Mark Schwarzer Made it So

schwarzer_gallery__470x320I cry at anything nowadays. A retiring 40 year old is simply not cry-worthy. It’s natural. Actually, that’s not true. A retiring 35 year old is natural. A retiring 40-year-old, even a retiring 40-year-old goalkeeper, is freakish.

Schwarzer was such a freak. There are already tributes that say his was a honed talent, that the true virtuoso goalkeepers of the Schwarzer era were Bosnich and Kalac; that it was hard work that pushed him higher and higher up the mountain, until he achieved an elevation that is arguably unparalleled, or at least only bettered by his golden generation contemporaries, Kewell and Cahill.

But that undersells the talent. Goalkeeping is about keeping goals out, and even if others looked slightly better doing it (I’m not well trained at spotting technical deficiencies), the proof is in the record. Apart from national team heroics (FFA Player of the Year 2009-10), he piloted Middlesborough through its most successful era and then went to Fulham as it enjoyed its most successful era (Fulham Player of the Year 2008-9). It might be coincidence. Or it might be that Schwarzer was a shotstopping freak, a genuine leader of a defence.

His speed and reflexes remained true until the end. In 1993, when current day teammate Tom Rogic was about to turn one, he denied Canada in a penalty shootout to decide a World Cup qualifier. And as recently as June, 108 internationals later, he was just as brilliant as the Japanese laid siege to the Socceroos goal in Saitama, repelling a Yuto Nagatomo drive that had no right to stay out. How many qualification points were pinched care of those amazing white mitts? Most memorably, away ties in China, Bahrain and Uzbekistan in 2009.  Qualification for South Africa ended up being a romp, but it might not have been without the will and skill of Schwarzer at the peak of his powers.

I hardly ever swore at him. Given how much fans swear at their own goalkeepers, abusing Schwarzer just hardly ever happened. I might have said something unkind about the one he conceded in Kaiserslautern against Japan. He got buffeted out of the way that time, and it really never should have gone in. But Hiddink’s response, dropping Schwarzer for Kalac against Croatia, and the ensuing calamity — I remember screaming to my brother “it’s like we’ve got no keeper! We might as well not have a keeper!” — taught everyone a lesson that’s been front of mind for eight blessed years. You pick Schwarzer first. Before EVERYONE. It’s been the golden rule of the golden generation, and yes, it’s probably gone on too long, and yes, it’s probably right that he’s retiring. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t sad. Still, I shouldn’t be tearing up watching these YouTube clips. A retiring 40-year old is not cry-worthy. Not when you’re 41 yourself.

The photo that we will see over the next few days is Schwarzer in black, flinging himself to his left, left arm searching, eyes upturned, right arm trailing, trailing, trailing until it pops up vertical and parries the impossible. Aloisi ran into history that night, but that was the moment, the second brilliant save in that shootout against Uruguay, the crowning exclamation point on an effort home and away that was unrelentingly superb. Johnny Warren may have told us so. Mark Schwarzer made it so.

And now it is over. I’m so sad. My wife, Tamsin, will perhaps be even sadder. She had a not so secret crush on Mark. As I noted in Australia United:

“Before we left for Germany, Tam made me model two long sleeve tops, a red and a black. As I spun around the living room, she nodded appreciatively. ‘They both look terrific. You look like Schwarzer in both of them.’”

I took it as a compliment. Mark and I were born a month apart. We were both wispy of hair, rangy of body. He starred at two World Cups. I broke Steven Da Rui’s nose at Princes Park one day playing for Hawthorn reserves. I’d pick him too.

Although one thing, Mark. The Megs Morrison series.  I reckon I write the better kids books.

Australia United

GSP Books, 2006

I could not have been luckier in the way the 2006 tournament plotted my book. Australia kept playing in traumatic, read more…

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