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Traveling through Australia in search of soccer

Lake McK, Aus

Down under wasn’t at all as I expected, especially in the northern territory of Queensland. Being from London, I am used to always being surrounded by people, but there is so much space in Australia and such a small population that the smaller towns aren’t filled to the brim with human activity.

I expected Great White sharks to be having a beer in the bars I visited and crocodiles to be in the bathtub when I got home. In reality, it was the opposite. I only saw two of Australia’s famous human-killing wildlife in my month there: a 2 meter long red-bellied black snake, and a 15 meter croc in the Darwin river.

I started in Cairns and ended in Sydney, and along the way came across plenty of struggles to keep up with what’s going on in the soccer world back in the UK.

The first obstacle was the time difference. I would be calling back home early in the morning and my family hadn’t even gone to bed because of the 10-hour time difference. This meant it was difficult to replicate my usual Saturday routine of watching the scores come in via Gillette Soccer Saturday, sandwiched between watching both the early afternoon and evening kick offs. The time difference amounted to plenty of early morning alarms, annoyed roommates and mid-afternoon snoozes.

Trips were another factor contributing to missing my usual dose of weekly soccer action, one because I broke my phone on the trip and the other as we were stranded on a boat for three days.

queensland-islands-mapFraser Island was going smoothly for the first two hours. We boarded the ferry, drove 4X4’s around the sand island, arrived to our hotel and … my iPhone, the only chance of contact with the outside world I had, was a goner to water damage. Perhaps this was a blessing in disguise (for the three-day trip anyway) as I could forget about checking the scores and concentrate on having a kickabout with others on the trips, in front of some of the world’s nicest natural waters such as Whitehaven Beach or Lake McKenzie (pictured).

Sailing around the Whitsunday Islands was an unforgettable experience, and from my ordeal on Fraser Island I knew I could go the weekend without watching soccer or checking the scores. This time, soccer was replaced with conversation. I wore my Ghana jersey onto the vessel and within the first hour a Chilean man came up to me and asked “Are you Ghanaian?”

Being fair skinned and blonde, I laughed and explained that I’m English but have an obsession with collecting soccer tops, with obscure teams such as Japan, Buriram United and the Vietnamese national team in my collection. As with most places I had visited, soccer was once again the conversation starter, and we were soon onto the success of the Chilean national team, both in the World Cup and Copa America, winning the latter on home soil.

After trying to find out if anywhere showed live coverage of English football or the Champions League on mainland Australia, I succumbed to the fact that the only opportunity to watch live matches would be to stream.

Middlesbrough versus Leeds at the Riverside was the first time I used WiFi to access live coverage in Australia, and it was a nightmare. Coming from Asia the weeks before, I was used to super fast internet in every place I stayed, but Australia was not the same. Boro won 3-0, but not until later on the next day when the highlights were released did I get to see the goals. The WiFi lagged at the three most important incidents of the match, but I still went to bed with a smile on my face after beating our Yorkshire rivals.

The confusing part about Australia was they called near enough everything ‘footie’ — Aussie rules, Rugby Union and soccer — which made it difficult to digest what they meant when I saw signs saying ‘live footie’ tonight. Sadly, it was never soccer.

Amid the Aussie rules semis and finals, the Rugby World Cup and rugby league (which I concluded was the East Coast’s preferred sport), the only live game I saw involved Sydney FC and Newcastle Jets of the A-league. The game, although entertaining, was far inferior to European soccer and probably on par with English football’s fourth tier, League Two.

The craziness of the country was topped off by the media being shocked at Massimo Luongo’s omission from the Ballon d’or final shortlist. Coming up against soccer giants such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, the Australian was never in the running for most prestigious individual honor in the modern game. However, that wasn’t the way the Socceroos saw it.

My experience down under was incredible, but the fact I stayed up until 6 a.m. on penultimate evening to watch Australia knock England out of their own Rugby World Cup, in Australia, surrounded by Australians made me relieved to be leaving the country.

More Olly Huddlestone travelogues:

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