You are on page 1of 20

16

Run, Tony, Run
‘Nach dem Spiel Ist vor dem Spiel.’ ‘After the game Is before the game.’
Sepp Herberger, opening credits, Run Lola Run

G

ive me some scarlet hair, cool lime-green jeans and feminine hips, and I’m Lola. The frenetic techno-charged 1998 German film, Run Lola Run, begins with these words from Herberger, the late great German football coach, before cutting to Lola on a call from her desperate boyfriend, Manni. Lola’s mission: to raise 100,000 deutschmarks in 20 minutes to save Manni’s life. My mission: to travel 12 kilometres in 30 minutes to pick up the most coveted sports ticket on the planet. My cause is not quite as noble as Lola’s: I’m just a lucky man sprinting to get luckier, but that doesn’t alter my intensity. Lola and I both started with a phone call as the starter’s gun. Love makes Lola toss her handset away in desperation. The promise of a text message from Mat has me holding on to mine with a vice-like grip. ‘Entschuldigung!’ I say, as I breaststroke through the bog of people in the Fan Mile. If only I could do that cool, animation, music-video thing that Lola does on the stairs at the start. The bit where she flips into

226

Run, Tony, Run

a cartoon character. I’d surely find more gaps in the bog running in twodimensions. ‘Excuse me! Entschuldigung! Entschuldigung!’ Finally I’m through the molasses on the Strasse des 17 Juni and now I’m really moving – chest out, stomach in, trying to drive the knees. People laugh as I fly past. I’m the only one going this way, out of the Tiergarten, dodging the oncoming pedestrian traffic as I race towards one of the Fan Mile’s security entry posts. My backpack bounces up and down, providing the metronome. What was Lola’s techno backing-song again? ‘I wish … I wish …’ I wish I could remember the words. I make up my own. I wish I was a runner, In search of higher ground. I wish I was the mountain, Refusing to be found. A girl coming the other way extends an arm for a high-five. ‘I might be going to the game!’ I yell, not slowing down. Hear that, Mozz? I only said ‘might’. An Australian voice breaks from the crowd: ‘You’ll wanna get a shuffle on!’ I leap for the clouds and punch the air. I might be going to the game! I wish I was a cyclone, Pelting rain and sleet. I wish I was a drumbeat, Connecting mind to feet. I skid back through the bag check at Scheidemann Strasse, the Reichstag looming on my right, attempting a Ronaldo two-step shuffle. With barely a stumble, I’m through, and again searching for top gear. What did sprint coach Ann Quinn teach me when I was trying to find that extra yard back in my AFL days? Elbows at side, drive with the arms. Keep the head still. I wish I was a traveller, Who knows where he belongs.

227

ausTRalia uniTed

I wish I was a singer, Who knows the words to songs. I begin to flail in a way that Lola never did. Damn you Lola for being able to film your sprints over four weeks, 50 metres at a time! At 7.20pm, the temperature is still in the mid-20s and sweat has saturated my T-shirt and shorts. Taxi! I badly need a taxi. Two German policemen are loitering in front of the New Federal Chancellory building. ‘Entschuldigung. Entschuldigung! Sprechen Sie Englisch? Where can I get a taxi?’ One policeman raises his palms. ‘No taxis now. Only trains.’ The other waves a dismissive hand and points in the direction of the largest, newest railway station in Europe. ‘Hauptbahnhof, that way.’ The beat starts again. I feel a darting pain in my right ankle, my footballravaged body wondering where all the cartilage went. My lungs are bursting. The amplified rhythm of my breathing is thumping in my eardrums. Still I keep running. In Run Lola Run, there are three films within a film. The ending differs in each according to a metre lost or gained along the way. I must make the next S-Bahn! I must make the next S-Bahn! At least I can’t get lost. Across the river Spree the Hauptbahnhof looms as a shiny, glass monolith – like Superman’s ice-palace in Superman II. To make sure there’s no identity crisis ‘Hauptbahnhof’ is written across it in letters two storeys high. I charge up the steps, taking three at a time. Then the escalator. The Spandau train comes at 7.29pm. I am on it. I started running at 7.10pm. Mat needs me there in 11 minutes. I text him an update: – ‘On train be a few minutes late.’ Mat’s reply text bounces back within a beat: – ‘Red entry point hurry.’ There’s nothing to do but sweat and wait. I suck in the big breaths, making valiant attempts to restore my equilibrium. The train is almost empty – nobody in either the scalping market or with legit tickets has left it this late. There are four guys in Mexican shirts, who have just scalped theirs. ‘Fifteen hundred euros each,’ one of them says. ‘We got the final in the ballot. It just about covers the trip.’

