Year in Review
The sacrifice I didn’t know about
I wasn’t aware of any definitive reason why Mum and Dad decided to move to Brisbane when I was 10 and Jayden was eight. I thought they were just generally looking for a better life.
But I was at a barbecue at my Nan’s place in Christchurch two weeks ago and I ended up talking to Dad’s best mate, Duane Peterson. He told me a story that completely blew me away.
Dad was apparently offered a promotion, in terms of rank and pay, as well as a transfer to Waiouru Military Camp on the North Island. He loved the army life and, to that point, it had been his intention to devote his entire career to it.
I was starting to show a bit of promise as a rugby league player and Dad knew the opportunities and pathways for a young bloke coming through the ranks were much better in Brisbane than they were in New Zealand. There were only about five or six teams in my age group around Christchurch. Brisbane had lots more.
So Mum and Dad had a talk about it and, instead of taking the promotion, they took a punt on Jayden and me and moved to Brisbane. Dad loved the army, but he loved us much more. He found work in security at the airport and Mum worked with the police. It was a huge sacrifice and they did it for us, for our footy.
I watched Mum run our household as a kid but it wasn’t until years later I realised all the life lessons she was teaching me in the process. Mum would only let my sister and I get a $1 chocolate that was on special on a Friday. We’d eat home-cooked meals and on the weekend we could have a bit of take-away. It was just Mum being disciplined, because she could only afford so much, being a single mother.
My sister’s school fees, my school fees, my $1000-a-year or more soccer fees – Mum was always paying these things off in installments because she could never afford to do it all at once and that taught us to be smart with our money when we became adults and not take things for granted.
My older sister, Megan, and me stayed mostly with Mum and with Dad on the odd weekend here and there, but the older we got the more say we had in what we wanted to do. We were just kids and we wanted our parents to get back together, so when Dad was eventually seeing someone else and we went around to his place to stay, it just felt uncomfortable. I didn’t enjoy it.
The older we got, the more we understood. It took Mum a while longer before she was ready to see someone else, but even though that was uncomfortable at first as well, we knew she deserved to have the company of someone and be happy in her life too.
I was on the team bus heading to a game against Incheon when I got a WhatsApp message on my phone.
It was from the Socceroos team manager. I knew they were announcing the 23-man squad to play Syria. My heart started beating really fast. I was like, ‘Shit, what is it? What is it?!’ It took me a couple of seconds to work up the courage to open it.
I was in. My club would be notified. I was given a departure date to join the squad in Malaysia.
It was one of the biggest moments of my career.
I was pretty emotional, but I couldn’t do much about it on the bus. I told my best mate in the team who was sitting next to me, Damir Sovsic from Croatia. He gave me a little fist bump and said, ‘Bravo!’ Then I called my family and told them the good news.
I’ve got to admit, in a moment as significant as that in my career, it felt a bit weird being so far away from my family – the ones who moved from Wollongong to Sydney for my football, who took me to all those training sessions and games, who made all those sacrifices through the years.
I was sweating bullets. I was so sick and over it. And then Steph Chiocci got up for pick 35 and said, ‘We pick Ashleigh Brazill.’
I don’t know what happened after that point. Brooke and I just screamed. Then Brooke got up and started kicking the grass. Her reaction was priceless. I just felt like a kid that got chosen for their first ever sporting team. It was amazing.
It was also a huge relief. In the last three months there’s been so many tears, so many ups, so many downs, just working out how it would work. It’s been an emotional rollercoaster.
In front of everyone I have tried to keep everything pretty close to my chest by saying, ‘It’s all good, if I don’t make it, it’s OK,’ but deep down knowing, ‘If I don’t get picked up, I’ll be gutted.’
After my name was called was the first time I could actually show my emotions. I was wrapped.
My parents made sure we were very aware of our Irish heritage. We went back every two years. We were very close with our family there. Mum’s family used to mail us videos of Irish sporting games – everything from rugby to Gaelic football.
I was actually cheering for Ireland the first time I recall watching the Wallabies play. I was only eight and still more Irish than Australian.
We were all at home in Mount Morgan watching the World Cup quarter final at Lansdowne Road in 1991. Big Gordon Hamilton scored with five minutes to go and it looked like Ireland would win it.
Then David Campese popped a miracle pass and Michael Lynagh scored a try in the corner in the last couple of seconds to pinch it for the Wallabies.
It didn’t take long for me to develop a great passion for Australia and the sporting culture here.
My family came to Australia in 2000 to start a new life. We were living in Croatia, but being Serbian we were forced to flee to Belgrade where we lived as refugees during the Kosovo War. I was only young, but I still saw things no person should see.
We then moved to Australia when I was seven. For my family, it was like being born a second time. We arrived with next to nothing, just a few hundred dollars and a couple of suitcases, but Australia let us start our lives again.
My parents were able to work and I was given the opportunity to start my journey as a footballer. It is something I will always be grateful for and something I will never forget.
I represented Serbia under 19s in eight games at a time where I was unsure of whether I was wanted in the Australian national set-up. But two years ago I was given the opportunity to represent the Olyroos and, later, the Socceroos. I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
Now, I want to repay the country that has given me everything. I want to make my family proud. And I want to do my part in getting Australia past Honduras and through to the World Cup in Russia.