One night in Stuttgart
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 2006 FIFA World Cup. The result means the Socceroos will progress to the round of 16, where they will play Italy. The fifteen thousand or so Australian fans who have made it to the game on this balmy night are going off.
Emotionally pummeled 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 army buddy from Holsworthy in Sydney. Even after the players have disappeared down the tunnel, the fans, most like us concentrated at the western end of the stadium with the rest up the Croatian end and on the two sides, 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. I mean, 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 lazy 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. Assistant Socceroos coach Graham Arnold, seeking a moment’s breather from the after-match intensity of the dressing room, wanders back up the tunnel to the field. Taking in the extraordinary scenes, he goes back to the dressing room and has a quiet word to Guus Hiddink. ‘Get back out there and enjoy it with the fans’ the venerable one instructs his charges. And so, as the gravel-voiced Geordie Brian Johnson belts out ‘You really shook me’, the players reappear to the delirious acclamation of the faithful.
As they 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.’
It’s a statement, a statement to the world and the crowd senses it, abandons itself in the rightness 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 as we stand at the barrier in the front row of the stand, 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 4 or 5, also with a number 17 Thompson shirt, to see the players beneath us. ‘There he is. There’s Daddy,’ she says, as Bon thunders, ‘The man is back in town/ Don’t you mess me round.’
There’s a sense of history in the air and a sense the whole world is watching. It’s like, on the world stage, please welcome a new player. And we’re not just here to make up the numbers.
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 fifteen thousand Australians and 22 football players a long way from home. All I can say is, thanks mate. Just like Harry, you nailed it.
(First published on Crikey.com.au in December 2006)