‘I never thought of failure’: Socceroos’ Grey Wiggle reflects on life-changing shootout

It’s been just over a month since Andrew Redmayne danced his way into Australian sporting folklore. Reality and routine have set back in, but the buzz hasn’t quite worn off.

Before the Socceroos faced Peru in that winner-takes-all World Cup qualifier, Redmayne was just another footballer – familiar to followers of the A-League, beloved by fans of Sydney FC, but basically unknown to everyone else.

Andrew Redmayne made the save that sealed Australia’s spot in Qatar 2022 and became an instant hero.Credit: Janie Barrett

After the penalty shootout, in which he channelled the Wiggles by waving around his long limbs on his line to distract the Peruvian penalty-takers, and then made the save that sealed Australia’s spot at Qatar 2022, he became the “Grey Wiggle” – an instant national hero.

That title still doesn’t sit well with the 33-year-old, an understated, contemplative character who insists he played only a tiny role at the end of a gruelling, four-year qualification campaign. But it’s true. Scan through social media and, if you follow the right people, it’s almost impossible to not see the image of Redmayne’s mouth agape – half in celebration, half in shock – which, by now, must be the profile picture of thousands of different football-obsessed accounts. Including mine, on Facebook.

Redmayne has become a meme, a symbol of defiance from the small but feisty Australian soccer community, which has suffered through decades of infighting, squandered opportunities and now the brutal financial impact of the pandemic, which has kneecapped the once-mighty A-League. But As Harvey Dent says in The Dark Knight, the night is always darkest before the dawn, and making the World Cup – Australia’s fifth in a row, one that everyone thought they’d miss – has provided the diehards with a much-needed ray of sunshine.

It’s those people who Redmayne feels the happiest for; more on that in a bit.

This image of an ecstatic Andrew Redmayne has become a symbol of defiance within Australian football.Credit:Network 10

In the delirious hours after the Socceroos’ victory, one user posted Redmayne’s grin and wrote: “This is the face of a man who will never have to buy a beer in Australia again.” So far, that’s holding up. The Herald picked up the tab for the two schooners of James Squire’s One Fifty Lashes we drank at the Bayview Hotel in Gladesville, Redmayne’s local, as we sat down with two medium-rare New York strip loins and discussed how much his life has changed.

“The few times we’ve been to a pub, my wife’s been up to the bar. So I guess technically I haven’t bought a beer, no,” he laughed.

“I did get offered a free snag at Bunnings, but insisted to pay, because it was a local football team, the Macquarie Dragons. I just [said], ‘it’s grassroots footy, you can’t turn down $2.50.’ That’s probably the best thing I’ve been offered.”

The perks don’t quite stop there, or at this free meal, which was a bit like Redmayne’s last season for Sydney FC: pretty good, if somewhat unspectacular. He seems at home at the Bayview, where he’s chummy with the management, and when I tell him that we could have gone somewhere significantly more upmarket given the Herald was paying, he said that wouldn’t have been true to him.

It sounds like he has an official cameo with the Wiggles in the works, although he was somewhat coy with the details. His 18-month-old daughter, Poppy, was too young to understand the shoutout they gave him on social media after the Peru match in a video where Purple Wiggle Jeff emulated his dancing and diving. Redmayne expects she will lose her head when she sees him on TV or on stage with them.

”My daughter f—ing loves the Wiggles at the moment, holy shit,” he said.

“You can put the Wiggles on – or as she says, the ‘Wee-Wees’ on – and she knows Emma, she knows all the dances. She’d be all about that. But having said that, any time there’s sport on our TV, any time someone’s running around on a green pitch, that’s dad. You could be watching the Swans on a Sunday arvo [and she says] ‘Dadda’.”

Redmayne puts his phone on Airplane Mode when he’s overseas to avoid obscene roaming charges – he’s paid well by Sydney FC, but not that well. On the flight home from Doha, he tried to respond to the avalanche of messages he’d received, but couldn’t keep up as new ones kept coming in.

“There was people I thought I’d hear from that I didn’t. But there was people I didn’t think I’d hear from, and I did. It was just nice,” he said.

New York strip loins at the Bayview Hotel Bistro in Gladesville.Credit:SMH

“More or less 90 per cent of my contacts probably got in touch with me. I got asked the other day, who was the highest profile [person] that slid into your DMs? Probably Ed Kavalee. But he said he did when he was on Have You Been Paying Attention? I went through, and I couldn’t find it. So I messaged him and said, ‘you sent a message did you?’ He said he sent it, but it didn’t go through so. That was fun, I gave him a bit of stick for that.” With respect to Kavalee, I suspect a modest Redmayne is keeping bigger names close to his chest.

There is still, however, a continual torrent of abuse from the vanquished Peruvians – a good 100 or so unanswered message requests, peppered with middle finger emojis and swear words. “It’s just hilarious,” he said. “Half of me wishes I could speak and read Spanish, so I could know what they’re saying. But on the other half I’m glad I can’t, I think.”

