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Maria & Brett's HUGE Trip 06-07-08-09-? ok, so the Socceroos lost in 'that' penalty against Italy; Adriatic summers aren't long enough (bliss!); and we found that you should never use the term "Eastern Bloc" when talking to a Czech (Central Europe, please).

World Cup - Australia v Croatia

GERMANY | Friday, 23 June 2006 | Views [2669] | Comments [1]

More euphoria - some players have swapped jerseys with Croatian counterparts. Note Viduka congratulating Aloisi, in turn contratulating Kalac (the goalkeeper). Note Lucas Neill in the background who went nuts.

More euphoria - some players have swapped jerseys with Croatian counterparts. Note Viduka congratulating Aloisi, in turn contratulating Kalac (the goalkeeper). Note Lucas Neill in the background who went nuts.

While the Socceroos were undergoing last-minute preparations for their clash against Croatia the following day, the fans of both teams were out on the streets of Stuttgart preparing for off field war.

For 24 hours the clash between two sporting teams was elevated to a competition of national pride between two nations. Although we knew that many Australians back home were heading towards the pub at 2am to settle in for the match, or putting the kettle on at home to warm up during the chilly winter’s night, we were taking the battle to the streets armed with incomprehensibly slurry renditions of Waltzing Matilda and the National Anthem as our weapons, and the Aussie and Boxing Kangaroo flags as our shields.

The night before the match began like any other in Stuttgart – thousands of people from all over the world gathering at the Fanfest in the gardens in front of the castle to watch one of the other games broadcast live on open-air screens (“What?! There’s a castle in there somewhere?”).

When the post-match excitement lulled, many Aussies congregated towards the rear where a small group of Croatians had been alternatively singing and swilling beer for the past hour.  The Aussie contingent rebutted the Croatians with homegrown versions of Waltzing Matilda (well…the chorus anyway!), Advance Australia Fair and, to the tune of The Pet Shop Boys’ “Go West!”, chants of “Stand up… if you beat Japan!” and “Stand up… if you’ve scored a goal!”. The Croatians may have perceived this as a call to arms, but it was really only a bit of entertainment to go with our beer.

To break the monotony of the Croatian singing – and I mean that it was so precisely uniform and passionate that it sounded as one voice – an Aussie climbed a nearby statue of a king and slung an Aussie flag over the statues raised arm, of course to the aroused cheer of the Aussies! It didn’t take long for a couple of shirtless Croatians to climb up, tear the flag down and replace it with a one of their red and white-checked Croatian shirts. I thought this would incite a brawl – and I could picture the scene as it would appear in a grainy photo the next day in The Stuttgarter – but instead the Aussies just laughed and turned away from this unoriginal response.  The two sides then began a friendly sing-off that would put Young Talent Time to shame.

By 3am most streets in the city centre were closed and littered with empty plastic beer cups and footballs flying in every direction as mini football games took place between fans – by now the battles had turned into friendlies between Australia and Croatia! At one stage about 22 police cars and vans appeared in front of a bar that had been effectively taken over by Croatian fans who had spilled out shirtless onto the main street, blocking all traffic and throwing lit flares onto the empty road. Police in riot squad gear quickly formed a line to try to force the fans back. When we saw the several tripod-mounted video cameras being swiveled about by police on top of several police vans, capturing the fracas, we decided it was time to leave and get a few wee hours of sleep.

It would be our turn to do battle in the grandstands tomorrow, and we needed all the energy we could muster – especially after witnessing the passion of the Croatian fans who sang their songs in one voice, one after another without a pause. I was rather envious of this united display of passion – quite at odds with the casual Australian approach to sporting events. It would be a clash of two different sides. And I hoped we were ready for it.

Match day was taken up by face painting and gathering back in town with all the other thousands of fans before traveling by train to the Stadium – almost within earshot of the city.

