As 40,000 people poured into Al Janoub Stadium in Al-Wakrah on Saturday to watch the Socceroos face Tunisia in their second group-stage match, half a world away thousands more were spilling into Melbourne’s Federation Square, drawn to the cinema-sized screen that had been set up to show the game.
It was standing-room only, with fans climbing bollards and clinging onto light-posts to try and steal a better view.
The videos that emerged from Australia following Mitch Duke’s game-winning header went almost as viral as the goal itself: an eruption of light and limbs as flares were ripped and beers were thrown and celebrations were carried on long into the night.
“Jesus Christ,” Jackson Irvine says under his breath as he was shown the video after the game.
“I wish I was there as well. I wish I could do both. That looks absolutely incredible and I hope every single one of them had a night that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives, like I’ve had as a fan as well. It’s special.”
There were about as many Australian fans in Al-Wakrah as there were squeezed into Fed Square, but while they may have been small in number compared with the 30,000 red-and-white shirts around them, they were mighty in the way they celebrated.
It’s 10:30pm, several hours after the full-time whistle, by the time I make it to the Aussie Hive, an Australian-themed sports bar on the first floor of the Intercontinental Hotel in the city’s north.
Like most licensed establishments in Doha, there are no obvious signs or posters or arrows pointing the way. But tonight, you don’t need them: all you need to do is listen.
Pumping out through the glass doors of the Hive is a curated playlist of iconic Australian tunes – ACDC, Darryl Braithwaite, Midnight Oil, Men At Work, Jimmy Barnes, Killing Heidi, The Veronicas – with the joyful echoes of delirious fans singing along somewhere inside.
Two men wearing Socceroos jerseys, that burst of wattle-yellow with sea-green trim, are standing just outside the entrance holding plastic cups of freshly-poured beer. One is even sporting a straw Akubra hat from Bunnings.
They clock me as I walk towards them, in plain clothes with a media lanyard around my neck, and paused: suspicious. Still swept up in my post-victory daze, there is only one thing I thought to say; one call-and-response that would let them know I was one of them.
“Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!”
They grin and raise their cups in the air: “Oi! Oi! Oi!”
After passing the giant Australian flag that lines the entrance, I turn into the bar and am met by a rolling golden wave of Socceroos fans, most of them on their feet, dancing and talking and laughing and singing.
There are flags everywhere, wrapped around shoulders and hips and heads, or strung between the half-dozen TV screens showing the day’s final game, which most people are ignoring.
One of the walls behind the bar is plastered with boomerangs and the black and yellow diamonds of Australia’s road signs framing the silhouettes of kangaroos and echidnas and wombats. Another features a rust-red backdrop sketched with white and black patterns: a homage to Aboriginal dot-paintings. Opposite the bar, hanging upside-down from the roof, is a wooden crocodile.
There are jerseys from across the Socceroos’ 100-year history here, from the famous “Spew” of the 1990s to the beer-bottle-green shoulders of 2010 to the wave-sleeves of 2018 to the current spray-paint yellow. There are even a couple of Matildas jerseys. And slowly bobbing above them all, carried like a saint across this sea of green and gold, is a blow-up kangaroo: its boxing-glove fists raised in readiness, a Socceroos scarf tied around its waist.
There’s just one person amongst the yellow wearing Australia’s current away-kit: the dark blue jersey with aqua detailing that looks more like a sun-rashie than a jersey. I ask him why he chose it.
“I just liked it,” he says.
“And I’m glad I did – because now it’s become iconic.”
Hung over a nearby chair is another flag: not that of a nation this time, but a digital stitching-together of iconic Australian faces. Alf Stewart from the TV show Home And Away takes pride of place beneath his famous “stone the flamin’ crows” catch-phrase. He’s surrounded by the faces of Cathy Freeman, Ian Thorpe, Shane Warne, Jimmy Barnes, Steve Irwin and – fittingly – Andrew Redmayne, the “Grey Wiggle” goalkeeper who secured the Socceroos’ spot in the tournament.
Daryl Braithwaite’s Horses comes on over the loudspeakers and the entire bar begins to sing. Strangers wrap their arms around each other and sway, holding their cups in the air. The floor is already sticky with layers of beer, a libation to the gods of Australian football for what we’ve just witnessed.
The chorus rolls on and we roar it out, our voices melting into one, this scattering of people who have travelled thousands of kilometres to support their team, piled into this small bar in this small corner of this small country; this ensemble of a nation calling to each other from across the sea.
Night turns into morning and I’m on the outskirts of Doha on a friend’s rooftop. He has set up his own small beer garden here: fake grass rolled out across the concrete, Socceroos memorabilia and flags and footballs scattered around the low lounges, a small marquee tent housing a giant flat-screen television.
The giant torch of the Aspire Academy, where the Socceroos are based throughout the tournament, can be seen just over the rooftops. The Australian flag appears on the screen that wraps around its base, winking at us through the soft purple sky.
I think about the 1.7 million people back home who tuned in to watch the game in large public squares and small private rooms, holding their breaths in their throats and their faces in their hands, pouring their hearts and their hopes into these 26 men.
I think about the scenes of Federation Square exploding with joy as the back of the net rippled and the one whistle that mattered rang in what feels like the start of something new for the Australian game.
I think about what Graham Arnold – this father of the Socceroos family, this conductor of our emotional music – said after the match, once Australia’s fans had spilled like a golden tide out of Al Janoub and into the warm embrace of the afternoon.
“Let’s put a smile on the nation’s face,” he said.
“I’ve said this many times: there are two teams that bring the nation together, and that’s the Socceroos and the Matildas.
“When the Socceroos play at World Cups, AFL fans, rugby league fans, cricket fans, they all become football fans. I can imagine the celebrations going on at home, especially on prime-time TV at 9 o’clock kick-off to 11.
“I think there’ll be a few hangovers in the morning.”
In so many ways, he was right.