Friday, February 26, 2010

Half Time Heroes December: Santo Cilauro Interview

This interview featured in the February Issue of Half Time Heroes:

Half Time Heroes: One my favourite moments at the last World Cup in Germany was reading about the meeting between you and Socceroos captain Mark Viduka after Australia's dramatic 2-2 draw with Croatia.

In Tony Wilson's book Australia United when Viduka meets you he keeps asking for Late Show tapes oblivious to you and others congratulating him for getting the Socceroos into the next round. You then promise to get him some copies of the Late Show. You say: "So that's the incentive, if they get past Italy, they'll have Late show tapes to watch".

So everyone knows what happened in that match against Italy. My question is because of your Italian heritage, would the Socceroos have really got the tapes if they had beaten Italy?

Santo Cilauro: Forget about tapes- had the Socceroos beaten Italy, I’d personally have forced the Late Show team to reform, fly over and perform every sketch live for Mark and the boys.Despite my Italian blood, the veins pumped green and gold in 2006. And boy did they pump that afternoon in Kaiserslautern.

I’d dreamt about that match up since I was a kid. It really hurt to lose and just like the Iran qualifier in ’97, I still haven’t been able to watch a replay.

Sitting in the stadium at K-Town, seeing Lucas Neill sliding into (under?) Fabio Grosso was like watching a car crash in slow motion. Having said that, I think Italy had a great World Cup and ultimately deserved to win – I just wish I could have savoured it more. A very bittersweet moment.

HTH: Speaking of the big Dukes how much are we going to miss him in South Africa?

SC: You’re assuming he won’t be playing.... I spoke with him just before Christmas and he still hasn’t ruled out the possibility. If he doesn’t play, I think we’ll miss his strength, that great ability to bustle and above all his presence.

He’s a mighty leader – the guys love him and his experience in big games is invaluable.

HTH: What's your feeling about the Socceroos making it out of the group stage?
Should we be thinking like the patriarch Darryl Kerrigan from your film The Castle "tell em they're dreaming" or do we have a chance?

SC: Remember, he also said “Let’s tick it up ‘Em!’.
I’m hopeful. And there’s one thing for sure, if we do win the World Cup, It’ll be goin’ straight to the poolroom.

HTH: I was at the airport when the Socceroos arrived from Qatar, fresh from qualifying for the World Cup for a second time. At the airport there was more media than fans waiting to greet the team. Were you surprised at the muted reaction after qualification this time round?

SC: I love the fact we qualified quietly. I’ve had too much pain in my time – two heart-stoppers with Uruguay, Iran (‘nuff said), Argentina (one lousy goal), Israel, Scotland....the list goes on. I’ve seen the, all- those games took years off my life, made me prematurely grey. To tell you the truth, a tame nil –all draw in Doha was a breath of fresh air and, for me, the most satisfying of all the qualifiers.

That’s the way the big sides do it- in a way, I feel like we’re sitting at the grown-ups’ table.

HTH: Tell us a couple of World Cup memories from your younger days and how do they compare to following the Socceroos adventures in Germany?

SC: I'm the luckiest guy in the world - I've been blessed to go to the last 3 World Cups and I've loved every moment of each - I’ll never forget that night in 2002 when my dad and I couldn't find any accommodation after the Spain v South Korea quarter final - we ended up top'n'tailing on a heart shaped bed in a Gwangju brothel (he still thinks it was just a quaint little motel with interesting mirrored ceilings and lots of free oil).

But when it comes to World Cup moments that really stick in my head, I'd have to go back to my very first memory of the tournament - Mexico 1970...I was 8. I remember clearly the night that July when I thought I heard someone talking in the kitchen. I walked in to see my dad hunched over the green speckled laminex table, back to me, in his blue and black checked dressing gown. I can still hear the scratchy sound of our yellow plastic radio. It was a big moment for me - the first time I ever heard my father swear. But he wasn’t angry. It was a bemused tirade. He was half-laughing, half-admiring. The sentence was long and flowing - only one word wasn’t an Italian expletive – “Pele”.

