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The Australian Lesson

March 13, 2011

Brazilian winger Henrique: heart of hope (photo: Getty Images)

The most exciting and heartfelt football match of the year has already happened – while most of us were sleeping.

It was not a UEFA Champions League game, nor was it a clasico from Spain.

It was the Grand Final of the Australian A-League.

Yes, you read that right. The final between Brisbane Roar and Central Coast Mariners (such tough names!) was of epic proportions. Both teams looked exhausted after a competitive and exciting goalless draw in the regular 90 minutes, and it was absolutely impossible to predict who would win the contest.

It was three in the morning on a Saturday in freezing Winnipeg, and solitary in my living room, I felt compelled to watch this battle. Who knew Australian football could be that exciting?!

The last thirty minutes of the game were utterly gripping:

We are into extra-time, and Central Coast score first with the opportunist Adam Kwasnik. Somehow I become upset. Apparently, my allegiance lies with the orange kit of Brisbane Roar. Perhaps the bombastic and bright colours of their uniform caught my attention first, who knows. But then I notice something else…

My eyes become fixed on a zippy and little number 10, running around the forward line for Brisbane. The camera zooms in on him, and I finally get to read the name on his back: “Henrique.”

“This dude is Brazilian”, I tell myself without one iota of doubt. Obviously, Henrique isn’t a common name in Brazil alone, far from that. But, somehow, as I look at him, and he looks back at me…there is no question. Via some sort of “Commonwealth telepathy” between Canada and Australia, we say “ola, amigo” to each other, and I become a hardcore Brisbane fan on the spot.

It’s nearly 3:30 in the morning, and I am chanting and swearing in Portuguese in my living room all alone. Scratch that: it’s me and my man Henrique, together in this. That’s right!

To my immense disappointment, Brisbane, already one goal down and feeling dejected, concede another one. This time it’s Oliver Bozamic, with a gentle left-footed touch. “Surely, a goal to seal the victory” howls the commentator. I slump onto the couch as Brisbane goes into the second half of extra-time losing 2 x 0.

Could they do the same as Central Coast, and score two goals within the last fifteen minutes?


Slightly discouraged, Brisbane plow ahead; but Central Coast remain confident. Twelve minutes go by, and not much has happened.

And then…Henrique hears my cry of battle, and his star shines bright.

With miserable three minutes left, the Brazilian Roar sends a powerful kick towards the Mariners’ goal, the ball takes a deflection and it flies into the net: GOAL! I feel alive again and do a little Brazilian dance in my living room – but there is no samba from Henrique. Time is running out for the boys in orange, and they seem certain of a defeat. However, Henrique’s goal inspires Brisbane, and they decide to put up a good fight during the last 60 seconds of the match – why not, eh?!

Henrique takes matters into his own hands (or feet, in this case), dribbles past a defender, and fires a missile towards the Central Coast net, but the excellent Matthew Ryan saves it. The Brazilian wasn’t lucky this time. But not to worry, another player of exotic name, Rocky Visconte, tries the same, and ends up winning a corner after another brave save from Ryan.

This corner kick will be the last play of the game.

Miraculously, Thomas Broich’s corner finds the head of Erik Paartalu, who makes no mistake and sends the ball straight into the net for the equalizer. The stadium erupts,  Brisbane can finally believe. Everyone is doing the samba now, it’s 2 x 2.

The match inevitably goes into a penalty shootout, and it was Michael Theoklitos’s turn to shine for Brisbane. The keeper makes two spectacular saves, and then it was up to Henrique to score once again, now with the last penalty of the evening.

He steps up calmly, sets up the shot, and converts with Brazilian-Buddhist ease, sending the ball past Ryan’s desperate fingers and claiming the A-League title for the Brisbane Roar. Henrique bursts into tears instantly. It is moving to watch the little Brazilian, completely unknown back in his homeland, play such an important role on the other side of the planet. And I proceed to do my Canadian version of the samba at 4:30am in my living room. It’s all good, and we are all the Champions.

The 2011 Grand Final of Australia was indeed one of the most compelling football matches I have ever seen. Perhaps the lack of individual stars and hyped-up expectations made it so enjoyable. The usual anxiety and angst of the big European leagues were not present. The game was the thing. It was all solely about playing ball, and nothing else.

