Monthly Archives: December 2011
What are the two most overated things in the world? Well, there’s the second new ball (if you understand Test or multi-day cricket at all) and then there’s New Year’s Eve! New Year’s Eve brings so much excitement and anticipation and yet so rarely delivers anything of any note except for unwanted headaches and mass disenchantment! 2011’s version was no different.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the social aspect of loads of people getting together to have a drink and a bloody good time celebrating a certain time that actually bears no difference to the way of the world, but when there’s sport involved that’s when the real issues begin.
The Hyundai A-League had scheduled what probably seemed like a must-see blockbuster at the commencement of the season, to bring a fitting close to the year. Unfortunately the reigning champions, Brisbane Roar, who were literally less than a month previous, were being advertised on all forms of media as “ROARCELONA” due to their attractive football and 18 month unbeaten streak, had lost their last 5 games and were now more like POORCELONA. Unfortunately too, Melbourne Victory were also in a huge slump, despite their high profile players AND huge wage bill!
As I have written before, Australia’s only professional football competition, the Hyundai A-League (sponsors come first always!) receives only limited media exposure, but Brisbane’s unbeaten streak of 36 games saw football enjoying unprecedented TV, radio and print coverage. They were everywhere and it was no surprise when the bubble burst, and didn’t it go bang! So, as a Melbourne Victory fan there was only going to be one result!!!
The A-League is a strange beast. Very few away fans travel due to distance and cost – for all of Wellington’s away games you will need your passport, and when Perth play away to Wellington (or vice versa) its an 8 hour flight each way (5,500 kilometres!) – for a domestic league game – crazy! So when fans make the effort to go away, they really do make an effort. I am guessing that around 600 Melbournites made the trip up north this time round.
What is encouraging however, is that, as one of the minority of travelling away fans, there is a certain amount of respect from the home fans that you dont get in Europe or South America. If I had walked into one of the home team’s supporters pubs over there, I would struggle to get to the game. In Australia, you’re a revered hero – of sorts. You immediately attain the “good-natured” derision from the homeboys, but it soon dies off, and much quicker than you’d expect to be completely honest. As soon as you utter “Do you go away?” back to them 99.9% of these supporters know that they have no comeback – sad but true! The fun to supporting YOUR team is the away trips, no matter where you are in the world!
So, I went to the Roar’s supporters pub, in my Victory gear. The atmosphere in the pub was actually quite good. There were lots of songs being sung – I was asked to do one on behalf of the away team – and duly reminded the Roar fans of their team’s inability to beat the Victory earlier on in the season, even though they played most of the game with only 9 men! The dress code was strange to say the least. Being New Year’s Eve there was an eclectic mix of football kit, fancy dress, going out gear and being Brisbane in the middle of summer, the traditional summer uniform of singlet, shorts and thongs (flip-flops to the rest of the world!).
Australia’s favourite soccer son, Harry Kewell added his normal 2-3000 onto the average crowd, but his novelty value is wearing thin already. Even though Brisbane have enjoyed unbelievable success over the past 18 months, they rarely draw more than 13,000. Even though its NYE and Harry’s in town less than 15,000 are at the game – disappointing to say the least, especially when the stadium holds 52,000!
The game itself was interesting – Melbourne Victory managed to take an early lead, when Kewell himself ghosted past 3 defenders – a rare feat in his overhyped debut Australian season – and lashed a 25 yarder into the bottom corner after just 120 seconds! But the Victory managed to better their achievement of last week by conceding the same 3 goals, but this time managing it in just a ten minute period either side of half time, instead of 20 minutes! This capitulation killed off the game and near enough the tenure of Melbourne’s coach, who had managed to win just 3 games out of 20 at the helm – and this with the most expensive and most experienced squad in the league! Our Costa Rican friend also managed to make a fool of himself again by throwing a huge hissy fit after being substituted early in the second half. Brisbane deserved their win, but to be honest, they didn’t beat much. World record holder Archie Thompson gave me one of his boots at the end of the game – its always nice to get a momento of a trip away!
