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A Kiwi theatre-goer gets caught up in World Cup FEVER!

by Tom Doig

I'm not a big soccer fan; hell, I'm not even an Australian citizen. So when I found myself at a friend's house waiting for the Australia-Japan game to start, I was barracking for Japan ­ after all, they had much better haircuts. But sport does strange things to people. By the end of the second half I was cheering the mighty Cahill, booing the Egyptian ref (bloody pyramid-builders!), spilling my beer - and when we won, I was ecstatic. Go Aussie! I mean,­ you Australians must be very pleased with yourselves.

They were. Biking home down Sydney Road, every driver was leaning on his car-horn, while blokes leaned out of car windows, waving Aussie flags and Aussie scarves and yelling "Go Aussie!" and "Aussie Aussie Aussie!" and sometimes "Aaauuussssiiiieeee!" Captivated, I biked past my house, following the jubilant traffic towards the city. In between the green-and-gold people hooting and hooraying across the road, there were dejected little clumps of Japanese fans waiting for taxis, immobile, face-paint looking incongruous and sad. When I finally headed home, nearly two hours after the game had finished, I was hooked ­ not on the soccer, but on the fans.

There's a derogatory term for people like me: "theatre-goer". It refers to people who go to big sporting events for the atmosphere, rather than the game itself. When I told some of my hippy friends I was going to Fed Square for the Croatia game, they were aghast.
"What kind of drunken idiot goes to Fed Square to watch sports?" they asked, horrified.
That's what I wanted to know.

To make it to Fed Square for the 5am kick-off, I stayed up all night drinking. When I got there at 4.30am, Fed Square was already full to capacity, closed off by policemen and security guards in bright yellow vests. I trudged excitedly through the mud down to the second screen at Birrung Marr. I got up close to the action, so close that each pixel was the size of someone's head, and when nothing was happening it was like a banal
acid flashback. Strangers hugged each other, and took endless pictures on their mobile phones.
The game - we didn't lose. The fans lost it. There was an impromptu victory parade on Swanston Street. A taxi had its back windscreen smashed in; a tram's glass door panel was shattered, and a few of the pizza cafes' glass facades had been fractured.

As the sun rose over Spring Street, a young guy scrambled up the windscreen of a delivery truck onto the roof, where he hollered and jumped up and down. Two more guys joined him, and the three of them jumped  and rocked the truck - fans on the ground rocked the truck - the cops charged in on horseback, hitting people out of the way.

By the time the celebrations made it back to Fed Square, the 8am spandex set were weaving through the staggering fans on their $4000 bicycles at full speed, dinging their little bike bells, nearly flattening the cops trying to direct traffic.  But the emblem of the anarchy was a rogue packet of crumpets lying in the gutter by Bourke Street Mall. A waste of good breakfast product ­ has everyone lost their minds?!

I resisted the urge to go to the Welcome Stranger, and pedalled shakily home to bed.

Before the Italy game, Elizabeth Street was a mess. Pissed kids bellowing what could only I've been ’Adavance Australia Fair'; teenage boys running up to any, every girl with Aussie face-paint, yelling ’Aussie!' and copping a feel; some dude with blood running down his painted cheek, strutting along the tramlines Å

I got to Fed Square nearly two hours before kick-off, but the cops had already closed it off. Walking down to Birrung Marr, I joined a mob who tried to rush Fed Square from the river side. We got past the first group of
security guards, ran up some stairs and hit the orange-and-white barricades.
"You're not going anywhere," the security guards said. "Get past us, and there's still two more barricades. Don¹t bother." I didn't bother. The atmosphere at Birrung Marr was electric. Whenever a shot of Guus Hiddink
came onscreen, screamed his name in unison.
Then we lost.

A tiny pocket of Italian fans bounced up and down, while everyone else went flat. Back on Elizabeth Street, a dozen hardcore Aussie fans chanted "Fuck the Italian bastards', before lining up for pizza. I headed to Lygon Street to watch it burn. Lygon Street didn¹t burn. There was just a few dozen Aussie fans chanting "get a fucking passport", a line of cops on horses, and a few Italian boys chanting "There¹s gonna be a riot".

A few of the Aussie fans mooned the Italians, and I was struck by something ­ not a bottle, but the fact that half the exposed arses weren't white! There were quite a few Aussie-born Viet and Chinese crew yelling angrily at the "wogs". These ABCs were angry, at something, and they had green-and-gold paint all over their faces. But it surely wouldn't have taken much for the rest of the mob to turn on them ­ video footage of an Australia-China table tennis final from the 80's would've done it.

As I was leaving, one of the mob¹s ringleaders came striding past me. He was about 17, wearing a long brown jacket and jeans ­ no green, no gold. He looked very pleased with himself.
"Have a good night?" I asked.
"Fucken awesome," he replied. "The cops can't pin anything on me. If they pick me up, I've only had two glasses of wine. I've done nothing. Now I've gotta get a taxi back to Eltham, to check in with my parole officer at 9am."

This guy was from a juvenile delinquents' correction centre, and proud of it; he is schizophrenic, but "fine as long as I take ma pills mate". I wanted to ask him what being an Aussie means to him; what he thinks of Italians; what he thought of Medina Cantalejo's decision - but it didn't seem relevant anymore.