A year to the day, and the memories are still vivid. Drawing on my own memories and experiences, I hope to portray the rollercoaster feelings of the most devasting day in Australian sport.
The First Leg
After the 1-1 draw in Iran, I was quite shocked that Iran could play so well and trouble the Aussies. I had to keep reassuring myself that 1-1 away was a good result and that the home ground advantage was huge factor. Also, the fact that Iran dominated like they did, yet still not win, also gave me confidence the Aussies would do well.
The media all week was huge. Never before and Australian Soccer had do much coverage. At the photo shoot the players even had a sponsor - Toyota - and were joking about it (the fact that they had one). A lot of the emphasis was on the result and how Australia only needed a 0-0, how the team would play in achieving the result, instead of a spectacular goal feast. Also there was much talk of whether Okon would play - I do not think there was any chance. Iran had many supporters in Australia too, and the reception Iran got at the airport must have been heartening for them. Anyway as the week progressed, I grew more and more confident.
The Day of the Game
Temperature was in the mid-twenties with the chance of showers later on - they never came. Six of us went - 2 distinct groups - friends from TAFE and friends from Port Melbourne. The link they had was me. It was the first time they would meet each other, although one of them had participated in e-mail messages with the TAFE boys. I drove to my friend's (the Croat) house in Port where the other "Port" friend (Z) was meeting too. Naturally, the Croat was late getting ready and when we arrived late at Flinders Street station, the TAFE boys had been nearly killed with some moron playing bagpipes. Suffer scum!
Earlier at home I was nervous and did not sleep much the night before. I had no dreams either, unlike the previous time against Argentina. I remember I was playing the game and set up the goal to put Australia 3-0 up near the end of the game and Wadey was saying to me, "we've done it, we've done it". I told him to settle down as it was not all over. Anyway, I scored a fourth and Wadey again repeated his comments. This time I agreed with him.
I played a lot of music - happy songs, sad songs. As they were playing, I tried to translate the emotion of the song into images of how I would be after the game. Strangely, my images of what would happen if we lost were far more easy to visualise - just being slumped into the seat. I just could not really visualise what I would be like if we won. Obviously happy, and relieved, but what would I do? Would I run around naked? Just did not know.
Melbourne: a city alive
We were in the city 3 hours before the game started. It was just amazing the feeling of expectation and excitement that was going on. We walked to HJ's where we abused each other over a whopper, but strangely, did not really discuss the outcome of the game much. The walk to the "G" was equally amazing. Bob made the revelation that he wanted to be now known as the "Devil". More importantly, was the realisation of an Australian Soccer culture. All the rowdy Aussies were chanting and cheering - all Aussies too - and seemed to have their own distinct chants. The Iranian fans were present too. The fever pitch rose.
Inside the "G"
We sat two-thirds up the Southern Stand on the penalty box line at the end where Vidmar scored. Each time the small pockets of Iranians started chanting, the rest of the crowd started and drowned them out. As the stadium filled, the excitement increased. As the Aussies warmed up they were constantly cheered. I bet none of them could believe what they saw - 85,000 watching a game of soccer in Australia.
The portents were good too. A video game challenge between an Australian and an Iranian fan was won by the Aussie. The game was Rapid Racer. The parachutists who came in with the huge Aussie flag landed on his feet, whilst the Iranian fellow fell over.
Around us were a heap of diverse Aussie fans, but the thing I remember most is that a lot of these Aussies had ripped the Union Jack out of the mini-flags that were being handed out to everybody. Our flag is a disgrace - I have no idea how anyone can take any pride in it. I refused to wave one myself.
The best part of the pre-match entertainment was when a flock of seagulls were running around the pitch which were cracking us up, and the giant ball which seemed to squash someone. The serious stuff with all the nations flags put us into a guessing game of which flag belongs to which country. We got them all in the end, but Yugoslavia's flag was their old one, before the war. I also remember telling Z that Paraguay's flag is different on its other side - the only flag in the world that has two different sides. The emblem in the middle has a back and front. What a smart-arse!
The National Anthem
THIS WAS HUGE. Easily the best rendition I had heard. I refused to sing it because I hate it too, but I really soaked it in. On the scoreboard we could see that Jane Scali - who was singing it - was feeling it too. Her nipples were really tingling! Before that the Iranian Anthem was booed a bit. But actually, it was quite good. Anyway, the players dispersed to warm up and destiny awaited.