It is refreshing to experience such rare qualities in a sport which is now dominated by heavy marketing and big-money decisions. Even though FIFA has done a lot to popularize the game around the globe, the entity has also turned football into a major business. And as in the case of any big business, cynicism and politics often run the show. But that’s not the case with the Australian league, not quite yet – thankfully.

Furthermore, the post-game award ceremony was one of the most beautiful displays of sportsmanship and fair-play I have ever witnessed in football. As opposed to what we see in Europe and Latin America, both teams remained on the pitch for the hoisting of the trophy moment. Before that, though, there were speeches from team members of both sides, and the tone from everyone was incredibly positive and dignified. It was evident that the Central Coast boys were upset for having lost under such strenuous conditions, but they still congratulated their opponents honorably.

After everything was said and done, many players paraded around the packed stadium holding their kids in their arms, waiving and taking photos with the fans. I never thought football in the 21st Century could still be that civilized, and I hope Europeans and Latin Americans were watching and taking notes.

Two months ago, Suncorp Stadium, the venue for this spectacular final in Brisbane, was completely wrecked by the devastating floods that captured the attention and hearts of millions around the globe. Moreover, Brisbane’s Brazilian star Henrique was also out of commission with a broken arm during that period. It is delightfully ironic that The Slippery Fish (Henrique’s affectionate nickname) would heal in time to become the protagonist of Brisbane’s victory after Suncorp emerged from the waters.

Indeed, a comeback for the ages.

Thank you Australia, for reinstating my faith in the beautiful game.


49 Comments leave one →
  1. David McDaniel permalink
    March 14, 2011 1:09 am

    Great report, if slightly incorrect! It was a brilliant game, I have the honour of saying I was in the stadium, dressing in Orange! We aren’t the Roars, please just call us Brisbane, its much less embarrassing! Also, it was not Henrique who beat a couple of players to win that fateful corner, it was Rocky Visconte, a young italian australian.
    Despite all that, beautifully written and great to hear it from another viewpoint. It was truly the greatest sporting night of my life.

    • March 14, 2011 1:36 am

      Hehe, thank you so much for that. It was 4am and I probably had had too much coffee-and-beer. 😉 Cheers, I’ve made the corrections and changed a couple of things.

  2. Alex permalink
    March 14, 2011 1:16 am

    I was at the game last night… It was pretty epic with 50,000 people there.

    Just thought I’d add for you, that the Roar have now gone 28 matches unbeaten. They lost one game in the 30 round comp back in round 6 and easily took out the league as well as now the grand final.

  3. Neil Johnston permalink
    March 14, 2011 4:21 am

    An excellent article, thank you. Another fabulous aspect of Australian football is the fact that the fans do not have to be separated from each other at games. You can mix freely in all parts of the stadium. This ceased to happen in Europe in the mid 60’s.

    • March 14, 2011 4:45 am

      Excellent point Neil, thanks for that. I truly have become a fan of your A-League. Will take the tale to Brazil with me. Cheers.

    • Dave permalink
      March 23, 2011 5:45 am

      Fan separation happens at all games in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide.

      ‘Passive’ fans sit side by side at melbourne victory – melbourne heart derbies but the active supporters have to be completely separated by police.

      Things are certainly more casual in Australia but its misleading to say police and ground security are not needed to separate fans in all A-league games.

  4. Sas permalink
    March 14, 2011 4:39 am

    Beautiful report. A heartfelt thanks. Being a part of that crowd since day one made that result all the sweeter. We’ve very happy you enjoyed our beautiful game. Our team is amazing and as Alex said, has gifted us fans with an amazing season. I will pass on your article. I love it!

    PS you can call us the Roar if you want 🙂

    • March 14, 2011 4:46 am

      Thank you so much; truly appreciate that. What a wonderful season indeed. Go Roooooaar! 😉

  5. Gate 21 permalink
    March 14, 2011 5:54 am

    Our little section of the stadium refer to him as “Our Garrincha”. He showed up at the tail end of the 2007/08 season and has been a favourite ever since. He’s also on twitter: @henrique10roar

    • March 14, 2011 3:57 pm

      Thanks for that! I tweeted him and he responded. Brilliant little dude! Cheers.

