Every World Cup we have the Australian media and fans smirking and mocking whenever England get knocked out.
This World Cup was no exception, with England going home without a win and a solitary point.
I can’t help feel a little bit disappointed about this reaction when England are in the same group as Uruguay – the idea of Socceroos fan cheering Uruguay against anyone is grating.
Sure, England are the ‘old enemy’, but most of the rivalry with England is in sports such as cricket where we compete with England regularly. In football, matches against England occur sporadically in friendly matches. There are no defining moments in football between the two nations that warrant any sort of hostility.
In fact, it’s the opposite, as England’s relationship with Australian football is positive. The English media has been supportive of our national team and when we punched above our own weight in 2006 and 2014, they reported a good underdog tale.
Tim Cahill’s wonderstrike against Netherlands saw Robbie Savage react tomore exuberantly than Craig Foster.
When we look at our golden generation, players who were playing in England were the bedrock of the side – Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka, Tim Cahill, Mark Schwarzer, Lucas Neill, Josip Skoko, Luke Wilkshire, Craig Moore, Brett Emerton, Stan Lazaridis and Tony Popovic. English football was one of the core elements developing our most successful side in history.
Tim Cahill was rejected in Australia for being too small. It was Millwall that saw the talent in him which no coaches in Australia could see, and playing in England molded Cahill into our national side’s leading goal scorer.
When the Qatar 2022 World Cup debacle occurred, we had the English media going on about how the World Cup should have been given to Australia, with Gary Linekar backing our bid. The English media were probably more supportive of our World Cup bid than our own media, which was engaged in code wars.
Australia could perhaps have some resentment over Brian Green, the English manager of the Socceroos in 1976 who embarrassed our country for being convicted for shoplifting, leading to his sacking.
With Uruguay, we have integral incidents in Australian football history between our two nations to justify a heated rivalry.
This started back in 1974, when Uruguay arrived in Australia to play two friendlies as a send-off before Australia left for Germany to play in the 1974 World Cup.
The first game Australia dominated, and the Uruguay team resorted to dirty, aggressive play. Socceroos manager Rale Rasic said, “they did not play rough or hard, but dirty.” The match ended in 0-0 but that was only the warm up to a tumultuous second match at the SCG, where Luis Garisto brutally karate chopped our star player Ray Baartz in the neck, leaving him gasping for air. Later on in the match, Garisto punched Baartz in the shin as well.
In one of the bravest performance in Socceroos history, Baartz recovered from the assault, scored a goal and created an assist in a 2-0 victory over Uruguay. However the day after he woke up unable to move his arms and leg. The karate chop hit his carotid artery, causing it to swell up and stopping blood flow to his brain, giving him a stroke.
Baartz was in a coma for two days and although he recovered, he was told he should never play football again, missing out on the 1974 World Cup.
A match against Uruguay resulted in the end of Baartz’s career, a man Frank Lowy described as the greatest Socceroo he’s ever seen.
After a friendly loss to Uruguay in 1992 and a Harry Kewell strike knocking Uruguay out of the Confederation Cup in 1997, Australia faced Uruguay again in 2001 to qualify to the World Cup.
Australia arrived at the Uruguayan airport to be ambushed by ‘fans’, who started jeering, booing, spitting, throwing eggs, spraying aerosol cans, and one fan even tried to punch and physically attack our players.
Customs officials were in on the act as well, making thorough searches of every second player’s luggage and taking objection to minuscule specks of dirt on their boots in an attempt to prolong the time Australian players were facing the hostile crowd.
At 3am the following morning, a group of Uruguayan fans stood outside the hotel and played drums while security sat, watched and enjoyed the spectacle.
In 2005, Álvaro Recoba spoke of divine right to be at the World Cup and the Uruguay Federation displayed gamesmanship in an attempt to change the referees as well as kick off times to unsettle the Socceroos, although it did back fire for the return leg. The Uruguayans had the Australians line up for the national anthem and then move them again. The fact that the only thing Australia did to retaliate was boo the Uruguay national anthem was quite mild in my book.
Although they are plenty of cut-throat, win-at-all-cost nations out there, for the most part they save gamesmanship for the pitch. Argentina treated Australia as guests when our national team travelled there for also a playoff in 1993, and apparently Diego Maradona had a fun night out with the Socceroos player after the match.
I’m not telling this story to encourage hatred against Uruguay, in fact it’s admirable that their fans are so loyal they are willing to do battle outside the pitch for their team. I also know there was a story where a lady approached Paul Agostino in tears, apologising to the Socceroos on behalf of her nation and saying those thugs at the airport don’t represent the entire country.
However my point is that Australia’s greatest rivals in football are the Uruguay national team. Our heated and controversial encounters with them are a core part of the history of football and we shouldn’t forget that simply because we are now in Asia, no longer relying on playoffs with them to qualify to the World Cup.
In football, Uruguay are the ‘old enemy’, not England. I’m now supporting Colombia and whoever plays against Uruguay in this World Cup.