23. God and football - really?
The main sponsor of the newly formed Soccer team, Adelaide United, assisted in establishing an organized group for supporters. The most dedicated fans travelled by coach to matches played in other cities all over Australia.
When I first read the email, an offer of a bus trip to Melbourne for only 15 dollars, my mind started ticking over. It was late in 2003 and I was not yet a hundred percent convinced that I was safe in Adelaide. Would this not be another good opportunity to quietly slip away? It had happened in April that year in Riverside, California - I had ‘escaped’ from my motel room sneaking away in the bus of a baseball team. Why not a soccer team?
Date of departure was Saturday, November 22nd 03 - 10 pm. Before dropping me off at the bus that evening, Isobel and I attended a 50th birthday party of one of our friends. As soon as I had seen the invitation, I knew that whoever had organized the event, knew about “it”. Was the pen (P & N) lying on the ground outside the front door just co-incidence?
It may have meant nothing particularly to anyone, but the quizmaster showed the number 710 upside down to read ‘OIL’, definitely triggered something inside me. We sat next to a couple we knew from a previous church. Their name, both Christian name and surname, by both husband and wife, pointed to “victory (for all) on the cross”. (By sheer fluke – I met this gentleman, for the first time since, within 12 hours of writing this chapter).
In my mind I sensed that I was being taken seriously by some in the Christian community in Adelaide. How bizarre is the fact that my wife does not know (and want to know) any of these wonderful realities. The more I could see that God’s hand was guiding in amazing ways, the more she wanted to withdraw from any serious discussion. As the year 2004 progressed, her attitude, and that of my two sons living at home, took on a mildly mocking tone. It hurt deeply to be judged and laughed at without having considered all the facts.
I concluded many spirited family discussions with the plea to not ever be saying to me: “Why didn’t you tell me that?” I compared the situation with people who pass judgement on God and HIS word, without ever having read it and/or trying to make sense of it. On judgment day no one will have an excuse – many will regret not having searched deeper for the truth and taken the message of God’s love and forgiveness more seriously.
Jon decided to join the soccer supporters bus trip to Melbourne, about 12 hours by bus from Adelaide. Having my son with me, of course, lay to rest any thoughts of again submerging for a while. I apologized to my friends for having to leave the birthday party early. Isobel dropped us off at Hindmarsh Stadium in Holden St, just around the corner from Manton Street.
There was time for a few hours of sight-seeing in Melbourne before the match, scheduled in the evening. Jon and I enjoyed being tourists in this, the second largest city in Australia. It was nice to be with Jon and enjoy each other outside the routine of everyday home life. We walked down Swanson Street to Federation Square, a new development opposite Flinders Street Station.
Jon led me to the spot, from where ‘Sunrise’, a TV breakfast program we watch, had been broadcast months prior. As I looked I couldn’t help reading the unusual inscriptions in the stone pavement. The words “cup of water for all” made we wonder what they meant by that. A popular theme I read was “love”. Sunrise ran a successful campaign “spread the love” around that time.
The coded paper I collected in the middle of Federation Square
Having Jon with me made it harder for me to just be myself and ‘do my thing’. I noticed a piece of paper on the ground on Federation Square. I had an urge to pick it up and look at it. Jon thought I should throw it away again, but I refused, causing an argument. The writing on the paper consisted of numbers and letters. I tried to decipher it, while Jon worried about his dad’s mental health. I saw the words ”kiss & won” and the numbers 1, 2, 3 and 2 (4) 5. Someone may have been playing games?
We continued to stroll along the banks of the Yarra River and crossed over the bridge behind Flinders St. station. The Sunday Morning Market was in progress at 'Southbank'. I again embarrassed Jon by just walking across to an old man, wearing a red cap, and chatting to him. It may have been the red cap (see a red P) that made me do it. His name was Terry. He was about to catch a ferry to Williamstown. He wanted us to join him. I declined, because it was Sunday and I had planned to go to church that morning.
Despite Jon’s protests, I insisted we go to church somewhere. Earlier we had looked up the starting time for the service at a church in Lonsdale St. I had overlooked the fact it was not a Baptist Church. When we arrived for the service I noticed it was a Uniting Church. It didn’t matter; I enjoyed visiting another denomination.
