Sunday, 20 October 2019

Match Review: Sydney FC 2-1 Wellington Phoenix (A-League)

Sydney escaped with all three points against a resolute and spirited Wellington Phoenix side.


The Sky Blues started the match very strongly, with the majority of possession in the final third, passing the ball around with ease. Some really nice football to watch there for 15 minutes. Brandon O'Neill got Sydney an opening goal after a Baumjohann corner got stuck in a bit of pinball. Whilst the final touch seems to have come off Barbarouses, it didn't stop O'Neill from claiming it.

After that, Sydney were all over the shop. Not able to clear their lines, passing slowed down, players couldn't string many passes together... was very unbecoming of such a talented side. Lucky to still be a goal up at half time, thanks to some heroics from Australian international Andrew Redmayne.

Nix were always going to score, and worked hard for their equalising goal. Inability to clear their lines caused Sydney to concede. A deflected shot finding its way in, 1-1.

It took barely anytime for the tempo to change after that. Minutes after the equaliser, a Brandon O'Neill free-kick met the foot of Rhyan Grant who managed to loop his effort over the keeper, and into the net. A jammy, but nonetheless fantastic goal from the Mullet Man.

Anthony Caceres copped a potential leg-breaker after a poor challenge from Liberato Cacace which saw the Nix man sent off. Sydney closed out the final 10 minutes fairly well, and hung on for an important 3 points.

But what did we learn?

1) Gonna take some time

A bit like last week, Sydney looked great in parts when attacking. Some real fluidity and genuinely pleasing football. Baumjohann was positive when on the ball, but still needs to gel a bit with the other players. The first half was entirely down his right flank, and he worked relatively well with Rhyan Grant. He went AWOL in the second half (much like the rest of the team) and was subsequently subbed off for Caceres. 

Barbarouses and Alfie still need some more time together, but they again showed some lightning pace on the break and I'm very excited to see more of them together. 

2) How good is Redders?

Back from international duty and back to his commanding self in the box. Some great saves throughout and all I could think of was the immortal words of Jacob Tratt: Thank f*ck for Redders. The save just before half-time, a dive to his left to stop a Jaush Sotirio header was top drawer. I think we've taken for granted just how big he is in this team. 

3) Utility man

Paulo Retre is a perfect A-League utility player. Can play pretty much anywhere on the pitch and always does a decent job - stepped in at leftback tonight and did a solid job. Unfortunately, he just isn't left-footed and that is an issue. Joel King performed very well last week when filling in for Zullo and I feel he was hard done by to not get a start here. For the derby next week it'd be a tough ask for King, but I think I'd prefer a proper specialist in the specialist position - with all due respect to Retre. 

4) Derby headaches 

The first derby at the new Parramatta Stadium is next week. A resurgent Wanderers side hosting a fairly solid and star-studded Sydney. I feel Corica has two very big decisions to make - who starts at left-back, and who starts at right-midfield. Caceres is a very good passer of the ball and has a lot of pace in him, and always does a good job when called upon. Baumjohann look fine thus far but I think he may be better as an impact sub. He's got immense talent but I felt he faded out too much tonight. 

5) Leichhardt is stunning

A truly amazing day out by the bay. A packed house, some beautiful weather, all in a great boutique stadium. I'm very glad we've chosen to use Leichhardt and Kogarah as our home venues - they are just stunning and the Cove with the club, have done a fantastic job of making them feel like home.


Full player ratings

Final score: Sydney FC (2) def. Wellington Phoenix (1)
MOTM: Andrew Redmayne


Not a great performance but a vital 3 points, keeping us top of the table heading into Round 3 - just ahead of Western Sydney. I'm gutted I'll be missing next week - first derby I've missed in the A-League. I'll be in Japan for the Rugby World Cup, likely having double brown trousers watching both a semi-final and keeping updated on the derby. 

Thank you to everyone who has supported me, and to those who have donated to me. It all goes a long way, and I'm planning big stuff for this year. Very happy to say I've recently collaborated on a piece for a mate on another website. Should be out this week. 

Follow me on twitter at @jamie_dunkin and ASOTH at @asothdotcom.


Saturday, 5 October 2019

The Redders Dead Redemption

Andrew Redmayne for a long time in his A-League career was deemed not good enough by large sections of Australian football. A second fiddle for the absolutely majority of his career - often to some of the best keepers the league has seen.