The Game: the onslaught
Unbelievable. Although the game dallied for the first 20 seconds or so, it suddenly sprang to life. Next thing we knew was Vidmar was one-on-one and Zervo grabbed my hand for support! Vidmar fluffed it, and also the shot almost immediately after it. Thankfully Zervo let go to. I wonder if he actual realised he did this? I remember Slater sprinting down the wing right below us and winning a corner. Kewell had a shot cleared of the line and there heaps of other chances like when we thought there a penalty, but there was not. It died down a bit and just as we thought a goal would not come, bang, Kewell scored and I hugged Zervo around his waist. Iran sprung the offside trap but the ball was played too hard and Bosnich gobbled it up. Also, an earlier long range shot got sent into the stratosphere. It seemed like Iran had no idea in attack
The feeling of optimism was real high. Bob asked me about the game and I said Iran won't score. He then said that what in fact I was saying that we are through. Well yes! But I did mention to all that we must hit them early, and score TWO goals, as one goal would mean nothing. Ideally, we should score the two in the first 10-15 minutes and that would be all over. Because, at half time, Iran needed 2 goals to win. At 2-0, Iran would still need only two goals to win. The only advantage of a 2-0 lead over 1-0 was that if Iran did score one goal, then there would be no extra time due to the aggregate goal rule.
We've done it
Minutes after the restart, Vidmar scored. He waved his fist in defiance right below us which said to me that we are through. Also there was his own personal relief of scoring after the missed chances early in the game. Iran seemed shell-shocked too. What would they do?
We were in the twilight zone here. That time of nothing where the game was merely being played out. We started looking at the clock, though it was confusing because of the intruder. We did not know how much time was wasted. It seemed like heaps. Iran became more adventurous but their best chances seemed to be covered. Australia still made chances but suddenly I sensed lethargy and maybe complacency creeping in. Australia became sloppy with final passes, and impatient when presented with golden opportunities. Iran became more nervous. The telling sign was when Khapour nearly fell over dribbling in defence and a poor goal-kick by the keeper. It went straight to Viduka (where I yelled out "VIDUKA!") who promptly tried to lob it to goal, when instead, he should have played it to Kewell who would have been one-one-one. Kewell also rushed a cross which he should have played more intelligently. I knew Australia would not score any more.
Watching the clock
With the sense of a stagnantscore-line, we monitored the clock closely. It seemed to go forever. Then suddenly Iran scored. I brushed it off as luck and knew they could not get lucky again. No one even considered that it was offside either. Then, within seemingly seconds, another. Azizzi was through on his own - surely he will fluff it? He did not. I sat back, clenched my fists, and yelled "what are you doing?".
Watching the clock, part 2
But now it was for all the wrong reasons. I sort of felt we were gone then. The refereeing was going against us, especially with that Kewell decision on Iran's keeper before the Iran goals; and also the rough tackling early in the game on the Aussies. But then I thought that this was not right, Australia have to win, it is our destiny. Mixed emotions here. But in the final throws I remember Bob giving desperate directions to the Australians with demonstrative pointing of his fingers to various parts of the field; Roy still checked the clock; Simo - a supposed hater of the sport - transfixed; there were chances, none went in. But the final sign was Arnold trying to gee up the players - they were already gone, the match was gone - it was too late.
The Final Whistle
From as high as you can ever get, to as low as you could ever get, the game seemed to end abruptly. Roy thought seemed to think there was much more time to go. I stood up. Soaked in the emotion of both teams. Iranians hugged the referee. Australians slumped on the ground. Most walked off quickly, though Lazaridis lay face down. "We are the Champions" was blaring out. How could such a song have so many sad emotions attached to it now, forever? After most of the players left the pitch, I sat down, kicked the chair in front of me, and put my head in my hands. Must have been there for 15 minutes. Lazaridis was still down, until a policeman helped him off the pitch. That was the cue to go, Simo suggested it. We all departed down the passages of the stand. Simo asked what went wrong. I did not answer. He then said, "that's why I hate soccer". To which I said something like, "what other sport could give you these emotions?".
Outside the "G"
The state of the crowd walking back to the city was of depression and devastation. It was like we were all walking off to a death-camp, almost like zombies. It was so quiet. Outside the stadium I noticed a young woman in tears...being comforted....possibly my her mum. She had Tobin on the back of her shirt, which I thought strange. He is hardly the most glamorous player. It turned out that she was his wife.
I was shattered the next day. I watched all the news and shows to get an answer. All that could be told was that of a day gone horribly wrong. Most of the blame was on the lack of substitutions, and in not closing up shop, but anyone at the game could hardly envisage Iran scoring one goal, let alone two. There was also the realisation that the first Iran goal was offside. I ended up taking a couple of days off work, and the Socceroo Realm was born. I had to convey my feelings somewhere, somehow.
So in the end, those images I had when playing music were realised in the most stark, and vivid reality of what was 29th November, 1997. Lest we forget.
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