Some names on the church bulletin and the name tags of people did tease me, as usual. The first hymn sung was a very familiar one. It was the theme song of “The hour of power”, the program I would have watched that Sunday morning on TV, had I been home: “Joyful, joyful we adore you”. This confirmed to me that, despite thinking we were in the wrong place, that we had come to the right place.
In the afternoon we visited an Exhibition of photographs by Lewis Morley. I saw the name as “more lie” in my weird interpretation of syllables. A man wore a T-shirt “Sinner”, which I read as, re: Sinn, German for “mind”. (See photo Chapter 67, More in number). This linking, thinking brain of mine never stopped.
Our Soccer team lost the match against North Melbourne that evening by 2 goals to 1. Toward the end tempers flared amongst spectators, as they often do in the heat of a soccer match. The beer flowing freely didn’t contribute to a calm atmosphere, either. The digital clock at the end of the match stopped at 90.35, not the usual 90.00. How strange! I thought.
There were moments when I doubted involvement in a sporting club: Could I spend my time more productively than supporting a soccer team? As a committed Christian it seemed the wrong milieu to be associating with. I didn’t like the bad language and questionable movies shown on the bus. I did make my objections known, otherwise ignored it as much as was possible.
Over a five months period between Nov 03 and March 04 I had opportunity to visit not only Melbourne, but Sydney, Brisbane and Perth – all by bus. The Sydney trip presented a great opportunity to catch up with my two oldest children. They had lived in that huge metropolis for a number of years and we only saw them two or three times a year.
My diary speaks of codes I noticed on the way: a semi-trailer pulled along side our bus, I read the model - “Power-Star 6500”. A huge Semi-Trailer reversed rather conspicuously in the car park right outside the Macdonald’s Restaurant near Yass, not far from the turn-off to Canberra. Was the huge writing on the side a message for someone that had gone ‘walk-about’ and told the world about it online? – L.J. Walker, the letters were jumping into my face – my brain twisting them into: re:walk.
Were there people who had heard about my whistle blowing and agreed with me? Was this writing meant to scream at me: “Exit (walk) to safety?” If that was the intention, I heard it - but sorry, I had progressed to another level. Thanks for the attention.
One of the organizers of the trip asked me casually: “Are you coming back again with us?” What a strange question, which I just answered with a surprised look and a brief nod of the head. I had not seriously planned to slip away on any of these trips, despite Jon not being with me.
Near Wagga Wagga we experienced a major hold up. A large truck had caught fire. In the queue of vehicles stranded there were interesting registration numbers - 135, 707, BON, AA 65, all close together. (It was only a couple of months since the incident on 65 K…Rd.) When traffic was finally moving after an hour or so, I read the company name of the burned truck – “Fast-Way”. (No thanks. I do it God’s way –which may be slow).
A little later a truck driver overtook us. I took particular notice, because the same vehicle overtook us a few times. Once I saw him wave at us as he drove by. I read the sign on the side – “Mustii’s”. Does it not sound like I am asking my wife ‘must I Is’? My brain surely is wired in a strange way.
Events surrounding the two soccer trips in March 2004 proved even more fascinating. Right from the first stop on the way to Brisbane, in a country town in the north of South Australia, I started to realize that my story must have circulated all over the country. In a shop window I saw a fishing contest advertised, the major competition offered prizes 500, 300 and 100 dollars, a minor prize 30, 20 and 10 dollars.
In another town I saw a program advertised as ‘Re: Gen’. What was that re? Rain, perhaps? Regen is the German word for rain. As a verb is also means to ‘move’. Australia certainly needed rain and if I was correct, something was stirring in our land, often called the great Southland of the Holy Spirit. Many Christian were praying daily for our nation: “Lord move amongst us once again. We need not just rain, but water for our thirsty souls”.
While stopping at another roadhouse a van pulled in. Out of habit I read the writing on the driver’s door: “Skip for fun”. It was fun to observe and smile about the creativity of people. If I was skipping, it would be less for fun, than for the joy of knowing Christ my Lord.