I’ve got goosebumps just writing this down, as every Aussie fan was decked out in either green and gold or red, white and blue – or mostly a combination of both. There were inflatable boxing kangaroos bouncing about on top of the massive throng of cheery Aussies, while surprisingly many burly red and white-checked Croatian fans would approach us and offer their congratulations before the match had started. They too had sensed that the Aussies were here to clean up, not just make an appearance. We were nearly carried along by the crowd from the station to the stadium – the atmosphere more festive and anticipatory than anything we’d ever experienced.

Inside the stadium we found our seats – right near the front behind one of the Aussie corners – and gazed around our end to soak up the sea of green and gold which extended from the sidelines right up to the back of the nosebleed section. The Aussie colors blended into a rainbow of colours by the halfway line before transforming into a force of red and white energy that really hurt our eyes. Or was it the ear-piercing shrill of the Croatian chants that were already at full pitch? How could thousands of supporters start up a song and sing it in one voice, each word clearly enunciated and audible from such a distance? Having attended many local sporting matches in Australia, I’ve never experienced such a thrust of passion. This was no ordinary sporting event, but a meeting of two vastly different cultures. (Ashamedly, I even started to sing the songs as I’d heard most of them the previous night).

For all you sports fans out there, especially those of the Swanneeees, the potential power of audible crowd support could have a huge impact on the psyche of your team. If two equally-matched teams play one another, the crowd support could be the difference between a win or a loss. Your team needs to know you’re there in support at all times, not only when they score a goal.

I will always remember the clear night, the broad expanse of crowd and distance, and the way the lights lit everything in a crisp white light. Sounds were both muffled and crisp – a single shout from the Croatian side would take an eternity to reach us from the other side, while the shrills of whistles and screams announced the imminent arrival of a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle.

When the players came out they were more stars than people. Their individual bodies were dwarfed by the vast distance and thousands of spectators around them, yet it was these individuals whose legends and characters we had got to know in such intimate detail over weeks and months now – they were like gladiatorial fighters whose legends were distinct from the mortal bodies that carried them around, and it was only their legends that were discussed around town in the absence of TV replays or print pictures. Witnessing these legends in the flesh was indeed a change from viewing them up close on the TV, and we had to recall stored memories of larger than life inspirational characters and link them with the bodies that we saw out on the field.

The game passed with spectacular moments, the gaps between which were filled with chanting, silence and cheering. We didn’t sit down once – nor did any of the crowd – as if trying to lift the boys over the line to victory.

Croatia scored early against Kalac, his first start in this World Cup. Although we were down, and risked conceding another early unopposed goal, the boys had come from behind before against Japan and the crowd knew we’d come out on top. We got there, 2-2 at full time, enough to advance Australia to the next Round of 16 and send Croatia home. A sobering thought when you realise from talking with Croatian fans that it is considered a national sport, pastime and religion in Croatia. One fan even later told us through bleary eyes that “It is a national disgrace. I don’t want to go home”. There was no evidence of this when we visited Croatia later that month –the passion had obviously subsided and everyday life had been restored. That was unless you mentioned it which we didn’t dare.

After the whistle blew the boys came over to the stands and appreciated the crowd, as the stadium’s PA pumped out Men at Work’s ‘Downunder’, ACDC’s “Shook me all night long” and ‘Go West’ – to which the crowd sang the words “Stand up….for the Socceroos, stand up…”. We all stayed around to soak it all up until the police line came and politely forced us out into town, cheering and chanting on trains and in groups all the way back to the city centre where we celebrated – the Croatians eventually joining us – deep into the night.

Tags: Party time

Comments

1

Hi Maria & Brett,
What a story - I found your site while searching for Tony Wilson "Australia United: Adventures at the 2006 World Cup.

Absolutely relished your story and indeed I had goose bumps right through it. Unfortunately we had the chance to go to Germany but for some reason it slipped through - A regret we will have forever. Go Socceroos & Melbourne Victory

  Sebastian Giaccotto Oct 29, 2007 4:59 PM

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