Photo from @jamcas50


He struggled for game time at his hometown club Central Coast Mariners as a youngster, and moved to Brisbane Roar for 2 seasons - being the back-up to Michael Theo as Ange Postecoglu's Roar went back-to-back toilet seats. He made just 5 appearances in the first 4 years of his A-League career.

That's enough to stop a majority of goalkeeping careers. A new opportunity came for Redmayne at Melbourne Heart, yet again as a #2. His debut for Heart came in a January win over Newcastle Jets in 2013, and from there on out was first choice keeper. Playing time would soon become limited however, with the rebranding of Melbourne Heart into Melbourne City coinciding with him being being dropped for Tando Velaphi.

His next move was in 2015, joining Western Sydney Wanderers to replace Ante Covic who had just retired, after an inspired few years with the Wanderers. Big shoes to fill. He played 23 matches for the Wanderers in the 2015/16 season, as the Red and Black were runners up in both the premiership and championship. His form was good enough to justify being the #1, benching veteran keeper Liam Reddy in the process.

Redmayne was the #1 for the first 11 matches of the 2016/17 season for the Wanderers, but suffered incredibly poor form, in part due to being in a fairly poor team - and clearly very low confidence. He was a goalkeeper crying out for a change, and luckily - things lined up.



At Sydney FC, previous starting goalkeeper Vedran Janjetovic had found himself frustrated on the bench following the brilliant start to the season by new signing Danny Vukovic. Janjetovic desired a move out west to reunite with previous goalkeeping coach Zelkjo Kalac, and Redmayne had the chance to reunite with with two influential coaches from his past - Graham Arnold, and importantly - John Crawley. So, the swap was done. Janjetovic joined the Wanderers, Redmayne joined Sydney - yet again a second fiddle - or so it seemed at the time.

The swap move was a controversial one at the time, with fan backlash around the move instantly. Whilst most of this was toward Vedran Janjetovic (a former fan favourite) - Redmayne copped a lot on social media as well. Hell, I was guilty of it. I wasn't enthused with the signing at the time, but I think a lot of the bad reaction was more because of the way Vedran left. Had Redders signed from us off Wanderers in the off-season, I reckon there'd have been much less of a fuss.

Goalkeeper form fluctuates a lot, as the then #1 of Sydney - Danny Vukovic - was discovering. After a fairly forgettable spell at Victory, "Vuka" joined Sydney with a chance to reinvent himself (sound familiar?). As we all know now, Danny Vukovic's sole season at Sydney was truly superb - a record amount of clean sheets, a Socceroos call-up for the first time in 7 years, and trophies.

That Roos call-up gave Andrew Redmayne his debut chance, as Sydney travelled across the Nullarbor to play Perth Glory. Sydney had mathematically won the Premier's Plate the night before their game against Glory, so it took the pressure off the Sky Blues as a whole.

It was a routine 3-0 win in Perth, with Redmayne only needing to make two saves. For a while there, it looked like that could be the only time we'd ever see him start. That was until Danny Vukovic sealed a dream move overseas to Genk in Belgium after winning the 2016/17 double. Thus left a void between the sticks for Sydney.

Once again, fans weren't sure what to make of Redmayne as a #1 for the upcoming season. Replacing a goalkeeper in a winning team is hard enough, but especially hard when that goalkeeper had the greatest season a keeper's ever had in the A-League. When it came to the first pre-season games of 2017/18, Redmayne was given the nod. After an injury ruled out new signing Alex Cisak for a lot of pre-season, it was clear it was Redmayne's spot.

Changing goalkeepers is hard, and getting a player's confidence back is even harder. Redmayne's attitude towards the situation was commendable - a self proclaimed "head down, bum up kinda guy". Work hard on what you need to improve on, contribute to the team, stay humble. If there's ever a player to personify "never give up" it is undoubtedly Andrew Redmayne.

After a season at Sydney, it had become fairly clear there had been a considerable improvement in his game. The nervy moments became fewer, he hit some form consistency for the first time in years and was clearly much happier on and off the pitch. 17/18 was a settling period, and 2018/19 was the new dawn.