About 12 weeks later, a whole lot of uncles* dragged me along to the Cinema Italia in Queens Pde Clifton Hill where we watched the film (not video!) of the Italy- West Germany semi-final. Despite the fact Italy won 4-3 a few months ago didn't stop most of the audience from feeling nervous before it started. I'm sure I remember some old guy sucking on a Peter Stuyvesant cigarette mumbling something about how tough the Germans would be to crack.
A few years later, the lady who ran the cinema decided to sell up and go back to Naples - she told me I could take any films and posters I wanted. I walked right past all the Fellini and Pasolini shelves and headed straight for the three reels with the 'Italia-Germania Semi Finale' stickers. They're still in my office right under the Leeds Utd No 9 shirt signed by Dooks.

* not real uncles - in Italian, anyone who's allowed to hit you with a belt is called 'uncle'

HTH: What do you think of the A League and which team do you support?

SC: I have a strange love – hate relationship with the A-League. Whilst I love the fact that the game has taken off in a major way, I somehow think the standard isn’t all that much better than when I watched state league football as a kid in the 70’s.

In that sense I kind of resent all the hoopla that goes on around it. But before anyone starts accusing me of being a ‘traitor to the cause’, I still think it is an extraordinary feat that there’s been such a growth despite the fact that all our best players reside overseas.

Imagine if any of the footy codes had to operate without their top 50 players!
Anyway, I’m so happy that the profile of Football has changed so much in my lifetime. I’m born and bred in Melbourne, so I guess I’m a Victory supporter- though.

In my old age I’ve lost the ability to be partisan and wish the Heart all the best.

HTH: Italian football has gone through some changes in the last few years. Tell us your thoughts on the Seria A like which team you follow and the chances of the Italian national team at the World Cup in South Africa?

SC: I used to follow Juve –but that was probably to do with the fact that Juventus was the only Italian team in Melbourne ( I played for their juniors down at Sumner Park- believe me my enthusiasm for the game is in inverse proportion to my ability to play it).
As well as that, I followed Collingwood in the Aussie Rules.

I did follow Italian football religiously in the 80’s and 90’s and thought it was by far the best standard in the world. Over the past decade, though, I’ve really dropped off. Things started changing when the three Dutchmen left AC Milan (Ruud Gullit, Macro Van Basten and Frank Rijjckard. It all went downhill very quickly – too much money, no-one played with heart, players pretended to be loyal ( I still remember in 2000 when Gabriel Batistuta theatrically refused to celebrate a goal he scored for Roma against his old club Fiorentina – please, if he loved the Viola so much why didn’t he just say no to the 70 billion lire and stay in Florence?

The doping and betting scandals didn’t help. Now all the matches look the same- every time I watch it feels like Groundhog day. That said, I was in awe of Juventus when they played in Melbourne a couple of years ago – they were in Serie B yet their defence was unbelievable. I’d love to see them do well in South Africa but no-one has gone back-to-back in almost 50 years (mind you, Italy did achieve that in 34’ and 38’). I just think that with Cannavaro and Buffon not at their peak, they might have a tough time of it.

HTH: Your favourite International footballer and why?

SC: Throw these names in a hat and pull out any single one – Fabregas, Messi, Villa, Tevez, Pirlo, Lampard, Iniesta, and Milito

HTH: Your favourite Australian footballer and why?

SC: Over the past 5 years I’ve loved watching Viduka, Culina Bresciano, Cahill, Kewell.... but right now I’m a big fan of Mark Schwarzer. If he plays like did last World Cup or even half as well as he played in England last season, we’ll get through the group stage. I also love the other tall guy up the opposite end, Josh Kennedy – he can really cause havoc with those big early leaps. Both can really change the outcome of the game.

HTH: Do you think Australian television sporting coverage needs more Graham and the Colonel?

I can’t speak for Graham, but if you want the Colonel to make a comeback I can organize it easily – 15 years on, we won’t need that grey wig.

