeee! Now it was just funny. It was the sort of goal Australia never seems to score. Striker runs at defender, defender backs off, striker clinically slides it into the corner. 3-1, 3-1 3-1, we sang. Japan was exhausted and we were Brazil. There had to be just seconds left. Peep! Peep! Peep! Good on ya ref! No hard feelings about before. The players and ofcials descended into an enormous group hug, and we continued on like popped corn at full heat. The sound system kicked in, and we were blasted with Stand Up for the Champions, a syrupy World Cup anthem the organisers had sculpted from Go West. We sang along, changing the word champions to Socceroos, the kitsch production drowned out by the efforts of the grandstand choir. The players walked down our end, and clapped us for our support.

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I hoped they forgave us for the quiet patch we had around the 70minute mark. Three points. Whatever happened against Brazil, wed go into the Croatia match a chance to qualify for the second round. I gave Tamsin a hug. If youre reading this Gene, you were in it too. You might even remember it it was manic and unbalanced and your mother stopped breathing. Whatever happens, well always have Kaiserslautern, I said, getting the emphasis on exactly the right syllable. Breathless, Tam prised me off and regained her balance. Whatever happens, well always have Kaiserslautern. *** I spent the post match at the same outdoor restaurant where wed spent the pre-match, basking in in order the glow of victory, large cups of beer and the picturesque beauty of a 16th century town square at dusk. Each rendezvous was another excuse to shriek and carry on. Rita was incoherent through the initial hug, and Tom smiled under his 16-year-old, sweaty curls as I forced him into an embrace too. I told you Cahill and Kennedy, he said, sage-like, recoiling slightly from the none-too-fresh aroma of Hideously Yellow Von. This is the best day of my life, I said to Tom, just as Id said to everyone else who would listen for more than an hour. In fact, as a quick aside to my unborn child if you are reading this remember that your birth came after the match against Japan. Of course, your birth day is the best day of your Daddys life. The truth is, it took your birth to stop Daddy saying, This is the best day of my life! pretty much every time the Socceroos took the eld from November 2005 to the end of June 2006. And so you can rest assured, little Kaiserslautern Aloisi Cahill Wilson, your Daddy has his priorities safely in order. Later in that old cobbled square, I was hugging my mate Cameron Fink who, quite incredibly, needed a shower even more than me. Cam was born for this party. In Melbourne, he was famous for never having carved out a single day where he began work at nine and nished at ve, surviving on a prodigious talent for graphic design and an easy-

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going tolerance for spending time under the parental roof. Hes wiry, owing of hair, tanned, and lights up a room when he enters it, specically with his teeth. He left Melbourne University about a decade after he began there with a law degree he vowed he would never even collect, let alone use. And in spirit, Cam has never really left university. In the last 12 months six years after his graduation he has organised a booze cruise, a naked march through the city of Melbourne and any number of themed parties, to which hes come as a sh, a Viking, a Mr Whippy Van, a dodgem car, the Death Star, a Viking (again) and a goose that actually lays eggs. Ask Cam why he continued to hang around the university and hed invariably say, the social life. Ask any of his friends why he did, and theyd say, the rst-years. Cameron Fink is a charming man. Who else has had a 30th birthday where the rst speaker begins his speech with I rst met Cameron Fink the morning after he shagged my sister to which the third speaker responds, I already knew Cam Fink quite well when he shagged my sister. The second speaker didnt have a sister. Today, his dress was an Aussie shirt, towelling shorts, and the one and only pair of orange Explorer socks on the planet. He stood before me, tanned and grinning and shouting, How good was that! Cam was staying in Kaiserslautern with his travelling mate Charlie, having both scored accommodation through the website www.couchsurng. com. The site operates under the slogan creating a better world, one couch at a time and involves hosts opening up their homes and living rooms to travellers, completely free, all on the premise that those who surf will one day prop up the wave. Naturally, Cams host had fallen for him, and they were off to Strasbourg the next morning. They have been so welcoming, Cam said of the Kaiserslauts (or is it Kaiserslautians?). How good are the Germans? Last night, one guy found out we liked wine, and then walked us around the town, trying to nd the nicest bottle in the district. In the end, he was distraught because he could only dig up the second nicest. It was still pretty nice, said Charlie. We celebrated for a few hours, revelling in the smiles and well wishes we were receiving, not just from the locals, but from the Japanese

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too. Australia was better, one fan said, crouched and despondent. Australia deserve it. The train back to Frankfurt departed at 9.05pm, which unfortunately meant leaving Kaiserslautern while the streets were still jumping, and the golden shirts still had the run of the place. The consolation prize was a party carriage that was determined to sing and dance its way into the night. Take my breath a-way, the masses crooned. As Tom Zammit pointed out, there was a remarkable amount of slow dancing going on, given an almost exclusively male dance oor. Rita had not forgotten she was a parent, as well as a fan. Tom can have one more beer, she said, heading to the cool of another carriage. Hes already had one in the beer garden. In the end, Tom and I had three Camaparis and orange. I know thats irresponsible and was disrespectful to my friends wishes, but shes 11 years older, and hes 17 years younger, and just for a moment, I wanted to feel down with the kids. Besides drinking is legal in Germany at 16, and if youre going to be slow dancing with men, it is made more palatable with a few drinks. I got Gareld out at the 75-minute mark, Tom said, as Im Walking On Sunshine boomed through the sauna-like atmosphere of the party carriage. I gave Gareld a kiss, and a few minutes later Cahill scored. And remember, you were crapped on by a bird, I added sagely. And I got crapped on by a bird, he nodded. There was no question about it. The boy had earned his drinks.

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