2018/19 was a truly turbulent season for the big man in goal. Good pre-season form, including a Man of the Match performance against ex-club and rivals Western Sydney in the FFA Cup, as well as a penalty save in a Round of 16 match had him in good footing ahead of the upcoming season.

From December until May, Redmayne was a machine. Long gone was the tenuous punches of crosses into the box, and more heroic claims of the ball and a clear aura of confidence about him. Comfortable and commanding in his box, he's worked hard over the last 2 seasons to make the #1 spot his own.


Heroes are made in big moments, and in Australia, it doesn't come bigger than a do-or-die Grand Final. Fittingly, the same club and city for which he made his Sydney FC debut for back in 2017 would now become the home for his most iconic career moment so far.

Redmayne pulled off two massive saves in normal time, in an otherwise tense and gritty match between Perth and Sydney. When it came to penalties, it was time for "Redders" to shine.

The night prior, Sydney FC hosted a meet-and-greet with travelling supporters at their team hotel. A great function in which we had pretty much free access to players. I asked him about how he felt about penalties, and he had a confident look on his face as he replied.

And that confidence carried over the shoot-out. His now notorious "Wiggles" routine on the goal-line to put off the taker was inspired and showed a lot of self-belief to continue doing. He went the wrong way for Glory's first penalty, but then saved Irishman Andy Keogh's penalty down low to his right.

Destinies and narratives combined however, with Brendan Santalab - a player hated by Sydney supporters for his abuse of Ali Abbas years back - up to take a do-or-die penalty. A proper villain to Sydney supporters over the years. If he scored, Glory still had a chance of getting even in the shoot-out.

Redmayne's goalkeeping coach John Crawley famously noted for Redmayne before penalties "Santalab: Dink, middle". The glovesman took the advice and stood his ground on the line - catching with ease Santalab's failed panenka penalty. A villain vanquished by the underdog hero on his redemption arc. Full circle from his debut for Sydney just 24 months prior in the same city.


This of course set up Reza Ghoochannejhad to win the shoot-out, and the A-League championship, for Sydney FC. As Reza himself said in a post-match interview: "Redders man... f*cking unbelievable!" I think that sums not only his performances this season - but the story of the man himself. A once completely rejected goalkeeper now the star of a championship winning team, comfortable, happy, and now a hero for the ages for Sky Blues supporters. No matter what else happens, his redemption story will remain in the annals of Sydney history.

Off the pitch, Redmayne has been a class act. Embracing the challenge back in 2017 and endearing himself to supporters and being incredibly charitable with his time. He's given away jerseys to supporters, and spent considerable amounts of time after matches taking selfies, signatures, and chatting. That's what I love seeing from players.



19/20 looks to be another big season for Redders. Called up to the Socceroos squad again after making his debut in June, alongside fellow Sky Blue Rhyan Grant, and going into the A-League season as arguably the best keeper in the competition. I'm keen to see where his story leads next, the redemption arc is just one chapter in a now bright looking career.


- - - -

Thank you for reading this article, it means a lot to me. I've been slowly working on this since the Grand Final in May. More content to come throughout the 2019/20 season and beyond from me on here.

Thank you to everyone who has supported me via donations on my ko-fi page. Every donation is appreciated and I hope you enjoy the content from me.

Follow me on twitter at @jamie_dunkin, or ASOTH at @asothdotcom.


Saturday, 3 August 2019

Match Preview: Sydney FC vs Brisbane (FFA Cup)

Heading into Sydney's first competitive hit-out of the 2019/20 season, let's take a look into this Sydney side, their preseason so far and how it carries into Wednesday's clash.


Sydney have had a busy off-season, with a multitude of announcements in regards to the playing squad and coaching staff. Departures of Joshua Brillante, Aaron Calver, Siem de Jong and retiring captain Alex Brosque the most notable. How did Corica respond? With acquisitions of Luke Brattan, Ryan McGowan, Alex Baumjohann, and Kosta Barbarouses.

Corica's coaching staff took some hits as well, as  assistant coach Ufuk Talay departed for the Phoenix job, and  goalkeeping coach John Crawley joined the Australia set-up. Paul Reid and Matt Nash their respective replacements. Club legend and in many heads most important man - Terry McFynn, also left the club this offseason to become Perth's W-League manager. The loss of "Tmac" cannot be overstated. He has been such a huge part of the club, with 15 years of service. I wish him all the very best in Perth.

