Jeff Persson writes from the International Cup

In 2002 The Australian Football League hosted the first ever International Cup of Australian Rules Football, in Melbourne, Victoria. The US was one of 11 countries to send a national team to compete in the tournament designed to bring more notoriety to the national sport of Australia. As most of the countries have only been playing the sport for a short period of time (less than 10-15 years), and it is at a non-professional level, the teams were comprised of amateurs. The US squad acquitted itself rather well, going 3-2 in the round robin of pool play, defeating South Africa, Canada, and Samoa, while losing to New Zealand and eventual winners Ireland. In the playoff match, the US defeated Nauru for 5th place.

Hopefully, readers will enjoy hearing not only how the team is performing this time around, but also gaining a little insight into the officiating aspect of the game and a little bit about Melbourne

Report #8

Monday August 15th, 2005 Melbourne, Australia

At last we say goodbye to the 2005 International Cup. From nearly being sidelined with a sprained ankle to being in the appointed to the Grand Final at the MCG: what an incredible experience. Although I am eager to get back home and see Holly, my oh-so-patient wife, in the back of my head, I am already planning to return in 2008 for the third installment of the International Cup.

I hope you have enjoyed seeing Australia through my eyes. When I get back, I will be posting pictures and I understand the will have many pictures posted as well. If you get a chance to come here, by all means, make it happen. In fact, you can win the all expense paid trip that is being raffled off as part of the Australian Festival that the Nashville Kangaroos host ever September. Go to for all the details. Be sure to tell ‘em I sent you! Until 2008, CHEERS!

Sunday August 14th, 2005 Melbourne, Australia

The weather today is, well, Melbourne. After the first five days of pure sunshine, the entire rest of the time here we have had mostly cold, cloudy, and windy days, with lots of intermittent showers and intermittent sunshine. This is why the locals when asked the question “What is tomorrow’s weather meant to be?” answer with “Melbourne”.

About half the team is heading back today and we say our goodbyes. We will all be meeting again in 7 weeks in Milwaukee for the USFooty National Championships. After packing up all my gear, I head off to Elsternwick Park. Norm Nugent (Head Coach Alan Nugent’s father) has invited me to attend some amateur footy playoff matches. Those readers of my 2002 International Cup journal (also available in the archives in the website) may recall that Norm hosted the 2002 Revolution squad for an extended three-hour tour of the MCG. It is good to have connections! Norm is involved with the VAFA (Victorian Amateur Football Association) and Elsternwick is the headquarters so this is the opportunity to see another aspect of footy in Victoria.

Elsternwick is right on St. Kilda beach and gets a fair amount of wind. Today, however, the weather is quite “Melbourne” and the 35-knot breeze is gusting almost straight downfield. More than one kick gets caught up in a gale and actually takes a boomerang path back to earth. Quite an interesting sight to see a football do a boomerang! The quality of footy is probably only one grade above the better international teams, but then again this is not the top grade amateur footy.

In Victorian footy, there are typically ten teams in a “league” who play each other twice. The end of the season results are the “ladder” by which the finals assignments are made. Finals [what we call playoffs] consist of the top four teams playing off 1-2 and 3-4. The winner of 1-2 advances to the Grand Final. The winner of 3-4 advances to the preliminary final against the loser of 1-2 while the loser is done. The winner of the preliminary final advances to the Grand Final as well. This is a little different from how the US typically does playoffs, in that the top teams play each other, but instead of single elimination, they can “afford” a loss and play their way back into the Grand Final.

Today is preliminary finals for seniors. The first match sees Old Xavier down Fitzroy Reds by four goals (they were top of the ladder but lost their match to the #2 squad and have played back in to their Grand Final). There are three reports during the third quarter as tempers fly. Lots of paperwork goes with this and I am glad it is not me! The second match is Prahran and St. Kevins. I don’t stay past half time as I need to finish shopping, but it appears as though Prahran will go through as they have used the wind more effectively and have a 3 goal lead (side note, USAFL President Mark Wheeler is from Prahran). I bid farewell to Norm, and do my final walk around the CBD (Central Business District) snapping final photos and get ready to head home.

Saturday August 13th, 2005 Melbourne, Australia

Today is the last day of the 2005 International Cup. I am in the fifth place match pitting Samoa against Great Britain. I am working with Daniel Sanjarino (whose last name I surely have not remembered correctly, sorry Daniel). The center of the ground at TEAC oval is very slick, actually fairly treacherous, from the rain last night, and I don’t have boots [cleats, in America]. Still the match is close until the fourth quarter and Samoa pulls away, claiming fifth position.

Now for THE REMATCH: the US faces Ireland again, for third place. These two teams faced each other in Round 2 in what was probably the most physical match of the tournament. Now they get to take their anger out on each other as both clubs have missed the opportunity to play at the MCG. I am the team video specialist for this game again as Boyley heads off to Optus Oval to umpire his own match: Japan vs. Spain, the 9th place match.

The US cranks out an early three goal burst in the first quarter, scoring more points in this quarter than the entire game in Round 2. More of the same in the second quarter and the Revolution leads by over four goals at half time. The sun has been out for about two hours and has dried out most of the field so the play through the middle of the ground is not as dangerous as it was in the previous match. The Irish start out the third quarter trying to claw their way back in, but Dustin “Dookie” Jones (Florida) kicks a couple of goals and ensures that the USA leads by five goals at the final break. In the last quarter, Ireland again starts out well, but Dookie again kicks it into high gear, ensuring that the Irish effort comes up well short, ending with four goals and barely missing a fifth [be sure to ask Dustin how he got this nickname, but don’t tell him I told you!]. Aaron “the Immovable Object” Nelson played very well in the ruck position helping the Revos win the battle of midfield. Final score: USA 10.5.65 to Ireland 4.6.30. The USA finishes a respectable third place, and the previous champs finish fourth. Most impressive, and boding very well for 2008, is the fact that the only two USA losses were to the two teams playing in the Grand Final. Well done, boys, you have done yourselves and your country proud.

Next up: the Grand Final. John Booker, my chaperone for the day, ferries me and Neil Hargreaves (New Zealand) to the MCG. In 2002, I was the emergency umpire, and that is Neil’s appointment this time. Outside the gate, the entire team meets each other. My partners on the field are Robert O’Gorman, and Joshua Krull. The boundaries are Dave Card and Thomas Layton. Goal umpires are Gaetano Contarino and Brett McGeorge. There are seven umpire associations represented and this is the first time an international umpire will be on the ground for a game at the MCG, so a minor bit of history is being made. We inspect the ground early and smiles beam across all our faces: this ground is heaven on earth.

