The regional Victorian ‘cathedral city’ of Wangaratta isn’t famed for its love of football.
The junction of the Ovens and Kings rivers is a brow-beaten AFL heartland, which despite boasting a population little over 18,000, is the proud home of three Aussie rules football clubs.
Such are the depths at which AFL courses through Wangaratta’s blood, the city even asserts its own sectarian sporting rivalry, an Old Firm for the ‘Gatta, between the historically catholic Wangaratta Rovers and protestant North Wangaratta.
But in contrast to the city’s proud rurality and backbone ocker culture, Wangaratta has provided unexpected figures of note: post-punk, gothic icon Nick Cave, Filipino pop star Anne Curtis and, perhaps most unusually, one of Australia’s most exciting ‘soccer’ prodigies, Sebastian Pasquali.
“Seb always brought his football to school,” Pasquali’s father, Tony, told Ajax Showtime in 2017.
“Why? Because his classmates didn’t have a ball. If others didn’t want to play with him — football wasn’t that popular in Australia back then — he trained on his own.
“When he got home from school, he’d often lost his football. It ended up on the roof all the time.”
Like many Australian footballers, Pasquali’s unlikely path was burgeoned by his Italian heritage; his father speaks about football with the inherent love that now burns within his son.
But Pasquali’s dedication is a little more unique. By 10-years-old, he was captaining an u/13 side at the Australian National Championships. By 16, he was scoring a winning penalty against Juventus.
As Australia clamours wholeheartedly into a globalised era, the Aussie battler, underdog mentality may be slowly fading from the national sporting psyche. Despite increased attention and resources, it’s rarer that Australian footballers upset a world power today, than it was two decades ago.
So when a 16-year-old debutant enters for Melbourne Victory against 34-time Serie A Champions Juventus, dazzles with a flamboyant array of flicks and tricks, plays a crucial role in one of the more attractive goals his club has ever scored, then tucks away the winning penalty in a final shootout – friendly or no friendly, they’re going to make a few waves.
Yet within three months of that cold July night and after just 29 minutes of A-League football, Pasquali was gone. Melbourne Victory fans left anxiously holding on to that brief MCG cameo as slim proof he was ever really here.