An impromptu public holiday to mourn the passing of the Queen was a perfect addition to a ceremonious occasion at the magnificent Suncorp stadium, marking the 100th year of the Socceroos. Fireworks, banners, a moment of silence, a welcome to country, and two marvellous renditions of the national anthems made this a night to remember even before a ball was kicked in the Queensland capital and gave Australian fans the opportunity to farewell their beloved team ahead of the FIFA World Cup in November. Even the result went our way, but this was not going to be a New Zealand team that played the fall guy.
“When best laid plans go awry”, goes the saying, and for many people in the early hours of Thursday morning when their phones pinged, this was the reality. Predicted storms, persistent rain and scheduling difficulties caused the cancellation of loads of flights across the country, seeing fans pushed onto unreasonably late flights and seeing their midweek trip to Brisbane in tatters. Some hardy souls even decided to drive from Sydney in an audacious attempt to make the 8pm kickoff. We were fortunate though, our 10am flight out of Sydney airport only delayed by 45 minutes, but making the 1.30pm meet to set up the active bay was going to be tight. Happily though, everyone made it more or less on time and half an hour later we were in the Newstead brewery enjoying the first beer of the day in the shadow of this fine stadium.
The 3pm meet at the Lord Alfred on Caxton Street saw us pass by the stadium forecourt again, and some of the activations were already underway, the Qukes tent always the source of a favourite pre-match snack. The merchandise stalls were full of new kit, a welcome change, and the new beautiful home and slightly less-so away shirts were ready to fly off the shelves. We left messages for the players at the Football Australia marquee, like a pack of eager school kids with their crayons and paper with Nicole our teacher, and the mood was happy on a warm and humid early afternoon.
The pub was oddly quiet when we arrived, but filled up a treat and we took in a bite to eat as we edged towards 7.15pm, our scheduled departure for the game. Many familiar faces were there, veterans with many years and many miles under their belts in support of the Socceroos; MMTV was using the time to interview some of the lucky pub-goers about their upcoming Qatar trips. Everyone was positive, this was going to be a celebration. Caxton Street was busy, full of Socceroos shirts old and new.
A fan interview in front of the stadium was hijacked by a group of the more active and more refreshed supporters, joining in a chorus of Aussie Ole and making some good TV. Entry into the stadium was quick and painless, although I always seem to have an issue sharing tickets on my phone, and we took up our position towards the front of the active bay, where shouting and singing is encouraged and where standing up is de rigeur although not encouraged by the security team.
Football Australia had gone all out for this one. There were massive banners showing the names of every player to represent their country over the 100 years (pretty sure that was Anthony Siokos’ work), the lighting was fabulous in the stadium, and the fire machines and fireworks made for a carnival atmosphere. The emergence of the players gave us a chance to clear our throats and roar, and this was a pretty full-strength Australia team going in to battle with a lesser known New Zealand team who did though boast Toon striker Chris Wood in their ranks.
The short period of silence to commemorate the passing of the Queen was almost impeccably observed, some clowns choosing to whistle and holler but they were in the minority and shut down quickly. It was over in less than thirty seconds anyway and was met again with a huge roar as we went into the anthems.
The players dispersed for their team photos and the active bay began its repertoire of tunes. We were blessed with three eager capos, and we were so lucky to have MMTV, foregoing her opportunity to eat prawn sandwiches in the press box, instead leading the choir and bashing out a melodic beat on the drum. Ben finally ditched his West Ham bucket hat to lead the chanting as the game wore on, and it was great to have some key people from across the country coming together to continue the process of growth that we’re seeing in the active support across the men’s and women’s game.
The game itself was surprisingly open. New Zealand had a glorious chance when Wood flicked on a long ball and Andre De Jong was nudged by Trent Sainsbury as he shot, the ball just past the post with Maty Ryan beaten. We were right behind it and it looked a possible penalty, but play was waved on. Jackson Irvine opened up his body and had time to shoot from close range soon after, but somehow sent his measured shot wide of the target, and Awer Mabil looked lively down the left, linking the play beautifully. When Irvine won a header from a corner and Sainsbury flicked the ball home, the active bay erupted, but it was short-lived. Irvine had man-handled his player in the lead-up, but there was not much to see on the big screen replay and the Socceroos fans were left perplexed.
When the goal did come, it was a cracker, Irvine pouncing and Mabil turning inside to fire in a shot from outside the box. Now we had our goal, and the celebration was allowed to continue. The goal may have gone to Mabil’s head after that, he showed us some ridiculous and unnecessary flicks usually reserved for 5-0 up, but this was not going to be a one-sided game. New Zealand had free kicks that weren’t that far away, and Fran Karacic was having a strange game, at one point needlessly spraying a cross field ball straight out of play.
Half-time came and we had a chance to take in the surroundings. The Socceroos team of the century was announced, there were presentations on the field, the half-time Miniroos played their quick games and in no time, it was all cleared away and the whistle for the second half almost surprised everyone.
As expected, the second half saw a number of changes, but the entertainment was still high. Australia never looked comfortable, and looked destined to cause their own downfall with a careless pass from defence. The plus point was identifying a signature Socceross move that, when it worked, looked so good – the ball out of defence to the central midfielder dropping deep who lays it straight off to his midfield partner who appears from nowhere, and from there the play opens straight up into a fast-paced attack. We’ll see that a lot more in the World Cup for sure. When Premier League target man Wood was taken off, the defence could relax a little, and a counter-attack should have sealed it for the home team, Martin Boyle releasing Mathew Leckie to shoot on the run, but a combination of a touch from the excellent Ollie Sail and the post saw the ball end up behind for a corner.
Jason Cummings’ appearance on the big screen brought plenty of cheer from the home fans, but it was clear he was not in contention tonight. We had a look though at Joel King and Nathaniel Atkinson. Riley McGree looks like an accomplished and confident player already. The final whistle sounded and there was a lot of love for the Socceroos. The team did a lap of honour without interacting one-on-one with the fans, before splitting up for some further fan involvement.
Once the flags were packed up and I’d had a chat with a Newcastle United fan from Brisbane, we were ushered out of the stadium. There were ex-players and Socceroos luminaries passing outside on the concourse, a chat with football historian Greg Werner revealed that there had been a 100-year celebration event, and we saw Jade North and John Kosmina amongst the last people leaving. The final venue to cap off a marvellous day was the lively Caxton Hotel, where we caught up with more Socceroos fans, many bedecked now in the new shirts and the 100-year centenary blue shirts, complete with massively long arms. The knowledge that our international flight to the second leg of this double-header in Auckland was early in the morning was enough to see us leave before closing, only just. What a great day.
Following our national teams is such a buzz and this was no exception. There is a community of like-minded people here and the desire to follow the game we love and the teams we love is like a mild and uncurable addiction. Bring your voice and make that decision to shuffle into the active bay and join in the fun as we roar our teams on to success.
Check out these cracking photos of our active bay from photographer Ant Sartori. Next stop Auckland.