Paul Marcuccitti

Paul Marcuccitti is a passionate soccer fan from Australia who will share his views about the World Cup in this column.

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A month of great memories

    A few weeks ago, on 2 June to be precise, I scratched my head wondering if I’d forgotten to do something. I was sure the date was important – I must have had some engagement or appointment. Australia was playing Uruguay in a friendly in Sydney that night but it wasn’t that. What was it that I couldn’t remember?

    When I went to bed, I had that horrible feeling you get when you’re sure you’ve forgotten to do something you really should have done. But a couple of days later, on 4 June, I knew why my mind couldn’t rest.

    On 4 June 2006, I was in Rotterdam. I met fellow PWC columnist Ruud Doevendans (after losing my phone!) and we went to watch the Netherlands-Australia friendly which was played less than a week before the World Cup finals began in Germany.

    The 2 June date was important to me because, last year, it was the day I flew out of Australia to do something I’d dreamed about for years – watch my country play at a World Cup tournament. For months before that date, I spent countless hours preparing to be as ready as possible.

    I still have the folders of papers I packed for that flight. What a memory it is to look at them now: the printed email detailing my hotel booking in Rotterdam; the street map of Ulm (where Australia played a friendly against Liechtenstein); the photocopied pages of Lonely Planet guides that saved me packing books; the confirmation from FIFA that I could collect my ticket for Tunisia v Saudi Arabia at any World Cup stadium; the precious match tickets that had already been sent to me; and the list continues.

    Every day since 2 June has been an anniversary because every day on that trip was a wonderful one. I have an extra way of recalling them all through the World Cup diary I kept for this website. (Who would have thought that a few pages in cyberspace – that anyone can read – could be such a treasured possession?)

    Surprising things can hold a special place in your memory. You’d expect that 9 June 2006, the first day of the tournament, would be a momentous date, but the day before that, 8 June, was just as important for me. On that evening, I was in Cologne’s city centre just enjoying the anticipation. I was watching fans walk around in their national teams’ shirts; seeing World Cup decorations everywhere; hearing the sound system being tested at the Fan Park; and knowing that I had a ticket for Poland v Ecuador, one of the following day’s games (and the first World Cup finals match I would ever attend), locked in my hotel room’s safe. Even the expectation was incredibly exciting.

[I even smile when I remember how Ben, my roommate for two weeks in Germany, suggested that we should use the number 7406 as our security code for hotel room safes in honour of the two World Cup finals (1974 and 2006) that Australia has qualified for.]

    Of course, 9 June wasn’t a letdown at all. It took all the self-control I could muster to stop myself from dancing a celebratory jig after my ticket was validated and I entered the magnificent stadium in Gelsenkirchen. Nothing about that day disappointed.

    Not surprisingly, Australian fans recently observed 12 June as if it was a national day. It was the day that the Socceroos came from a goal down to record a dramatic 3-1 win in the dying minutes of their match against Japan in Kaiserslautern. Those of us lucky enough to have a ticket for that match celebrated in the stands with such gusto that we nearly injured each other.

    Similarly, I remember 22 June for that extraordinary night in Stuttgart where Australia got the point it needed to advance to the knockout phase, 26 June as the day our run came to an end in such a heartbreaking way, and 4 July as the day that I snagged a ticket to the magnificent Germany-Italy semi-final – a breathtaking match and an amazing atmosphere.

    Even watching football matches on television screens in public places provided moments to remember. When Argentina destroyed Serbia & Montenegro, I unwittingly found myself watching the game in a Frankfurt café run by (and filled with) teary Serbs. Just two days earlier I’d seen Spain defeat Ukraine in a nice little restaurant in Munich where beautiful waitresses, in traditional Bavarian dress, served me a delicious lunch. The Brazil-France quarter-final? In a fantastic bar in the heart of Utrecht (while I spent a few days holidaying in the Netherlands).

    In between all the football at a World Cup, there are the people you meet, the experiences you have and the places you see.

    I met Ruud on my second day in the Netherlands and was able to catch up with him again four weeks later. I also bumped into people I knew from my school days (not knowing that they’d be in Germany) and, amazingly, often saw the same people in different places.

    I’ll always remember talking to a nice German guy on a train after I attended the Paraguay v Trinidad & Tobago match. I told him how nervous I was about Australia’s match against Croatia (two days later) because I so desperately wanted the Socceroos to reach the last 16. After the Australia-Croatia match, while I was celebrating with my countrymen in the centre of Stuttgart, I ran into that same guy and he congratulated me.

    There was the former Canadian international player who I had a nice chat with in a hotel bar, the webmaster of a site for Iranian fans who I had a drink with after the Portugal-Iran match, the bartender in the Frankfurt hotel who frequently helped me with language and directions. I could list dozens of people that made my World Cup journey so much more enjoyable.

    Experiences? I won’t forget nearly bursting into laughter in Ulm’s cathedral when I read a written prayer asking the Lord to help Australia make it to the second round; or coming face-to-face with a horse on a small farm when I was looking for Frankfurt’s World Cup ticket centre; or negotiating (if that’s the word) with touts (scalpers). I even like to recall mastering German train routes and timetables and going to Internet Cafés to book hotel rooms or email my diary entries for this website.

    I could mention so many amazing sights – from Amsterdam to Munich and so much in between. I still don’t know how I managed to cram so much tourism into my adventure.

    And whenever I see footage from one of the matches I attended, I don’t just remember the game, I remember that day, where I sat, the music that was played before the match, Goleo (the World Cup mascot), the fans and the atmosphere.

    It was such a happy time for me that all these one-year anniversaries are almost depressing – because they’re reminding me of all those great days that can’t happen again. Maybe after 9 July, the day the tournament ended, I won’t feel as bad.

    Oh yes, I might go to World Cups in the future and, if I do, I’m sure I’ll enjoy them too. But they’ll all be unique; there won’t be another Germany 2006.

    Still, the memory of last year is one of the most valuable things I have. And it’s something I can’t lose until dementia has well and truly set in. When I’m an old man and I’m asked where I was when Tim Cahill scored Australia’s first ever World Cup finals goal, I can say, “in the grandstand, about 50 metres away from him”. And then I’ll talk about how our team and our fans made the nation proud. Then I’ll probably talk about the rest of the Germany 2006 experience until people beg me to stop.

    I know that I’m a lucky guy because not everyone can go to a World Cup; it’s something that I wish every football fan could enjoy. But those of you that have the chance should take it. You won’t be sorry.



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