The match pits both undefeated teams: the New Zealand Falcons and the Papua New Guinea Mosquitoes. Both are highly skilled, with NZ being more of an aerial attack and PNG using a speed and short game focus. As with all international matches, we start with the national anthems and follow with the respective Hakas performed at midfield. Then, it is game on. The first quarter is intense, fast and furious. The Falcons get out to the early lead, but PNG stays close trailing by only two goals. Rob gets most of the action, as the play stayed in midfield a lot. The second quarter sees the teams really open up and the play goes not only up and down the field, but across to both boundary lines. At the end of the first half, I stop for just a moment and realize just how fantastic it is to be right where I am at this exact moment in time: standing at in the middle of the MCG during a grand final. Incredible!

During the intermission, we meet the AFL umpires for the Collingwood-Carlton match, which includes Matthew James. Matty and I met during the 2002 International Cup during the umpire clinic when he helped me with my bouncing technique. They wish us well and head off to the other locker room to get ready for their match. We head out for the second half. I get to raise the ball announcing the arrival of the umpires and the following blast of the horn is a bit of a rush (I have to be honest!). The third quarter begins and the skills of both squads continue to show themselves. The gulls are really swarming now (typical for a evening game at “The G”) and the cloud cover that has been around most of the afternoon helps bring a chill to the air. But we are running around keeping up with the play and hardly notice the chill. As the fourth quarter plays out New Zealand has built a lead of 17 points (37-20) and looks to be in control when PNG suddenly revives and kicks a goal for six points. There is quite a crowd gathering at this point and true to most sports fans, they are cheering for the underdog. Every contested mark and every big collision are greeted with enthusiastic roars from the crowd, and the crowd really is loud when PNG kicks another goal to narrow the gap to just five points, 37-32! It looks like this will come right down to the wire, when the Falcons kick a goal to extend their lead. With less than five minutes to go, New Zealand rises to the occasion, takes over the match and kicks one more goal and one more behind to finish of their title as International Cup Champions: 7.8.50 to 4.8.32. Congratulations to New Zealand.

After the match, Dave Matthews (of the AFL) presents the Best on Ground medal and the International Cup trophy. The umpire crew heads in to wrap up and say goodbyes. I brought a felt tip pen so everyone can sign my jumper. Being appointed to work the Grand Final is as high an honor as I can achieve and this will be my memento of the occasion. Thanks go to so many people, most of all Neville Nash, Adrienne Panozzo, and Andrew Boyle. Neil and I swap jackets and I promise to visit New Zealand sometime (as long as it is during the football season so he can assign me to some games!) Thanks guys, for (literally) the memories of a lifetime.

The final event of the trip (for the Revolution) is a team dinner at the Homestead in North Fitzroy. Alan Nugent acknowledges all 35 players and their contributions, his coaching staff, his support staff, and (a bit grudgingly) me as the umpire! In attendance are a surprisingly large number of family and friends. What a huge rally for all these people to make the effort to come to Australia and support the team. Absolutely incredible! Unfortunately for me, I have lost 90% of my voice (I have done 7 games in 12 days) and I head back to the hotel to crash while the rest of the boys head out to celebrate the lifting of their self-imposed no alcohol policy.

Friday August 12th, 2005 Melbourne, Australia

Adrian Panozzo takes me to Telstra Dome, which is also the location of the AFL offices, and the site of the tribunal. The Tribunal consists of three top AFL representatives who listen to the evidence as presented by me as the reporting umpire, the reported player and his representative, and the player who was allegedly struck and his representative. It sounds formal, and it is because it is designed to maintain the integrity of the game. After all evidence is presented and questions have been answered, the tribunal deliberates and renders its decision. In this case, because of the severity of the incident, and because the player is making an effort to go to local schools to promote international footy, a one game suspension is levied. Bad luck that it is for the finals tomorrow, but I think it is fair as striking another player usually carries a heavier penalty.

Afterwards, a meeting with Neil Hargreaves (New Zealand), Phindile Khambule (South Africa), Neville Nash, Adrienne Panozzo, and Rod Threlfall (all from the arm of the AFL umpiring) to talk about developing umpires in our countries. It is fascinating to learn how the sport is growing in these countries and how they are developing their umpire base. Each country has its own unique challenges: New Zealand has a decent base of umpires but needs to continue to groom umpires to the upper levels. They are somewhat fortunate to have a relatively small geography to cover and a corporate sponsor of umpire development! And of course they are lucky to have Neil at the helm. In South Africa, they are developing the sport through each of the nine provinces, one by one. There are already 12 teams across two provinces and they hope to open up three more next year. They have close to 100 umpires (!) which is a staggering number compared to New Zealand and the USA. In fact, it is probably more than both NZ and the USA combined. Their challenges are setting up the umpires associations to support the clubs, and to get umpires trained to the higher levels. In the USA, we face two severe challenges. First is geographic spread. Because teams are so far apart from each other (with many teams flying to play games and paying their own way), the few umpires that are available simply cannot afford to do games that are outside their home towns. The other challenge is to get a formal umpires association structured such that recruitment, training, and promotion of umpires can take place on a more formal basis (right now all we can do is about one clinic a year, usually in conjunction with our national tournament). This makes it difficult for senior umpires to assist junior umpires (through observation and feedback). We develop short term and long term plans for each of our respective countries after lunch and call it a day.

Following the meeting, we review the assignments for finals. I have been slotted in the fifth place match (Great Britain vs. Samoa) at 11 am. Neil is also awarded a finals match. Lastly, Neville Nash informs me that I have also been appointed the third and final field umpire for the Grand Final, to be played at the MCG at 4:30 Saturday. Whew! At first I thought he was pulling my leg, but then I realized that he was serious. It took a couple of minutes for it to sink in, and then I was speechless (those who know me are aware that I am rarely speechless). This is absolutely the pinnacle of what I can achieve on the field. The only higher honors would be making the VFL and the AFL levels, and those are only achievable if I live in Australia (and beat out tons of younger, fitter umpires with way more experience than I have). I must give thanks to those who have supported me, fought for me, and pushed me these past five years: Rich Mann, Andrew Boyle, Brian Green, Steve Arnott, and Craig Warner from back home, Paul O’Keefe and Mark Wheeler at the USAFL, Neville Nash and Adrienne Panozzo at the AFL, and of course my wife Holly for indulging me in my footy obsession. Neil has been appointed the emergency umpire which is terrific for him as well and Pindi will join us on the umpires bench. Wow, what day.

Afterwards, I run a few errands, like picking up some new balls to take back to our club and finishing my gift shopping. The trip is now almost complete. After the finals tomorrow, and then a rest day on Sunday, I will be heading home.

Report #7

Erratum. Apologies to Henry McFerran, whose name I misspelled when reporting on my match for the Western Region u18s last Friday. Henry, sorry about that, mate, and hopefully you can see your way to allowing me a chance to get another run with your umpire team at some point in the future. I would blame the Match Manager, John Booker, but I am still hoping he will send me that picture he took at TEAC oval of me with Ron Barassi.

