From Famagusta to Footscray – Bill Theocharides14 August 2022
The rebirth of Football in Footscray4 February 2023
Pato’s right foot, lower shank, hip and a wet soccer ball strain together symbiotically to produce this sound. PFTHWHOMP is repeated again, this time from deeper in the Footscray Rangers Reserves defence, this is the music of the rustic, artisan defender where ‘anywhere but here’ is the name of the song. The ball travels forward, a hybrid of sound, an end-over-end spin and the sight of a light sprinkling of residual dew violently thrown from the ball as it travels to its destination: the half-way line of the wet and muddy Hansen Reserve pitch. This ball would not be alone for long though, the magnus effect of the ball’s velocity through the air doing it’s best to slow it down and bring it back to rest at the foot of the metronomic passing leg of Pato’s older brother, Lucas. The classy midfielder controlled the ball with aplomb, caressing the ball gently to his left foot, before a little left-right shimmy occurred with three touches. The fourth touch sent the ball forward to the Rangers onrushing winger who was able to receive the ball because of this excellent control, who sadly skyed his shot over the bar.
I’ve had the pleasure of being on the sidelines many times this season, seeing this passing combination between Lucas and Pato Rodriguez. There is a natural synergy that exists between two brothers who live and breathe football, that is plain for many to see. The two boys’ love for football manifests itself in many ways, some more surprising than others.
“We are addicted to watching Atleti (Atletico Madrid), do you know who they are? Atletico Madrid, they are our favourite football club, ever since we begun falling in love with football”. Lucas speaks passionately about the culture of Spanish football, and how it helped him to develop an understanding of important life learnings through watching and playing. “In one of my earliest conscious memories, we watched Barcelona put 6 past us on a cold and rainy night in Madrid, but as always, the Atleti fans were chanting louder in defeat than most teams ever could in victory. We even lost a cup final once and we were by far the louder team coming out of the stadium! That game against Barcelona was one of Fernando Torres’ last ever games in the Vicente Calderón, Atleti’s eternal home that was sadly knocked down a few years ago.” When asked about their favourite Atleti player of all time, it was clear that Fernando Torres was a childhood hero in the Rodriguez household. “He captained Atleti at 19 and helped us see that football is more than just a game. When things got ugly at the club, we could see the way that he was trying so hard, but also that he understood that for Atleti to improve, he had to sign with another club for big money to save the team (who were in a financially precarious position at the time) and help them bring new players into the squad. We have so much respect for him because of this, he left his boyhood club to improve it and that taught Lucas and I a lot about integrity. It showed us the humility that it takes to consciously admit that the greater cause is always the team”.
“Football is an addiction… it brings people together no matter who they are or what they have going on in their lives”
Pato pauses for a moment, considering Lucas’ previous reflection and shares with me that his love of the game extends beyond words as well. “Lucas and I, we love Atleti as we said. Me and my friends even run a Twitter page (@atletiuniverse) to help us stay connected with the club even though we’re living on the other side of the world”. I thought that this was a cute side-project, and asked what the follower count number was last at, expecting between 20-30 die-hard Atleti fans to follow their account. My right airpod fell out when Pato replied matter-of-factly, “We have around 20,000 followers right now, and it hasn’t even been a year since the account was created”! This was a stunning revelation, there are more people around the world than there are people in West Footscray who tune into Pato and his friends’ project to keep up with Atletico Madrid’s progress. “It’s a project that is staffed by 5 people around the world; I’m in Australia, there are others in Spain, in the UAE and London who love football and Atleti. We work together to produce media and relay information. We even have a journalist rating system, where we rate the quality of the journalists who are reporting information so that our audience can know how likely the information is to be true”. Pato and Lucas when you read this, you better be giving me the ‘very reliable’ pinned-medallion emoji!