  6. Dino permalink
    March 14, 2011 7:29 am

    Very well written piece! I also watched this game as a neutral and was frankly blown away.

  7. Baz permalink
    March 14, 2011 7:36 am

    Rod, that was a BRILLIANT article to read. A friend of mine emailed this onto me and will fwd it through to a few of the Roar fans I know. I was at the game and having been to a few GF’s and major tournaments, this was the most outstanding game outside the Socceroos qualifying against Uruguay in 2005.

    Henrique is loved by the fans as he is passionate and never gives up.

    I have to say, I think the Roar should borrow the line from the movie Galaxy Quest “Never Give up NEVER SURRENDER” as this best describes the teams attitude. As outlined above, to get to the GF, we have only lost ONE GAME all season seeing the Roar set a new record in Australian Football.

    Jump onto facebook and join up the Roars FB page. I will post up the article and get a few of them to read. It will bring the smile to their faces.

    • March 14, 2011 4:01 pm

      Awesome! Thanks so much for that! I have “liked” the Roar page on Facebook, as suggested. Brilliant stuff. Indeed, spread the piece. Brisbane needs to keep on celebrating! Cheers.

  8. March 14, 2011 8:07 am

    Good read. That game had everything. one of the best games of football i’ve ever seen.. much better than the time Leeds beat Man United 1-0 @ Old Trafford in the FA cup. thank you Brisbane for giving me a new favourite game. 😀

  9. March 14, 2011 9:42 am

    An enjoyable account written with love.

  10. March 14, 2011 9:44 am

    A good account written with love

  11. Rob permalink
    March 14, 2011 9:58 am

    or as the banner suggested, we are Roarcelona!

  12. Ben O'Neill permalink
    March 14, 2011 11:36 am

    Fantastic. Great to see that our game touched someone so far away. Happy you enjoyed it. If you’re on Twitter I’d like to follow you. I’m @BennyONeill.


  13. john permalink
    March 14, 2011 11:57 am

    Great report. I don’t think the after match presentation made Australian TV (pay TV only coverage) – so you saw coverage most Australians didn’t. I was there it was great.

  14. Dave permalink
    March 14, 2011 12:12 pm

    Thank you for the great write up. I am a CCM fan based in Sydney (it is easier for me to t0 get to their games than it is for me to go where Sydney FC play).

    Another point of note: no cards shown in two hours of fottball.

  15. Gillian permalink
    March 14, 2011 1:17 pm

    Thanks for this wonderful post! I actually watched a replay of the match, and – even knowing the result – my heart was in my throat through all of the extra time period. This truly was a match for the ages, and both teams deserve kudos for putting on such an amazing show!

  16. Paolo Damante permalink
    March 14, 2011 10:02 pm

    Rod, you captured every feeling, every emotion, every ounce of passion of the game. I loved reliving the greatest A-League grand final through your eyes and words. Thanks mate.

  17. Ahmed Essof permalink
    March 14, 2011 10:59 pm

    I was at the game and i can safely say, i have never experienced an atmosphere like what was there that day, at any other sporting event i have attended. I have been for some major events and some close contests, but that day made me realise just how great football is. The script could not have been written any better. What a game and what a victory.

  18. Rob McGlinn permalink
    March 15, 2011 1:04 am

    What a beautifully written article. I didn’t realize that the game was shown to other countries (besides New Zealand) but so glad it was especially when a great article like this is written about our grand final. I too was at the game and with over 50 thousand fans at the game the atmosphere was electric and I couldn’t have predicted such a fantastic way for the game to finish. I have placed a link to your story on our local football forum at

  19. Paul permalink
    March 15, 2011 2:23 am

    Thanks for the article. Good read. My whole family were there. Thought we were gone with 5min to go but … the rest is now history.

    Amazing game, amazing stadium, amazing team.

  20. Poniros permalink
    March 15, 2011 7:50 am

    Great article! I can’t belive that someone in Winnipeg could stay up and watch this game. Canadians are more prone to ice Hockey (GO LEAFS GO!).

