An octogenarian who works behind the counter at my local newsagent spoke to me this morning.
This is not out of the ordinary as I often trigger a rather repetitive and silly conversation about the ludicrous possibility of success with my lotto system eight ticket.
However, today was a little different. Holding a glossy sports magazine in one hand and a ten dollar note in the other, I heard him utter the strangest thing.
‘Go the Socceroos eh?’
If I was sitting on a chair I would have fallen off it! I have never spoken to him about football. I think I asked him about a dictionary a few years back when my eldest daughter was starting school.
I distinctly remember Parramatta Eels streamers being up a few years back. There was something beautiful about the way it was said in such a casual manner. Like a banal comment about heat or rain which rolls off the tongue due to its importance in our climate and the extremes that we often experience.
It really made me think and helped form two clear ideas in my head. Firstly, it appeared that something had indeed changed. As I was mentally preparing for the battle with Oman I wasn’t quite able to categorically identify the true nature of the change, yet I was sure it was there.
Secondly, I connected the incident with some other ‘evidence’ I had gathered over the past weeks and felt sure I had a thesis.
Awer Mabil’s goal on the twenty sixth of October was the first piece in the puzzle. On that day Adelaide City proved too strong for a slightly off Perth Glory and Mabil iced the victory with a quality finish in the 68th minute after lead-up from Craig Goodwin.
While being a neat goal it wasn’t so much the goal that caught my eye but rather the celebration that followed. One Adelaide player leaped onto the rather slight Mabil frame just as the goal scorer saw his coach and mentor on the sideline.
Mabil ran with arms aloft towards Josep Gombau and leapt into his arms, kissing his forehead and squeezing him in way that conveyed more than just joy and success.
Mabil’s life and career embodies all that is unique and inspiring about the games we play. Most football fans can relay the birthplace and the camp where he and his family stayed, so the point doesn’t need to be laboured. The more romantic tale of an eleven year old boy in a very foreign place with a dream should connect with us all.
Mabil speaks of Gombau as a father figure and the repayment of the coach’s faith through the goal itself and the affection that followed brought me to tears. It was one of the most beautiful ways of saying thank you that I have ever seen.
The curiosity of my wife towards my tears led to her full investigation of this talented young footballer. Having been associated with asylum seekers and refugees for some time, she was moved by the expression of love just as I was.
This curiosity culminated in her attentive viewing of the Sydney derby some weeks later.
There was something special about that night and watching a football novice feel the energy and atmosphere, grasp the rivalry and appreciate the sheer numbers in attendance was wonderful to witness.
While they may be opposites in so many ways, Gary the newsagent and my wife Helen both helped define the change I had felt.
One an Australian of British and Irish ancestry, the other an Australian of Middle Eastern extraction, have both come to the game in recent times. The stories and beauty of the football landscape has attracted them and hopefully holds them for many years to come.
As the Asian Cup rolls on and by the time this article appears on your screen, the result of the Australia Oman clash will be known.
I am sure they will have done us proud and perhaps others will have begun their journey into the football landscape. These are just two stories that indeed show us that something is changing.
Some cynics seem to have stuck their heads in the sand while other people look to embrace, to learn and to grow. The sadness of cheap criticism will hopefully be offset by a grand spectacle that acts as a lightning rod for our relatively young footballing nation.
Enjoy the ride and ‘Go the Socceroos eh?’