Wiggled in the stars

  • Andrew Redmayne was the unlikely hero as Australia sunk Peru to reach Qatar 2022

  • Only the goalkeeper and coach Graham Arnold knew of the plot

  • John Aloisi and Mark Schwarzer have hailed the 'Grey Wiggle'

“I’d given it my best, but I’d come to the realisation that I wasn’t good enough,” recalled Andrew Redmayne. He was 27. He’d spent his decade-long professional career warming benches in Gosford, Brisbane, Melbourne and Western Sydney. Enough was enough. Redmayne was going to work in his mate’s café, study to become a primary school teacher and, time permitting, guard goals for fun. Redmayne’s glad he didn’t follow through on that 2016 intent. So, too, is the whole of Australia.

The 33-year-old awoke in a Qatari hotel on Monday morning largely anonymous outside his homeland’s vast borders. He had around 3,500 followers on Twitter and had collected just two Australia caps over his 15-year-career. The ‘Grey Wiggle’ went to bed that same night as a national hero, his antics having gone viral and inspired Australia to yet another David-versus-Goliath knockout. Moments before the full-time whistle was due to sound in extra-time, in a play-off against Peru for a place at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™, Graham Arnold turned Louis van Gaal. Up went the substitution’s board and to the surprise of Mat Ryan – the Socceroos undisputed first-choice goalkeeper – he was being replaced. Astonishingly, it was a plot only Arnold and Redmayne knew about. On jogged the latter in Tim Krul’s cape.

“[The idea] got floated quite a while back and it was always something we should prepare for," Redmayne later told FIFA. "There was a lot of preparation being done and we have had countless meetings and training sessions geared towards this type of scenario. So the preparation was done from my part."

The Gosford native admitted nonetheless that it was a “massive gamble” from the man who, when he moved to Sydney FC in 2017, transformed him from journeyman back-up to first-choice goalkeeper. Arnold disagreed. “Maty Ryan is a fantastic goalkeeper, but Andrew Redmayne is very good penalty saver,” said Arnold. “I did something that could affect them mentally. Probably they were asking themselves, ‘Why has he brought him on? He must be quite good.’” And he sure is. Redmayne saved five of the nine penalties he faced for the Australia U-20s. Then, in the A-League Grand Final in 2019, he performed his routine from The Wiggles – dancing across his line like the characters from the popular children’s musical group – and stopped two of three spot-kicks to inspire Sydney to glory. The script in Al Rayyan was wiggled in the stars. Although the Socceroos swiftly fell behind in the shootout, they wouldn’t spurn another penalty. Redmayne did the rest. The ‘Grey Wiggle’ performed his party piece for every Peruvian penalty. Luis Advincula hit the post. Then, in sudden death, Redmayne flung himself south-east and tipped an Alex Valera attempt to safety. Australia were heading to a fifth straight World Cup.

“I’m a bit lost for words,” said Redmayne. “I can’t thank the team and staff enough. I’m not going to take credit for this because the boys ran out 120 minutes. It not only takes the 11 on the field but the boys on the bench, the boys in the stands, the boys that missed out on this squad as well. "I don’t consider myself a hero in the big scheme of things," he added in an interview with FIFA. "It was an extremely long qualification process and I just saved one ball. The staff said the homework is done, the training is done and it’s just time to execute it and I’m glad I was able to be do that.

"I had my mum and dad on Facetime and Arnie (Graham Arnold) came in and everyone was just a bit lost for words. I shed a couple of tears I’m not going to lie, and I know there will be a few more coming up.

“I’m not going to sit here and take the credit because the guys were out there for 120 minutes and Matt Ryan was phenomenal; he was one of the first ones to come to me and celebrate. I’m under no illusion on where I stand within this team, the squad and Australian football."

Redmayne may have attempted to swerve the applause, but others were lavish in their praise. “Andrew Redmayne, the technique… I’d actually not seen him do that before,” said Mark Schwarzer, whose penalty-saving heroics aided Australia in the intercontinental play-offs for USA 1994 and Germany 2006. “I know people have talked about it, but to actually see it was interesting. “Obviously it is a tactic to try and put (players) off. It is trying to get the player distracted, take his mind off things, lose his focus a little bit. He has played his part in helping Australia qualify for a World Cup, which is absolutely insane. You have to take your hat off to him. He did a fantastic job.”

John Aloisi, who scored the winning penalty in the shootout against Uruguay in Syndey in 2005, added: “Credit to Andrew Redmayne because he has never put his head down, he has just kept on going and he deserves the success. “It’s a little bit like Bruce Grobbelaar for Liverpool against Roma when he had the jelly legs. That is what he was trying to do of course, trying to put the penalty taker off. We have to say that it worked.” It was a secretive plot that not one other Australia player was aware of – not even Ryan. Arnold first floated the idea to his former Sydney FC pupil weeks before he’d even included Redmayne in his squad for the intercontinental play-offs. In the ensuing weeks the coach and the reserve keeper spoke more and more about it.

“You know when Graham Arnold swapped Maty Ryan for Andrew Redmayne? I thought, ‘’Arnie, if we lose this, you are going to get slaughtered’,” said former Socceroos captain Paul Wade said. “We waited 32 years to get to the World Cup. Wow, five in a row, you are kidding. What an absolute joy to be an Australian football supporter.” That ecstasy was inspired by the unlikeliest of sources – a man who envisioned himself teaching children in 2022, but who instead has the dance to kids’ songs exploding the internet.

Take a bow, ‘Grey Wiggle’.