In 2019, Andrew Redmayne made me a coffee. I was at the training base of his team, Sydney FC, waiting to conduct some pre-season interviews when the goalkeeper caught me attempting to use the club’s machine and intervened. He had completed a barista course about three years prior, he said, because he’d been fed up with football and ready to retire at 27 to work at a friend’s cafe.
Back then he was playing for crosstown rivals the Western Sydney Wanderers and was on a wretched run of form. He was certainly not wiggling, and the very thought of being selected for the national team was borderline absurd – never mind saving a penalty to send his country to a World Cup. Dropped to the bench and maligned by many fans for no reason in particular, the daily grind had taken its toll.
Redmayne’s original career plan had been to finish his degree while playing and then become a primary school teacher. But when he started dreading the very thought of football, he quietly spoke with his wife and his financial advisor.
“It was set in motion,” he said that day at the coffee machine. “It was financially viable just to work in one of my mate’s cafes and do uni during the day and probably just NPL at night. I was happy to see out my time at Wanderers, then move back to Melbourne.
“Self-belief came into it – I just didn’t think I was good enough, to be honest. It was a pretty rough stage of my life.”
Redmayne always had the talent. As a teenager he trialled at Arsenal and was initially offered a youth contract before the club withdrew it and signed a young Wojciech Szczęsny instead. So he stayed in Australia and hopped from club to club, most of it tortured by self-doubt and cruel social media commentary – something of an irony given the abundance of complimentary memes now circulating the internet.
At the very moment he was ready to throw in the towel, something happened. In January 2017 he was sent to Graham Arnold’s Sydney FC on a swap deal. The move reunited him with his first goalkeeping coach, John Crawley, the man who also developed the Socceroos’ No 1 Mat Ryan.
By his own retrospective reckoning, Redmayne was “rubbish” then. But Crawley helped rebuild him from scratch. And when the club’s first-choice keeper, Danny Vukovic, moved to Belgium, he took his spot.
Then some more things happened. He started to wear a hot pink strip. He started to save quite a few penalties. And, most divertingly, he started to dance. It was not a cool-kid dance, either. More daggy dad – a loosey-goosey limb flail which lightly entertained viewers and bewildered opposing players. He was thus ordained “The Pink Wiggle”.
“You’re a sitting duck anyway so you may as well try and fly, I guess,” Redmayne said in early 2019, three months before his penalty-shootout heroics helped Sydney win the A-League Men grand final. “I’ve just caught a bug … I haven’t saved [a penalty] my whole career and now I’ve saved four this year. I don’t know what’s going on.”
Redmayne had turned a corner. He was high on confidence, trusting his instincts and quoting Dolly Parton (“Find out who you are and do it on purpose”). He told no one at the club how close he had come to retiring. In May of 2019, after Arnold was appointed Socceroos boss and took Crawley with him, a 30-year-old Redmayne earned his first international call-up.
Before Tuesday’s World Cup qualifying playoff against Peru, the now 33-year-old had two caps. Until the dying moments of extra-time it looked as if it would stay that way – until Arnold enacted his massive gamble of a plan.
“They [Peru] would have prepared all week thinking Maty [Ryan] was going to be in goals,” Redmayne said post-match. “To put me on would have thrown them a little bit.” It might also have thrown Ryan, who was unaware of the secret scheme until he was taken off just before the shootout.
“I don’t think any of the players knew about it,” Redmayne said. “A few clocked on at half-time because I went through a few drills to keep the eye in. Maty was full of support coming off and then just before penalties as well, he was pumping me up and getting me ready … when we were in a huddle he said ‘you’ve got this mate, this is all you’.”
And it was. This time Redmayne was wearing grey, not pink. But his routine was no less dazzling. He waved his arms and swung his legs, thrashing the air into a perplexing puzzle for Peru’s penalty takers to solve. Luis Advincula hit the post to bring the Socceroos back level. A few spot-kicks later, he dived to palm away Alex Valera’s decisive attempt.
Then Redmayne went viral. Partly it was the save and partly the celebration – not so much a grin but a wide-eyed, open-mouthed ‘here I am’. In truth, the only reason he stood still instead of running straight off towards his teammates was because the referee had told him to, predicting that his unconventional movement would probably require a VAR check to ensure he had not come off his line.
It was all still stupidly beautiful. Five years ago Redmayne was about to quit football to become a barista. Five minutes ago he had only played a single match of this entire World Cup qualifying campaign – against 168th-ranked Nepal. Now he is an Australian icon. A meme of international repute. The hero in grey who helped the Socceroos to a fifth straight World Cup.