The Big Issue : Edition 564
16 THEBIGISSUE.ORG.AU 15–28 JUN 2018 won the home leg. It looked a perilously slender lead, though. After being spat at and jostled at Montevideo airport, the Socceroos succumbed in the blinding sunshine of the Estadio Centenario, and the nightmare continued unabated. “Another stake has been hammered through the heart of Australian soccer,” said SBS commentator Paul Williams at the final whistle. Seven consecutive failed attempts at World Cup qualification – it was as if someone up there didn’t like us. To be fair, there’d been whispers over the years about just this: The Curse. In the autobiography of former Australian captain Johnny Warren, Sheilas, Wogs and Poofters (2002), the story is laid out. In an unlikely turn of events, when the Socceroos had taken on Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in a World Cup qualifier in 1969 in Mozambique, the players visited a witchdoctor who offered to place a curse on their opponents. He did, and Australia won, but the Aussies then baulked at his £1000 fee. Not best pleased, the witchdoctor redirected the curse upon the Australians. One goalless campaign at the 1974 World Cup finals notwithstanding, you could say that he, and it, did a solid job. In times of accursedness, to whom could Australian soccer turn? A local media personality and satirist, of course. In 2004 intrepid John Safran took it upon himself to fly to Africa, and find a witchdoctor – the original alternative practitioner had passed away – who could reverse the curse. In an episode of his show, John Safran vs God, he performed a somewhat disturbing ritual involving washing his face in sacrificed chicken blood. Obviously, it was nonsense. Still... In the meantime, local soccer seemed to be heading in the right direction. Football Federation Australia had launched a new national club competition, the A-League. Crowds averaged a healthy 15,000 or so in the early weeks of the inaugural season. Club football was one thing, though – the curse of the Socceroos quite another. Come November 2005 and Uruguay was again preparing to send the Australian team to its quadrennial doom. The last time the Socceroos had reached the finals, I was nine years old. I was middle-aged now. No longer working in the soccer media, I was just another fearful supporter at Stadium Australia as our national team took to the field. After an unbearably tense 90 minutes, plus 30 minutes extra-time, it went to a penalty shootout. When John Aloisi’s decisive spot-kick nestled in the back of the net, I screamed as loudly as I had in my life. The curse was broken, and the Australian soccer landscape had changed forever. In his post-match analysis, SBS commentator Craig Foster briefly thanked John Safran. A decade later, and the Socceroos are heading for their fourth consecutive World Cup finals. Their fortunes have fluctuated in recent years – as have those of the A-League – and the current Australian squad has a distinct lack of star quality. The Matildas might be a better bet for silverware – our women’s team is among the favourites for next year’s World Cup in France. Still, regardless of their results, the Socceroos – like the Matildas – will effortlessly showcase the modern face of multicultural Australia. Cricket struggles at times to move beyond its Anglo-Saxon origins – how many Aussies of, say, Italian, Iranian, Lebanese, Serbian or Samoan heritage have donned the Baggy Green in recent years? For their part, the Wallabies remain largely defined by rugby union’s private-school clichés. The Socceroos, though, will feature players whose families hail from seven or eight different countries, led by Jedinak, a Sydneysider with Croatian roots. No-one is expecting miracles in Russia, and if we reach the quarter- finals, the FFA might be tempted to petition for a public holiday. But with Australia’s appearances at the World Cup now a serious rival even to the Ashes in the local sporting consciousness, the sissy sport has come a long way. When the Socceroos take on France, they’ll be watching in the Wimmera. » Patrick Mangan is a book editor and author of the soccer memoir The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Gunner. 1954 SPORT MAGAZINE THOUGHT THE CRITICISM OF THE MIGRANT CLUBS HAD GONE TOO FAR 1965 AUSTRALIA’S FIRST WORLD CUP SQUAD 1973 JIMMY FRASER SAVES AGAINST IRAQ AT OLYMPIC PARK 1974 THE SOCCEROOS WORLD CUP SQUAD PHOTOSCOURTESYOFSPORT,1954;LAURIESCHWABCOLLECTION,DEAKINUNIVERSITYLIBRARY;LESSHORROCKCOLLECTION,DEAKINUNIVERSITYLIBRARYANDMRSEILEENSHORROCK;ANTONCERMAK.