    • March 15, 2011 3:40 pm

      Thank you so much! Well, I am Brazil-born. Born and raised until 18 years of age. Soccer is sort of “mandatory” down there! 😉 . Hockey is…alright, yea.

  21. Evan Askew permalink
    March 16, 2011 11:47 am

    Thank you for the article. It is always gratifying to hear someone from a proper football country and from a culture that truly understands the game to speak positively about our local game. As well as going 28 games undefeated this is the first team in domestic football in our country that has being able to devote so much energy to playing the game the way it is meant to be played. On the ground and with a focus on playing the ball out from the back. So not only was it a great final but this team won the premiership and the grand final with a focus on retaining posession of the ball. The governing body of the sport in our country has focused on changing the way we have approached the game and it is starting to bear fruit.

  22. Damo the Brave permalink
    March 17, 2011 4:30 am

    Now you have to come to Brisbane. I’ll arrange tickets and the first round will be on me.

  23. Alex permalink
    March 17, 2011 4:49 am

    Rod, love this article! I have the utter pleasure of saying I was there, and all the goals in extra time were down the end of the pitch I was sitting! I didn’t know anyone outside of Australia watched the A-League. Thank you so much, it was by far and away the best game I’ve ever been too. Unfortunately our little A-League is down the pecking order in Australia (behind AFL Australia Football, Rugby League, Cricket, V8 Supercars and Rugby Union) and has suffered quite badly this year with the 11th team North Queensland Fury being kicked out of the league due to financial issues. So the A-League desperately needed this. Please spread the word about our little A-League, this years edition has been the best by far. As for Henrique he is a brilliant player, a crowd favourite and whenever he scores a goal he always celebrates with the crowd – in fact he brought the trophy over to the crowd and got a photo with them. Thank you again.

    • March 17, 2011 5:04 am

      Thank you so much! Indeed, your A-League deserves more attention. It was an outstanding game, and I have seen a few great games in my day. That final was just plain amazing fun and heart. A translated version of this post has been published on Brazil’s most popular news site: O Globo. And folks have been commenting there too. So I hope that helps the A-League cause. That was also good for Henrique to get some recognition in Brazil for his Australian feats. And lucky you for being able to be at the game in person. *Jealous*. Cheers.

      • Alex permalink
        March 17, 2011 11:25 am

        That is great news congratulations Rod. I hope that it does raise the support levels of the A-League because the teams are finally playing quality football, Brisbane Roar in particular. Hopefully some more Brazilian players can join our league, we have a few at the moment with Henrique at Brisbane, Cassio an attacking left wing back at Adelaide the Da Silva twins on the Gold Coast and Bruno Cazarine at Sydney FC, as well as Ricardinho at Melbourne Victory. Thank you again for this, will be following your work from now on.

  24. gav permalink
    March 17, 2011 5:24 am

    gracias amigo!!!!
    i am a brisbanite and football tragic and that game was the most inspring comeback i have ever seen. football is now challenging the ‘thug’ sports here as no.1 – the magic and chivalry of such displays being a huge catalyst. your heartfelt words only highlight this and indicate that the reach of the world game, despite corruption etc, can only grow and be a force for beauty, peace and unity in the world.

  25. geoff permalink
    March 17, 2011 5:39 am

    g’day Rod. I too was at the game, and I don’t think I’ll ever see another like it. I am a Roar fan, but apart from our goals, my two favourite moments of the Grand Final both came from the Central Coast Mariners. I don’t know if you’d have seen either on the tv.

    1. Somewhere near the end of the game, our central defender Milan Susak went down with a cramp, and opposition striker Matt Simon stopped to stretch his opponent’s leg. Beautiful sportsmanship (while keeping one eye on the play in the other half).

    2. Walking towards the goal for the penalty shootout, Mariners keeper Matthew Ryan held his hand out to our gloveman Michael Theoklitos to wish him good luck in the shootout. Keepers are a special breed.

    Only in the beautiful game.

  26. Josh permalink
    March 17, 2011 9:25 am

    I had no idea anyone else even knew our league existed!