Pulling out after a meal stop at around 4 am someone yelled: “Damian is not here”. The bus had come to a halt again right outside ‘Anderson’s Carpets’ (re: and son, car, P & crosses), while the leaders looked around the roadhouse for the 15-year-old teenager. We all took it as a joke at first, but after 20 minutes without a sign of Damian, everyone started to get a little uneasy. Ten minutes later one of the leaders called the police (so I was told).
The bus had been checked over before, but the driver came one more time toward the rear and searched again. “Here he is!” the driver called out, much to every one’s relief. The lad had curled up in a tiny space right at the rear; covered himself with blankets and was fast asleep. Very peculiar, I thought and drew my own conclusions!
After the 29 hours bus trip there was only 1 ½ hours to see the Queensland capital. I had visited this beautiful city before, Australia’s third largest, and decided to wander the short distance to Brisbane’s Botanic Gardens. It was a very pleasant Sunday afternoon, a wedding party had photos taken, a few overseas students played football, most likely breaking all rules. When I got there they were trying to retrieve a ball stuck high up in the branches of a tall tree. In the process they lost two more. I offered to climb to the top to retrieve the balls, but they wouldn’t let me, regarding it as too dangerous.
The supporter’s squad from Adelaide arrived early for the match. Crowd numbers were much lower than matches in Adelaide; our 40 million Dollar Hindmarsh Stadium was a Rolls Royce, compared to the VW of Brisbane, if you excuse the association.
When spectators began to arrive in large numbers I noticed a bald man wearing a brown T-shirt. The writing on the front instantly struck a chord in my brain. I had come in contact with the father of a young Entrepneur businessman, (in a magazine I read last week that he does not like to be called an Entrepneur), who had turned a $ 50 investment into a multi-million dollar enterprise, selling his own label men’s clothing. His name was also Justin and just as meaningful as “Justin Peters” (More in number – Chapter 35). I had been receiving his email-newsletters.
Something inside me said, speak to that person. The spectator’s face had a resemblance to the young businessman himself; I had seen his photo on his website. I could not see a reason, why I should walk up to the stranger, who was watching a soccer game. The soccer match was well under way and still scoreless. But the voice persisted. Towards half-time I made a deal with my voice inside – “I’ll do it in the break.” The reasoning side of my brain argued that at half time I may not catch this person in the crowd.
I gave in and walked toward the back asking the man, if he knew the story behind the label he was wearing. He looked at me and said no. For a few moments I explained about the incredible story of how the teenage-school-dropout had a teacher, who didn’t like him. I plain language he was told he would be a failure and end up on the dole. Now at age 30 he is a multi-millionaire. The man seemed a little puzzled and said to me: “Well he’s got my six dollars towards it.”
(As if on cue – as I am editing this chapter on 3/5/04 Isobel told me that this man had just been on the Morning show on Channel 9 TV – I had just returned from walking the dog. She said, he’d been told by a lady at his father’s church that he had an attitude problem, which spurned him on to succeed).
A moment later, after I returned to my supporter’s group, the first goal was scored (by the opposition). I never saw the man with the infamous T-shirt after this incident. Did I scare him away or was there more behind it all? (I now wonder, who he really was?)
Our team was defeated by 4 goals to 1. However, we celebrated afterwards as if we had won, because our 3:0 home-win the previous week, qualified us to stay in the competition. After a brief celebration all were aboard the bus by 10 pm, ready for the 29 hour return track.
Our breakfast stop the next morning was at Tamworth, a large town, famous for its Country Music Festival. We stopped on the edge of town outside the McDonalds Restaurant. I had a quick coffee and used the remaining free time to go for a walk.
At the time I had no inkling what was taking place. I simply took a walk, prayed and observed my surrounding, as usual. Later, when boarding the bus, however, I realized it was God; he had sent me again on one of those walks. He was directing me, not by an inner voice, but simply by me doing what came natural. Here is why I think like this:
I started from McDonald’s Restaurant on the main road, about ½ kilometre away. It was early Sunday morning; not many people or traffic around. I walked towards the shopping precinct. In the distance I saw a park and headed in that direction. I walked past a little lake, only to find the toilet block was locked. (Is there anything more useless than a toilet block that is locked when you need it?) On the far end of the park I spotted a small brick building and decided to move toward it. Thankfully this toilet-block was un-locked.
