Ever since he can remember, Brett Emerton wanted to play football. A perfectly n
Ever since he can remember, Brett Emerton wanted to play football. A perfectly normal aspiration, you might say, for any young kid. Except that Emerton, firstly, was Australian and, secondly, was born and brought up in Sydney, fierce rugby league territory where the round-ball game was, until recently, considered very much a second-rate sport. He told TheFA.com's Andrew Warshaw how he always loved the beautiful game ahead of his trip to Upton Park to take on England... "My father took me to the local pitch when I was five years old and I never looked back," said Emerton, one of the stars of the Australian side expected to line up against England at Upton Park on Wednesday. "It was always football for me even though I come from a rugby league family. In a way it was strange I ended up playing this game. When I was younger, I got ribbed about it but now everyone at home has grown to admire what I do."
Emerton has certainly made a huge impact since arriving in Europe from Sydney Olympic, his hometown club. An Australian international at 19, his performances for Feyenoord in the Champions' League have earned him countless plaudits and caught the eye of a stack of Premiership clubs.
In fact. Emerton has been linked with so many English teams he has lost count. At various times, Leeds wanted him, so did Liverpool and there were strong reports last summer linking him with a move to St. James Park where, ironically, he played for Feyenoord in the Champions' League earlier this season against Newcastle.
He admits he would love to further his career in England and join compatriots Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka and Mark Schwarzer but for the moment is happy where he is being, as he puts it, "brilliantly looked after" by the Rotterdam club where he has spent the last two and half years.
"I've always had ambitions to play in England one day and would not rule it out in the future," he told TheFA.com. "With Newcastle, in the end the deal didn't go through but who knows what might happen at the end of this season. I'm still learning all the time and there is no great rush but I would like to think that one day I'll get to England."
Newcastle fans have already witnessed what Emerton can do during that Champions League encounter, his first game ever on English soil, won 1-0 somewhat fortuitously by Feyenoord. "It's a game I'll always remember," said Emerton. "The atmosphere was unbelievable and winning was an extra bonus."
Now he turns his hand to trying to inspire his national team to a major upset at Upton Park. "I've been looking forward to this ever since the game was announced," said Emerton. "It's been some time since our full squad has been together, probably not since we lost to Uruguay in the World Cup playoffs. We're going into the game as underdogs but there is a lot of talent in the Australian side. The entire team is based in Europe now so there's no reason to be scared of England."
Emerton, who expects to be playing on the right side of midfield on Wednesday, is reluctant to single out any England players for particular praise. But while he was growing up in Sydney, it was a Welsh winger who inspired him. "Ryan Giggs was who I always admired. As a young boy, I was a Manchester United fan and he was always so exciting to watch. We only used to see matches once a week but always admired the way United played football."
Playmaking against England will be arguably the biggest challenge of Emerton's career and he is keen to put his country firmly on the footballing map, having just missed out on a World Cup place. He is also keen to justify FIFA's decision to grant Oceania an automatic berth in the finals, a controversial subject around the world.
"People have criticised FIFA for that but I look at last year's World Cup and I think we could have beaten a lot of the sides," he said. " Asia have a number of places and we could beat any of them so why shouldn't we have a spot too? We deserve our chance. It's an exciting time for Australian football."