Goosebumps—Australia v Croatia, World Cup 2006

I was sitting on the bench at St Joseph’s College on Saturday doing the paperwork after refereeing the Joey’s versus Riverview seconds. Two reds and four yellows—not a bad haul for 50 minutes work. The coach of the Joey’s First XI looked familiar. ‘Is that Jason Culina?’ I asked the Joey’s Master in Charge. He nodded.

I finished my reports and caught Culina’s eye. ‘Hi Jason. Did you see that documentary on SBS the other night about the Socceroos in Germany in 2006?’ He smiled. ‘Yes, I did. What a great show.’

‘Me and my son were in Stuttgart at the Australia Croatia game. What a night.’

Culina’s eyes lit up. ‘’Oh yes. An amazing night.’

‘You know, the thing I remember most about that night, apart from Harry’s goal of course, was the team going around the field applauding the supporters after the game while AC/DC were blasting out T.N.T. over the P.A.’.

He laughed. ‘Mate, you’re giving me goosebumps just thinking about it. And Archie pulling the corner flag out and playing it like a guitar.’

‘I’m getting goosebumps too,’ I laugh. ‘That game—and the qualifier against Uruguay—are the two best football games I’ve ever been at.’

‘Yeah, a special, special night.’

Culina, then with Dutch club P.S.V. Eindhoven, played 58 times for Australia, including that night in Stuttgart.

*          *          *

I hadn’t planned to take Calum (then four months short of his 15th birthday) to Germany for the World Cup. But after we watched the Socceroos put three past Japan in the last ten minutes to win their opening game, I said to Di, ‘What the hell—let’s see if we can do this.’

The Japan game finished in the early hours of Tuesday 13th June. The second group game was against Brazil in Munich on Sunday 18th—a bit too soon. But the final, and probably decisive, group match—against Croatia in Stuttgart on Thursday 22nd—looked a possibility. I hit the Internet.

By Thursday I had the airfares booked (Sydney-Perth-Singapore-Frankfurt, on Qantas, standby all the way) that, fingers crossed, would land us in Frankfurt the morning before the match. I managed to find a small hotel just south of the airport and booked return rail tickets on the Thursday afternoon fast train from Frankfurt to Stuttgart using the impressive Die Bahn web site. Tickets to the game? Well, we were just going to have to wing that one.

After three uneventful legs and a stopover in Perth, Frankfurt in the early morning was calm and quiet. But as the sun climbed higher, the city came alive with singing and trumpets and splashes of orange and light blue as the fans of Holland and Argentina hit the streets and cafes ahead of their clash that evening. There was a good-natured, festive atmosphere and even a game of street football in one of the squares between two sets of fans.

Argentina v Holland in the square

Argentina v Holland in the square

Disappointingly, after the excitement of the fan display, the match—a repeat of the 1978 World Cup Final—was a scoreless bore draw.

Thursday 22nd June dawned bright and sunny and the DB inter city express pulled into the station under Frankfurt airport right on time. Like to the second. What was that about the trains in Germany running on time? Yup, true. At a newsagent I’d bought a couple of cardboard backed envelopes and some textas and on the way to Stuttgart, despite some initial dubiousness on his part, Calum and I put together a couple of signs. They read, ‘AUS v CRO. 2 TIX WANTED.’

On the train we made up two signs that read – AUS v CRO. 2 TIX WANTED

Outside the Stuttgart Hbf (Central Station) a long mall packed with fans—mainly Croatian—stretched down to the Schlossplatz Fan Site where large screens showed local matches to those without tickets as well as matches from other venues. I later learned that Stuttgart was virtually a home game for Croatia as so many Croatians worked in the automobile factories that formed the city’s industrial base.

Croatia meets the didjeridu

Croatia meets the didjeridu

We got our signs out and started making our way through the crowd. After a few nibbles from some Croatians, who politely enquired how much we were willing to pay (obviously not enough as they quickly seemed to lose interest) we happened upon an Australian bloke who had a couple of spare tickets ‘from his boss’. They were in the official FFA area he assured me, but they weren’t cheap.

As I was chatting to him, Calum had recommenced negotiations with a couple of Croatian fans and although their tickets were less expensive, they were in the Croatian end of the stadium. I said, ‘We’ve come this far—I’ll run it past Di back in Sydney, but I think we should get the Aussie tickets’. I called, Di said, ‘Go for it’, so after a quick trip to the nearest ATM, a ridiculous sum of euros was exchanged and we had our tickets. Woo hoo!

“Your shirt is a tablecloth”

Feeling on top of the world, we wandered down to the Fan Site where Ghana was playing USA on the big screens. As in Frankfurt, the atmosphere was buzzing with excitement but friendly as Ghanaians mingled with Americans as well as Australians and Croatians. I suggested we get some dinner before heading out to the stadium and we found a little Mexican restaurant, El Chico, near the Fan Site. I still have the receipt. I had the chimichanga with chilli. Calum had the creamy chicken enchilada. That would have repercussions.