Born to the same parents, Pato was born and spent much of his childhood in the Phillipines, while Lucas was born in Spain. The nature of their father’s work has meant that Lucas and Pato have traipsed around the globe (mainly in Madrid and in the Phillipines), experiencing many differences in football around the world. Lucas explains how football culturally is viewed in the Phillipines comparatively to Spain “In the Phillipines it’s not even close to the national sport. So Pato and I would play for our high-school team and the experience was very different to say, somewhere in Spain. We started playing at our high-school and our coach would be screaming at us every time we’d make a mistake, he was like a caricature. Our teammates were always great, but we haven’t had great coaching experiences in the past. When we were playing for our club, a new Dutch coach came in and started saying things like “I’m the best coach in the Phillipines, I have a UEFA license”! All he seemed to do was talk about it rather than actually coach us and it wasn’t really what we were looking for in a football environment. Spain was completely different though, it (football) is like a national addiction over there. Many times as kids, when Pato and I were in Madrid, we would pick up our ball and walk a short distance to a park near us, and we would find other kids who were already playing a pickup game. The level of skill was insane compared to the Phillipines, like we’re football-obsessed and sometimes we could hang with these guys for a little while, but they were doing things like Rabona’s, tiki-taka passes, these amazing turns and you think like, ‘wow, these guys are so good’. The standard is so much higher and the Spanish culture offered us a new perspective on the game.” I asked Pato how the standard of football in Australia compares to Spain, and if they could see any differences or similarities “Well I think the physicality is definitely there, Aussies are so tall and broad, they can move around the pitch quickly. Spain obviously has so many people that play it, if Australia could do the same with their people, the game would explode nationally and at an international level”.
The Rangers represented the first opportunity for the boys to play together in their careers, with a 3-year age gap between them meaning that they were separated in every age group. Lucas explained, “We’ve never played in the same squad, so it was so exciting to actually be able to do so.” Asked what each other brought to the team, the boys reacted with a laugh. Pato exclaims “Oh Wow! He brings his weight of pass and vision, other people have really taken note of that now. He’s also got those quick turns, he can feint his body in one direction and then go another. He brings class to the team. Lucas is embarrassed by his praise, adding “Damn thanks man. Honestly, I think Pato is an excellent defender. He doesn’t often get beat, and honestly, if someone gets past him, he’s a warrior so he’ll push back and catch the winger. He’s consistent and optimistic, if we concede a goal, he’s positive and he’ll be the first one to try and get the rest of the team back up.
Asked about their experience of the Rangers Football Club so far, the boys focused on their experience with our head coaches Matthew and Bill. Pato explains “Bill knows so much about the game, sometimes he’ll stop us in the middle of training to help you with your positioning and it really makes you realise how just a few yards of space can make a massive difference on the outcome of a play. I’ve learned a lot from him. Whereas my experience of Gaff, honestly, he motivates and inspires all of us so well. He was one of the first people I got close to when joining the Rangers (Lucas echoed this sentiment too), he was a huge help for helping me to settle here, it is something we had never experienced. In Australia everyone is so friendly, they would give you the shirt from their back (is that how you say it?) if it would help you. Even more-so than Filipinos, they pride themselves on their hospitality, but I think Australia has them covered. The Rangers are an extension of that”. Matthew ‘Gaffer’ Demmon was asked for his thoughts on what the boys brought to the club, he responded affably in his affection for the two boys.
“These boys are very committed to the squad and club, train twice a week, want to learn how to improve…everybody loves them. So passionate about football, genuinely 2 of the loveliest lads you’d hope to meet and play football with.Matthew ‘Gaffer’ Demmon
Pato and Lucas are current Victoria University students, benefiting greatly from the club’s relationship with the University, including the reduced fee exclusive to VU students. Pato explains “It’s really nice to know there are people here at the club who are from our school, like Troy (Stuart, captain of the clubs 3rds team), who is doing something similar to my course (Event Management) so we have things to talk about outside of football as well. It’s great to have so many people from the University here (currently 17 Victorian University students and alumni), it has helped us to make friends and know more about how the University works and can help us”.
Asked about their future, Lucas intends to continue studying his Screen Media course (with a focus on sports), he has a side hustle where he films football games for money. Pato’s hope is that his Event Management course will help take him back to Madrid, and that he would manage events at the Metropolitano stadium where his beloved Atleti play. As for the future of the club Lucas shared his vision “We want to go back to Spain and work, but for however long we will be in Australia, we will be Rangers! We feel like the club is on a great path, and we want to see the continuation of the positive energy that makes the club. We would like to see guys coming together more, even outside of football doing social things”. Pato echoed this “Spending more time together on and off the pitch and having different experiences with each other is always good. The people at Footscray Rangers make it one of the things that we love the most about Australia”.
Pato and Lucas both bring different things to the pitch, but they are so similar in the positive energy they bring, the gratitude they exhibit for the opportunities that sports afford them, and their willingness to give each opportunity that arises a go. This shared sentiment of their love of the club reminded me of a proverb by Antisthenes
“When brothers agree, no fortress is so strong as their common life” – Antisthenes
These two young men have added much to the club in terms of their application to training, games, and embracing the Rangers culture. It is my (and the hope of the entire Rangers family) that the boys extend their time in Australia as much as possible to see us climb the table.
Up the Rangers!