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Riding Shotgun – The Andrew Bernal Story

I first witnessed the football talent of Andrew Bernal at St.George Stadium when he captained the Young Socceroos in a friendly back in 1985.

I first witnessed the football talent of Andrew Bernal at St.George Stadium when he captained the Young Socceroos in a friendly back in 1985.

The young man was so technically competent in his role as a libero that I believed he possessed the qualities of a young Australian Beckenbauer.

Unfortunately, Australian football lost Bernal’s contribution for the 1985 World Youth Cup Finals because he decided to ply his trade in his parent’s native Spain which for bureaucratic complications denied him the opportunity to lead his country in that tournament.

As many players who ventured overseas will testify, it’s hard to combat the obstacles which are presented in trying to make the grade in a foreign country but just like Craig Johnston, David Mitchell , Eddie Krncevic and Alan Davidson before him, Bernal overcame these and spent four years in the professional game in Spain.

When you’re riding shotgun, one thing is for sure – you have to take the initiative and Bernal succeeded in this endeavour when he miraculously managed to escape the clutches of the Spanish authorities before he arrived in England in 1988.

His account of the meeting with Brian Clough, the Nottingham Forest Manager, is pulsating and largely explains how Bernal was able to survive the cut-throat world of professional football and carve a career for himself when his playing days had ended.

The book reads like a Who’s Who of British football talent as he was able to mix it with household names on and off the pitch at his time with Ipswich Town and Reading.

Perhaps his biggest playing disappointment was Reading’s failure to win promotion to the Premier League when they were defeated narrowly by Bolton in the 1995 play off at Wembley Stadium.

However, a sterling career for the Royals until 2000 when he often played through the pain barrier was sufficient compensation for all those years he had devoted to a career in professional football.

Life after football can be a rude awakening for some but Andrew Bernal applied all his tenacity and contacts to acquire a position with SFX Management and ultimately be awarded the prize responsibility of looking after the welfare of David Beckham when he signed for Real Madrid.

To mix in the company of Zidane, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo, Raul and Figo was a dream come true and a lifestyle the average fan could only dream as Bernal met some of the biggest celebrities and influential people from all walks of life attached to Real Madrid and the Spanish game.

He became part of an inner sanctum while rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous.

Nevertheless, Beckham’s star status didn’t come without its challenges as the paparazzi would demand every piece of the England captain and there are some harrowing experiences recorded in the book where Bernal was lucky to stay alive.

Life was surreal, and for Bernal it seemed the party would never end until Beckham changed management companies and Bernal’s world came tumbling down

Bernal was no longer riding shot gun and his unfortunate resort to drug reliance took him on a never-ending downward spiral.

This part of the story is something many high-profile people would not divulge but Bernal’s honesty in recognizing his human frailities is one of the features of his story.

Andrew Bernal’s story should be read by all football and sporting fans, and particularly by the football hierarchy in Australia who should finally realise there has to be a pathway created for professional footballers when they retire from the game.

Mark Viduka inducted into Sport Australia Hall of Fame

Viduka

Legendary Socceroo and National Soccer League Champion Mark Viduka has been honoured with an induction into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.

Viduka, 46, joins fellow Socceroos Ray Baartz, Harry Kewell, Joe Marston MBE, Alfred Quill, Peter Wilson & Johnny Warren OAM MBE in the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.

The ‘V Bomber’ played 43 ‘A’ internationals for Australia, scoring 11 goals and captaining the side to their only ever knockout rounds appearance at the 2006 FIFA World Cup.

Viduka was born in Melbourne in 1975 to a Ukrainian-Croatian mother and Croatian father, and grew up playing at the junior ranks of Melbourne Knights (formerly Melbourne Croatia).

After spending a year at the Australian Institute of Sport in the early 90’s, Viduka made his senior NSL debut for the Knights in 1993 as a 17-year-old.

In his two full seasons for the club, he won both the Golden Boot and Johnny Warren Medal for the best player of the season, twice, and helped the Knights win their maiden title in 1994/95.

