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Lingua Franca: football. (Expat Profile).

Scott Chipperfield, 26, has achieved what millions of little boys hope for and many men secretly fantasize about--a career as a professional football player. Here's a heart-to-heart with Basel-based and two-time Australian "Footballer of the Year."

By becoming a midfielder for FC Basel in July 2001, Scott Chipperfield traded his sunny hometown of Wollongong, Australia, for Switzerland. While back home, his teammates and he drank beer, went to the beach, or played golf together after training; in Basel, he says, everyone just goes home.

Socializing with his Swiss teammates would be complicated anyway, since Chipperfield speaks only English, and the mother tongues of FC Basel's other 21 players include German, French, Italian, Spanish, Turkish, Greek, and Serbo-Croatian. Despite his natural cheerfulness, it's no wonder Chipperfield sounds a bit wistful when he talks about his years playing in Australia, where he was Player of the Year twice in a row.

Kicking Ahead His Dream

But Chipperfield's dream is to play in the English league, ideally for Liverpool, and Basel is a step in the right direction. He was recruited by FC Basel's Swiss coach Christian Gross, who saw him play on the Australian National Team in the Confederation Cup. "He must have liked my playing," says Chipperfield. "In any case, he contacted a Swiss agent, who contacted an agent in Sydney, who then contacted me, and

we started to negotiate. I had an offer from a French team, too, but they were only willing to give me a one-year contract, whereas Basel offered me four years, plus a free apartment and car. I took it."

Something that Chipperfield thought was part of the deal but that hasn't materialized yet is a work permit for his Australian girlfriend Regan Tweddle, who moved with him to Basel. "She's an English teacher. And not being able to work is driving her crazy. I don't think she'll stay much longer if she isn't allowed to get a job here" he says mournfully.

He is saved from complete isolation by two teammates who speak fluent English and understand what it's like to be far from home, George Koumantarkis and Ivan Ergic. The Greek and the Yugoslav are citizens of South Africa and Australia, respectively.

"I didn't really know Ivan from home, but I'd played against him a couple of times. He was a big help to me when I first arrived and had no idea what was going on," Chipperfield says. "He spent a lot of time translating for me and explaining stuff, so I wasn't completely lost."

During his first season Chipperfield certainly wasn't too lost for he helped FC Basel become Switzerland's championship team for 2002 and the winner of the Swiss Cup, qualifying the club to try for the European Champions League.

Fans Matter

Founded in 1893, FC Basel has thousands of dedicated fans, which is refreshing for Chipperfield. who comes from a country where football isn't taken very seriously. "In Australia," he explains, "soccer is important for little kids, but around 14 or 15 they start giving it up. Rugby is the big sport for most Australians. So semi-professional teams like the one I used to play for, the Wollongong Wolves, don't have much of a following. Even when two rival cities like Sydney and Melbourne play each other, they are lucky to get 5,000 spectators, whereas at a home game in Basel it's not uncommon to have 25,000 fans. The stadium holds 34,000, and sometimes it's even sold out. It's a great feeling, playing in front of that many people."

Not so very long ago Chipperfield himself was one of those little Australian kids playing football, and at 16 he, too, thought about giving it up-not for rugby but for cricket, a sport at which he was also outstanding. But with devoted footballers among his aunts and uncles on both sides of the family, not to mention a mother who used to play, he didn't have to consider too long. "I liked both sports, but when the time came to take one or the other more seriously," remembers Chipperfield, "I thought about those long, long days out in the burning-hot sun on .the cricket pitch and decided to concentrate on soccer."

The problem with football in Australia, however, is that the only place to go is "away". Chipperfield is one of around 150 Australians currently playing professional football far from home. Among his fellow expats are Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka, both of whom play for Leeds United, and 22-year-old Marco Bresciano, who was just bought out by Parma for $13 million, making him the most expensive footballer in Australian history.

"It's no secret to anyone that I'd like to have my contract bought out by an English team," says Chipperfield. "But all I can do to help make that happen is play really well and hope that eventually someone will want me. Basel's coach [Christian Gross] is a good guy. He's very supportive and gives me lots of chances to play, and I know he understands my plans. After all, he used to coach the Tottenham Hotspurs, so he knows how good the English teams are."

Chipperfield's work as a midfielder requires brains as well as brawn. "In this position I have to create chances throughout the game for the strikers to score," he explains. "Gross puts a lot of emphasis on analyzing videos of the opposition teams, plotting strategies that take advantage of their weaknesses, but once we are actually playing, things usually don't work out the way we were expecting them to, so I have to be able to think on my feet."

Of course he doesn't just have to think on his feet, he has to use them, too, and there Chipperfield has an advantage-he kicks with his left foot. Which means he is one of a small minority of players who can take the left midfield position. "Maybe it'll help me someday, if Liverpool's looking to fill that job," he says, shrugging.

In the meantime, he's trying to enjoy life in Basel. "I roll out of bed every day at 8:55, get to stadium at 9:30, train from 10 to 12, and then go home," lie says. "The afternoons are usually free. Every Saturday night we play a game against a Swiss team, and on Wednesday nights we play in any other championship that we're in the running for. On Sundays I sometimes go to Basel's Mr. Pickwick Pub, where you can see the English soccer games live on TV. And I try to take advantage of the chance to travel. At home I could drive four hours and still be in New South Wales, whereas here, four hours puts you in Paris or Milan."

"Things just happen..."

Whatever Scott Chipperfield's ambitions are, he isn't going to let them consume him. "I was never a kid who dreamed of becoming a professional player," he says; "Things just happened to me. I don't work at staying fit, I don't eat healthy food; in fact, I don't take this whole sportsman thing seriously--I just like playing soccer."

As for life after football, 'I never give that a thought," he says. "Maybe I'll end up getting a couple of greyhounds to race--who knows? But one thing is for sure- I'll definitely go back to Australia."

Whether Scott Chipperfield ever plays for Liverpool or not, at 26 he has already achieved the kind of success--first in his homeland and now in Europe--that most people can only dream of. But even lie can have bad luck. Right now he's sitting out FC Basel's games on the bench with an injured ligament, and it could be December or January before he plays again.

RELATED ARTICLE: The Road to Basel

Scott Chipperfield was born on December 30, 1975 in Wollongong, NSW, a coastal city about 100 km south of Sydney, and he started playing football when he was five years old. During the 1995-96 season he was Rookie of the Year for the semi-professional Wollon-gong Wolves, and in both 1999 and 2000 he was the Australian National Soccer League's Player of the Year. He began playing on a four-year contract for FC Basel in June 2001 in the position of left midfielder.
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Title Annotation:professional football player
Author:Hays, Kim
Publication:Swiss News
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Oct 1, 2002
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