BRISBANE ROAR 3 – 1 MELBOURNE VICTORY
The result was insignificant in the end. It was New Year’s Eve after all. I drank till 6am, sang songs with some of my best mates I hadn’t spent much time with over the past 8 years and generally made the most of my away trip. Roll on 2012!
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There are some traditions that are looked upon as unbelievably strange to people from outside of those cultures, such as self-mummification or the sport of cheese-rolling! The Australian obsession with all things alcoholic has taken a new twist.
The day after Christmas usually brings joy and relief for a vast majority of the world. In Australia it usually means hot weather, another day off AND cricket. The Boxing Day Test match is held in Melbourne at the famed Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).
The MCG is a cauldron of sport and truly one of wonders of the world. It can hold 110,000 people and regularly gets crowds of 70,000+ to AFL, rugby and cricket. There are few modern stadiums like it, and literally less than 10 minutes walk from the city centre. There are very few poor vantage spots and it has a history like very few other stadiums on the planet.
The visit of India for the 2011 edition of the Boxing Day test held a number of intriguing connotations. The top three run scorers in the history of Test Cricket were playing in the same game a fact that was unbelievably paid very little attention to by the Australian media – something that will never happen again in my lifetime or probably most others too! Sachin Tendulkar, the only player remaining in Test cricket that made his debut in the 1980’s, was also attempting to score his 100th International century, a feat which will I doubt will ever be overtaken – mind you we said that when Richard Hadlee took his 400th Test wicket in 1989!!
Australia, once dominant in world cricket had just lost to their New Zealand half-brothers and drawn a series that most people thought would have put Australian cricket back another decade or so – or so it seems! The Australian team had just appointed South-African (and former South African National Team coach) Micky Arthur as the first non-convict to rule the roost of the National sport! Arthur immediately ordered the best of the Australian batsmen to batting detention! A week-long naughty boy camp where instead of writing endless lines “I will not get out playing silly shots!” Arthur demanded 6-8 hours a day of mind-numbing, bat on ball drudgery….. Typical South African approach if you batter the shit out of it, it will die eventually! Australia had injuries to key players and had to call on YOUTH to make up the numbers – unheard of in Australian cricket!
Well the weather was a bit unseasonal to say the least for the morning session, cold, windy, drizzly! It is the middle of summer, but Melbourne has its own microclimate that mystifies meteorologists across the globe! Snow in summer, heatwaves in winter, floods when it doesn’t rain, plagues of locusts and golf ball sized hail that frighten the living hell out of car salesmen all over! However, as normal for Melbourne this cleared up, the sun appeared and it was back to normality with a roasting hot afternoon!
There were allegedly 70,000 people in the ground. Now I hate to question anyone or anything about the accuracy of their crowd figures, but when half the ground is empty I fail to see how it is possible to come up with this figure, unless there were 20,000 people otherwise occupied and out of view AT ALL TIMES! Mind you, they could have been in the bar, or in the toilet, or having a smoke or a bet – perhaps that is what they were doing. Now, coming back to my original point about strange traditions……
People are paying good money to go the Boxing Day Test match and NOT watch any cricket. They actually prefer to meet up and head to the bar or the betting shop and drink themselves silly (again!).
I would also suggest that well over half the crowd were Indian. A feat that is only ever surpassed when England are touring AND when Australia are losing. The newly born Swami Army, allegedly over 1000 strong in Melbourne “and growing by the hour” kept the crowd awake as it was a fairly innocuous day of cricket to be completely honest – probably explains why there was 20,000 missing patrons!!
There were a few highlights of note. Self confessed cheat Michael Hussey was given out first ball, caught behind when he clearly didn’t touch the ball. ITS CALLED KARMA! That’s 2 ducks in a row now and the pressure on Mr. Cricket to hold his place grows ever stronger. Luckily for M. Cricket, the Aussies are very thin on the ground batsmen wise, hence why a 38 year old and a 36 year old are able to hold their spots in the team, even with unbelievably poor form!