228

Run, Tony, Run

I tell them about Mat’s phone call, and my amazing 20 minutes. A Canadian journalist across the aisle pulls out her notepad. She interviews me like I’ve interviewed so many others. Then she gets down to brass tacks. Can we ask Mat whether he has a free ticket for her too? ‘He said he only had one. Sorry.’ ‘Can I ask again? Is there any harm in asking? I’ll do the talking.’ I’m embarrassed about her asking Mat that question when I’ve already been told the answer. She might do the talking, but I’ll be the one standing on the side, feeling sheepish. ‘Once the train stops, I’m going to be running,’ I say. ‘I won’t be able to wait.’ She’s in her mid-40s and doesn’t appear the running type. ‘I’ll try to keep up,’ she says. The train takes an interminable 16 minutes. I text Mat along the way: ‘So sorry. Leave with security if no other option.’ At 7.45pm, the doors finally open and I explode onto the platform. I can’t see the stadium. Shit, which way? I guess left. I guess badly. It costs me two minutes and one-and-a-half platform lengths in wasted ground. It does, however, help me lose my tail. The Canadian journo never guessed I’d run the wrong way. I spot a sign pointing to the red entry point, and pick up the trail. Finally, I can see the Olympiastadion rising up in all its golden glory, directly in front. At full pelt, I stride out for the finish line, weaving through the scalpers and the scalped. Please let Mat be here! God I hope I haven’t taken too long. I arrive at the appointed rendezvous – the security clearance area for the red entry point, as far as I can get without a ticket. I scan every face for my old Minter Ellison colleague. I can’t see him. Scheisse! I wish I had better eyesight! I call Mat on the mobile. ‘Mat, I’m here. I’m here at security for red entry!’ I hear the buzz of the stadium in the background to the call. ‘I’m inside already,’ he says. ‘Your ticket is with a bloke called Jim. Stay right where you are. Jim is having some trouble getting another group of 30 in. Are you at the red entry point?’ To make doubly sure, I ask a severe-looking security woman for confirmation. She nods, glowering under her Frida Kahlo mono-brow. ‘Yes, I’m at the red entry.’

229

ausTRalia uniTed

‘Stay right where you are. I’ll go out and get your ticket from Jim, and bring it over to you.’ It’s 7.48pm. If Mat leaves his seat, he’ll miss kick-off. I ask Mat whether Jim and I should make contact directly. After all, if both Jim and the ticket are already outside the stadium, there was no sense him coming out. ‘Actually that would be good,’ Mat said. ‘Okay. Just wait there. Keep your bloody phone on! I’ll get him to call you when he’s sorted out this thing with the other group. I’ll text you each other’s numbers. Don’t worry, Tone. We’ll get you in here.’

Designed by one of Hitler’s leading architects, Werner March, the Olympiastadion was built on the site of an existing stadium especially for the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Grand in scale, and neo-classical in style, it’s located near the Grunewald Forest, 12 kilometres west of the city. It was constructed out of grey marble and stone, and March’s brief from the Führer was to recreate the Eternal City – to use the stadium as a symbol of German military might and the indestructibility of the Third Reich. For the 1936 Olympics, the stadium contained an adjoining swimming pool and held a whopping 110,000 people. It’s chilling now to see old photos of the stadium from that time. The Olympic rings – for so many of us, a symbol of peace and goodwill between nations – sitting side by side with the swastika. History remembers Jesse Owens’s performances in Berlin, his four gold medals serving as a brilliant rebuff to Hitler’s racist theories, but in a propaganda sense, Hitler got what he wanted from the 1936 Olympics. Germany topped the medal table with 33 gold medals, nine more than the United States; no significant international boycott occurred, despite Germany’s widespread discrimination against Jews and its racial purity laws; and the Nazis even used the Olympic platform to talk the language of brotherhood and peace. The martial signs were all there – on the parade grounds and in the streets, but at an Olympics that was meant to prove the superiority of the Aryan race, Hitler spruiked peace:

230

Run, Tony, Run

‘The sportive, knightly battle awakens the best human characteristics. It doesn’t separate, but unites the combatants in understanding and respect. It also helps to connect the countries in the spirit of peace. That’s why the Olympic Flame should never die.’ The Olympiastadion, built to last 1000 years, was one of the 30 per cent of Berlin buildings that eventually survived World War II intact. In April 1945, as Berlin was falling, the Olympiastadion was the location of a last stand battle between Russian troops and German volunteers. Many of the volunteers were younger than 10, and some older than 60, recruited as part of the Hitler’s last-gasp ‘Volkssturm’ (People’s Storm). Two thousand Hitler Youth were killed, while Hitler himself sat in his bunker, blaming imminent defeat on his own people. The stadium is also one of the few examples of Nazi architecture that survived the fall of Berlin. The others are the airport halls at Templehof airport and, strangely, the Reich Air Ministry Building (Luftwaffe headquarters) on the old administrative boulevard, Wilhelmstrasse, just south of the Unter den Linden. To perhaps explain the survival of the latter, the RAF building in London was also spared in the Blitz. In a war where millions of civilians died and countless churches, synagogues, museums and other architectural treasures were bombed into oblivion – a war where whole cities were fire-bombed out of existence – the head of the Luftwaffe in Berlin (Hermann Göring) and the head of the RAF in London (Sir Hugh Dowding) had a mutual understanding that it just wouldn’t be right to bomb each other’s office. Catching my breath, I gazed up at the Olympiastadion, silhouetted against a reddening sky, with a mixture of awe and sadness. So much about this city is sad. Today, the renovated stadium had its biggest date since the Opening Ceremony of 1936. Today was it’s time for redemptive glory.

For three days, I had been searching Berlin for the temporary SBS studio. Believing I was out of the race for a Final ticket, I’d decided to conclude my trip by interviewing SBS broadcasting doyen, Les Murray. I didn’t really know what I wanted to say. Probably just ‘thanks a lot’ and ‘how

231

ausTRalia uniTed

good was that?’ If I was lucky, Les might even write the last line of my book for me. Has there been a better sign-off in Australian sports broadcasting than Les Murray’s ‘goodnight from the world game’? I had set journalists on the case, to request an interview with Les on my behalf. I’d visited the media centre, attempting to talk my way through without accreditation. I had even recruited my father back in Melbourne, getting him to call SBS to ask for an address for the studio. When that didn’t work, he turned all Mike Hammer – trying to guess from the background shot behind Les and the gang where the mystery studio might be (the Reichstag was a big clue). None of it had worked, and I’d given up. Anthony Stavrinos, one of the accredited scribes who had been making inquiries for me, said that Les was good for an interview, but only after the tournament had ended. That was fair enough. It was World Cup Final day. The Pope can’t meet everyone on Christmas Day.

At 7.50pm, 10 minutes before kick-off, I was still at the security point staring at my phone. An ocean roar spilled out from inside the stadium as the players took the field. ‘C’mon Jim, ring!’ Thank goodness I had charged my phone back at the hostel. I had forgotten when I’d gone to bed, and risen in the pre-dawn to find a power point. Then he appeared. At first I didn’t think it was Les. How could it be? There was now less than 10 minutes to kick-off. Surely Les was safely in his seat? But then the figure strode closer: the glasses, the silver hair, the classy navy suit. When I saw the microphone, I was doubly sure. He must have been out doing vox pops. I moved into position for the pounce. Because of the lateness of the hour, Les was flying. With his roundthe-neck media pass in hand, his sights were set firmly on the security check-point. He expected a bag-check, and possibly a frisk. What he wasn’t expecting was a large, sunburnt man in a sweat-saturated Socceroos’ shirt to materialise before him. I later described the encounter in an on-air phone call back to Sam Pang, Fee B-Squared, and 3RRR sports reporter The Big O.

232

Run, Tony, Run

TONY: ‘I think he was slightly stressed out by the fact that I approached him a bit quick … I sort of got right in his field of vision and went, “Les, Les, Les!” like that because I was pretty excited from the run …’ SAM: ‘I suppose in Les’s defence … if a big, white, balding, blond man came running towards me …’ THE BIG O: (interrupting) ‘Sweating up …’ SAM: ‘Yes … sweating up … I’d be a bit petrified myself.’ TONY: ‘He took one step back. He was actually already late for the game ... it was nine minutes to kick-off. Why wasn’t Les in there?’ FEE: (laughing) ‘And you still bailed him up … you knew he was running late and you’ve bailed him up …’ TONY: (unrepentant) ‘I bailed him up.’*

The actual conversation with Les lasted not as long as the postmortem on radio. I introduced myself as ‘Tony from Australia’, grabbed his right hand, pumped it a few times and said, ‘Thanks for the 30 years.’ ‘No problems,’ he said, flashing his terrific, television teeth. I eventually released Les’s hand. He was free to go.

