Images: Supplied by Andy Bernal
Andy Bernal, the son of Spanish immigrants Andres and Margaret was born in Canberra in the year 1966 – the year England won the World Cup and the year legends of the game Eric Cantona and Gianfaranco Zola were born. Fate, ability, persistence and resilience would bring him to play against the genial Frenchman and Italian. Then after retirement he would meet up with ‘66 World Cup winner Sir Bobby Charlton. It seems 1966 was a great year for football.
Andy’s football career records him as a pioneer, leader and a man of ‘firsts’. He was the first Canberran to play for the Socceroos; the first Australian to sign for a LaLiga club; the first Australian to play professionally in Spain; the first Australian to play professionally in both Spain and England; the first Australian to captain an English football club; and the first Socceroo outfield player to play as a goalkeeper in both Australia and England. Upon retirement as a professional player, he became a FIFA agent, and the very first player he recruited was none other than Australia’s finest, Tim Cahill AO.
Along the way he would captain an AIS team, Australia’s 20s, and become the youngest ever captain of the Australian U23 Olyroos at age 18. He was also a National Youth League champion with the AIS and National Soccer League champion with Sydney Olympic.
Not bad for a kid whose career was pretty much on one leg. His left knee being devoid of meniscus and articular cartilage from an early age, requiring seven operations over the years. This amazing story commenced at Belsouth Football Club where he played from u7s to u15s.
“I always played a year up, so I started at age 6 in the u7s. We trained twice a week with Sito Gonzalez, the drummer of the Latin band at the Spanish club. Five a-sides, crossing and shooting and the only instructions on weekends were ‘play like Spain’, so we did. Our imagination ran wild, we went to war and won everything. Parents were passionate on the sidelines, while we played with passion on the pitch every weekend. I loved it! On the way to matches my dad would say win or lose be a warrior…I never attended a football academy. My parents paid $32 in registration fees over my whole career. I also played rugby league, cricket and did athletics in summer and it’s fair to say that as a kid I was a much better rugby league player than footballer.”
At 14, Andy was told by a Belconnen u20 coach that he was not good enough for his team, so he left to play for Narrabundah u20s. This new team was coached by his uncle Luis Arranz, also very good NPL player in his day. Andy went on to win everything to be won in Canberra and his team was thought to have been amongst the top four u20 teams in the country at the time. The message was the same ‘go to war and play like Spain’.
From there Andy joined the Canberra Arrows youth team coached by Stuart Devlin for a year, and from there he was selected to join the AIS team under Jimmy Shoulder and Ron Smith. At the AIS his team would become NYL champions and on a European tour he would become the first Australian to be identified by Real Madrid, more specifically by their coach Vicente Del Bosque, who went onto World Cup and Euro success as manager of Spain. This led to Andy moving to Spain and leaving behind his first 18 years of life, his family, his friends. Everything he had ever known and experienced, he would leave behind.
A new adventure would be begin but he would always remain “Made in Canberra”.
Andy’s incredible life journey is documented in the book he wrote ‘Riding Shotgun’ – “The autobiography of the Original Wizard of Oz”. It’s about a boy who dared to dream about being a professional footballer, and whose dream became a reality.