Thursday August 11th, 2005 Melbourne, Australia

Today is the day. It does not matter if you finish first or fourth or in between; the semi-finals mean all four teams are 0-0 and a win means playing for the Premiership (what titles are called in Australia) at the MCG and a loss means playing for third place. Today’s match is at 11 am and is back at Port Melbourne’s ovals (the site of the first two rounds), where the grounds are a little smaller than the TEAC oval as well as the Wangaretta ovals.

The team arrives at 9:30 am to prepare for battle. The weather looks to be fantastic, which is quite a nice change from the showers that seem to have followed the International Cup from Round 2 onward. After the national anthems, the US lines up to respect the New Zealand Haka. As with the Samoa/New Zealand match two days ago, the teams end up chest-to-chest and toe-to-toe, clearly ready to slug it out for the next 60 minutes.

In the first quarter, the US uses it's speed to chase and tackle, and New Zealand uses it's superior skill to move the ball. Both teams are playing very well, and this looks like it might be the best match of the tournament yet. As the first quarter wears on, the US defense cracks ever so slightly and New Zealand ekes out a two goal advantage, 2.2.14 to 0.1.1. If I am not mistaken, it is the lowest scoring quarter for the Falcons in the entire tournament, which bodes well for the US.

Unfortunately for me, I get called upon to fill in a boundary umpire role on the other oval and I must miss the rest of the US game. What follows is what I gleaned from other observers. The US continued to slug it out with New Zealand but at half time trailed 27-7 (which I assume would be 4.3.27 to 1.1.7). In the third quarter, the Falcons scored a couple of early goals, to stretch their lead. With the weather turning colder by the minute, the Revolution mounted a comeback later in the third, but only managed to close the gap to 8 goals to 2. In the fourth quarter, the Kiwis got a couple of early goals, forcing the Revolution to again fight from behind. The physicality of the game was the most intense of the tournament with big hits on both sides of the ball. In the end, New Zealand prevailed by five goals, 10.4.64 to 5.2.32 (I think that is correct) Anyway, the end result is that the skill was too much for the Revolution to overcome, but there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the team played its guts out, and earned a lot of respect for pushing New Zealand as they did, especially when the local press gave them no chance. I understand that the players who stood out included James “JB” Brunmeier (Milwaukee), Darryl “DB” Butler (St. Louis) who kicked is first international goal, and from what I did see, Dee “Weeman” Vsetecka (Nashville) as well. Boys, I know you are hurting now, but I still say it was a fair dinkum effort: well done. [fair dinkum is used as a compliment in Australia -ed.] One more match to go on Saturday and you will wrap up third place. Ireland was defeated by Papua New Guinea by a mere 8 points and thus the third place match is a repeat of the Round 2 match of USA vs. Ireland, and the Grand Final will be Papua New Guinea vs. New Zealand.

While that was happening, I ran the boundary for the Japan Samurai vs. Great Britain Bulldogs match. I have not run a boundary since the last Cup in 2002, but I was needed and accepted the assignment. For the uninitiated, there are three types of umpires in footy: Field umpires run the middle of the field and award free kicks, pay marks, and are in control of the match. They are assisted by two boundary umpires whose job it is to patrol the boundary and let the field umpires know when the ball has gone out of bounds and whether the ball will be returned to play via a throw in or a free kick. Last, but not least, are the goal umpires whose role is to determine whether a ball that crosses the end line is a goal (6 points), or a behind (1 point). The goal umpires get to dress warmly, but must brave cold rainy weather by standing in the goals, which in the winter here in Australia is a good reason to be a field umpire! The boundary umpires by far run the most, which is a good reason to be a field umpire and not a boundary umpire!

Anyway, my crew for this game includes Ross Payne, David O’Hare, and Brendan Devlin in the field, and my partner on the boundary, Julian Maccioni. The match is much more physical than I thought it might be, and unfortunately, in the second quarter a Bulldog slugs a Samurai in the goal square. I saw it as did the goal umpire, and that means a “report” for striking another player. In footy, a reported player is kicked out for the rest of the match and must stand for a tribunal that will either exonerate or punish based on the evidence presented. For me, it means I must attend the tribunal to present my evidence. What a bummer that something like this happens. But, that is why the rules exist: to protect players who are trying to play a fair game. Fortunately, after the Bulldog is sent off the rest of the match is played fairly and no other incidents occur.

This evening is the formal dinner, hosted by the AFL with all 10 clubs in the large banquet facility at Telstra Dome (the same place as last time, except it was called Colonial Stadium then). There are so many dignitaries here representing not just the AFL (Ed Biggs, Neville Nash, Adrian Panozzo, plus so many more I could not keep track of them all), but also the Consulates from most of the countries, most if not all of the AFL teams, and so many Australian Commissions it made my head spin. The awards for top goal kicker and best and fairest [MVP] players (as selected in each match by the field umpires) are announced and they receive medals. The team best and fairest are then announced and they receive a signed jumper [jersey] from their host club. Donnie Lucero (Orange County) was chosen by his teammates to receive the Essendon Bombers jumper. The All Tournament team is announced as well, with each of the 22 awardees receiving a commemorative International Cup jumper, and the Revolution has had two outstanding players picked: Donnie Lucero (team captain) and James “JB” Brunmeier. What a terrific honor for both: good on ya! The event closes with quite a lot of video from the tournament games, and a whole lot of picture taking, plus the “normal” amount of singing among the usual clubs: Samoa, Ireland, and South Africa leading the way. This is clearly a major event on so many fronts that when you throw in the carnival atmosphere, I can tell you without a doubt, I would not miss this for anything.

Wednesday August 10th, 2005 Wangaratta, Australia

Today we leave Wangaratta, having collected some great memories and having experienced another side of Australian culture. I have to believe that this smashing success will mean that more trips to experience country football will be on the agenda in 2008 at the next Cup. After returning to Melbourne, there is a team meeting to prep for the semi-final match against the New Zealand Falcons, and everyone pretty much spends the rest of the evening relaxing. Tomorrow is the biggest game ever in the history of USFooty.

Report #6

Tuesday August 9th, 2005 Wangaretta, Australia

Round 4, the final preliminary round is today. The US will take on Papua New Guinea and the winner will be guaranteed a spot in the final 4. The loser will make it through to the finals if New Zealand beats Samoa. The PNG side is clearly a smaller and faster side, preferring to use their short game skills to the long bomb aerial attack, compared to the US which has size, tenacity, and physical strength on its side.

The first quarter is a back and forth battle, but in the end the US kicks a late goal to finish 3.0.18 to PNG 1.2.8. True to form, PNG uses its speed and short game to advance the footy, but the US defense stands tall, keeping PNG to the solitary goal. In the second quarter, PNG turns up the heat in a big way, running loose all over the field in numbers and winning most of the loose balls. This, of course, means they have substantially more scoring chances and with a goal at the siren, lead the match 5.4.34 to 4.0.24.

