Canberra born Andy Bernal: the nation’s first Socceroo

The basis of his football career: Andy Bernal plays for BelSouth FC. Photo: provided.

The day I was supposed to have a conversation with Andy Bernal about his autobiography Hunting rifle, he had to cancel because an interview request had come from a London radio station.

At 55, he still lives a million kilometers an hour, and that’s no exaggeration!

His life has passed at a breakneck pace after the release of his autobiography. It covers his experience as David Beckham’s agent, bodyguard and translator during the period in 2003, when Beckham played for Spanish giants Real Madrid.

Book cover

The cover of Andy’s book, Riding Shotgun: The Autobiography of the Original Wizard of Oz. Photo: provided.

Andy says it’s hard to describe how crazy this period of his life has been, with hundreds of paparazzi in cars and motorcycles chasing Beckham and his entourage through the streets of Madrid.

“I thought I was going to die in a car accident with David Beckham,” Andy remembers those hectic days.

Andy Bernal with David Beckham

Andy with David Beckham. Photo: provided.

So how did he get to this point in his life?

In 1961, Andy’s parents traveled to Australia on the same boat, fleeing the poverty of Spain. They were totally unaware of each other’s existence until a chance meeting five years later in Queanbeyan. It was then that they discovered their related trip from Spain to Australia.

As a young boy growing up in Canberra, Andy possessed an incredible talent as a footballer. He played juniors with BelSouth before joining Narrabundah, Canberra City Arrows then AIS.

By this time, Andy had flattened the accelerator to the ground. He was on a path that was not going to stop.

At 17, he was at AIS. At 18, he had become the first Australian to sign with a Spanish La Liga side, joining Sporting Gijon in 1985.

He was now back in the country his parents had left many years before and he was at the height of world football.

But there was one thing in its path.

A degenerative knee condition presented a bleak future.

He was given little chance to run, let alone play football at a high level. At the age of 21, after numerous operations, her left knee was devoid of meniscus and articular bone cartilage. This meant that the bone was rubbing against the bone. It was a major handicap that would have ended most careers, but Andy succeeded and started playing again with his usual insatiable enthusiasm.

After spending three years in Spain, he ended up with English club Ipswich Town, where he played 10 games before being deported to Australia after encountering visa issues.

Andy Bernal plays for Reading FC

Andy during his time at Reading FC. Photo: provided.

In Australia, he played for Sydney Olympic in the National Soccer League, winning a national championship. Then a chance encounter saw him return to England with Reading FC where he played 226 games, including a league playoff game at Wembley.

During that time, he also scored 21 games for the Socceroos.

When he finally retired from injury at 33, he struggled to replicate the heights of football. That’s not to say that there haven’t been other highlights in his life, they just haven’t happened as often or at the heights he encountered during his playing days.

“After football, I went looking for highs in the wrong places,” says Andy. “Cocaine started out as fun but ended up being destructive.”

It took Andy 10 years to get rid of his addiction.

“I started to realize the impact this was having on my family and I knew I had to find activities to fill the void.”

Prior to this fog, Andy became David Beckham’s agent, bodyguard and translator during the first four months of Beckham’s move to Real Madrid in 2003.

Andy Bernal on the Today Show

Andy on the Sunrise program when promoting his new book. Photo: provided.

Life with the Beckham family was, according to Andy, “the craziest ride I have ever taken.”

Not that Andy is about to divulge too many secrets.

“I turned down millions of UK media and tabloid companies who wanted me to disclose information about David and his family, but despite their attacks on me personally, I couldn’t be bought off.”

Returning to Canberra a few years ago, with his family providing him with a solid compass, he embraced a number of passions, including guiding the careers of young players like Carl Valeri and Tom Rojic, who both went on to become Socceroos.

“I would love to be involved as a coach and mentor with the national teams. I went there, I did this. I want to create a legacy by helping our stars of the future. I’ve had a lot of ups and a lot of dark days, and because of those experiences I think I have a lot to offer.

Andy Bernal

Andy Bernal has more planned his already busy life. Photo: provided.

Writing the autobiography seems to have given him the peak he dreamed of when his playing days ended 22 years ago.

“It was cathartic; I feel free now. I wrote the book for many reasons, including to emphasize the importance of family in my life, as the son of immigrants looking for a better life, to be a husband and a father. Life has become less for me and more for others.

And Andy has other plans for his book.

“To begin with, I would like to translate my book into Spanish and then turn it into a movie.

And there are more plans. “I still have a couple of books left in me, and I can’t wait to explore the work of sports broadcasting.”

I said goodbye to Andy and walked over to the car feeling strongly that I will be hearing more about Andy Bernal’s life in the not too distant future. He is a man with a unique experience and he is eager to integrate as much as possible into his life.


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Opal Jones

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