Our greatest ever Socceroo deserves a decent send-off, so here’s hoping plenty of fans turn out at ANZ Stadium for Tim Cahill’s final game tomorrow night.
We can debate all we want about who was the most talented player to ever pull on a Socceroos jersey, but no one has had a greater impact than Cahill.
But because he has at times been outspoken, and given that many fans believe he prioritised money over his various clubs, Cahill is the latest in a long line of tall poppies Australians are only too willing to cut down.
There’s rarely an acknowledgement of the fact that after leaving English Premier League outfit Everton, he made it clear he wanted to live in big cities like New York and Shanghai to help launch a fashion label.
Nor is there much acknowledgement that his cultural background – Cahill’s mother is Samoan and his brother Chris once captained Samoa’s national team – meant he was expected to contribute to the well-being of his entire family.
So be it.
Cahill is a polarising figure, and his penchant for talking about himself – and remaining oblivious to how much it annoyed others – makes him an easy target for anyone with a wi-fi connection and a couple of minutes to spare online.
We Aussies tend to prefer our heroes to be stoic and stolid rather than flashy and flushed with cash – that’s why we venerated Steve Waugh but bagged Michael Clarke – and Cahill was always going to be cut down to size by his critics.
But if there’s one thing we’ve been terrible at during the Football Federation Australia era, it’s acknowledging our history.
For that reason alone, Cahill deserves a standing ovation in tomorrow night’s friendly against Lebanon.
He will forever be the scorer of Australia’s first ever goal in the World Cup finals, he’ll always be the first Australian to score in three successive tournaments, he scored the finest Socceroos goal of all time against the Netherlands in 2014, and he helped his nation win an Asian Cup a year later.
And – just as importantly – he helped bring mainstream Australia along for the ride.
It may come as a shock to the boo brigade, but there will be people in the stands tomorrow night who aren’t necessarily rusted-on football fans.
There’s long been a tendency to think that being a contrarian automatically equates to being an educated football fan, but judging by the healthy turn-out in Brisbane on Saturday night, most people aren’t interested in making snarky remarks about individual players and simply want to watch some live sport.
Plenty of them will show up on Tuesday night to pay their respects to Australia’s departing star, and we shouldn’t dismiss their experience just because it’s now seen as cool to bag Cahill.
It’s just a shame the new Western Sydney Stadium is still five months away from completion, because the cavernous ANZ Stadium isn’t an ideal venue for a midweek friendly.
You can understand what the FFA was trying to do – they have a contract to stage a certain number of Socceroos fixtures in Sydney, and the city is home to a sizeable Lebanese diaspora – but all indications suggest tickets aren’t exactly flying out the door.
They should ask Korean fans for some tips, since they filled almost three bays amid raucous scenes at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday.
But the Lebanese national team has never been particularly well-supported – they rarely draw big crowds in Beirut – and, ironically, most Lebanese-Australians are far bigger fans of rugby league.
That shouldn’t take away from what is an important clash for both teams, even if some of it will be given over to Tim Cahill’s swan-song.
He’s Australia’s greatest ever Socceroo and deserves to be recognised as such.
Let’s just hope Graham Arnold’s side serves up some football to suit the occasion.