The Australian Embassy in Beirut and the UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) arranged for Australia's national soccer team, the Socceroos, to meet Palestinian children from various refugee camps in Lebanon in September.
The 30 children, all of them football players, were invited to attend a private training session on 5 September with the Socceroos at Saida International Stadium.
The Embassy gave each of the children a green-and-gold tee-shirt featuring a kangaroo and a football, emblazoned in Arabic with the phrase, "I met a Socceroo!" The team also handed out Socceroos flags before heading out onto the training pitch.
After the training session finished, the kids lined up for their big moment – the chance to meet the players! Despite the efforts exerted on the pitch, every Socceroo took the time to shake hands, pose for photographs, and sign shirts, flags and footballs. Australian superstars Tim Cahill and Mark Schwarzer were particularly popular, while captain Lucas Neill tested out his Arabic, much to the children's delight.
"Some of these players are among the biggest sports stars in the world," said Ambassador Bartlem. "The fact that they are prepared to spend time lighting up the lives of kids is a credit to them, and something that the kids will remember for the rest of their lives."
Things got even more exciting the following day, on 6 September, when the children attended the international friendly match between the Socceroos and the Lebanese National Football Team, again at the Saida International Stadium.
With tickets provided by the Australian Embassy, the group of Palestinian children and their UNRWA guardians swelled to 60, and they were joined by an additional 50 guests from the Saida Orphanage.
In true Australian spirit, travelling Australian fans immediately made an effort to make everyone feel at home, gifting the children horns and Australian flags and teaching them the "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie: Oi Oi Oi" chant, which was taken up with gusto.
The perfect night was capped with a dominant display from the Socceroos (who triumphed 3-0), much to the delight of their newest fans.