The Holy Grail?
Mark Bowman made a promise to himself in November 2005, and 13 years later he's off to his fourth successive World Cup09 June 2018 | Mark Bowman
Seeking fortune and glory
It's a short song, but it's a
Hell of a story, when you
Spend your lifetime trying to get
Your hands on the Holy Grail
- from “Holy Grail” by Hunters and Collectors
November 29, 1997. My father, brothers and I are with 85,000 fans at the MCG watching Australia’s final World Cup qualification match against Iran. There’s five minutes to go and the unthinkable has happened. The Socceroos have let a 2 goal lead slip to 2-2 and we’re are about to get eliminated on the away goals rule. With one foot on the plane to France ‘98 and a quarter of a century after West Germany ‘74, we are done and dusted. Again.
My brother yells into the air, to no one in particular but to everyone: “We are never going to qualify! WE ARE NEVER GOING TO QUALIFY!!”
Right at that point, I felt I had to internally agree with him. It was, after all one of the worst days of my life.
But hope springs eternal, and with strange turns of fate, some hard work on and off the pitch, some fantastic players and with more than an ounce of luck, eight years later in another city and against a better team we did, of course, finally get back to the World Cup.
At which point, you could understand that having waited for that day for all of my adult life, I was never going to let the chance to see Australia first hand at the Cup pass by. I promised myself I would go to every tournament we qualified for, from that moment on.
So here I am, 12 years later, packing my bags and about to go again, to my and Australia’s fourth tournament in a row in the 21st century.
Should I have some guilt that qualification is now more assured because of our entry into Asia, a feat achieved through the help of a now discredited AFC and FIFA official? Possibly.
Should I, on principle, boycott Russia because of the whole bidding process fiasco that cost our nation so much, but more importantly has taken such a devastating toll on people I know and have the highest respect for? Very probably.
The inability to separate the game from the system that runs it, is a perennial dilemma that troubles me regularly.
But here’s the thing. My love for the Socceroos runs so strong, the sheer amount of years I have invested to see our game flourish in Australia is so great, as is the chance to get closer to the Holy Grail, that I just can’t help myself. After all, I did make a promise to myself all those years ago.
So, I’m off again and by next Saturday I’ll be in Kazan in the stands, hoping against hope for a result against France.
As time permits, I’ll send updates from Russia through to Football Today.
It’s a lifetime story, but for me at least, it’s a hell of a story.
football fan, #russia2018, 2018 world cup, socceroos