Written by Robert Medaris, 26 October 2014
In early January 2013, I received a phone call whilst I was relaxing at home in front of the television. It was mid-evening, around 8.30pm, and I was watching an old episode of ‘Law and Order’. It was a very dramatic scene where a female character refused to exchange final words with her ailing father, who had committed a murder in order to protect her. She had a change of heart at the very last minute, only to walk into his hospital room just after he had died. It was an extremely powerful moment, and I felt every bit of her pain as if it were my own. My thoughts suddenly turned to my own father who I had not seen for some time.
I decided to let the phone call go through to my answering machine because I was so moved by the outcome of the episode, and how helpless the woman must have felt. The message on my answering machine was from my father’s second wife, to contact her at the earliest opportunity. I immediately knew that the situation was grave, because she had not spoken with me for some years, and she never really liked me anyway. I called her back after around 5 minutes, when I had some time to recompose myself after the ‘Law and Order’ episode.
My father was dead. People die all the time you might say, but he had died 3 years and 4 months earlier. He had suffered for 18 months with Mesothelioma, and no one had contacted me. I had been estranged from my father for some time for family reasons, but I never stopped loving him. I always thought that we would have the conversations that every son and his father should have before he died, now this was never going to happen. There would be no such opportunity, even though he had been sick for 18 months. There would not even be an opportunity to attend his funeral and pay my last respects. The funeral, like my father, was long gone. Suddenly I felt the absolute helplessness of the woman in the ‘Law and Order’ episode. I doubled over in my kitchen and alternated between bouts of dry reaching, and uncontrollable grief and sorrow.
For months I struggled with the loss of my father and the thought that I had let him down, and that I had not been there when he needed me. At some point I decided that I would share an experience with my father, that would be special for just the two of us. My father didn’t like the AFL (Aussie Rules) my favourite sport, which he called ‘aerial ping pong’, and I didn’t like Rugby League, which was his favourite sport. I had to find myself a soccer team.
I saw the Western Sydney Wanderers playing on television and I was absolutely captivated by the passion of their fans, their quirky behaviours such as the ‘poznan’ (which involves turning your back on the play from the 80th to the 81st minute of play), and their variety of chants. Everything they did resonated with me personally. At the same time I was also super impressed by the quality of their players, which included Japanese star Shinji Ono, in addition to current players such as Tomi Juric, Matthew Spiranovic, Nikolai Topor-Stanley and Ante Covic.
I remembered watching the National Soccer League whilst growing up in Melbourne. The local team was South Melbourne Hellas. I thought at the time that the standard of Australian soccer was average, and I never really became a fan. The new look game, with marquee players, and well organised fans, was instantly appealing. The standard had improved tremendously.
The planets began to align when I recalled an incident as a child where I was training with a junior soccer team in Liverpool, Western Sydney. They had selected me as their goal keeper, and all I needed was my birth certificate in order to play. My father was unable to produce my birth certificate and I never played. We were only living in Liverpool for a short time and we soon moved back to Bathurst. To complete the alignment of the planets, the last place that I saw my father alive was at Westfield Parramatta. Pirtek Stadium Parramatta is the home of the Western Sydney Wanderers.
I attended my very first game on the 1st of January 2014, and I was immediately hooked. This was despite the fact that the Wanderers lost the game to Wellington Phoenix 1–3. Once again I was captivated by the atmosphere, the passion of the RBB (the Red and Black Bloc, who are the ‘active’ members), and the quality of the Wanderers players.
I have been to several games since that 1st game, including interstate games in Melbourne, and to my first A-League Final in Brisbane back in May. I usually invite someone else, but I don’t always get any interest. However I have never been to a match alone. I feel the presence of my father with me at every game.
This brings me to the Wanderers performance in the Asian Champions League. It is this performance that has most captured my imagination. I have been to nearly every home game in the ACL. It is almost beyond comprehension that a local Sydney team can be mixing it with the best in Asia. Not only mixing with the best, but at the present moment on the cusp of true greatness. After winning the home leg of the ACL Final against Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia 1-0, they are a win or draw from becoming the first Australian Club to be the Asian Champions.
A personal journey that began with me seeking an experience that I can share with my deceased father, will now lead me on a physical journey to Riyadh in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, for the 2nd leg of the ACL Final this Saturday night. On January the 1st when I began this journey, I never would have thought that I would end up in Saudi Arabia.
The Arabic word for God willing is inshallah. I don’t have any inside information, but I believe that God may be willing to make the Wanderers the very first Australian team to be the Asian Champions. It is just a feeling I have. Some might say that it is written.
Come on the Wanderers…