By Mat Ryan 

Let me tell you what it feels like to be a Socceroo.

In 2005 I was 13 years old, living in Oakhurst in Western Sydney and coming through the ranks at Blacktown City.

I followed Arsenal in the Premier League and Parramatta Eels in the NRL, but I didn’t really have a local football club that I supported. So the Socceroos were everything.

I remember the day the Socceroos beat Uruguay to qualify for the 2006 World Cup like it was yesterday. 

I caught the train to Stadium Australia with my mate Nick Fitzgerald and his family. We sat up in the second tier of the stadium, in line with the 18-yard box. 

I was quite young and naive at the time, but I can remember the intensity and the energy of how we supported our boys and gave it to the Uruguayans. 

It felt that night like we were prepared to go that extra bit further to win. There was nothing that was going to stand in our way.

As a fan, it was almost as if you did all those heroic things yourself. I was Popa cleaning up Alvaro Recoba. I was Bresh scoring that goal. I was Schwarzy making those unbelievable saves and I was Johnny slotting home the winning penalty.

That night I felt so proud to be Australian. I rode the train home buzzing with adrenaline and dreaming of one day following in their footsteps. 

I’ve given all of myself as a person and footballer to represent the Socceroos and our great country. I believe there is an unbreakable bond between the team and the Australian public.

Even though I’ve played at the highest level in Europe and at two World Cups, to this day one of the best sporting events I’ve ever been to was in my hometown, just a few suburbs away from where I grew up.

We’ll be back at Stadium Australia next Thursday for another massive game against Japan. The way I see it, this is going to be one of the biggest games in our history.

We’ve had a lot of special memories at Stadium Australia. We won an Asian Cup final there in 2015, and we got through crucial World Cup qualifiers there in 2005, 2013 and 2017.

Most of the boys in this Socceroos squad have been in the stadium for those moments as a fan or as a player. We’ve lived and breathed those moments with you.

We all know that qualifying for a World Cup is one of the biggest challenges in sport. If we look back to our last four campaigns, it often comes down to the last game – or even the last kick.

This campaign has had its ups and downs and the extra challenge of the pandemic. We won 11 games in a row, which is a record nobody can take away from us, but we’ve also had games where we haven’t done enough to get the desired result.

As a playing group the excitement for the game against Japan is already building. We’re already thinking of beating the Japanese and the massive crowd that will be pivotal in us doing so. 

I’ve played club football in Europe for the past decade and I’ve witnessed some individuals from other national teams prefer to take free days off rather than go away to represent their national teams. 

I speak on behalf of everyone in the Socceroos when I say we love going into camp. There’s no better feeling than being amongst the boys in that environment. 

I’ve got a meme on my phone which says everlasting friends can go long periods of time without questioning their friendship. These friends pick up like they just spoke yesterday, regardless of how long it has been or how far away they live.

That’s the culture we have in the Socceroos. Throughout the season we might be in contact here and there, we follow each other on social media and we send a few messages.

But when we’re in camp it’s like a family reunion. You go out on the pitch and you know the guy standing on either side of you has got your back and you’ve got theirs without any hesitation. 

This brotherhood unites us as players and also as fans.

I know on March 24 there will be supporters of many clubs at Stadium Australia cheering us on and giving it to the Japanese. 

I know there will be young players in the crowd just like I was in 2005, ready to dedicate themselves to becoming a Socceroo in the future.

Together, we can create another historic moment for Australian football.

Photos: Chad Gibson, LOCAL FC