    I’m actually a Melbourne Victory (another ‘tough’ name haha) fan but I watched the game and it truly was one for the ages. As an Australian football fan it fills me with pride to see our game getting recognition from the other side of the world! Fantastic write up mate, I’ll have to take it upon myself to watch a few Toronto FC or Canadian national team games once in a while!

    Note: A blog by Les Murray led me here. He is Australia’s most prominent football journalist and TV presenter. Be proud 🙂

    • March 17, 2011 5:21 pm

      That’s fantastic. Thanks so much for the heads-up. Murray’s article is outstanding. Cheers for that!

  27. Starry from Cairns permalink
    March 17, 2011 10:27 am

    Mate, awesome story. You brought it all back to life for me again.. Thanks for the positive comments about the beautiful game down under.

  28. Porl permalink
    March 17, 2011 11:26 am

    Oh my god I lived it again.

    At half time of extra time 2 goals down there were tears staining my orange jersey, we spent haf time of extra time lampooning that obsence Australian obsession to have a grand final winner. We won the regular season, we are 27 games unbeaten, we were the true champions, not the result of a putrid one match last stand.

    Oh then that goal, and then in the last play of that match the equaliser, I had a headache caused by the screaming … we couldn’t go out drinking that night, it was too emotionally draining …

  29. Darren Seeto permalink
    March 17, 2011 11:31 am

    lovely well written article mate,

    Somebody get this man a SHIRT! preferably with number 10 Henrique on it.

  30. March 17, 2011 11:36 am

    Rod, your article made my day! I’m away from Aus and didn’t have the chance to see any of the game. None of the articles in the Australian media came close to capturing the final like yours. Well done and glad to hear some positive feedback about the A-league.

  31. Jonathan Pang permalink
    March 18, 2011 2:50 am

    Rod you suddenly have a lot of Australian friends! haha
    Do you have the link to the O Globo article? I would like to see what our brasileiro friends are saying about the game!

  32. Paul permalink
    March 18, 2011 8:07 am

    Hello Rod, how are you?

    I wish one day you learn the truth about Australian football. How this A-league competition that has been around 2005, replaced the old National Soccer League (NSL). The reasoning why? Many of the teams in this competition were ethnically aligned for examples many teams having roots from the 1950’s being established by immigrants from Greece, Italy and Croatia. They were then all dumped into the lower leagues to make way for newly established modern football franchises. The game has been in decline. They league has been around since 2005 and already two franchises have become bankrupt and a further 4 franchises needed the FA’s assistant financially, INCLUDING BRISBANE ROAR!

    I’m glad you enjoyed the spectacle of the Grand Final, as it was a quality match, but please understand what I have told you very briefly about how racist the FA is, and how Australia having the most unique footballing league in the entire world, was dumped discriminatory to make way for modern franchised football.

    • Ben G permalink
      March 19, 2011 1:25 am

      Ignore Paul. The ethnic based clubs excluded others based on their ethnicity and, yet, Paul claims the FFA is racist! Hypocrisy at its finest. Now we have a competition and clubs that welcome everyone, regardless of origin.

      The game was a wonderful exhibition. Lets leave the politics out of it.

    • Josh permalink
      March 19, 2011 8:53 am

      The NSL was dumped because our old FA (Soccer Australia) went broke and died. The A-league was created without the ethnic ties in order to attract a broader range of fans

  33. andrew mackinnon permalink
    March 19, 2011 11:50 pm

    Rod you have made my day.It is now 6 days since i was inside that stadium. The feeling of which i have never felt before came back to me this morning reading your article. Mate i shed a tear reading your piece knowing the emotions you were going through watching our final. Thankyou
    As to paul my dad played for APIA in the 60’s an aussie in an italian team the passion is football not your race.

  34. Christos permalink
    March 21, 2011 1:36 am

    Rod, what an inspirational article – thank you for your intelligent, passionate words. Paul, as a former NSL ethnic I can understand your angst – but I strongly disagree with both your analysis & conclusions. I cannot compare any NSL experience to the joyful, multi-cultural experiences at every A League game I have attended with my family. To see Greek, Dutch, Brazilian, Costa Rican & English heritage fans happily bantering & cheering for the one team – without any NSL ethnic bias – is truly the mark of a civilized & beautiful game.

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