In the second half, the US regains is composure, raising its game back to where it was in the first quarter, again limiting PNG to a single goal, while spending most of the quarter in the attack zone. Unfortunately, set shot kicking lets the US down, and the pile on the points while gaining a single goal, including a set shot from 20 meters out at the siren that sailed wide, costing the US five valuable points. Final intermission sees PNG leading 6.4.40 to 5.4.34.

The fourth quarter starts on a bad note, with PNG getting the opening tap straight down the field for a goal. The intensity on both sides has been elevated, as both obviously know a top 2 spot rides on the next 15 minutes. PNG manages a crucial behind after 4 kicks out on the full, extending its lead to 13 points, which means the US needs two goals and a point to draw even. Luckily, after that point, PNG seems to relax and the US forces its way down field, kicking a goal to get within 7. Time is running out but again the US pushes downfield. As another goal sails through the big sticks, the final siren sounds, leaving the US a solitary point short, 7.5.47 to 7.4.46. James Brunmeier of Milwaukee kicked four US goals and was the most dominant player on the field: clearly the most spectacular performance in any match for the US so far. The loss means that Samoa must lose to New Zealand for the US to place in the final four.

I have been assigned to the Samoa New Zealand match, the last of the day, and I am working with Tony Rowe and Adam Lawrence, two of the top Wangaretta field umpires. The grounds here are in terrific condition even though it has been raining for much of the early morning and we get a nice cold shower right at the start of the match. This match draws a huge crowd which gives us a flavor for what country football is like. After the national anthems, both teams like up to do their respective Hakkas. I have seen both before, from up close (the advantage of being an umpire!), but this time they are simultaneous and nose to nose! The rest of my crew has wide eyes at this spectacle, but I had warned them ahead of time what this would be and so we clear the crowd while the teams line up for what promises to be a physical battle. New Zealand outclasses Samoa in all four quarters to guarantee its spot on top of the ladder (the ladder is the ranking of teams from top to bottom), which also means that the US finishes fourth, and will play New Zealand in the semi-finals. The dream is still alive.

After the match, Terry Heath, who has been looking after me for this round, takes me on a tour of Glenrowan, a few kilometers outside of town, including the site where Ned Kelly was shot. I’ll have to read up a little bit more, but apparently he was an outlaw who when cornered dressed up on armor and took on the police. He killed three before being captured, and was hung six months later. This area is has several large textile factories and the main industry is farming, both animals and grains (sorghum, wheat, etc.). From here we can see the mountains of the Great Divide and the sprawling valley (think GUNSMOKE).

This evening, the town of Wangaretta hosts all 10 clubs at the town hall. After dinner and the obligatory speeches and acknowledges, South Africa begins the post-formality singing. They perform two songs on stage. Minutes later, Samoa “answers the challenge” and they sing on stage. For the next hour, one country after another is singing songs: Samoa, Ireland, Great Britain, South Africa, and even Spain, Japan, and Papua New Guinea are all singing songs, arm in arm, cameras taking pictures and videos. What a tremendous experience! The AFL representatives are in the back of the room, not really sure what to make of it all. For me, this is what makes this more than just a footy trip. How extraordinary to have 10 (well 11 counting our host country) singing and dancing together, having a terrific time: world peace on a small scale.

Monday August 8th, 2005 Wangaretta, Australia

Today is an off day for the teams and all 10 head to the train station for the three hour ride to Wangaretta. Wangaretta is due north of Melbourne, which means it should be warmer as it is closer to the equator, but in actuality it is supposed to be colder as it is at a higher elevation. Our train is due to depart at 7:50 so the team grabs brekky at 5:45 or so and a bus drops us at the station around 7:00. The trip itself is uneventful, but does offer us a chance to view some of the countryside. It is not quite considered bush territory, but is considered country football. Once we clear Melbourne we see rolling hills, creeks and farms, sheep and kangaroos (it is Australia after all), and even an echidna was spotted. The territory we are traveling through is primarily farmland where animals are raised, not as harvesting grains.

When we get to Wangaretta, there is a band playing and the mayor and the local football officials are on hand to welcome us to their town. The AFL has also sent along a film crew to collect some footage. After settling in to the hotel, the boys head out for lunch and at 2:30, most have settled in for a nap or a walk through down town. Five of us, however, brave the city golf course. For me, a non-golfer, or at best a “D” scramble golfer, it is a chance to see the scenery and relax for the afternoon. We play a round of nine holes at a cost of A$15 and really try to forget about footy for a while. The Japanese team has about 15 guys and the Spanish team has about 4 guys as well. Not sure what the rest of the teams were doing this afternoon. [The score was irrelevant – Ed. :-)]

Team dinner is at 7:00 and Rich Mann, former president of the USAFL and the guy who ran my first umpire clinic back in 2001 has joined the team. Rich moved back to Australia a couple of years back and now lives in Perth (on the west coast of Australia) and served as the Runner for the US team in 2002 and he will be fulfilling that role tomorrow. I think I have seen just about everyone who has been involved with my umpiring career during this trip! He is doing quite well, and it is good to catch up with him. I learn during the evening that Wangaretta has been an absolute hot spot the last several years for recruiting of AFL players. As much as it is impressive how much footy is played inside Melbourne, it is equally impressive how much “country” footy is played. I remember ex-pats in the states telling me that small towns of 1000 might have several football teams, and now that I am seeing it first-hand, I am gaining a much better feel for exactly what that means.

I also get in touch with the Umpires Coordinator and I am scheduled for a match during Round 4. That means I need a good night of sleep. After the team meeting following dinner it is off to sleep.

Report #5
Sunday August 7th, 2005 Melbourne, Australia

Today is Round 3 and the US moves to TEAC oval for its match with newcomer Spain. The opening match of the day is South Africa and Ireland. I am being added to the field umpire group and we will run three umpires. Peter Dodd and Scott (forgot his name, but will get it later) and I enjoy a nice run on the slippery grass as the ground has not yet fully dried out. The Irish are much taller, but the Buffaloes are much quicker and surprisingly good leapers and spoil far more than one would think they could. The Irish dominate the scoreboard as the Buffaloes are unable to kick straight: 9.9.63 to 1.7.13.

The weather is chilly and the wind is whipping around the ground making it even colder. I am the camera operations person for the US today, so I hustle after my match to get set up for recording. As we the national anthem plays, the rain comes down for about 5 minutes, and I have to move the camera farther under the canopy, thereby missing the last half of the anthem. The rain, of course, means the game is going to be sloppy wet, and Spain and the US really struggle to control the footy. The US leads at half time 1.6.12 to 1.0.6. The second half of this match is a repeat of the first, as the rain comes down for the first five minutes: just to be sure the field is still wet. However, the US plays better in this half and manages to grind out a 28 point victory: 5.10.40 to 2.0.12. With the US at 3-0, they are in a position to get to 4-0 and guarantee a top two finish: the only other two teams undefeated at this point are New Zealand and Papua New Guinea and PNG and the US play Tuesday in Wangaretta. Of special note for the Roo Fan Club: Dee “Weeman” Vsetecka figures prominently in the game managing to get a lot of touches all game long.