Australian new boy Ed Cowan opened the batting on his debut and at lunch was 14 not out. Off-beat radio commentator Kerry O’Keefe likened Australia’s recent opening batsmen to Formula 1. Cowan was so slow, he wasn’t even a slow Formula 1 car – more like the safety car – I laughed out loud, much to the amusement of the lady sitting next to me who had no idea I was listening to the radio commentary at that time. Still slow going though really throughout the day until a 10 minute spell after tea when 3 wickets fell quickly, which brought the crowd to life….. BUT after that flurry of excitement we only saw another 50 odd runs in 100 minutes…. YAWN (and I love test cricket)! I decided not to bother with Day 2!
END OF PLAY DAY 1 – AUSTRALIA 277/6
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When you are asked when does the year finish or more importantly when does the next year start, what do you think? December 31st and then January 1st?
For me, my year ends right at the moment you finish work for the year and you’re not going to be seen until some time in January when the drudgery starts all over again.
Well, my year finished round about 4pm on 23rd December this year. To kickstart my new year and my new LIFE OF SPORT I headed to the gloriously new AAMI Park or as our National Broadcaster (ABC) delightfully calls it “The Melbourne Rectangular Stadium” or MRS for ease of broadcasting.
Australia’s only professional football competition, the Hyundai A-League (sponsors come first always!) enjoys limited exposure, up and down crowd numbers and only a few genuine grudge matches – most of which involve Melbourne Victory – the “glamour boys” of the league. Previously to 2010, Melbourne Victory’s games against Adelaide United and Sydney FC were THE games that the fans wanted most to win.Come 2010, enter Melbourne Heart into the competition. Same city, same stadium and Heart’s recruitment of some Victory “cast-offs” has lead to a genuine rivalry, albeit tremendously one-sided in terms of supporter levels (Victory have had 5 years AND a few trophies head-start) and financial clout.
However, this game is a genuine derby and creates a genuine derby atmosphere in the city. The only other “genuine” derby match throughout the whole of the A-League is between Newcastle and Central Coast which is close to 100kms trip, and the Central Coast isn’t even a city, so local pride is diluted anyway!! Football breeds some interesting characters both on and off the field and Melbourne is no different from Liverpool, Manchester or Milan in that respect when its derby day – especially on the last Friday before Christmas!
What can I say really? I have seen fights around football grounds since I was 8 or 9. I have seen over-enthusiastic police intervention a number of times. I have been ushered like battery hens onto buses and trains by coppers on horses, or with dogs, more times than I’d like, but sometimes it has been for my own protection more than anything else. I’ve been caught up in fights with supporters from teams that the team I was supporting wasn’t even playing on that day! But that’s the life of a football supporter, you win, you lose, you drink, you have fun, you suffer, you bask, you savour, you bemoan, you lament, all with thousands of others that share those same emotions at the same time.
Derby games often bring out demonstrated shows of superiority – generally in the form of fights! Now this is quite a modern phenomenon to Australian police (unless its to do with our immigrant or indigineous friends) and they are still struggling to come to terms with what they are supposed to do in certain situations. So when a 40 man brawl breaks out in front of the stadium guess who’s nowhere to be seen? Strange, very strange.
There was a decent game though. Nearly 27,000 fans watched the games, which was being touted in the media as the first A-League game EVER to be sold out – if this was true there was over 13% no shows or some media outlets were getting a bit ahead of themselves, which is more commonly the case down here. 27,000 is still a phenomenal crowd to watch the equivalent of League 2 in England or Serie C in Italy, although for a city of close to 5 million people, it is pitiful!
The match highlights saw two Melbourne Victory players nearly get in a fight (yes another one!) over who was to take a penalty kick! Even more funny about this was that both of them have played International football in World Cups for their respective countries, one is a multi-millionaire, renown name that has arrived to huge fanfare in his native country and the other is from a poor Central American country, but is dreadfully overweight and lacks fitness to a degree that the A-League is just too quick for him!! Anyway the Costa Rican won the arm wrestle over the penalty taking duties and duly missed. Melbourne Victory still managed to take an early lead, but switched off in a twenty minute period either side of half time and conceded 3 goals – 2 of which would not have looked out of place in much higher standards of football – to kill off the game. Our Costa Rican friend did manage to score from a delightful free kick very late on to make the game look a lot closer than it actually was (and save some of his embarrassment from early on!) but the damage was done.
MELBOURNE HEART 3 – 2 MELBOURNE VICTORY
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