7.56pm – four minutes to go. I was still pacing at the red entry point, in the Olympischer Platz, listening as the national anthems played inside. An attractive brunette was standing beside me, also waiting. She introduced herself as Karen. ‘Are you waiting for a ticket?” she asked. I did my best to answer what was a very simple question, but I was in no state for small talk. Like an antelope on the Savannah, my head was darting in all directions – from phone, to stadium, to watch, to Karen, back to phone, to sunset, to Karen’s feet, back to watch, back to phone, to causeway, to security woman, to phone … Eventually, I disgorged an answer. Something to the effect of ‘yes, I have a ticket coming’. I asked Karen her ticket situation. She seemed a lot calmer than me.
* Visit geoffslattery.com.au/australiaunited to listen to this podcast

233

ausTRalia uniTed

‘I sold my ticket. I was arriving with my boyfriend and a man offered us 1000 euros. One thousand euros! I just don’t like football that much! I sold the ticket to a French guy and my boyfriend went with him. Now I’m waiting for the game to finish to meet up with my boyfriend. In September, I’ll go to Spain for a week!’ Karen was a smiler and a flirt and really quite stunning. In normal circumstances I might not have turned my back to yabber desperately to a security guard. But these weren’t normal circumstances. We’d just heard the roar for the opening whistle of the World Cup Final. I was desperate. Karen would understand. ‘This is definitely the red entry?’ I asked glowering Frida, the security woman. ‘Yes, this is red entry … red entry east.’ Red entry east! RED FUCKING ENTRY FUCKING EAST! I was beside myself. Red entry east implied there was a red entry west, most likely just to the west of red entry east. Terrified, I asked the question. ‘Yes, red entry west is around across the other side of that area,’ Frida said, pointing with her right hand. I stared forlornly. ‘That area’ housed a utilities plant. With the railway line behind it, it might as well have been the Mojave Desert. ‘How long will it take to run over to red entry west?’ She shrugged, bored. ‘You must go right around … maybe 10 minutes?’ East versus west. So long it had been the divide that tore apart the city of Berlin. Suddenly, it threatened to tear me apart too. What would the Pet Shop Boys do? They’d probably Go West (‘life is peaceful there’), but given I was already at red entry east, maybe it was best to stay put – like a four-year-old lost in a shopping centre. In frustration, I stared at my phone, begging for it to ring. C’mon Jim! Please turn up here. I wasn’t sure my ankle would survive another sprint. It was while I was staying put that I heard the first serious roar of celebration. Another one followed, about a minute later, suggesting a penalty. A group of Londoners dressed as Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was outside the red entry point too. Ringo Starr had a radio. I asked him who scored.

234

Run, Tony, Run

‘Penalty to France. Converted by Zidane,’ he said. ‘Zidane chipped it. Hit the crossbar and went in. Can you believe it?’ He spoke squeakily and not at all like Thomas the Tank Engine. Beep beep! Beep beep! A text arrived. It was from Mat Annells: – ‘Are you in?’ I got the predictive text flying. – ‘Not yet. Is it red entry east or west?’ I stared at the phone, sweating on the reply. C’mon! Maybe I’ll suggest to Mat that he light a flare. See if it isn’t quicker to communicate by smoke signal. Finally, the return message arrived, breathless and exhausted after its quick trip to Australia: – ‘Ring Jim. [number] Otherwise, half-time.’

I rang Jim, dialling the numbers with the studied care of a clumsy man on his best behaviour. ‘Hello, this is Jim.’ From the background noise, I could tell Jim was not inside the stadium yet. ‘Hi, this is Tony. Mat Annells gave me your number. He said you have a ticket for me? I’m at red entry point … red entry east’ Jim is American. His voice quavers with frustration and stress. ‘You’ve no idea the crap I’ve just been going through.’ I hoped he was referring to the group of 30 and not me. ‘I’m missing the game! I am at the red entry. Where the fuck are you?’ No doubt now he was referring to me. ‘I’m at red entry too – at the security check-point. I’ve been waiting.’ Jim calmed down a little. ‘I’m really sorry, buddy, but if you don’t turn up right now, I’m going in.’ It’s at this moment that an explosion of noise billowed out of the top of the stadium. It was 7.16pm. Inside, Materazzi had just equalised for Italy. 1-1. ‘Jesus!’ Jim spat. I had to give it one last shot. ‘Jim, I’m wearing a yellow Socceroos shirt. Out by the security point, next to the bag-search people. I’m waving my arms in the air, can you see me?’