HTH: What would they have made of the Socceroos recent performances?

SC: Despite qualifying they would not be happy. They’d lament the loss of that Frank Arok – inspired late 80’s spirit. In four simple words, ‘Verbeek Out, Yankos In’.

Half Time Heroes December: Tony Wilson Interview

Hey Football Fan,

You may have noticed I've been quiet on the A Football Story front lately. My time has been taken up on the Half Time Heroes Fanzine. Anyway here are some stories and interviews that I have written for the fanzine in the last few months. I hope you enjoy.

Australian media personality Tony Wilson is the author of Australia United; a book that follows Tony’s and the Socceroos adventures @ the 06 Wold Cup in Germany, He is also a radio announcer on 2RRR in Melbourne and a regular member of ABC TV show the Einstein factor and is a huge Socceroos fan.

1) Half Time Heroes: In your book Australia United you say that you became a convert to the Socceroos cause on November 29,1997, when I fell into the arms of a 53 year old greengrocer called Con, seconds after Aurelio Vidmar had put us 2-0 up against Iran and into the 1998 world cup.

So from the nadir of that moment to now two consecutive world cups and again meeting another Con (I’m not a green grocer but it is dream) did you ever think you would be in this position?

Tony Wilson: I did think we would eventually qualify, and I vowed after the exhilaration and despair of November 29, 1997, that I would be there to witness it. It was crazy pledge to myself, and it took me to Uruguay in 2001 which was truly the trip of a lifetime, even if the result didn't quite go our way. Eventually of course I was there at Sydney's Olympic Stadium when Aloisi ploughed that thunderbolt into the back of the net. Given I initially fell for the game after a defeat, I can't tell you how addicted to qualifiers I feel after that amazing moment.

2)HTH: So to the World Cup draw tell us your thoughts can the Aussies make it out of the group?

TW: It's a really difficult group, probably the second hardest after the Brazil /Ivory Coast/ Portugal group. Mind you, there aren't too many easy groups out there. We have beaten and can beat Ghana, even if the blazing potential in that London friendly has us all feeling a bit nervous. I actually saw Ghana lose to Brazil in Germany, and even then their young squad was very unlucky in that match. Names like Klose, Podolski, Schweinsteger and of course Ballack mean we have to expect to lose to the Germans. Although hey, upsets can and do happen at these tournaments. And the Serbia match will be even tougher than its Croatian equivalent in 2006, although again, if we can win against Ghana and results have fallen our way, there is a spirit in this squad that has me hoping that we might get out of the group.

Having said that, I wouldn't be surprised if we didn't win a game! Either way, I love this team, and believe its qualifying performance has cemented its position as the greatest side we have ever had.

3) HTH: Are you planning on going to South Africa? What do you think the first ever World Cup in Africa will produce?

TW: By some miracle, my ars*y father got his name pulled out in the FIFA ballot, so not only am I going, I've already got my tickets. Very, very happy about that. In Germany, I stayed right through to the final, and as the last chapter of Australia United attests, snared a ticket to the game at the very last minute. Missed the goals but was there for the headbutt! I've now got a 3 month old baby, so this time I might not make it through to the end.

I think the tournament will be a beauty. Germany had organisation and infrastructure and almost a sense of international rebirth after World War II. For Africa, this is the chance to truly put on the biggest show on Earth and to prove to everyone that its fun and safe and friendly. As a fan of Ladysmith Black Mamboso, I'm also tipping that the music /dancing side of things will put thigh slapping lederhosen acts to shame.

4) HTH: Tell me what you think about Pim Verbeek and the current Socceroo squad. Michael Cockerill posed this question in a recent article he penned for the SMH. Are the Socceroos four years better, or simply four years older? What do you say?