In 1995, a move abroad gained momentum and he was sold to Dinamo Zagreb in Croatia, to play for the biggest club in the homeland of his parents. The transfer money earned by the Knights enabled them to build a grandstand at their home in Somers St, named the ‘Mark Viduka Stand’.

Viduka then moved to Celtic and scored 25 league goals in the 1999/2000 season, comfortably winning the Golden Boot, and helped the side win the Scottish League Cup. He was voted the Players’ Player of the Season, and was then sold to English Premier League side Leeds United for £6 million.

It is in the famous Leeds United colours that some of Viduka’s most famous moments were created.

The highlight of his first season was a masterclass against Liverpool FC. Leeds won the match 4-3 against the Reds, with Viduka scoring all four goals for Leeds at Elland Road. He finished that season with 22 goals in all competitions, picking up where he left off with Celtic.

In his second and third seasons with Leeds, Viduka scored 16 and 22 goals respectively, with the side continuing to ply their trade in Europe. Viduka was transferred at the end of the fourth season to Middlesbrough for £4.5 million.

After the heartbreak of 1997 and 2001 World Cup qualifying, Australia had their best chance to end the 32-year drought of not making a Men’s World Cup. After losing the first leg 1-0 to Uruguay away in Montevideo, the Socceroos took Uruguay to penalties in the second leg after Mark Bresciano made it 1-1 on aggregate.

Heroics from Mark Schwarzer in the ensuing penalty shoot-out ensured the Socceroos would qualify for the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, and despite Viduka missing a penalty in the shoot-out, he expertly captained the national team to one of the biggest and most memorable nights in Australian sport’s history.

And after the 2008/09 season with Middlesbrough – and despite interest from brand-new A-League club Melbourne Heart, Viduka called time on his incredible career. An icon of the game, Viduka will forever be one of Australia’s and the NSL’s finest ever exports to the Premier League.

A-Leagues launch new digital hub for football

KEEPUP

The Australian Professional Leagues (APL), the entity charged with growing the professional football leagues in Australia, has unveiled its unique digital platform KEEPUP in an effort to unite football fans on and off the pitch.

Featuring football content from around the world, the platform aims to broaden and enhance the fan experience by connecting A-Leagues fans and international competition fans in one place.

The KEEPUP digital platform and data infrastructure, which launched today, represents a major investment in football in Australia. It is currently available as a website or app on both IOS and Android.

In its current form, the platform will focus on creating and curating content to bring fans close to the game however they choose, with significant expansion planned into the future.

KEEPUP will feature compelling content from the best of the A-Leagues, European and world football, the Socceroos and Matildas, NPL, and FFA Cup. A-League clubs’ content hubs will also be integrated onto the platform to ensure fans are offered the most comprehensive football resource available in Australia.

“KEEPUP is a football platform, built by football people for football fans and which delivers a unique experience and provides a central source of news and features to unite the currently fragmented football market. Our digital-first strategy creates the opportunity for our fans to experience what’s happening in the world of football, both on and off the pitch,” said Ant Hearne, Chief Commercial Officer, APL.

KEEPUP will continue to evolve through the season as it adds layers of dedicated coverage, augmented by significant tie-ups with domestic and international content providers.

KEEPUP has already assembled an unprecedented array of voices to tell unique and powerful stories about football in Australia and around the world. The site and app will provide insights, in-depth features and analysis on games, transfer news, as well as stories on culture and football identities from a team of football journalists on staff led by Richard Bayliss, Director of Content.

APL will also feature commentary from some of Australia’s football elite including Premier League great Mark Bosnich, Matildas legend Melissa Barbieri and Socceroos captain Matt Leckie.

“And this is just the beginning. We have a bold plan to evolve KEEPUP into an unparalleled global digital hub, expanding functionality beyond a content base to include gamification, e-Commerce, ticketing, second screen live stadium experiences and loyalty programs,” continued Hearne.

Future phases of development also include engagement with Australian grassroots football players via digital products and services designed to improve their football experience, to ensure every fan can enjoy the football in the way they choose.

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