235

ausTRalia uniTed

I was virtually doing star-jumps. Spain-bound Karen and the security personnel must have thought I was verrückt in the head. This was the moment of truth. Can Jim see me? Are you at red entry east or red entry west? ‘I can see you,’ Jim said – four words that offered a blast of hope. ‘Come over to the ticket-scanning point. I’m in a light-blue, collared shirt. I’m waving the ticket.’ Now I could see him too, just 30 metres away. And I could see my ticket! Still on the phone, I ran five steps forward before a hefty security man grabbed me on the arm. I forgot. Running with backpacks through security check points is no longer flavour of the month. ‘Show me your ticket,’ Frida ordered. She had to know I didn’t have one. I’d been standing there for half an hour. ‘My ticket is over there! That guy has my ticket! Please let me run over there. I’ll get it and come straight back.’ I thought back to the exit door debacle in the Dortmund Fan Camp and feared for the worst. C’mon Germans! Be like the Chief in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Throw the water cooler through the window and break free! ‘Sorry, you must have a ticket.’ I was still on the phone to Jim, and hollered the problem into the handset. Waving one arm, I begged him to bring the ticket across the 30-metre chasm. Unfortunately, he was behind the turnstile, having his own negotiations with his own Nurse Ratched. After a moment or two, he spoke: ‘They say that I can’t have a pass-out. I’ve already been scanned in, so I can’t come out to the security point. I’m really sorry buddy. I’ve gotta go.’ This was ridiculous. The hologram on my ticket was winking at me in the evening light. Somehow, I’d arrived at my own Berlin Wall-style conundrum. Jim was at the turnstile barrier, I was 30 metres away at the security bag-search barrier. I could chance my arm with a dash across the ‘death strip’, but was that a good idea? What if Frida and her six unsmiling, barrel-chested stooges had cut their teeth in the ’80s scoring pay-bonuses for shooting defectors? I’ve heard that Ostalgie – nostalgia for the old days of the GDR – was fashionable in Germany. Some were

236

Run, Tony, Run

expressing it through a fondness for the Spreewaldgurken, the pickled cucumbers featured in the movie Goodbye Lenin. Others might be hankering for the days of shooting escapees for cash and country. Was I really willing to die for France versus Italy? I decided not to run. I decided to plough the negotiation field one last time. ‘Entschuldigung madam. Would you please, please walk over to that man in the blue shirt and take the ticket out of his hand? Take that ticket. Then walk it back to me.’ I was making the foreigner’s mistake of talking loudly and slowly. Frida arched her mono-brow. She looked over at Jim. Amazingly, he was waiting this out. ‘Please … please madam. I promise it’s my ticket.’ A bag searcher wearing Scott Chipperfield’s No. 14 on his security tag muttered something in German. Now all of them were staring over at Jim. ‘Please?’ I moaned. Again Chipper said something to Frida Kahlo. Maybe, until now, they hadn’t understood what this verrückt, sweaty, Australian man had been going on about. After one last group consultation, Frida started to move, backwards to begin with, before spinning around to stride across ‘the death strip’. She reached Jim, made the baton change and began the return leg. By the time she was half-way, the security guards were cheering. I’m cheering with them. ‘Whhhhhooooohooo!’ Frida broke into a little skip for the last few metres. She handed me the ticket, smiling. I lurch forward. She stops me. God, she wasn’t seriously going to ask to see my ticket, was she? ‘We must look in the bag,’ she said. Fair enough, Frida, you darling. Finally I was through and at the turnstiles. I presented the ticket to the scanner. Beep! Green light! It’s 7.20pm. Jim has missed 20 minutes and two goals of a World Cup Final to get me in. I was beside myself with gratitude. ‘Your seat – it’s that way,’ he points, making to move in the other direction himself. Then he starts to walk away, like Michael Landon’s

237

ausTRalia uniTed

problem-fixing angel in Highway to Heaven or that lovable little mutt – The Littlest Hobo. ‘Thanks!’ I shouted again. ‘No sweat,’ he replied, in the American way. What’s your surname?’ I asked again. ‘For fuck’s sake don’t use my real name,’ he yelled back, over the shoulder. ‘Give me another name. Call me … Jim or something.’

