From Canberra to Madrid: The incredible story of Andy Bernal

From moving to Europe as a teenager. To being scouted by Vincente Del Bosque, and signed by Brian Clough. To chasing stray dogs in Watsons Bay, to playing at Wembley, to becoming David Beckham's right-hand man at Real Madrid. 

The story of Andy Bernal's life is like nothing you've ever heard before.

And his new book - 'Riding Shotgun' - details it all; the good, the bad, and the ugly. 

The 21-time Socceroo (13 'A' international caps, 8 'B' international caps) has an incredible tale, one that took him to some of the most famous grounds in world football, to experiencing the high-life of the Galácticos era at Real Madrid, to the crumbling rock-bottom that some professional footballers face post retirement. 

It started in Canberra in 1966, born to Spanish immigrants who arrived in Australia five years prior. He didn't speak a word of English until his first day of kindergarten, and found a sense of belonging in the football community built by the likes of the Spanish, Greek, Croatian and Italian immigrants in the ACT. 

A formidable figure in the centre of defence, Bernal captained the Australia U-20 side and was a part of Australia's Merlion Cup squad in 1984, later offered a trial with Real Madrid after Del Bosque saw him play for the Australian Institute of Sport against the Spanish giants in Germany. 

Andy Bernal captaining the U-23's at the Merlion Cup
Andy Bernal captaining the U-23's at the Merlion Cup

It led to a deal with Sporting Gijon, which saw him move to Spain at the age of 18, by himself. 

"They were a big club at the time, you know top five in Spain," Bernal told Football Australia. "They had five Spanish internationals in the Spanish national team, it was just a wonderful education.

"But it was tough. 40 years ago there was no social media, there's no Facebook, there's no messenger, there's no WhatsApp, there's no mobile phones. You know, how do you communicate with mum and dad? I had to write letters. You write a letter and it takes two to three weeks to get to Australia. They write a letter and it takes to two three weeks to come back. I didn't see my parents for a while."

And the next few years were a whirlwind. He was loaned out to Albacete and played for Xerez alongside his time at Sporting, and would have spent many more seasons in Spain, if it wasn't for being chased up for military service. 

He managed to escape, using some convincing words to secure a tourist visa in England, where he then ended up signing with Nottingham Forest. It was a huge wrap to be signed by the legendary Brian Clough, but breaking into the XI was not an easy feat, and Clough used his status to secure Bernal a deal with Ipswich Town. 

The question of 'What could have been?' rings loudly, especially after coming home for a holiday and being denied entry back into England on his return due to not complying with the conditions of his initial tourist visa. 

He had to find alternative arrangements, and eventually signed with Sydney Olympic in the National Soccer League.

"I don't want to be disrespectful to the NSL, but I kind of thought I don't want to go back there," Bernal said honestly. "I never wanted to play in that league. Growing up as a kid I was aiming for the real big, big stages. That's what I wanted.

"And that's where I played from 19 to 21. I played against all the biggest sides in Spain and to be part of a big Spanish football club as well. I didn't want to go back."

But from there, injuries would now begin to take their toll.

"My football career was handicapped by my left knee at the age of 21/22," Bernal said. "I was on one leg after having several operations. 

For me it was like getting into a Formula One seat at the age of 21. And then they tell you that for the next 10 years, you have no brake pads and no shock absorbers on the left hand side of the car."

Despite the injury woes, Bernal was consistently one of the best performers in the NSL, and his class shone through, earning a call-up and being capped by the Socceroos.

Andy Bernal leaps for a header with Mark Viduka
Andy Bernal leaps for a header with Mark Viduka

After coming back home, and working part-time as a Ranger for the Woollahra Council, Bernal admitted he was happy. He was comfortable back home. But a chance came up to return to England with Reading, and he took it. 

"They'd just gone up to the Championship and needed a right-back," he said. "I had never played right-back before, but all of a sudden I became a right back."

"I played six and a half seasons at Reading, 226 games. Growing up in Canberra, I dreamt of playing at Elland Road, playing against Arsenal, playing against Manchester United. And here I was, doing it.  

One day I am chasing dogs out at Watsons Bay, nine months later I'm running out at Wembley for a Play-Off Final." 

Bernal hung up the boots in 2000, and moved into agency work. His first signing was up-and-coming Australian star Tim Cahill, before becoming David Beckham's right-hand man and everything else following his $60 million AUD move to Real Madrid.

Beckham, Ronaldo & Zidane at Real Madrid
David Beckham, Ronaldo & Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid

Having grown up in a Spanish-speaking household, Bernal was entrusted with the job of looking after Beckham as he entered the team full of Galácticos. 

Bernal's new book gives full insight into the almost unbelievable stories from his pioneering football career, his time with Beckham and the Galácticos, and the rock-bottom depths after football having ended up as a victim of the British tabloid phone-hacking scandal.

It's like nothing you've ever read before. 

Riding Shotgun - the Autobiography of the Original Wizard of Oz available here