After the games today, Weeman, Dave “Texas Ranger” Walker and I join our in town Roos Marcus Dripps, Stella Phelps, and John Brinker for an early dinner (photo to follow). There is a team meeting from 8-9 pm, after which some of the boys watch the tape of the game. The coaching staff will cut up the tape for review tomorrow night’s team meeting. The rest of the evening is relax, read, and pack: tomorrow is an early train to Wangaretta for two and a half days and the fourth round of the Cup.

Saturday August 6th, 2005 Melbourne, Australia
Today I am working my first non-International Cup game of this trip. The Western Regional Football League is one of the many leagues in and around Melbourne and the WRFL Umpires Association (where I was hosted on Wednesday night) has graciously offered me the opportunity to umpire one of their matches. This match is between Port Melbourne and Altona, Division 1, Under 18s. In the US, we would say “17 and under”, either way, they have to be no older than 17. I am working with Henry McFadden, the President of this Umpires Association – no pressure! For these matches there is a new rule: each team has a photo album and we have to do roll call during pre-game inspections. Apparently a fair amount of cheating had been occurring. In addition, at the end, we must complete paperwork on the game whereby each team earns points for such things as having supplied the boundary and goal umpires and not having any players reported.

The match itself is a medium grade contest, meaning that there is a fair bit of skill on both sides of the ball, but still plenty of room for improvement. The boys pretty much don’t test me: one of the coaches had even said during the pre-game to his players that they were to take care of me (over here that is meant in a polite way, and not in the Vito Corleone way!) After paying a few free kicks for the usual assortment of infringements, and a 50-metre penalty in the first period, the contest is pretty much incident-free. Until the final quarter that is. Henry reported a kid from Port who was on the side lines for verbal abuse. I never heard what he was saying: first I don’t really care what they say: it won’t change my call or my opinion. Second, I completely tune out everything but the game anyway. But overall, it was an enjoyable experience and thanks to the WRFLUA for the opportunity.

After a bout with the Suds and Duds (laundry), I head to Junction Oval where Old Haileybury (our host club last Tuesday) is playing Old Melbourne. Mark “Disco” Secull is playing his 200th match for them which is a very big deal: it means longevity, it means live membership, and it is a testament to skill level. Disco played for Orange County for a few years when he recently lived in the States and this shows that he is a Legend not only in the US, but here as well. OH wins handily by a dozen goals, with Disco getting two goals. He is carried off the field (think RUDY). He gets the game ball. I saw in Jay Mueller’s journal that he heard football here is a religion. He was corrected: “football is not a religion here, it is more important than that”. I think that sums it up quite nicely.

Report #4
Thursday August 4th, 2005 Melbourne, Australia
The weather in Melbourne has been absolutely terrific these first five days, and only even resembled “winter” for the first time yesterday evening. After having no precipitation whatsoever, it sprinkled a bit in the morning but was gorgeous all day until a huge black cloud dropped all of 10 minutes of rain right at the end of the US match. It stayed nice for a little while and then poured the rest of the night. It is still raining this morning as the day gets under way and rains until midday.

Team meeting and brekky at 8 starts the day. The squad reviews some tape from the South Africa match. Game tape is something that is quite rare in the US and was not available in the 2002 Cup. It should be helpful for emphasizing the good things players did as well as for players to make adjustments in positioning and other finer points. Today, we head to Essendon, home of the Bombers, and the host club for the US, same as in 2002. We get a tour of their hall of fame, and their assistant coach spends a good hour or so talking about the history and culture of footy at Essendon and footy in general, plus a good 30 minutes of Q&A. Afterwards, they allow the team to practice indoors. We had hoped to get a run on their ground, Windy Hill, but with the rain, it is too slick and there is no reason to risk an injury. Windy Hill was the site of the US-Denmark “friendly” warm up for the 2002 International Cup, umpired by yours truly.

Afterwards, we take the train back to town and the boys disperse to relax, and individually prepare for what is arguably the biggest match in USFooty history. I stop downtown to try and get the my shopping completed because the rest of the schedule is fairly well packed with activities, so it is better to get this done now and not have to worry about it later.

This evening I head to the Melbourne Art Theatre to catch Tales of the Silk Road. Set in China, it is a tale of love and misery, told via dance and music, with a little bit of narration. It is also the first show of its kind to originate from China and is more evidence of China’s transformation into a capitalist country. It is a bit of a cross between the ballet and opera. If you have seen AIDA, it has even more pageantry, and the most fantastic costumes and sets I have ever seen, made all the more incredible in that there are nearly 100 dancers on stage! The theatre is packed, which is nice to see as I thought THE LION KING having opened last week (and is sold our several weeks in advance) might have a bigger draw. While it is not my favorite of all time (RENT, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, and EVITA still hold the top 3), if you are a fan of the theatre, this show is not to be missed. Hard to believe: a footballer heads to Australia and hits the theatre district. It takes all types.

Thursday August 4th, 2005 Melbourne, Australia
Today is the day. US vs. Ireland. In pool play, this could be the game that decides who plays in the Grand Final. However, with Denmark and Nauru being late drop outs, the AFL has restructured the tourney into a 10-team single pool with four rounds. The top four teams will play semis in round five and the winners of that will meet at the MCG in the Grand Final. This means that the US could lose today or win today, and still have probably a greater than 50% chance of having to play Ireland again in the finals. But that is all speculation and really means nothing for the goal for today: Beat Ireland.

The team heads to the ground for the 11:45 am match, with the weather being rather chilly and the ground still quite soggy from all of the rain from yesterday. Boyley and I are the film crew with him on the umpire shed and the camera, and me with my new digital camera getting some action photos. In the opening half Ireland looks to be the better club, taking a few more marks and making better disposals. The US side seems to be tentative, not charging in to get the footy and slipping and sliding all over the field. When the siren for the half sounds, Ireland leads the US 1.5.11 to 0.2.2.