In the meantime an older style car had driven into the park. It was the only car in the parking lot. Despite the distance I could see it was a Vauxhall Victor, the same model as my very first set of wheels in Australia (Chapter 17 - More in number). I headed straight toward the car park. Could I let this opportunity pass and not indulge in a bit of nostalgia?
Just before I reached the “Old-timer” I noticed a plaque on what looked like a flagpole – “Man-o-war” gates. The name fitted perfectly. I knew that ever since I had made public my incredible story, exposing wrong doing openly, I was in a war – the battle for truth and justice. Did I have secret supporters as far away as Tamworth, New South Wales?
I walked up to the old lady, who was sitting in the passenger seat of the veteran Vauxhall Victor. It must have been her husband, who had passed me on the way from the toilet block. I told her that my first car ever had also been a Vauxhall Victor. “I once had a problem with shifting the gearlever (located on the steering column). It had seized up and I needed the strength of two hands to move it. My mechanic was going to pull out the gearbox to check it out. But I could not afford a big repair bill. All it was – the linkage needed a drop of oil to free it up.” After a few more words I walked on.
Only metres away a group of ladies had assembled. They all were wearing joggers and blue T-shirts. I read the printing: “Happy Wanderers”. I was a man in a war - no question about that. The only vehicle in the car park was the same model as my first car ever, a Vauxhall Victor. I am also renowned for going walking; the “happy” bit is debatable. It sure made we wonder, or is it wander, if this is for real? I wandered back to the McDonalds. It would be a long wander back to Adelaide, if I missed the bus.
We stopped for lunch in Nyngan, a country town in western New South Wales. If my theories were correct, I was sure that people in that town also knew about “it”. Among various clues I noticed a large poster, which advertised a dinner-disco. The theme - “Something fishy”, starting time 7 pm, cost $ 35. In the shop window, where I had noticed the poster, a book was on display titled: “Watch out, a giant” by Eric Gale.
In my diary I ask: Am I 1) observant, 2) mad, 3) blowing-up things or 4) the giant to watch out for? I had nobody to bounce back any of these outside-the-box observations. They were just too far out of this world. Talking about our chances of winning the premiership in the Soccer League was saner and safer.
The venue for the final away match, to decide if Adelaide United's fairytale would continue, was the most distant one of all - Perth in Western Australia, 2700 kilometres from Adelaide. Our ‘34-hours-each-way’ bus trip may have broken a record, if there was a category – longest bus trip by a fan club to attend a single soccer match.
It was Sunday morning, March 28th 03 when we arrived. After taking a shower at the Perth Central Railway station I checked the starting time for the service at the Central Baptist Church. It was located right opposite “Mad Cat Backpackers” hostel. There were two hours to fill in, so I decided to take a little tour of Perth on foot. The morning was calm and sunny. The temperature in the mid 20’s (centigrade) promised a pleasant few hours. As things turned out, the weather played no role in another amazing walk.
On the bus I had had lots uninterrupted time to think and to reflect about my journey. What was God’s purpose in my travelling all this way to support a soccer team? I was one of the oldest members of this group, none of whom I didn’t know prior. A soccer fan club had never been part of my everyday life.
Yet, even before arriving in Perth I had a burning sensation that something special was happening; something was stirring deep inside. It is impossible to explain with logic. It felt the same way as a year earlier, when I was ‘redirected’ from Melbourne, all the way to the USA, for a ten day stint. Except this time I was not skipping the country, just taking a brief walk around Perth, the capital city of Western Australia.
I had a very crude map of the city of Perth with me, which only showed the main roads. I casually wandered off towards a large green area on the map. Parks are always a good place for a toilet and a drink of water, if needed. Was it my state of mind or did street names suddenly take on meaning – Nash St., Lord St, Goderich St. etc.
On the corner Goderich St/Bishop Row I looked to my right and saw a tall building with a huge Y on the side. It must have been the YMCA headquarters. ‘Y’ is their logo. A man stood in front of it. He appeared so tiny, but I sensed he was looking in my direction. Despite the considerable distance I was acutely aware of him. He was watching me, unless I imagined it.
