It was late in the game. I had the ball in my hands, about 30 metres out from the goals, just off to the right. Kick this for the country and we were back in the game and a chance of making the final; miss and we may as well head back home.
Walking back from the mark I kept my eye on the goals, spinning the ball in my hands as a way of hiding my nervousness. After all, how often do you get to help win an international football match? Setting myself at the top of the mark, I began my run forward, kicked…
No, this wasn’t a dream – this actually happened. The scene was a Viennese football park, my country was the Czech Republic, the competition was the Eastern European Championships and the sport was Australian Rules Football.
At the time I was working as an on-board guide for Busabout, taking people around Europe, telling them where to go (nicely of course), then moving on the next day to a new group and a new destination. We’d arrived the previous afternoon into Wombats hostel in Vienna to find signs advertising the championship the next day and, as I had the next couple of days off, tentatively made plans with a few of the lads on the bus to wander over and have a look.
Later that night we were celebrating the first Friday of the week down in the hostel’s WomBar when a couple of the boys came up to me rather excited. It turned out the Czech team were short a few players and they’d been asked if they wanted to join in, and perhaps I’d like to tag along as well? The Czech captain popped up a couple of seconds later to confirm the invitation – tomorrow we’d be international footballers! Naturally this was cause for celebration, which we did for another hour or so before going to bed at 3AM.
The next morning the team assembled at reception for our trip out to the park. It was easy to tell who’d made the trip down specifically for the match and who’d been recruited at 2AM – us latecomers were hung-over as well. Turns out celebrating with Jaegermeister seven hours before your first match isn’t recommended, something that hit home in the first match when two players made emergency trips to the loo with another (me) found with hands on hips after my first run, trying desperately not to join them in the ‘up-and-under’ club.
We were an eclectic bunch – of those that were originally selected there were a few Aussie expats, one Czech bloke and a Czech lass that had actually played international basketball. There was another lad who wasn’t Czech but worked in a Prague hostel; with points deducted for every Australian in the team, these international players were worth their weight even if they didn’t do much on the field.
We unsurprisingly lost that first game but began to come good in our second match against Finland. This second match was also where I grazed my leg twice on a bare patch of field; the graze just below and to the left of my knee becoming infected due to the old-fashioned cure of applying alcohol internally.
On then to our final game. By now we’d blown the cobwebs off and were pretty eager to finish with a win which, given the vagaries of the scoring system, could well mean we’d make the final. This was how I found myself, ball in hand, ready to win the game for my adopted country, putting into practise all I’d learnt playing for the mighty Cooma Cats.
One step, two steps, three steps, ball gets released, right foot come through to strike ball towards goals…
We ended not with the premiership but the wooden spoon – not surprising really when you consider where and when we’d been recruited. But a fun day out nonetheless and an unlikely addition to the resume: international footballer.