Monday, 10 Feb: I am in a long, long queue at immigration. I was given an ³Immigration Fast Track² card on the plane, but as usual that section is shut. Over at the European Union line, Italians and Germans are racing through unchecked at a rate of knots. Our line is banked up for hundreds of people, merely people from the colonies who nonetheless need to be thoroughly screened.
Finally I reach the front and I am confronted by the immigration bloke. ³What is the purpose of your visit?² he demands. Over in the EU line, a Dutchman pushes a wheelbarrow of smiley pills through unchallenged.
What indeed was the purpose of my visit? A 20,000 km round trip to see a football match? Ah, but this was different..... Months before, the first ever match between England and Australia, on Pommie soil had been announced. The venue was Upton Park, less than a mile from where my grandfather was born, almost 100 years before. A game between two historical protagonists, if not always at football, but in my family, always a feared and remembered fixture. My Aussie born father had watched England humble Australia 17 0 in 1951, and had waited ever since for the chance to beat them. Someone of our lot had to be there this time, for historyıs sake.
What was the purpose of my visit? ³Football², I said simply. The immigration guy looks at me as if I am an idiot. ³Well, some business as well² which was true, I had been asked to speak in my field of work and this had neatly lined up with the game. The guy decides Iım harmless and I head into London to recover....
Tue 11 Feb: My work commitments over, I head to Upton Park to try to crash a 4pm Socceroo training session. Itıs cancelled as the pitch is wet. No-one told me! or Andre Krueger, it seems. He is there and we meet again Andre, the greatest non-Australian Australian fan in the history of the game. Thatıs not fair, Andre IS an Australian, itıs just that when he was born the stork got pissed and dropped him in Hanover rather than Bondi Beach, thatıs all.
We have a few drinks and ring our sources close to the squad. Theyıre miles away. We console ourselves and have dinner, discussing all things Australian soccer. Everyone who knows Andre, knows he is a ı74 Socceroo man forever. Eventually he asks me who I think is/was the greatest ever Australian player. I offer a few, but Andre really wants me to say Peter Wilson. We turn in early, for the momentous day ahead...
Web 12 Feb: Wake early the papers and radio discuss the game, but only from the England perspective. They are worried about the club vs country rift that the upcoming game is bringing to a head, and Erikssonıs plan to use two separate England teams for each half, one the usual and one a bunch of rookies. Almost no-one gives a toss about us, or fears us. Well, almost.... there is a creeping feeling from some quarters (through interviews/talkback etc) that this is England / Australia and that they don't want to add football to their list of sporting humiliations to us. BBC radio commentator Mike Ingham is just a 'little' worried that the Sven substitute plan could backfire.
Met some friends for lunch, after putting 5 quid on Aussie to win at 7 - 1 (damn, only a fiver!!!). Moved to the Queens pub near Upton Park tube about 4pm, immediately meet Craig Foster of SBS and the PFAıs Brendan Schwab. Typical SBS, Craig gets the train and in the on-air suit - he doesn't stay for a beer.
Inside, lots of Aussies and Poms, all good natured. Met Ashley who was buying my 2nd ticket (after my original traveling companion pulled out in Sydney bad move!), Ashley and I realise we knew each other from the Bay 23 days. Everyone is up for it, so we realise later, are the Aussie players.
We head to the ground. Ashley and I sit right behind the goal where we stuck the first two, just to the right of the post as the telly saw it. Also there are Bec Carey from Northern Spirit, Trumper McGaurin and another old Bay 23 mate, Tony Devo-. Also lots of generic Aussies fans many of ³the Fanantics² who follow Australian teams everywhere. Their chanting was organised and blended well with the traditional Oz football diehards there.
The game- well you saw it. There was no sense of 'meaningless' at our end. Chippers and Lazza did well, Harry spectacular. In short we out thought them, out played them and basically, our guys were up for it.
At half time, I called Dad at home there we were, 45 minutes from him seeing a 50 year wait come true. As I hung up, the PA music included Arethra Franklin's 'Respect' - I danced on the seat and pointed at the English stands.
As the game wore on, there was more and more sledging from the Aussie
'You'll never win the Ashes'
'Just like the cricket'
'Just like the tennis'
At half time - 'Bring on your B team'
At fullish time 'Bring on your C team'
For once, we were the noisy ones outsinging them!!
Called Dad again at full time -in tears - and went looking for a pub.
The local fans were generally gracious - despite the papers, NOBODY I spoke to from the fans bleated excuses. They were just utterly dejected - we've now beaten them at everything.
Last thing at night, saw Andre again and Matthew Hall on the tube we agreed, one perfect day.
Thurs 13 Feb: I couldn't sleep or sleep in - I get up and buy every newspaper I can find to read their miserable moaning.
Spend my day wandering around London with the shirt and scarf on - everyone dresses so tediously, the green and gold stands out and screams "losers" to them. But my favourite part is striding into William Hill bookies and, under the glare of the Poms there, collecting my winnings. "Not only did we beat you, but I won some of your overinflated money as well", I think, but stop short of saying.
That evening, I leave fog, rain, cold, tanks at Heathrow, threats of war and terrorism....to return to Godıs own country. Wear the Aussie shirt home on the plane.