To my left in Bishop’s Row I casually read a car registration plate. It was that of an early model Mitsubishi Magna. The letters D and N and a combination of 5’s and a 7 make me think, how peculiar! I purposely walked the few steps to have a closer look at the old car. If that man standing under the huge Y is watching me, I might as well let him know that I had noticed this car and recognized my numbers and letters.
Was someone teasing or testing me by setting this up? In the final chapter of my previous book (More in number…) I had changed the lyrics of Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way’ to read:” He planned each chartered course, each careful step along the “Why-way”. Was this where I was meant to walk, along Lord St., pass the big Y and notice this car parked near the corner Goderich St? It would made sense to me, despite sounding far fetched to anyone else. In my diary I wrote: Lord, this is torture, if I am just crazy!
I crossed Adelaide Terrace, a major road in the business district of Perth, and walked toward the Swan River. For a moment I contemplated to walk straight ahead, right down to the water’s edge; but I noticed a street name - “The Terrace” (= Re: Race T??). Perhaps the name made me turn and walk along this quiet road, the address of luxury, modern apartments?
As I passed an old, brick building I read a large sign - Australian Broadcasting Commission. This reminded me that we had had a reporter from ABC Radio travelling with us on our bus. Our dedication to the soccer team must have made an impact to warrant such an escort. The young reporter had phoned regular updates about our trip, which were broadcast on Adelaide’s ABC local radio. He even interviewed a few of us individually. I had wondered if he would want to talk to me, but he never did.
As I casually strolled along “The Terrace” I spotted on the roadway a blue and white chequered tea towel. It took a few moments of digesting the significance of the item. Then it came back to me, why such trivial item rang a bell in my brain. Last year an appeal had been made for each family at church to donate a tea towel. There was an apparent shortage of this basic commodity in the kitchen, according to the church bulletin. If one tea towel per family was donated, it would solve the problem.
I can’t remember if Isobel and I obliged the request, but I remember clearly asking someone: “If only every second family is going to donate a tea towel, what are we going to do with the 50 or so tea towels? Later in the year the bi-annual church camp was held in a public caravan park. I could not help making a joke with the kitchen staff before leaving: I said: “Just keep an eye on your tea towels. This church is obsessed with tea towels.”
Well, I was not obsessed, just intrigued, when I spotted that tea towel on the ground that Sunday morning. I turned and picked it up for the collection. If nothing else, it would be a cheap souvenir. Surprisingly, it was clean; it looked like it had just come out of a spin dryer and may have been dropped on the roadway only a short time earlier.
Before church I needed a coffee fix. What better place than McDonalds, where I could also browse through the Sunday paper. I picked up interesting items - not just from the road, but from also from news print. The Western Australian veteran actor/singer Rolf Harris, living in the UK, was quoted in the paper as the fifth biggest international star ever.” I knew him because my middle name is Rolf. But I didn’t know he was such a “big fish”.
On another page I read an article about “whistle blowers”, by an ABC journalist. Back home later I responded with an email to the author. (See previous chapter).
After the church service I went straight to our bus that took us to Subiaco Oval for the big elimination match. Our team lost badly - five goals to nil. It should have actually been 5:1, not because of my love for those numbers, but because our star striker in the first half had scored a good goal, which was disallowed. TV footage later showed it should have been a legitimate score.
'The Stand' at Subiaco Oval, Perth, WA.
On the long journey home I had more hours of contemplating as the endless, barren landscape of the Australian mainland flew by. Why was I constantly thinking of being watched, tested and directed to walk a certain path. Was I really meant to pick up that tea towel – how crazy is that, when you think about it?
Picking up bits of rubbish or seeing special numbers on car registration plates is of no real benefit to other people. It would be different if God had given me a special gift; healing or making money, so I could give to the poor. Was I kidding myself that there was a spiritual meaning in all of this?
For any doubter among the readers, may I state clearly that on none of the trips, to the USA in April 03, or to any capital city in Australia with the soccer team, did I carry a mobile telephone or any other electronic gadget so receive instructions by remote means. But then again, I probably would be the first ever campaigner for truth, trying to achieve his goal by cheating!
I believe the mysterious happenings on these excursions with the soccer team were meant to have a purpose. As everything I did in the US in April 03 and in Adelaide before and since, God was in control. Many mystery walks were to follow again and again. The actual magic of the ‘spiritual excursion’ was a breeze compared to finding the quite moment to write it all down, before I forgot vital data.