When the US comes out for the third quarter, a few line up changes have been made in the forward line and midfielders, trying to generate more scoring chances. The big difference this quarter is the US is now charging in to get the footy and is tackling very hard. Dave “Uma” Thurman kicks the first goal for the Revolution and they should have had a lot more. Poor kicking in the attack zone keeps Ireland in front at the three quarter break 1.6.12 to 1.3.9. The talk Coach Nugent provided at that break provided the impetus for the US to push for 15 more minutes: the fourth quarter is more of the same. The hitting and pressure on the ball for the US continues and the play is in the forward half of the field most of the quarter. When the US finally kicks another goal (after what seems like a dozen opportunities) and goes in front for the first time, the smell of blood is in the air. A late free kick to Ireland in their attack zone, trailing by four points, causes the heavily partisan crowd to hold its collective breath. When the kick sails wide of the goals, the sigh of relief is audible. After several more agonizing minutes, the final siren sounds and history has been made: Ireland has lost its first international match ever: US over Ireland 2.5.17 to 1.7.13. The US is not 2-0 and while not guaranteed a spot in the top four, is well on its way to secure as spot in the semi-finals. For now, the boys have a well deserved afternoon of recovery.

Tommy Ellis, his son Nolan, and Brad Rinklin, join me in heading to Port Melbourne Primary School. Peter Martin (who umpired with me in Round 1) is the school principal who asked us to come by and talk with the kids, and so we were happy to oblige. We spend about 20 minutes with the nine- and ten-year-olds because that is Nolan’s age. After answering lots of questions about the US geography and footy history in the US, the kids all suddenly want autographs: I hope neither of the newest international celebrities gets writer’s cramp! We take a couple of photos for the record and make our way to the Bay for the post game recovery: stand in freezing water for 15 minutes. We blame team trainer Steve Budrick for this torture. If he were not such a good guy taking care of all of us, we might think about ignoring him.

After an early dinner, the team heads to the Telstra Dome for the Parade of Nations and the St. Kilda vs. Geelong match. The Parade is quite fun, with the gathering 50,000 plus fans cheering for all ten international teams. The match itself is not that thrilling as St. Kilda wins 96-55, but Dee “Weeman” Vsetecka and I catch up with some former Kangaroos who have returned to Australia: Marcus “Chairman of Defense” Dripps and his wife Lucy, John “Muffin” Brinker, and the ever lovely Stella Phelps, all of whom are here to see the third round of the Cup on Sunday. We will catch up with them more this weekend. For now, time for sleep.

Report #3
Wednesday August 3rd, 2005 Port Melbourne, Australia
Today the International Cup officially starts with matches at Murphy Reserve in Port Melbourne on two ovals: A.T. Aanenson Oval and T.M. Woodruff Oval. I have the opening match at 10:00 am, Spain vs. Japan. Peter Martin is my partner for today’s game. Not only is he part of the Port Melbourne local umpires, he is the principal of the primary school across the road from the ground, so we have a couple of hundred primary school kids in attendance as well as several hundred, maybe as much as 1000 spectators. Neil Hargreaves of New Zealand is the only other international umpire this year (in 2002 I was the only one). This means that umpiring is picking up a little bit outside of Australia and this is good for the growth of the sport overall.

In the Spain vs. Japan match, it becomes quite apparent how new the boys from Spain are to the sport and it is equally apparent just how much progress Japan has made since 2002. The Spanish Bulls make a number of basic mistakes early, but to their credit, they adapt as the game progresses and in the second half make a good show of it. The Japanese Samurai scored early and often, mostly using their positioning and running skills to get to the ball and make that first hand pass to get the play moving. They also used the short pass quite effectively. But they don’t quite have the kicking skills just yet. Japan is the winner by 11 goals. It will be interesting to see how they fare against some of the taller teams. Anyway, it is great to be umpiring in Australia again and Peter and I had a lot of fun working the opening game. He also wants me to come to his school to talk about the USA, so I will give him a call to try to schedule that.

The opening ceremonies are at Noon. Each team parades out onto the ground to the cheers of the primary school kids, and the applause of the appreciative crowd. There are at least a dozen cameras operating capturing it all. This is way more publicity compared to the inaugural Cup in 2002. After the obligatory speeches by the mayor and several other officials, it is time to watch more footy. During the afternoon I find Brian Green, current USAFL Umpires Coordinator, living in New York. He is on his honeymoon (good on ya, mate!) and stopped by to watch the games before heading back to the US tomorrow. I also see Hugh Green, the head of the Dandenong Umpires Association. Hughie supported my last visit by having me come to training and doing games at Dandenong. His daughter Kate, a terrific field umpire, has been appointed to a match in the third round. It is so cool to be able to catch up with everyone.

The US quest for the Cup officially starts at 2:45 as the US takes on South Africa. Dave Walker “Texas Ranger” and Dee “Weeman” Vsetecka are among the 24 selected to represent the US in this opening match. The speed of South Africa is readily apparent as they are very quick to the ball and they show no fear when matching up to the much larger boys in the Stars and Stripes. As the game progresses, the Buffaloes actually manage about the same number of scoring chances, but their accuracy costs them. Another aspect I noticed was that the US did not look quite as sharp as in practice the several days prior and gave up too may free kicks and did not man up like I know they can, although I was not sure if it was first game jitters or lack of focus. More likely, though, it is the much improved South African squad that deserves the credit. In 2002 the Buffalo squad was essentially all black kids between 16 and 19 (I was taller than all but one and I am only 5’11”). This time around they are playing with both black and white players and they look much more mature. Their program is obviously growing nicely. Still, the US manages to open a four goal lead at half time that they extend to seven goals at three quarter time. In the final quarter, the US loses, scoring only one goal to three. At the final siren, the final score is 9.8.62 to 4.9.33 and the first step to winning the Cup in 2005 if safely in the books. Next up is the big match for the tournament (for the USA): IRELAND. But first things first; the boys head back to the hotel to shower and clean up for dinner and a final open evening.

Neil (from New Zealand) and I have been invited to the Western Regional umpires training and meeting tonight and will be given game assignments on Saturday. Pindi and Benji from the South African team will accompany us. Pindi, 19 years young, is the South African umpire and went through training at the 2002 Umpires Clinic as part of that tourney. She is building several umpire associations in the various provinces in South Africa. She has already recruited 40 women/girls for this effort, which by the way is larger than the US can claim. Benji is the South African Vice Captain, but is not playing in the tourney because he has a broken collar bone. He has been in Melbourne for several months, playing at one of the local southern clubs, a situation similar to what many of the US boys have been through. We all tell our “stories” about how footy is growing in each of our countries and chat with the umpires group. This particular umpire group has about 180 umpires (no type here) which is about five times bigger than a typical footy club in the US. The scale of the differences is quite staggering. At the end of the evening, Brett Ritchie shows up: he and I did a match together back in 2002 and he was appointed to the Grand Final. He is currently working at the VFL (Victorian Football League) which akin to AAA baseball in the US. The only higher level is AFL so making that grade is quite an honor. Way to go Brett.

Well, back to the hotel to unpack, reshuffle, and reorganize my gear. And of course get this report completed so you, the intrepid reader, can keep track of the US quest for the Cup (and maybe get a taste of what sort of craziness is such a big part of my life).

