Friday, June 23, 2006

90 Minute Rollercoaster

The signs did not look good. The previous afternoon my boss reacted unfavourably to my stated intention to leave at 3pm on Thursday. All through the work day itself I had been slammed with work that I completed feverishly, hoping to make my escape before kick-off. As game time approached I punched out email after email, finally shutting things down to find my Aussie mate All-Star so we could race to a bar. Except that shit was hitting the fan at high speed, and it looked like it was going to take some time for my mate to extricate himself.

What's a bloke meant to do? My mate knew full well that game time was fast approaching, but this issue had to be dealt with. It looked like things might be winding up, so I pointed back to my cube so he could get me when he was done. Getting back to my desk I pointed a browser at the BBC's play-by-play commentary, figuring to keep up with the match until we could flee the premises.

It looked the match was just about to kick off, with the latest commentary about the sides waiting to start. Except I noticed one thing. The score seemed to be Croatia 1, Australia 0. Which meant that somehow Croatia had scored before the first play-by-play update.

And I was stuck here at work, failing to believe my own eyes.

Shit.

A few minutes later my mate gave me the all clear, and we scurried away from the office. On the way I gave All-Star the bad news about the early goal.

As we made the few blocks to the bar, I couldn't shake an all too familiar feeling.

* * *

Four years ago, during the last World Cup, I was living in Sydney and dating an Irish girl. Hailing from County Laois, she and some friends were spending a year in Australia, working and having a good time. Since Australia wasn't involved in 2002 I was granted automatic Irish cheering rights. Thanks to the fortuitous time zone situation (the games being played in Japan and South Korea), we were able to watch every game, usually jammed into an Irish pub in Bondi Junction. There is nothing like watching a soccer match cheek-to-jowl with a few hundred drunk and passionate Irish folk.

I still remember vividly one of my all-time sports viewing highlights, during the preliminary round of matches. Ireland had scratched out a draw with Cameroon in their first game, but their next match-up was against Germany - who had just given out an 8-0 beating to Saudi Arabia. Germany managed to get out to a 1-0 lead, and though fighting gallantly it loooked like the Boys in Green were not going to be able to penetrate the stout German backline. Finally, in the 89th minute, Robbie Keane managed to get on the end of a long ball and smash it home for the equaliser, and the pub went totally and completely insane.

I swear I blacked out. I have no immediate memory of what happened immediately after Robbie Keane did his habitual springing victory celebration. When I came to it looked like a small riot had broken out (which it had, really). Tables were oveturned, glasses had been smashed, all victims of pure euphoria.

The draw against Germany was important, as Ireland also beat Saudi Arabia like a rented mule, allowing the Irish to progress into the second round of the tournament, where they were to face Spain.

Now the stakes were raised things were a little more complicated. Friends, and friends of friends all wanted to watch the game, and there was to-ing and fro-ing over where to go. Eventually the Irish crew decided on a trendier venue, as a bunch of people had already committed to going there. Being an Honorary Irishman, I didn't want to rock the boat, and so went along with the plan.

Naturally it was a total cock-up, as we ended up standing in a long line that was showing no signs of moving as game time fast approached. My girlfriend and I started giving each other secret signals, and we eventually leaned over to a couple of our close friends and whispered that we were bailing from the line and heading to another pub. You know, one that we could actually get into for the game.

We raced from the line into another pub, only missing a few minutes of the first half. But I didn't feel good. The bullshit organisation had rattled me, and I wasn't mentally ready for the game. My mindset almost seemed to reflect what was happening on the pitch as Spain scored just as we entered the pub. Ireland managed to fight back, drawing a penalty kick, only to miss. A later second penalty kick (this time converted) allowed Ireland to draw even, though the game eventually went to a penalty shoot-out. Which we lost, in agonising fashion. We shuffled out of the pub, disheartened and depressed.

And here I was, four years later, running late and racing to a pub to watch my boys. And that same old feeling was back.

* * *

The bar that All-Star and I went to was essentially deserted, the only other inhabitant turned out to be the brother of the bar-tender. Slightly panicky we asked if they could turn one of the TVs to the soccer. Then we realised the other TV was better, and asked if we could switch to that one. Then we asked if the sound could be turned up. Finally, we asked for alcohol. We were quite demanding.