In the week between Easter and Anzac Day 2004, the fifth anniversary of my manic hijacking a church meeting, I experienced a number of “spiritual walks” that were mind boggling. (Details later).
To make sense of what I think was happening, I came up with two reasons for these “walk-about episodes”. Firstly it was for the same reason that I was led to the US - People in places like Brisbane, Melbourne, Tamworth, Nyngan or Perth, could see with their own eyes that the main character in the incredible story on the internet was not a fictitious double of Harry Potter, but a real person.
Secondly, it was to strengthen my resolve to continue the journey. God showed by arranging these incredible circumstances that HE was there. HE was in control, if I only obeyed HIM. “Obeying” did not mean I received instructions every morning as to where to walk, where to visit or who to write to. Obeying HIM to me simply meant, laying bare my life before him, every morning, brutally honest, and offer it all in total surrender.
Whatever my walk would bring that day, I knew I was in HIS will. If not, HIS sensitive spirit would gently nudge and steer in the right direction. If there were any feelings of “holy restlessness”, I knew I had to act, e.g. pick up the telephone, send the email or pick up the obviously useless item off the roadway. Before I would pick up anything off the roadway, I often walked passed for a distance. Then my mind would grow increasingly alarmed. Only when I turned back, usually within seconds, and humbled myself, did peace return. This is the best way I can explain, what I believe was happening.
After the championship in the National Soccer League was decided I came across a German Soccer website. The address was: www.fussball-gott.com. (Football-God.com). I sent the following email on 10.4.04:
(Translated from German)
Hello to all,
In our Australian Soccer League a brand new team took part – Adelaide United. During the final play-offs we travelled on March 26th to Perth, 2695 kilometers by bus. For four hours we looked around town and then went to the stadium. There and back we were on the road for 68 hours.
Imagine I even went to a church service on the Sunday morning 28.3. I prayed for a win. We lost 5:0 and were eliminated from the Semi-Finals. Either our opponents prayed better than I did or I completely forgot to tell HIM which team I meant.
The grand final in Sydney, a week later, was totally rained out. If anyone travelled from Perth to Sydney for 4250 km I doubt very much. They won 1: nil after extra time.
Greetings from Adelaide, South Australia
PS Before our first match (a sell out) a priest prayed for our team publicly. God is not against football, HE wants to be part of it.
Hopefully, whoever read my email understood the humour, because I did not pray for our team to win. But the fact that God is interested in sport I believed and had reported amazing game results in the Australian Football League, a different sport to soccer (see Chapter 8).
On the last weekend in April 04 I read the headline: “The power of one” in the career section of our daily newspaper. It had happened before on 26/7/03 and one of Adelaide’s teams, called Port Power, won by one point. In the back of my mind, I started playing God. I thought: “What if they again win by just one point?” As far as I know they won by much more than that. Later I knew, I had been walking close to the line, in danger of looking for credit for myself. This is when God steps back.
The following week, without any thinking of football on my part, it appeared as if God was teaching me just this lesson: “If you get out of the way, I can do the job”. Four matches were played on Saturday 1/5/04. The triple champions Brisbane Lions lost to Melbourne team St. Kilda in a show stopping thriller. (I even left my writing to watch the last 15 minutes. The winning margin was one point, 91:92).
Another match on the same day resulted in a one point win. The only other two matches that day both ended in a 10 point margin. I just smiled when I heard the result on the radio. God really does a much better job on HIS own.
Well, the next day the other AFL team Adelaide Crows won by 75 points, their first win in five matches. A few chapters back the number 75 featured rather significantly. I can understand anyone thinking - this is all a lot of rubbish. But please allow me the freedom to see and interpret the world as I see it, even if I see God in football scores. (I invite anyone to double-check the results, search under AFL Australian football scores on 1/5/04 and 2/5/04).
You also have the freedom of choice – observe the world around you, its beauty, the human body, a perfect creation. You either see God at work in everything or you choose to control your own affairs without HIM.
I made my choice, so beautifully expressed in the song:
I’d rather have Jesus than silver and gold,
I'd rather have Jesus than riches untold.
I'd rather have Jesus than anything,
the whole world can only offer.