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’.

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