Opponents Brisbane Roar have been in an absolute rebuild this off-season. First time manager Robbie Fowler has more or less ditched the previous squad and built up a team of journeymen for 2019/20. Additions of note have been Aiden O'Neill, Roy O'Donovan, and Brad Inman. O'Donovan is a curious player - on his day he is unstoppable and one of the finest in the league - however often he can just end up being a frustrated dickhead known for violent outbursts and incredibly dangerous play.

The foreign contingent of Fowler's Roar side aren't exactly household names - with them all having played in either League 1 or League 2 to varying levels of success. If there's one thing you should be able to expect from players from the English lower pyramid is that they'll have fitness. Playing 2-3 times a week back in England will mean they have a natural advantage in fitness.

The quality of players is yet to be truly seen, but it's an interesting trend having so many British and Irish players coming to the A-League in the wake of Adam le Fondre.

- - - -


Having recently played in ridiculously warm weather against French giants Paris Saint-Germain a week ago, I think the Sydney lads will be keen for some nice friendly midweek Leichhardt winter weather. 

The recent visit to China took five players out ill, with captain Alex Wilkinson, Patrick Flottmann, Brandon O'Neill, Michael Zullo, and Thomas Heward-Belle all on the sidelines watching on for the PSG friendly. By now they should all be fit and firing to play, and I don't see Corica surprising us much with his starting XI for Wednesday. 

Bench: Heward-Belle, Retre, Caceres, Ivanovic


I'm very keen to see how Brattan partners O'Neill in the midfield. O'Neill from pre-season matches I've seen thus far has had a lot more driving forward and a bit more of a playmaker role than he often was last year. Brattan will be one of several players in line to make their debuts on Wednesday, alongside Kosta Barbarouses, Ryan McGowan, and Alex Baumjohann. 

Barbarouses and le Fondre looks like a strong partnership thus far, with a good 45 minutes together against St. George and then some very good football against PSG last week. In particular I am looking forward to seeing Baumjohann on his debut. His performances in the friendlies have been very strong, he looks to be a great signing. His vision, passing, and general ability on the ball is just brilliant.

Ryan McGowan is probably the least flashy of the debutants but an important one nonetheless. Generally any player that has partnered Wilkinson in the heart of defence has done well - Matt Jurman, Jordy Buijs, Aaron Calver, Ben Warland, Jacob Tratt... and now hopefully McGowan as well. A player like McGowan who has spent his career entirely overseas up until this point is a very good get, and long-term will surely be partnering Warland. 



Wilkinson's appointment as captaincy should not come as a shock to anyone. I'm confident he'll continue right where Brosque left off, and has plenty of experience captaining teams in the past. O'Neill and Ninkovic have seemingly been made the vice-captains, both of whom are good choices. Should O'Neill stay at Sydney, I'd say he's dead cert for captain when Wilkinson retires. 

- - - - 

How will Wednesday's game play out, though? Will Sydney win? I'd say we're favourites as the home team, but Roar's side will have a massive point to prove with several players hoping to cement a spot in Fowler's side. 

Corica has a clear starting XI in mind for this season, and this will be (unless a sudden injury) the first chance he has to play it out. Baumjohann will be pivotal to this match for Sydney I feel, as he could be the X Factor we need for this year. Very happy to have football back, and hopeful we'll see a good crowd at Leichhardt which seems a pretty perfect venue choice for an FFA Cup match.

I'll be writing a match review after the game, and that will be found on here as well.

Follow me on twitter at @jamie_dunkin, and ASOTH at @asothdotcom. 




Monday, 8 July 2019

Sydney Winter Round-Up

Sydney FC have been quite active over the last month or so, with several key player announcements - both in and out. Let's take a closer look at this, and some of the other goings-on at the club.




