Global Green and Gold
Thrills and spills of life on the World Cup trail for Socceroos fans
From villagers hanging off buildings in regional South Africa to Croatians waving the Australian flag in Germany to jumping up and down on the sand in Copacabana beach, going to a World Cup is much more than football. For a few weeks every four years, it’s a chance to celebrate the world game with strangers in a strange land… and have a few new strange beers.
DON’T MENTION THE W AR – UNLESS THEY DO
Melbourne-based sales director Don Sutherland has been to every Socceroos match of the last three World Cups, travelling across the world to Germany, South Africa and Brazil as part of his globetrotting devotion to football, which also takes in Melbourne Victory and even West Ham games. In 2006, he toured Germany in a motorhome with his mates and has vivid memories of the Australia’s thrilling 2-2 draw to Croatia in Stuttgart. “I can’t describe the euphoria of drawing that game, we thought we’d lost it twice,” Don recalls. “The Croats were drinking with us post-match. It was probably the highlight of the tour, we sang with them as much as they sang with us. We waved their flags while they waved ours. “They wished us well for the next stage and said, ‘That’s the way it goes – on the night, you guys got through’. I’d love to think our sportsmanship would be equal if the roles were reversed.” While the spectre of hooliganism hangs over some World Cups, Don says there was zero trouble in Germany, although he had his fears of what would happen next when they ran into a few teenagers. “[But] they apologised to us – for the Second World War!” he says. “If a 17-year-old approached you in Australia, you’d think something suss is going on. They almost pushed one to the front of the group to say, ‘You do it’ and they’d check in English if they were saying it correctly. It happened three times.”
In South Africa, Don camped in Kingsmead Cricket Ground in Durban. He remembers long trips and having to set off at 2am to make it to Rustenburg for a 4pm kick-off. “All the villagers were applauding and waving while we were on the road and it was almost like we were celebrities,” he says. “There were guys hanging off buildings. It was humbling.” Flying to Brazil, Don says there was less expectation because of Australia’s group of death. Don attended all games, but it was the party atmosphere in Brazil which delivered. “Brazil won 3-1 against Croatia, we were on Copacabana beach and we were among true local football fans,” he says. “I’ll never be able to put the atmosphere into words.”
ALWAYS KNOW WHEN TO FOLD…
Twitter identity Les Street has been to every Australian football venue – and is currently writing a book on stadiums and their history – but missed out on Germany 2006 because he couldn’t get any tickets in FIFA’s ballot. Instead though he put all his cash into trips to South Africa and Brazil. “Ten of us hired a house in Johannesburg and we had it to ourselves,” Les says. “There was a little bit of apprehension, but that was part of the excitement. We hired a mini bus but the drives were long, including one 15 hour trip.” Les made it to 13 games in South Africa because of the abundance of tickets. “Local football fans weren’t able to afford the tickets,” he says “Despite discounted tickets, a lot of South Africans couldn’t get to the games and a lot of the stadiums were empty. Before the Australia v Ghana game in Rustenburg, my mate had two spare tickets and instead of selling them, he just gave it to local kids and they were shellshocked.” Safety was an issue in South Africa but some dark humour helped them cope with the perceived danger… until one worrying moment in a bar sent them scurrying back into their minibus. Les reveals: “In Rustenburg, about 10 of us went in and copped the dirtiest looks, like ‘Who the f*** are these guys?’ We were like… ‘Alright, we’re leaving….’ It was a weird experience. But in Brazil I went to the Australia-Croatia friendly in Salvador, a city which had a reputation for being a bit dodgy, but I had no problems overall.”
BE A FUN- LOVING F AN
Germany lives long in the memories of many Australian fans who made it there in 2006, including Tristan Foenander who was a university student in his late teens, working part-time at the video store, when he followed Guus Hiddink and the Golden Generation on the World Cup trail. “It was always a plan to go to Germany,” Tristan says. “It was a little difficult because you’re often cash strapped from going out too frequently and being a bit reckless. But working part-time, I managed to save a little bit of money for the trip.” Tristan went to Germany with no guarantees of actually getting to any Australia games, but managed to snap up tickets at the last moment for the Socceroos against Brazil and Croatia. “You can’t question the fun we had and the atmosphere,” he says. “My most vivid memory of the Brazil game was the refereeing which left us scratching our heads. But the locals actually embraced the Australian fans like no others, despite it being a disappointing result. “After that, we ventured to Stuttgart for the Croatia game and the lead-up was amazing. There was a stunned silence after Croatia’s first goal and a sense of pessimism. Even when Craig Moore scored the penalty, there wasn’t great emotion.
“It was one of those games where you look back with excitement and joy, but it was extremely tense throughout.” It proved too hard for Tristan to make the heartbreaking match against the Italians, but recommends every fan should go to a World Cup and savour the event. “There were no safety concerns at all,” Tristan adds. “People assumed we were fun-loving people and that’s what I think delivered.”
EMBRACE ANY DUAL LO YALTIES
Working as an English teacher in Japan in 2006 in his late teens, Aussie fan Bani Pera had an identity crisis before the Socceroos’ encounter against Japan at Kaiserslautern. “As much as I wanted success for Australia, I did not feel right about biting the hand that fed me,” Bani says. “Living in Japan was the best three years of my life and I told my students I was supporting the draw. “I wore a Japanese jersey with an Australian cap and scarf, I was sitting among the Aussie fans and it was surreal to hear the Australian national anthem at a World Cup. “My neutrality was destroyed after Shunsuke Nakamura’s goal. I spent the rest of the game screaming for Australia.” For him though, the Croatia game was the highlight of his World Cup in Germany “The atmosphere in the stadium was electric,” he says. “Chants of ‘You’re Red, you’re white, you’re going home tonight!’. It was the loudest thing I have ever experienced. Once we made it, none of the fans would leave the stadium. Even an hour after the game had ended, we were still singing, dancing and hugging complete strangers in the stands, including the German security staff.” Although Bani felt safe throughout both his 2006 and 2010 World Cup trips, South Africans were less embracing of the Aussie fans and Socceroos. He adds: “The South Africans enjoyed watching Australia being humiliated by the Germans.”
DON’T GET CARRIED A WAY
Harrison Porter quit his job to make it to the 2014 World Cup and despite the headaches it caused him when he got back, he’s got no regrets about making the trip to Brazil. And he remembers all three Socceroos games vividly. “I will never forget the buzz among the thousands of Aussies that had me convinced we would win every game,” Harrison says. But the reality smack comedown hit Harrison hard. “When we went down 2-0 to Chile, I remember feeling depressed like you would after a break-up,” he says. “I was kicking myself for spending thousands of dollars and quitting my job, and I feared we would concede five and friends back home would mock me for coming to Brazil. “I have never experienced anything like that feeling before.” By the time of the final game defeat against Spain, Harrison felt shattered, and had a growing resentment that the fans received no recognition from the Socceroos. “Neither Ange Postecoglou nor a single player did a lap of honour or came over to the Australian end to applaud us,” Harrison recalls. “That spoke volumes to me and put me offside with Ange.” Despite safety concerns, Harrison admits you would have to be an idiot to get into trouble in Brazil. “Unfortunately most Aussie in large groups abroad are idiots!” he says. “I had friends who foolishly gambled with street gangs. “But overall the locals were brilliant. I found them to be incredibly hospitable early on, but by the final week, I sensed a bit of uneasiness with English speakers in the streets of Rio.”