Prior to Germany 2006, Australia fans had not enjoyed the opportunity to support their team at the FIFA World Cup™ for 32 years. That famous penalty shoot-out win against Uruguay in November 2005 provided the springboard for Socceroo supporters to develop an infatuation with the world's greatest football spectacle, however, and after they turned up in droves during that warm German summer four years ago, it is a scene now being repeated at South Africa 2010.
This time around the numbers are again significant with Australia among the leading nations for ticket sales with an estimated 10,000 green and gold-clad supporters making the trip across the Indian Ocean. The Socceroos even won the battle for numerical supremacy with Germany in the stands at Durban's Moses Mabhida Stadium for their opening Group D game.
There is another venue in Durban full of Socceroo supporters, with some 1,000 fans setting up a mass campsite on Kingsmead Oval, where the turf is normally the preserve of international cricketers. Numerous rows of khaki tents form temporary avenues named after Socceroo greats with the likes of 'Mark Viduka Road' and 'Robbie Slater Street' leading to 'Johnny Warren Square', named after the much-loved 1974 FIFA World Cup player and tireless advocate of Australian football.
We have been taken aback by the warmth and hospitality of the locals
Former players are also around every corner and read like a Socceroos Who's Who with former captains Charlie Yankos and John Kosmina, plus Mark Bosnich and Stan Lazaridis just some of the players enjoying South African hospitality. The non-footballing highlights have been performances at the camp site by UK music icon Fatboy Slim and Aussie rock legends Powderfinger. Indeed the latter band chose the unlikely setting for their final overseas performance before embarking on their farewell tour Down Under later this year.
Several busloads of Aussie fans also found the time to visit a number of schools in the Durban area, donating football clothing and supporter gear. The beaming schoolchildren showed their appreciation with a tribal dance before an impromptu football match. Numerous tour groups have helped make up the vast numbers, and despite the disappointment of defeat by Germany the fans have enjoyed their travels around South Africa.
"The reception has been very welcoming and we have been taken aback by the warmth and hospitality of the locals," said Green and Gold Army member Mark van Aken. "We saw great numbers make the trip to Germany but this has been fantastic and I think we can expect the tradition of travelling to build with each World Cup. This kind of thing would have been unthinkable just a few years ago but it's all part of Australia continuing to put its stamp on the football world."