Australia’s greatest sporting moment?
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The Socceroo’s defeat of Uruguay in November of 2005 catapulted the sport into the pantheon of Australia’s greatest sporting moments, capturing the imagination of a nation and changing forever the profile of a sport once considered to be the basket case of this country’s footballing codes.
Qualification for Germany 2006 ranks in the top 5 of most polls of Australia’s greatest sporting achievements; recognition and respect that none of us who are passionate about the game could have ever dared to dream of 40 years ago.
And yet there is still a lot of conjecture about whether the Socceros’ achievements deserve to be talked about in the same breath as Australia II or Cathy Freeman, Bradman or Phar Lap.
Non-football people struggle to understand the reverence but the answer comes in where the socceroos have come from, and that like the aforementioned, the Socceroos victory against Uruguay unified a nation.
I recall going to Olympic Park in Melbourne as a youngster to watch an endless procession of overseas teams play against our representative sides: Bologna, Red Star, NY Cosmos, and the list goes on.
The stands were packed with fans cheering for the visiting teams because they identified with them more than they did our national team.
I wonder how that must have felt for our players.
The 70s and 80s saw football in this country that was largely run along ethnic lines, that resulted in a national league that struggled to win mainstream support in the media.
Where our talented players needed to go overseas to ply their trade professionally and where our national team was reduced to sporadic and infrequent matches and then asked to play against hardened footballing nations to qualify for a world cup.
Things began to change in the 90s.
Australian football talent was being sought overseas and the national team was able to secure the services of a coach of world renown who would famously take the Socceroos to within a whisker of qualifying for a second world cup in front of a near-capacity crowd on a ground usually reserved as a stage for Cricket and AFL.
While Iran’s last-minute heroics at the MCG may have spelt the death knell for the Socceroos 98 campaign, it did herald a turning of the tide for the sport in this country.
After that night, long-time football fans got a taste of the world stage and they wanted more.
The Crawford Report of 2003 provided the infrastructure for success and delivered to a position of power arguably the games greatest patron in Frank Lowy.
The results of his labours evident for all to see in Sydney, Nov 16 2005 when John Aloisi’s penalty strike sent the nation into raptures.
But it wasn’t just the result.
I remember vividly as the camera panned around the ground, seeing a sea of yellow and gold. People of every cultural background draped in flags sporting the boxing Kangaroo.
Australia’s long-time football supporters were galvanised and even those who had previously taken just a lukewarm interest in the game were won over to the cause. The knockers and naysayers were forced to admit that the code had finally arrived.
On that night, we bested a two-time World-Cup winner.
And we, a nation of 20 million, were given a ticket to take on the giants of the game that have football as a religion and not just a sport.
Where we would go onto stamp our courage and tenacity on the world stage losing to the eventual world champion but win respect in a sport that is played by more people than any other on this planet.
But by far the greatest achievement of that night in Sydney, and the reason the exploits of the Socceroos deserve to be remembered as being in the top, if not the top, of the lists of sporting achievements, is that the game was watched in every corner of the country, by every age group, by every cultural background.
It bought a nation together to shout, with one voice, for the Socceroos.
Bring on South Africa.