Tuesday August 2nd, 2005 Melbourne, Australia
Today is the same: team meeting and training. The team will play late morning or mid-day most of the tournament, so this helps them be prepared, physically and mentally, to be ready to go when game time arrives. Each game day each country will be allowed to dress 24 players for its match. With 35 players on the squad, that means that 11 players will not be dressed each game. Not an enviable position for coaches Alan Nugent and Robbie Oliver having to make that decision every game. The USAFL coaches are announcing the squad for each game at the team meeting the day prior, which means that today is the first of six days such announcements will take place. The training is lighter today than yesterday and the boys look sharp and ready to go.

My training consists of a 5K lake run and some sprints, both forward and backwards, plus a bit of bouncing. In Aussie Rules, play is commenced by bouncing the ball off the ground and the two teams contest the ball for possession. Given that the ball is football shaped, bouncing it off the ground straight up takes a fair amount of skill. If you have never done it, give it a try.

The afternoon is another “Fun in the Sun” day, with perfect weather again. I head off to the Australian International Film Festival and catch a classic Japanese movie “Chikamatsu’s ‘Love in Osaka’” from 1959. It has elements of feudal Japan and, being a bit of a movie buff, I enjoy watching the different camera angles and following the character arcs. It is also interesting to learn a little bit about Japanese culture through the movie. I can now add this to the list of International Film Festivals I have attended.

At 5:45, the team gathers for an evening trip to two local clubs: Haileybury and Hampton. These two clubs have been hosting US players for several years and were quite keen to have the US Revolution stop by. Jay Mueller, Dave Thurman, and Chris Carroll all play or played for Haileybury. John and Josh Loring as well as Dustin Jones have all played for Hampton. Both clubs have their presidents speaking to us about playing footy in general and about developing our clubs back home. We get to watch the Haileybury seniors team practicing: their skills drills are rather intense and of course their skills are better than ours (due to having played the game for substantially more years!) It does give us something to contemplate as we try to grow our own clubs as well as the skills in the USA in general. At Hampton, we learn they are the largest club in Australia with 500 registered players (including juniors), and they have 20 teams competing every weekend – no those are not typos. In the US, there are 32 active clubs, in the entire country, with somewhere between 1000 and 1500 registered players. Kind of puts things in perspective. The South African Buffaloes are also at Hampton this evening and so we have a chance to mingle with them while we are fed a meal of sausages and patties. To close the evening, the Buffaloes sing one of their innumerable songs as a thank you. Singing is one of their cultural trademarks and this is far from the last time we will hear them.

Tomorrow is the big day and so the boys head back to the hotel to get a good night’s rest. First up on the agenda: the South African Buffaloes, of course.

Monday August 1st, 2005 Melbourne, Australia
Team meeting and brekky starts the day again. Brekky is short for breakfast. In Australia, many longer names are shortened to the first syllable and “ie” or “y” is added. Thus sunglasses become sunnies and breakfast becomes brekky. Today’s training is much harder than yesterday’s. The boys are looking much better at warm ups, although their full field drill is a little short of perfect, which gets them a quick dressing down, after which the focus and effort is phenomenal. They look like a team that is ready for battle, with emphasis on “team”. Having observed the 2002 Revolution squad throughout that tournament, I can say that I am feeling rather upbeat with the tourney now two days away.

I also resumed my training now that my long-lost bag finally finished it sojourn to Melbourne, having arrived around 10 pm last night. I can now return the borrowed clothes and wear mine. I am slated for the opening game on Wednesday, and so I want to make sure to represent the US well.

After training, we head back to the hotel and the boys disperse for an afternoon of exploring the city. Some head down to the beach. Others head off to the city. Others hit the riverfront and at least one or two will find their way to the Crown Casino. And no doubt Pellegrini’s will get another visit. I decide to explore the Art Museum which has a current exhibit “Dutch Masters, from the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam”. Although I am not exactly an art history expert, I still enjoy the exhibit which includes mostly paintings and some glasswork, some faience china, and a few sculptures. It is intriguing to see the various styles and use of colors and to learn why different background and foreground objects have been included in a picture (above and beyond the primary focus of the piece). I try to observe first and then read the write up to see if what I notice is what the “expert” says is what I should notice. Some artists have exquisitely reproduced shirts, fruits, and other inanimate objects while the faces seem to be of a much lower quality. Some of them are so realistic, they could pass for film pictures. It is amazing to think of the time spent on creating these marvels.

Afterwards, I head back to the hotel and finally, my body relaxes: I get 10 hours of sleep which is double what I usually get. Hopefully the players don’t take this long to acclimate. Maybe it is just my age!

Sunday July 31st 2005 Melbourne, Australia
Team meeting is every morning at 7:30. No one is late as they don’t want to pay the $20 fine. Even though these boys have just got together, they are already a cohesive team, a single unit with a single goal. They even voluntarily chose a no alcohol policy until the Cup is over. Each team meeting starts with a review of the team mission, team rules, and team goals for the day. Next is the day’s schedule of events. Today is a review of team strategies, followed by a short training held at a nearby oval. Here in Melbourne it is difficult to go more than a few blocks and not stumble across a footy/cricket oval. It is very much like the softball/baseball fields back in the US: they are everywhere! The team has its first run on Australian soil with the primary goal to shake off the haze induced by a 20 hour flight (more if you started from farther than LA!). Lot’s of guys are slow to start, but as the training progresses, the skills begin to take over and the intensity picks up. I am sure they will be totally fired up by Wednesday.

After training, lunch is hosted by Nando’s, a local restaurant chain. Jay Mueller and his wife Michelle have coordinated this for the boys and the chicken and salads are devoured, partly because of hunger, but more so because it is really tasty! Thanks to Jay and Michelle for arranging this!

Next on the agenda is another trip to the G, this time to see the Fremantle Dockers and the Collingwood Magpies. There are several interesting aspects to footy matches in Melbourne. One is that at the opening of the game, when the teams come out of the locker rooms, they run through a giant banner. When I say giant, I mean GIANT, as they are about 40 feet high and 100 feet wide, requiring a couple of dozen supporters to hold it in place. The team boosters create them and they have some pointed comment about the match their team is about to play. Another is that there are nine teams in Melbourne, so which part of the city you are raised in often determines which team is your favorite. That also means that most of the teams have The G as their home field. Yet another is that every team has a team song and as the team comes out to do battle, their song is rattling the ear drums of the fans. After the match, the winning team’s song again rocks the stadium. When the players get back into their locker room, they gather together and sing their team song yet again.

This match is much closer, albeit lower scoring, being level at 65 at the three-quarter break. Fremantle however manages to put on a three goal burst and hangs on for a 13 point win. We sit behind the goals on the lower deck this time. At The G there are a number of sections, such as the Members only, where admission is restricted. The remainder of the stadium is open seating so we had arrived a bit early to make sure we could get everyone together down near the player’s level. This provides a different perspective on the game. You can see all the grabbing, holding, and so forth much clearer, at least when it is at our end. The boys marvel at the precision passing that the defensemen make even when deep in their zone. These are the passes we are taught to “never make” back in the states. It is clear that our rule is based on skill level.