INS:

  • Kosta Barbarouses (3-year deal) 
  • Alexander Baumjohann (2-year deal)
  • Ryan McGowan (2-year deal)
  • Anthony Caceres (2-year deal)

1) The losses

OUTS: 

  • Cameron Devlin (Wellington Phoenix)
  • Jacob Tratt (Perth Glory)
  • Josh Brillante (Melbourne City) 
  • Aaron Calver (Western United)
  • Alex Cisak (free agent)
  • Mitch Austin (free agent)
  • Danny De Silva (end of loan)
  • Reza Ghoochannejhad (end of loan)
  • Siem de Jong (end of loan)
  • Alex Brosque (retirement)
  • Jop van der Linden (retirement)
The recent confirmations that Tratt and Devlin would not be staying at the club were very disappointing after how well they performed last year. Devlin in particular looked like a great prospect for the future. I wish Devlin well at the Nix, and hope we see him return some time soon.

Josh Brillante is an interesting one - I wrote a whole piece a few months back about Joshy when he was rumoured to be off to South Korea. What I said then ultimately still feels true. We have more than adequate replacements already at the club, and his form had dropped a lot in 2018/19. It was definitely time for both parties to move on. His choice of cashing in at Melbourne City is a completely respectable choice for his future, but it's a step backwards career-wise. 

I can't see him making it back to his levels from 2016/17 again, but on his day he is a top A-League midfielder. Best of luck to him. 

As for the previously confirmed departures from the end of May, there wasn't too many shocks. Perhaps the biggest being Jop van der Linden completely retiring from football aged 28 due to injury. He never got into form at Sydney and clearly wasn't fit for a long stretch of the season, but it's pretty gutting to think he's had to stop playing this soon. 

Alex Cisak will remain a mystery man forever to us Sydney faithful. Did he ever truly exist? Was he a figment of our collective imagination? Was there ever truly a back-up goalkeeper for Redmayne? Was that actually him for those 8 minutes against Rockdale City? We may never know. 


2) Recruitment

INS:

  • Kosta Barbarouses (3-year deal) 
  • Alexander Baumjohann (2-year deal)
  • Ryan McGowan (2-year deal)
  • Anthony Caceres (2-year deal)
Sydney have been fairly busy in recruitment thus far. As of time of writing, there are 4 confirmed signings for 2019/20. 

Kosta Barbarouses was the first new signing, revealed back in June, switching from rivals Melbourne Victory. Barbarouses is a proven goalscorer in the A-League, and managed 15 goals for a side that arguably struggled to truly hit their heights. Whilst not a direct Brosque replacement, he is certainly a bit like a younger Brosque. Pacy, good finisher, and wily. 



Last week saw ex-Wanderer Alex Baumjohann join. The attacking midfielder was intermittently impressive for them but was a bright light in a fairly crap team. He impressed with his passing of the ball and clearly has a bit of flair, but I'm not sure he has the defensive side nailed down. So much of the success at Sydney is based off every player doing their defensive duties. I hope in a better team he'll be more motivated and be able to truly show how impressive he is. 

Next up was the signing of 20-time capped centre-half Ryan McGowan, joining after a career spent entirely overseas - including spells in the Scottish Premier League, English Championship, and League One. A strong signing and definitely a good long-term choice to replace 35 year-old Alex Wilkinson. As a defensive duo I think they'll do well, and McGowan has played at a good level for a long time - he should have no issues slipping down into the A-League.

Lastly for now is the confirmation of Anthony Caceres joining on a permanent deal, following a successful loan spell in the back end of last season. A good, versatile player who despite some early hiccups, hit some good from towards the end of his loan. Where he'll play on the pitch is up for discussion, as he played as both a central midfielder, and a right midfielder last year under Corica. 

Now for some thoughts on a well-publicised rumour: Luke Brattan to Sydney FC. A talented midfielder who has proven himself consistently at A-League level but has always had an air of "dickhead" about him. Perhaps a less toxic dressing room atmosphere would greatly benefit Brattan, as it has with other players who've joined us from Melbourne City. Corica has continued a good atmosphere that Arnold started, and I'm sure "Bimbi" can sort out any issues should any arise. 

3) Off the pitch

Sydney have confirmed Under Armour as their new kit supplier for the coming years, with a kit reveal on the 24th of July. The kits Under Armour have done over the years for other clubs have been fairly mixed in my opinion. Their kits for Tottenham I really rated, but their stuff for Southampton has been sort of horrible. 