I sat down at the 26-minute mark of the first half, in time for Mowgli from The Jungle Book to tell me what great goals I’d missed. He was Indian, about 13-years-old, and sported a fashionable shock of unkempt hair. He was wearing no shirt, hence the Mowgli resemblance, threequarter-length cargo pants and designer thongs, and an Italian flag was face-painted across his chest. ‘My God, mister. Thank heavens you are here. The match has been very thrilling. Why are you so late?’ Mowgli’s actual name was Fumer, and he spoke with the almost tooperfect English of the Indian upper class. I’d later learn that he attended boarding school in England. ‘It’s a long story,’ I said ‘For which of France and Italy do you cheer?’ I hadn’t even really decided. On the one hand, I didn’t mind if France won, because it would be a great way for Zidane to bow out. On the other, if Italy triumphed, it would improve the quality of our bitching. Tease the logic through. Italy wins against Australia with a lucky penalty, and then goes on to win the Jules Rimet Trophy. Only a moron would fail to realise that, in the absence of that lucky penalty, Australia would have won the World Cup. ‘Italy,’ I said, possibly swayed by the fact that he had an Italian flag on his chest. I didn’t want to get Mowgli offside. What if he sicced Bagheera onto me? In fact, Mowgli wasn’t accompanied by Bagheera the panther. Instead I discovered the neat, moustachioed man on Mowgli’s right was his uncle, Samir the industrialist. Samir was managing director of an Indian

238

Run, Tony, Run

textile manufacturer, JCT Mills, and owned a professional football team, also called JCT. Even before Samir mentioned the private jet, I’d guessed he was minted. ‘You’re welcome to stay with me any time in India,’ he said at the four-minute mark of our relationship. ‘Just look me up on the internet. I’m on the net.’ ‘I’ll definitely do that,’ I said, no doubt frightening him with my emphasis on the ‘definitely’. And I will too. ‘Hi Uncle Samir,’ I’ll say, turning up on his doorstep. ‘Do you remember me? Tony … from block 41.1, row 12, seat 8. Yeah, that’s right, World Cup Final, two World Cups ago. You were seat 10. Look, meet my partner and three kids! Where shall we put our bags?’ It might happen. I’ve looked him up. Samir is indeed on the net.

‘The ball is round, the game lasts 90 minutes. That’s a fact. Everything else is pure theory. Let’s go!’ That is the other Sepp Herberger quote that is used in the opening credits of Run Lola Run. If, like me, you arrived around the half-hour mark, the World Cup Final did last 90 minutes. For most people though, including the players, a 1-1 deadlock at the end of regular time meant an extra half hour, so the game lasted 120 minutes. Not that Herberger was all wrong. The ball was round. Too round, if you ask Santo ‘the ball is a disgrace’ Cilauro. The game was anything but a disgrace. The first half was ‘thrilling’ – just as Mowgli had said. To the delight of my new Indian friends, the Italians had the better of the game up until the break: Luca Toni had two shots on goal in quick succession in the 35th minute – one hitting the crossbar – and both Zidane and France seemed to be struggling. In the second half, Les Bleus rallied. Thierry Henry improved the French mood with a spirited attack in the 46th minute, and I was happy too, because French midfielder Florent Malouda was down ‘hurt’ and Henry ignored Italian pleas to kick the ball out. Great stuff! Maybe I don’t need to be Blatter for a day. Henry didn’t score, hitting his shot

239

ausTRalia uniTed

straight at Buffon. Five minutes later, he weaved into the box again, but the ball was cleared by Zambrotta. ‘Marchons … marchons …’ I recognised most of the French songs from the train carriage on the way to the semi-final. There was the national anthem. There was the en Français version of ‘the one who does not jump is not French’. And there was the regular Go West-inspired renditions of Olé Zinedine Zidane. Sadly, nobody picked up my contribution from that Munich train carriage, Sur la pont, D’Avignon, which exhausted my knowledge of French chansons. The Italian fans were up the other end so it was difficult to hear them, but they seemed fixated on the first seven notes of Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes. ‘Daaaa, daa-da, da, da, daaaaa-da.’ Believe it or not, it also works in English. The French kept attacking. Vieira tweaked his hamstring. Toni scored for the Azzurri, but from an offside position. Zidane lay on the ground. The clamour of the crowd increased, until you could have sworn that we all genuinely cared. ‘C’mon Italy!’ Samir from India screamed. His nephew joined the chanting, ‘It-tahl-ya, It-tahl-ya!’ ‘C’mon France!’ Vlad the Ukrainian countered, from his seat on my left. Real Italian and real French fans were thin on the ground. There was a tight bank of blue behind the goal to my immediate right, and a smallish section of red, green and white at the other end. Apart from these groups, we were neutrals dressed up as fans. As Lazaros noted when I saw him later, ‘That crowd was not a football crowd. Did you see the women arriving in silky ball gowns, the men in suits? It felt more like a film premiere than a football game.’ We impostors barracked our hearts out. When something as big as the World Cup Final is occurring, even neutrals can stiffen up their allegiances. During Race Around the World, I remember watching the 1998 World Cup Final on a tiny television in a smoky bar in Kisumu, Kenya, just near the Ugandan border. France and Brazil were the competing teams, and the Kenyan locals, on their own initiative, split down the middle of the