That Redmayne was involved at all against Peru was a shock to everyone except a small handful of people. Picked as Australia’s third-choice goalkeeper, many fans thought Mark Birighitti, the A-League’s goalkeeper of the year, was harshly overlooked. What they didn’t know was that coach Graham Arnold and goalkeeping coach John Crawley, who has known Redmayne since he was a 14-year-old lad growing up in Gosford, were cooking up an audacious, meticulously researched plan to bring him on in the event of a shootout to disorient Peru. Not even Mat Ryan, the Socceroos captain who he replaced in the 120th minute, knew about it. Joel King was the only player who was aware, simply because Redmayne felt he had to “burden” someone else with the secret.

Sydney FC goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne was largely unknown outside of the football bubble – but after Peru, he became a national hero.Credit:Wolter Peeters

It’s about as bold a gambit there is in football, which is why it’s extremely rare to see. The most prominent example was in the 2014 World Cup, when the Netherlands brought on Tim Krul as a shootout specialist in their quarter-final against Costa Rica. Krul saved two of five penalties, the Dutch won 4-3, and the world was flabbergasted. But it can easily go the other way – just ask Chelsea’s Kepa Arrizabalaga, who was subbed in for the Carabao Cup final earlier this year. He failed to stop any of Liverpool’s 11 penalties, and then blazed his own spot kick over the bar to hand them the trophy.

Add in the absurd nature of Redmayne’s theatrics, and there was a red-hot chance he’d embarrass himself and his country if the Socceroos lost.

Aside from the times he’s been shown it during media appearances, Redmayne has only watched his shootout once, and in a typically modest fashion. “By myself, on the couch one day – the last five minutes of normal time plus penalties,” he said. “I was more nervous watching it back than actually doing it. I never thought of failure during the moment. It never crossed my mind. It was quite scary when I did realise. I’ve copped my fair share on Twitter and the like, but when I thought about, ‘jeez, if I bottled that, or I didn’t make a save’, your life would have completely changed in a negative way – a 180 from where we are now.”

Warm and forthcoming, the only time Redmayne seemed lost for words during our lunch was when I asked him what it was like to have his own John Aloisi moment. He remembers watching Aloisi’s 2005 penalty against Uruguay, which broke the Socceroos 32-year World Cup drought. He was a teenager with his parents – off the couches, sitting on the ottomans right in front of the TV, full of nervous energy. “I could only imagine that Mum would have been the same,” he said. “She would have been sitting on the coffee table that she has in the lounge room, screaming the house down just as we did in ’05.”

Andrew Redmayne is greeted by his daughter Poppy at the airport.Credit:Dean Sewell

Like Aloisi’s kick, Redmayne’s save has given Australian football and the A-League a jolt of optimism. That’s gold for a sport that seems to be stuck in a permanent boom-bust cycle, always scrambling to retain whatever foothold it has while waiting for the next landmark event that will bring the masses in.

“I don’t want to sound condescending or anything, but I think the boys plying their trade overseas, the ins and outs of Australian football and what we go through, is at times maybe a little lost [on them],” he said, slowly making his way through his steak at an almost meditative pace. There are long pauses between some of his words as he searches for the right ones.

“When you live and breathe it your whole career, and you see everything that’s going on, especially the last few years through COVID and whatnot … I mean, the English national team, they’ve got the Premier League. That’s, well, it’s the Premier League. It’s No.1.

“Here, it’s like we’re constantly battling not only between the heads of the federation and clubs, the grassroots clubs and state federations, there’s personal battles, and there’s just battles everywhere. Add on NRL, AFL, cricket on top, and it’s just a constant war.

The receipt for the Herald’s lunch with Andrew Redmayne.

“Qualifying for a World Cup just means so much for the game, but the people within the game. I think about what it means for the A-League and the publicity that’ll draw. It’s not just me that benefits from that one moment. It’s not just the Socceroos, it’s not just Football Australia, it’s everyone who falls under that umbrella. Someone was talking to me about the ‘tsunami effect’ – every four years we have this real influx, but before then it’s just kind of mellow, and then this big tidal wave of investment and media that the World Cup brings. Having not only a men’s World Cup but a home Women’s World Cup within the same nine months, if you’re going to have a tsunami effect in football in Australia, I think now’s the time. I just hope we capitalise.”

On Sunday, Redmayne will be back among his people: the Australian football family, the lifers who don’t just tune in once every four years. He’ll be at creaky old Leichhardt Oval, playing his first competitive match since Peru, against the Central Coast Mariners in the Australia Cup, in front of probably no more than a few thousand onlookers.

It’s the start of a massive few months for him as he bids to make Arnold’s final 26-man World Cup squad, in which there will be only three goalkeepers. He is no certainty – Ryan is the nailed-on starter, and there won’t be any shootouts Redmayne can sub in for unless the Socceroos get out of their group, which features France, Denmark and Tunisia. That’s a long shot, but no longer than the one most people gave Australia to qualify.

“You’d love to take the field at a World Cup,” he said.

“But I’m under no illusions of where I stand in the scheme of Australian football. I’m a realist. Barring something drastic happening, I can’t see it happening. It’d be amazing just to be there and experience what I think is the pinnacle of world sport.

“I’m a head-down, bum-up kind of guy – I’ll just keep working hard and keep doing me.”

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