Australia and Croatia fan banter

Australia and Croatia fan banter

We made our way back up to the main station where the singing, chanting and banter between the Australian and Croatian fans was ramping up. ‘Your shirt is a tablecloth/ Your shirt is a tablecloth,’ the Australians sang lustily and remarkably, the Croatian fans smiled and laughed and took the gratuitous insult in good humour.

Our seats were brilliant. One level up, front row and looking right along the 6-yard line at the western end of the stadium. What I wrote about the game and its immediate aftermath was published in the final Crikey.com.au e-newsletter of 2006. Here it is …

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One night in Stuttgart

For the final story of the year, we thought we’d turn it over to a contributor who we think summed up perfectly THE sporting moment for the year as voted by our readers…

It’s 11pm, Thursday 22 June at the Gottlieb-Daimler-Stadion in Stuttgart, Germany. The final whistle has just sounded in an astonishing game of football in which the Socceroos have come from behind twice to snatch a two-all draw with Croatia in their final group match in the World Cup. The result means the Socceroos will progress to the round of 16, and the 15,000 or so Australian fans who have made it to the game are going off.

Emotionally pummelled after the extraordinary rollercoaster of the game (we’re in, we’re out, we’re in again, we’re out again and finally WE’RE IN) the fans in gold and green celebrate as our heroes acknowledge their support. I’m on my feet, cheering with what’s left of my voice, hugging my 14 year old son Calum and Andrew, our newly found buddy from Sydney.

Even after the players have disappeared down the tunnel, the Aussie fans show no sign of dispersing. Like a whipped up crowd at a rock concert we are enjoying the moment too much to make a move. For a dinky-di sports-loving Aussie, is there anywhere else in the world you would rather be right now? And the whole thing just gets better as the euphoria is fuelled by an inspired choice of music pumping out of the stadium’s PA system. First up, Angus Young’s distinctive dawdling guitar passage introduces the crunch of AC/DC’s You Shook Me All Night Long. The music has the crowd on its feet, dancing and singing as one. As the players reappear and commence a slow lap of honour, the unmistakable drums and flute that heralds Men At Work’s quintessential Australian travelling song tumble out of the speakers. With Lucas Neill conducting the crowd near the corner flag and all the players singing along, the crowd roar, “We come from the land down under … you’d better run/you’d better take cover”. And then, Angus again, but this time with the late, great Bon Scott on vocals and the crowd joins in with “Oi … Oi … Oi”—not the Aussie-Aussie-Aussie version from the Olympics but the slower, more measured Acca/Dacca one. And the mighty Bon, the bragger extraordinaire, sings “I’m TNT/ I’m dynamite/ TNT/ And I’ll win the fight.”

Socceroos salute the fans

Socceroos salute the fans

It’s a statement, a statement to the world and the crowd senses it, abandons itself in the appropriateness of the words. Archie Thompson grabs a corner flag and holding it like a guitar, duck walks Angus Young-style down the touchline. Behind us a woman wearing an Australian shirt with Thompson and number 17 on the back says “Excuse me—can we see? That’s her father down there.” She holds up a young girl, maybe four or five, also with a number 17 Thompson shirt. “There he is. There’s Daddy,” she says, as Bon thunders, “The man is back in town/ Don’t you mess me round.”

Who was the DJ? Some travelling Australian turntable jockey who had managed to sneak into the gig? Or a local who had been captured by the overwhelming sense of goodwill that surged around the Socceroos on their great adventure? Whoever he or she was, they managed to capture the essence of the moment in music and song for 15,000 Australians and 22 football players a long way from home. All I can say is, thanks mate. Just like Harry, you nailed it.

And I idly wonder, what would they have played if Croatia had won?

*          *          *

After we watched the documentary about 2006 on SBS the other night, Calum told me that he had gone to the toilet during the game and threw up. Ah-ha—the revenge of the enchilada. Certainly on the 1 a.m. train from Stuttgart back to Frankfurt he was fading fast. And the El Chico bug hung around for most of the rest of our stay. So when Di arrived and we all had the chance to go to the round of 16 game against Italy just down the road in Kaiserslautern, we had to pass. We watched that game in the Fan Site in Mainz and after the heartbreak of Lucas Neill’s late rash tackle and Francesco Totti’s winning penalty, I thought maybe it was for the best. Being there would have made the disappointment even more difficult to deal with. I was at the M.C.G. in 1997 when Iran’s two late goals scuppered our ticket to France 1998 and that was quite bad enough.

So my abiding memory of Germany 2006 is that night in Stuttgart—the amazing rollercoaster of the game and the perfect marriage of football and music that celebrated it. Ten years on—still gives me goosebumps.

 

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