240

Run, Tony, Run

crowded concrete cellar bar – French-for-a-day on one side, Braziliansfor-a-day on the other. Each support group waved the flag and chanted the name of its team. By the end of the match the room reeked of vodka, and I was seriously worried that these Claytons fans were going to square off against each other in a very real fight. Pretend nationalism. It’s not as dangerous as the real thing, but it can still pack a punch.

The Mexican Wave annoys me, mainly because I can’t understand how people can look away from the action to watch themselves. But at the change of ends after regular time, with scores locked at 1-1, I had to admit that this was the export-quality tequila of Mexican Waves. It was moving at pace, the noise was incredible, and all 69,000 people, including the FIFA box, were involved. I’m also not a huge fan of PA-system music at half-time or at the change of ends. If the fans are given space, they can create authentic atmosphere. But at that moment, Qué Será Será was played on the ground PA, and surprise, surprise, it really worked. Under the floodlights, the pitch was green and the running track blue. The late-setting sun had painted an orange strip between the top of the western stand and the stadium roof. It actually hit me. I was at a World Cup Final, staring at the track where Jesse Owens ran, opposite the stone staircase and stage where Hitler had delivered his megalomaniacal ‘policy’ statements. The song was played in English (except for the Qué Será Será ). The German organisers were catering for an international market. And just as the lingua franca of sport was the code being played below us, the lingua franca of languages does not contain the words lingua franca. The crowd united in the song: Qué Será Será , Whatever will be will be, The future’s not ours to see ... The players milled around their coaches, taking water, preparing for extra-time. The crowd broke into another chorus.

241

ausTRalia uniTed

It was like the ultimate abdication. You 22 play it out. We’ll watch. Give us some moments to remember. Whatever will be will be.

Not only did I not see the headbutt, I didn’t know the headbutt had happened until I was on the train, heading back to the city. There’s no excuse for missing what will be as famous a moment in World Cup history as Roberto Baggio’s skied penalty in ’94 or Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ goal in ’86. The butt job occurred in a direct line between my seat and the ball. But somehow I didn’t spot it. It took a crazed Buffon, sprinting off his line even as the French were bringing the ball through the midfield, for me to realise something was up. I wasn’t alone in missing it. Samir thought David Trezeguet had elbowed Materazzi. Bare-chested little Mowgli thought Florent Malouda might have kicked him. It’s fairly certain that the referee, the two linesmen and the fourth official missed it too, but after a quick glance at the television (not strictly legal) and some advice from 12 angry men (the Azzurri jury plus coach Marcello Lippi), the fourth official acted. ‘My goodness, it’s Zidane!’ Samir said. Sure enough, red was being flashed at Zizou for a staggering 14th time in his career. ‘Yeeeeeeeeeessss!’ Mowgli screamed, discovering his inner-Italian with a vengeance. I think I swore. I hadn’t realised until that moment that I was barracking for France. Or maybe I was just barracking for Zizou? Eventually, Buffon stopped yakking on the sideline and the match resumed. The momentum had suddenly shifted. Five minutes earlier, France had looked the likely winners, especially when Zidane thumped a header towards the top right corner, a mirror of his classic first goal from the 1998 Final. But Buffon stretched brilliantly to his left for one of the saves of the tournament. With the departure of their playmaker, the French deflated like an overcooked soufflé. The fans whistled at the referee. In the absence of a replay, it was still possible to complain about the decision. Later, the replays wouldn’t stop, and it was impossible to complain. ‘Amok-Zidane!’ screamed the German paper Bild. The headbutt was

242

Run, Tony, Run

inexcusable. Although I will say that if the lip-readers are right, and Materazzi did call Zidane ‘the son of a terrorist whore’, a man with Zidane’s heading ability should have done better with his direction. Not that I’m advocating violence, but a Liverpool kiss to the chest would be disowned in the Merseyside. ‘Take that fookin’ roobish back to yer fookin’ gay Paree.’ If you’re going to lose the World Cup for your team, and bow out of international football in disgrace, there is a view that you might as well cave-in some nose cartilage along the way.