And then we began worrying in earnest. 20 minutes in, Croation up by 1. Hell, Japan was even beating Brazil. What was going on?! I became even more confused when I noticed that we had a different goalkeeper for this game, the solid Mark Schwarzer not in his normal position for some reason. As I watched the replacement play a couple of balls shakily I couldn't help but wonder aloud if Schwarzer was injure (it later turned out it was just a selection by the coach).

A few more people wandered into the bar, probably wondering what was up with the two guys at the end of the bar, one of them in a bright yellow shirt, screaming at the TV. Australia was fighting mightily, pressuring Croatia like crazy, which you hope we would do since we needed a draw at least to go through. Finally, towards the end of the half, a Croatian player forgot the whole "don't use your hands" thing, and Australia were awarded a penalty kick.

Just like four years ago.

With my hands clasped to my mouth I waited for the kick to be taken... by a defender?! With my heart pounding I watched as Craig Moore stuffed the ball in the back of the net. All-Star and I went nuts, jumping up and down with joy.

Half-time arrived, and we rehashed the first half while punishing another couple of pints. A small crowd had gathered, and at their request we began explaining the situation at hand. As the second half began it seemed we had a few extra supporters for the cause.

Apparently a few extra supportes are not enough, as after a blazing run from Harry Kewell the ball is turned over, a Croatian makes a weakish strike at the ball... except the replacement goalkeeper makes a complete donkey of himself and somehow lets the ball in. And all of a sudden we are in danger of not moving onward again.

Teetering on the precipice Australia began ringing the changes, though this does not include swapping out the goalie. At roughly two minute intervals I am demanding to know why Schwarzer is not in goall. Again, Australia is lifting and pressuring the Croatians like they have to, though a couple of Croatian breaks highlight the dangers of being aggressive.

But it doesn't matter at this stage. We need a goal. Now.

With dismay I watch as once again the Croatians forget about the whole "don't use your hands" rule, but this time the referee doesn't give us a penalty kick. I can not believe it. In the 79th minute, just as I am preparing myself for an extended stay in the Pit of Despair, Harry Kewell manages to perform a Jedi Mind Trick on the side judge so he isn't seen off-side as he manages to crush the ball past the diving Croatian keeper. No flag, no worries, bedlam. All-Star and I are back on our feet, fists punching the air. Now all we have to do is hang on for ten minutes plus stoppage.

Except the last ten minutes are insane. A Croatian cheats, and he is sent off. Then an Australian forgets about the whole "don't use your hands thing", and he is sent off. Then another Croatian cheats and gets a yellow card, except this is his second and he should be off, but the ref doesn't realise. Croatia are pushing like mad as Australia is on the defensive. Finally we get it back up the other end, and win a free kick. GOOAAAAAAAAAL! Wait, no it's not. What's happening? A third yellow card to the Croatian, and now he is off. And now it... it's over!

Australia are through.

Despite the confusing ending, Australia get the draw, coming behind twice to do so. All-Star and I are begin celebrating in earnest, as more pints are sacrificed. The bar tender, unbidden, makes us a special shot, a green and gold concoction which we instantly dub "The Socceroo". The Socceroo is tasty.

All-Star's girlfriend eventually picks us up from the bar, but only to head to another one closer to home. We are loud and proud, and even though we get a lot of strange looks we also get a lot of congratulations. The night goes on, and we keep bending our elbows, until finally the bar closes and they kick us out.

Next up: Italy. I look forward to it.

6 Comments:

  • Congrats bro. Good luck against the Italians!

    By Blogger drewspop, at 12:01 PM  

  • I feel like I was there...

    By Blogger TripJax, at 12:42 PM  

  • Great post...I love reading people's blog who can really write. (Unfortunately I write about as good as I play poker, guess I shouldn't have slept through those English/Grammar classes in high school.)

    By Blogger mookie99, at 1:10 PM  

  • Goooo Socceroos!!! What a nice performance (if you substract the Aussie Keeper - what did the coach think?!)...good luck against Italy, knock them out and I'm looking forward to a nice semi: Germany vs Australia :-)

    By Blogger Ingoal, at 7:30 PM  

  • Congrats Garth.

    One of the my most memorable sporting moments was in '02 when the US defeated Mexico to make the quarter-finals. To this day I'm still pissed that there was no hand ball called on that German defender. We make the PK and who knows what happens.

    Enjoy the experience.

    By Blogger Miami Don, at 11:46 PM  

  • Unfuckingreal. ITL vs AUS was total bullshit man.

    By Blogger drewspop, at 11:59 AM  

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