TW: I love Pim because I was desperate for somebody to get us there, and he hardly put a foot wrong. I know that there's a sense that we're not as good, that the team is older and slower. When I think of how good we were against Brazil and Italy last time, it's hard to imagine an Australian team ever playing that well again. I think we've definitely slipped a bit. I asked Fox Sports' Simon Hill and he thinks the loss of Mark Viduka is the biggest blow. That might turn out to be pretty right. We seem to be more defensive now than Guus had us playing, but having said that, some of our players have got better. Emerton is better. Wilkshire is better. Cahill is better. Incredibly, Mark Schwartzer seems to be playing even better than in 2006. Against that, stars like Kewell, Grella, Bresciano, Chipperfield and Culina might have just dropped off a notch.

5) HTH: The World Cup bid is starting to take shape, from what you have seen so far with the promo videos and online book has the FFA sold Australia well. Do you like that Nicole Kidman was used to spruik the bid? And do we have a chance to host it?

TW: I don't mind that Nicole has got the job. If that nice Hugh Jackman can fall in love with her in 'Australia', surely the FIFA powerbrokers won't be able to resist her faux Engish, botox infused charms. I think this is a very rare opporunity to win the bid. We are extremely lucky that two bids are being sorted out at once. I think we're almost no chance for 2018 and that the tournament will return to Europe, but 2022 is a huge chance. Europe won't get it again. Africa won't get it. South America will have just had 2014. So by my reckoning it comes down to the USA, China and us. I'd choose us!

I've actually just written a novel about a fictional footballer who is the face of our World Cup bid. He's an ex-Socceroo called Charlie Dekker, and he gets caught up in a tabloid feeding frenzy when he falls for a Tiger Woods like sex scandal. It will be out through Murdoch Books in July next year.

6) HTH: Who is your A League team?
TW: I'm a member of the Melbourne Victory and get to almost every home game. My two-year-old daughter Polly is a member too, and she has just started coming. She likes the half time food and dressing up in the colours. Last time we went, the noise following an Archie Thompson goal resulted in her bursting into tears. She'll have to improve on that. I've been there for our two Grand Final wins, which were both great in different ways. I think Henandez is playing so well this year that we have to be favourites to do it again.

7) HTH: Do you have an Overseas team?
TW: I used to say West Ham, becasue I love the theme song 'I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles'. As a kid, I also loved the fact that they had a processed meat in their name. But I have to be honest and admit that I watch very little Premier League football. Certainly, the Hammers have produced very little to inspire in 09-10. I don't have a great passion for any overseas club. I'd even confess that I'm thinking of switching over to Everton now that Lucas Neill has joined Tim Cahill there. I've certainly been playing a lot of FIFA 09 on the PS3 as Everton.

8) HTH: Who is your favourite local player?
TW: Carlos Henandez is a great favourite. My friend Sam Pang calls him 'The silver fox'. I think he's the most gifted player in the A-League, and that it's a tragedy Costa Rica didn't qualify for this World Cup. I would have loved for him to be there. All Melbourne fans love Archie, and forgive him all those offsides (or are they offside?). In terms of other A-League clubs, I like the bruising style of Danny Tiatto (his cousin The Ox is a wrestler I know) and the distinguished grey of Steve Corica. He will retire a legend of local football.

9)HTH: Who is your favourite overseas player?

TW: I think the best to watch is Lionel Messi. I'm so glad that Argentina overcame the Diego insanity that seems to be prevailing there at the moment and got Messi into the tournament. His little mosquito legs are just freaky, and his centre of gravity must be about 5cm off the ground. I think he will win the Golden Ball in South Africa. I also have a big soft spot for Wayne Rooney. The story of Colleen throwing his 50,000 pound engagement ring into a wood, and rangers having to ask fossickers to respect the rights of the squirrels who may have found the ring, was my favourite tabloid story of the last few years. Colleen was angry with him for seeing hookers.

10)Your favourite football moment of the noughties?

TW: 'Aloisssssssiiiiiiiiiiii! At last. At long long last. Thirty-one years, four months and 24 days have passed since Australia ended its campaign at the 1974 World Cup and now - finally, belatedly, wonderfully and joyfully - Australia is back on the biggest stage of all.' Thank you Simon Hill.