Scores were locked at 1-1 at the end of extra-time and, for the second time in World Cup Final history, the match came down to penalties. I gave a little cheer as the keepers strode down my end. Yes! A great seat was made even better. The other players gathered near the halfway line, two police line-ups, the crime yet to be committed. But it would come soon enough. It’s the sad fact of shootouts. There has to be at least one villain – a name to add to the ones who have missed. Andrea Pirlo went first for Italy. Bang! A near-perfect penalty for a man who played a near-perfect tournament. Then Sylvain Wiltord was up for France. Goal! 1-1. Then Materazzi stepped up and scored. Then David Trezeguet stepped up and ... oh no! He slammed the ball into the woodwork, missing by the couple of centimetres that will haunt him for his entire life. The French now needed De Rossi, Del Piero or Grosso to throw it away. They didn’t. 5-3 Italy. When Grosso scored the winning penalty, I switched back to cheering for Italy. Mowgli and Samir were unaware I’d ever changed, and so they included me in their victory hug. By the time a group of Italians flung themselves into our row, crashing in an ecstatic free-fall, my back-flip was complete. ‘It-tahl-ya, It-tahl-ya!’ Actually, my 3RRR co-host Sam Pang often explains that after a back-flip, the flipper is left facing the same way. ‘For a 180-degree change of mind, It should be a back-flip with a half-twist,’ he correctly points out. Having back-flipped, with a half-twist, I stood on the seats, clapping along with the cheesy Stand up, for the Champions song. Finally, after 63 trial runs, it told a story.

243

ausTRalia uniTed

Italy was the champion. As the Jules Rimet Trophy was raised by captain Fabio Cannavaro, bolts of confetti shot from the roof. It was sheer magic. On the podium, the Italians were throwing around their 6.2 kilograms of hard-won gold. The slips of paper caught the floodlights as they flittered down, twinkling as they fell. ‘It looks like snow,’ Mowgli said. ‘Look, the whole field is turning white.’ I snapped photos frantically. Streamers erupted from the pitch perimeter. Fireworks spat out from the roof. The music changed to Verdi’s Grand March from Aida and the Azzurri began their victory lap, hauling along a scuttling pack of 500 green-bibbed photographers, stuck on the running track. The stadium sound system was drawn from an all-Italian juke-box. Volare came next, then a version of Funiculì Funiculà. The confetti was now raining down with such intensity that I could only just make out number 23, Marco Materazzi, on his knees, making out with the Trophy. Lesti! Lesti! Via, montiam su là! Lesti! Lesti! Via, montiam su là! Funiculì funiculà, funiculì funiculà, Via, montiam su la, funiculì funiculà. If we were not all so German and Australian and English and French and Indian we would have loved to sing along. Funiculi Funiculà. It’s about trams on steep hills, isn’t it? One of the few in our section nailing every word was Ricardo, an Italian fan two rows behind me. I held my voice recorder under his trembling bottom lip and asked him what he was feeling. ‘It’s great, it’s great …’ he said, when the song finished. ‘We’re the world champions again … just like 1982 … I was only five … ’ He threw his arms around my neck and buried his head in my shoulder. There, there, Ricardo. I know you feel guilty about the penalty in Kaiserslautern. I thought it, but didn’t say it. It’s important to be a good loser. Ricardo hadn’t yet come up for air. ‘… We’re the world champions!’ came the muffled voice.

244

Run, Tony, Run

SCENE: Reporter Tony Wilson is so swept away by the spectacle of Italy’s victory celebrations that he nearly forgets his job of reporting back to the Breakfasters on 3RRR. By the time he reaches the public phones outside the stadium, the crush has subsided in the Olympischer Platz. Wilson is poised and ready. This time, he has taken precautions. Noise isn’t going to be a problem. He’s bought a brand new 10-euro phone card. It’s not one of those pin-number 1800 jobs. It’s an insert-in the-slot phone card – one where you can see remaining credit counting down in the window display. Our reporter calls through and says a quick hello to Fee B-Squared, Sam Pang and The Big O. Again it’s time for the public to be informed.
FEE: ‘Let’s fade Gerling down there and get straight into the news … we have a special correspondent on the line … Tony Wilson is in Germany … Tony, are you there?’ TONY: ‘Yeah, I am here after the luckiest experience … (horrified acceleration) I’m gone I reckon in 40-euro cents time, I reckon … as I watch the fastest moving phone (counter) in history … I’m not sure I’ve been very lucky with phones on this trip … I’ll call you back … beep … beep … beep …’ STUDIO: (hysterical laughter) THE BIG O: ‘Gee, that was good. That’s the World Cup wrapped up.’*

* Visit geoffslattery.com.au/australiaunited to listen to this podcast

245