Chippers - A more than deserving Hall of Famer
It's been a long road from driving buses in Wollongong to hitting the heights of the FFA Hall of Fame, but Scott Chipperfield more than deserves the honour.
Scott Chipperfield may not be the best player to have played for Australia, but he's close to my favourite.
Our latest Hall of Fame inductee probably won't enjoy the fuss, or the praise, but that's part of the attraction. In an era of overblown egos and relentless self-promotion, 'Chippers' is a throwback to a previous age. An age when footballers preferred to let their boots do the talking.
For Chipperfield, a career in football came not by chance, but by sheer force of talent. There was no saloon ride through the development system, or lucrative offers from the big Sydney clubs.
Instead - famously - he drove buses in his hometown of Wollongong during his formative years in order to supplement his meagre wages with Wollongong United and Wollongong Wolves. But when his career took off, didn't it go.
Within what seemed the blink of an eye, the 'bus driver from Bellambi' became a dual championship-winner with the Wolves, and a bona fide Soccceroo. It was simply a matter of time before the quality rose to the surface. Be thankful it did.
Chipperfield's blistering forays down the left flank for the Wolves in a high-octane team which swept all before it at the turn of the century have left an indelible impression. There was a languid ease on the ball, a deceptive turn of pace, a resolute fighting spirit and perhaps the most important ingredient of all - an iron will under pressure. Big game player? 'Chippers' was the epitome of one.
By the time he left Australia in 2001, he had done all that needed to be done. Two titles with his beloved Wolves, two Johnny Warren Medals, a Joe Marston Medal, and the goal to claim the Oceania title for his hometown club which - supposedly - guaranteed passage to the FIFA Club World Cup in Spain. Had that tournament not been cancelled at the last minute, things could well have turned out differently for both Chipperfield and the Wolves. As it is, he'll have no complaints.
A lifelong Liverpool fan, 'Chippers' had once dreamed of a move to the English Premier League. If the FIFA Club World Cup would have provided that shop window we'll never know. Instead he ended up in Switzerland, with plenty of doubts among those he left behind.
How would this classic Aussie battler cope in a distant land with a different language? Would he be another Ian Rush, who memorably said after his ill-fated sojourn with Juventus: ''I couldn't settle in Italy, it was like living in a foreign country.''
Chipperfield not only adapted, he thrived. FC Basel were a big club punching under their weight when he arrived. By the time he left more than a decade later they had become the benchmark of Swiss football, and a competitive force in Europe. Chipperfield has played a huge part in that.
There's a recurring theme in all of this. Under-estimate him at your peril. Chipperfield has made a career out of proving people wrong. The people who know him best - his teammates - have rarely needed much convincing.
For me, there's one game which encapsulates the Chipperfield legacy. It's the biggest game the Socceroos have ever played. And it's the best game I've ever seen 'Chippers' play.
There have been thousands of words written and said about what happened against Italy in the 2006 World Cup. Far too few of them have mentioned just how well Chipperfield played against the eventual world champions. He was immense.
If Chipperfield felt his performance that day in Kaiserslautern was undervalued, he's never let on. Chasing recognition has never been his style. But he's got it now, whether he likes it or not. He'll rate being in the Hall of Fame mostly because he's in there with some of his best mates.
Over the journey, few have given more of themselves than 'Chippers'. In Kuwait City, in an Asian Cup qualifier, he once sweated more than four kilograms for the cause. For Australia, especially, he left everything on the pitch, every time. Now it's over he should look back with one overriding emotion. Pride.
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