The weather this afternoon has been fantastic, with nary a cloud in the sky and it is difficult to remember that this is their winter. Those of us from the northern hemisphere have just come from 100+ degree heat and were expecting winter-like conditions, not spring-like shorts-and-t-shirt weather. Still, it won’t be like this every day so we enjoy it while it lasts. After the match the boys again disperse to pursue individual goals for the rest of the day. I head off with about a dozen of the boys to the adopted restaurant of the Revolution, Pellegrini’s Italian Restaurant in the downtown area. We usually go to the back kitchen area and have Ma Pellegrini take care of us: tortellini, ravioli, lasagna, spaghetti, and the sauces, pesto, bolognaise, marinara, etc. The team found this last time and Pa Pellegrini proudly displays his picture with some of the Revos from that trip. Dinner is excellent as always and we walk back to the hotel to get some rest.

Saturday July 30th, 2005 Melbourne, Australia
Boyley and I head back to Melbourne International Airport to await the arrival of the US Squad that morning. While he greets the team, I have Qantas looking for my bag that still has not arrived. There are half a dozen of the US players living in Australia already, playing for a variety of teams and even a couple who have moved here permanently, getting married, mortgages, and starting families. Guess this is truly an international flavor for the US. There are still 27 other players arriving, with only Marty Curry getting stuck in Las Vegas (boo hoo!) due to weather problems. Kyle Strenski’s bag has been lost as well so I am not the only one sans equipment and spare clothes. We collect the team and head back to the hotel to check in.

After a short meeting welcoming everyone and distributing all the Revo gear (which looks extremely cool!) we head off to the home and birthplace of footy, the Melbourne Cricket Ground, or MCG, often referred to simply as “The G”. We have tickets to see the Melbourne Demons – St. Kilda Saints match this afternoon. We are about 15 minutes outside of downtown, so we walk through the park and get a feel for the location of everything. Once at The G, we sit in the third deck. The G is undergoing substantial upgrading currently and the work done so far makes it look quite a bit different from when we were here three years ago. There is still about a 20% slice of the stands that is under construction. When completed, it will hold in excess of 100,000.

The match is high scoring early and continues that way throughout. The Saints put on a clinic on how to run through, how to get numbers to the ball, pretty much how to play the game well. The final score of 176-88 is a record defeat for the Demons. The good part for us is that from where we were sitting, we could see the spread of the field and watch for positioning, how plays develop, and so forth. Revolution Coach Alan Nugent takes advantage of this to point out to the team how various plays develop and hopefully this understanding will carry over to their games. There are some sports that you can watch on TV and have a good feel for the game, and there are other sports where there is no substitute for being there. Footy belongs in the latter category because of the tremendous space that the players cover and the speed of the game. It is good to be back at The G.

After the match the team breaks up with some heading out to dinner and other back to the hotel to relax and catch up on sleep. I am in the latter category. After all, I need to have time to write these journal entries.

International Cup 2005   Report #1

Friday July 29th, 2005 Melbourne, Victoria
The flight over to Australia is 18 hours from LA (26 hours including travel from Tennessee), and there is a 15 hour time difference, so I “lose” a day and it is now Friday morning. Mark “Wheels” Wheeler collects me at the airport, which is quite a breeze when you don’t have any bags that need to go through Customs! After checking on the status of my bag making it to LA and then making the next Qantas flight to Melbourne, we head off to the hotel and get checked in. Wheels heads off to prepare for the Revolution squad’s arrival tomorrow. Boyley comes by after work we head off to his new house and I get to meet his fiancé, Michelle at a small dinner party. We watch Essendon edge Geelong 107-94 and I crash, hopefully now setting my body clock to Melbourne time. It has bee a rather long week where I think I managed to get about 8 hours total sleep in four days: the things we do for the love of this sport! Of course I would not have it any other way!

Wednesday July 27th, 2005 Nashville, Tennessee
Today is the day! I run my final few errands (like picking up spending cash and mailing out the bills), I am all checked in at the airport when the announcement of the two hour delay is made! Oh no! I have less than 90 minutes to make my connection and that means I miss my Qantas flight. After several phone calls, I am re-routed from Northwest to American and will now arrive in LA in time to make the flight. After “only” two hours of being delayed, I am at the baggage carousel in LA when the sickening feeling hits: there are no more bags coming and mine is not here. I will be in Australia with only the clothes on my back. Apparently, my bag never made the transfer (even though the baggage handler at American told me he had it!). Now the plan is for me to make the flight and for my bag to follow a day later. The report is filed and I have to trust that everything will work out. It is off to Australia now. I also have the same sense of deja vu from the last time I traveled to the Cup: in 2002, my paper ticket on Qantas made it to the terminal in LA only an hour or two ahead of me after a ridiculous number of errors (you can read about that in the 2002 Journal available on line in the archives!) I can’t wait for 2008 to see what happens next time! At the gate, I run into the entire Canadian Northwind team, which you can’t miss as they are a sea of red polo tops and navy blue track suits, all plastered with the International Cup logo and the Northwind emblem. They are heading to the Gold Coast for a few days before getting to Melbourne (I am merely connecting in Brisbane for two hours). More déjà vu: on my return from Melbourne last time, I was on the same flight at the Northwind! Maybe I am really a Canadian and I was switched at birth in the hospital? Oh well, too tired to contemplate the next Lifetime movie for now.

Tuesday July 26th, 2005 Nashville, Tennessee
Work requires travel to Detroit, Michigan today but I should be back by 4 pm, with plenty of time to pack: tomorrow I leave for Australia! But wait, Mother Nature has other ideas. After 8 hours of delays due to weather messing up the airline logistics, I finally get home around half past midnight… and I still need to pack and prepare to be gone for almost three weeks. Finally, at 6 am, everything is in readiness. I figure I can sleep on the plane.

Monday July 25th, 2005 Nashville, Tennessee
The count down to the second International Cup is now two days away for me. It has been three years since the historical first Cup was held in Melbourne, the home of Australian Football and I have been looking forward to getting back. The workday is nearly over: one more meeting before I head home to start packing. As I head to the meeting, I miss the bottom step of the stairs and twist my ankle: shooting pain tells me I may have just taken myself out of the rotation. The rest of the evening is spent at the ER and trying to assess the damage. Final analysis is that it likely is not bad and I should be OK. Still, this means an email to Andrew “Boyley” Boyle to let him know not to schedule me this coming weekend for warm up matches at Dandenong, and to Neville Nash at the AFL to possibly line up a replacement for me. Better to give them the heads up than to show up in a bad state.


- Jeff Persson

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