FIFA Club World Championship Toyota Cup Japan 2005

11 December - 18 December

FIFA Club World Cup 2005

Shooting for Sydney

In the coming season, fans of CBS's award-winning TV series Without a Trace will be surprised to see scenes shot of Tokyo's electronic landscape rather than the more familiar streets of New York. FBI senior agent Jack Malone finds himself in the Japanese capital in an attempt to track down another missing person. But the change of location was not born of a wish to give the hard-edged crime drama and exotic touch but more a flight of fancy. Hollywood actor Anthony LaPaglia, who plays Malone, happens to be a huge Sydney FC fan.

"I asked them to rearrange the schedule and to write a script based on a Japanese theme," the Australian actor tells "Most of the episode is shot in LA and we'll shoot some scenes in Tokyo and put them all together when we get back. They (the producers) were very happy to do so because it makes the show more interesting."

The face LaPaglia pulls as he says these last words hints that the programme's management probably needed some persuading before agreeing to rewrite the script and hire a Japanese crew to help with the filming.

"I think they were okay about it because we're doing well," he adds with a soft Australian accent. "If not, it wouldn't happen."

His performances in the TV series won a Golden Globe for LaPaglia, whose other hits include Betsy's Wedding, The Client, Trees Lounge and the atmospheric Australian flick Lantana.

Born in Adelaide, South Australia to a Sicilian father and Dutch mother, LaPaglia moved to New York when he was 22 with the ambition of pursuing a career in his second passion.

"My first love was football," smiles the 46-year-old, wrapping the Sydney flag tightly round his neck. "I played for five years as a professional for Adelaide and wanted to play football in Europe but I realised I wasn't good enough. I've never stopped playing though. I still play now in my 40s."

Knowing of his association with the game, LaPaglia, was approached by organisers of the Australian A-League to give the new enterprise a higher profile. 

"It was last year. They knew I had a very strong interest and they approached me and asked me if I wanted to get involved in the team from Sydney. I got a bit of stick from the people at Adelaide, guys I used to play with," he laughs. "All the best to them but when I went back to Australia, Sydney was the place. My wife's from Sydney. Anyway, I looked at what they wanted to do and decided that it was what I wanted to do as well so that's how I got involved."

Despite his movie star status and everything that goes with it, the laid-back Aussie admits the past year in which Sydney FC were founded, won the Australian qualifiers and then the Oceania Club Championship, kicked off the A-League and landed in Japan to rub shoulders with champions from all over the world has been something of a Hollywood fairytale itself.

"We didn't exist last November so just being here is amazing," he adds. "I'm more crazy in football than ever. I consider myself one of Sydney's number one supporters. I'm pretty committed to the game."

LaPaglia, a director and major investor in the club, was supportive of bringing in German coach Pierre Littbarski and then Japanese icon Kazu Miura for the tournament.

"Hiring Pierre showed we meant business and Kazu was a very smart move," he explains. "One of the aims of the club is to branch out and qualify for the Asian Champions League. Signing Kazu was a stroke of genius because it's generated massive interest for us here and it's given the Japanese people someone to shout for."

After a brave performance in their opening game against Deportivo Saprissa of Costa Rica, a 1-0 loss, Sydney will not be lifting the world club crown this year but their own "Superfan" is confident of the club's long-term success in a country where rugby and cricket have long since dominated the sporting scene. 

"The A-League has done much better than anyone expected," he says. "We've got 17, 18 sometimes 25,000 - more than some English Premier League clubs get. We tried to create a non-nation team. Before we had teams that were Greek, Italian, Croatian, Serbian... We've taken that out and created a people team so everyone can support us."

LaPaglia's interest in football does not begin and end with Sydney FC. He will be rooting for Australia at the FIFA World Cup in Germany next year and even admits to a soft spot for Charlton Athletic.

"If you go to the Valley, it's a nice stadium - just the right size," he says. "(Alan) Curbishley's done a great job with no money. He makes smart signings, the team plays good football and usually ends up mid table. I admire teams like that where it's much tougher to make it work."

For his dark looks and brooding features, LaPaglia has often been cast as the hard but caring police cop or the misunderstood mobster, but he acknowledges empathy for the small guy in life.

"I do pretty much root for the underdog. I guess I can relate to that through my own life. When I arrived in New York, I was 22, didn't know anyone and had no idea what I was going to do with my life," he remembers of the time he had to wait tables long before he won Broadway's 1998 Tony Award as Best Actor. "Living in New York was very tough but I enjoyed it. It didn't matter if I was successful or not, it was just something I had to do and I had the best time. You should not let anyone else tell you what you should do with your life. Much better to go out there and fulfil your desires."

With Sydney, he has done just that. Perhaps one day they'll make a film about it.

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