A few changes for Sydney in the coaching staff, with goalkeeping coach John Crawley off to Graham Arnold's Australia set-up and Matt Nash replacing him. Ufuk Talay's departure to become Nix boss has left a vacancy which Robbie Stanton has filled in, with Paul Reid also joining the coaching staff. 

Sydney have a blockbuster pre-season friendly coming up against Paris Saint-Germain in China in late July, which is both incredibly well done by Sydney to get organised and also pretty odd. Not often will you see the likes of World Cup winner Kylian Mbappe coming up against Paulo Retre. Looking forward to it. 

- - - - 

Overall, a productive opening month in Sydney's off-season, and now pre-season. Sydney have a home FFA Cup clash to look forward to in August against the rebuilt, Robbie Fowler managed Brisbane Roar to be played at Leichhardt Oval. 

A-League fixtures are due out on the 22nd of July from what I've heard, so not much longer to wait now. 

That about wraps it up for now, I'll write another round-up in about a months time (or sooner) depending on the going-ons. 

Thank you for reading this, and thank you everyone for your continued support of ASOTH. Thanks to everyone who has generously donated to the site via my ko-fi page. It is greatly appreciated. 

Follow me on twitter at @jamie_dunkin, or ASOTH at @asothdotcom.


Monday, 24 June 2019

Matildas, Heroic Failure, and Progress

So, Australia is out of the World Cup after losing on penalties to Norway in the second round. This has been an interesting tournament to watch for Matildas supporters, with some stunning highs, and now agonisingly deep lows.



I've been pretty critical of Australian football for how we seem to approach international tournaments, and particularly how naive we often seem to be. Thankfully, I think this tournament proves it isn't entirely true.

After losing the first game to Italy with the last kick of the game, Australia got better and showed some proper fighting spirit - I haven't seen an Australian national team this hungry for success and to prove themselves. The 3-2 comeback against Brazil isn't just the highlight of this World Cup for Australia, it's in my opinion the biggest highlight in Australian international football.

From 2-0 down, I was pretty certain it was done for. There wasn't much clicking, but thankfully they showed the heart and gameplan to get back into it - and win. I haven't seen this from the Socceroos at a World Cup in the last three failed tournaments.

Australia has a "football nation" lacks a lot of worldliness and perspective. We love excuses to use when our national teams don't win. I still hear people whinging about 2006 against Italy far too often (it was over a decade ago, it was a pen, and even if you disagree it's time to get over it). We've often been lucky that there's been "bright lights" in a lot of these failures - such as Tim Cahill's wonderstrike against the Netherlands, or Brett Holman's form at 2010.

2019's World Cup showed us an Australian side which we can accurately feel a lot of disappointment and frustration at being knocked out in early. That's a huge sign of progress in my view. I've seen less talk of this being a "heroic failure" and more of it being just a fail which is refreshing. We're slowly becoming less accepting of losing with our calibre of players and our high expectations could've been matched this tournament. The squad and game is stronger with us expecting and believing there's more to this team.

I'm very proud of the squad this year. For an incredibly difficult 6 month run in to the World Cup, they've done pretty damn well. We had mixed luck (like every nation) this World Cup with officiating but somehow made it work most of the time thanks to a good fighting spirit and using the famous Matildas "never say die" attitude.

I think Alanna Kennedy was extremely unlucky to be sent off, as I don't see it as being a "denying a clear and obvious" goal scoring opportunity, and there were still several defenders nearby to prevent the "opportunity". But that's football. Australia rode their luck for a lot of extra time, and Lydia Williams' performance will be unfortunate to not go down in folklore. World class saves one after the other, and the only reason Australia made it to the dreaded penalty shoot-out.

Internet trolls and dickheads have been fairly open with their misogyny since the Matildas took the limelight in Australian sport, and the players have copped significant amounts of abuse - particularly personal attacks against their sexuality. I think Sam Kerr's "so suck on that one" line after the win against Brazil should go down well in history. Having the national team captain as open as she is with who she is, and defending herself and her teammates with incoming abuse is exactly what I like to see. I think while she still has some ways to grow to become "the" captain, she's started well and has a bit of fire which works pretty well for me.



Looking forward, this team has a big Olympics campaign to come in Tokyo next year, and I think they've learnt a lot from this World Cup.

In the meantime, support your local W-League team, buy season memberships, show up to games, and give your support to the players. This is potentially an incoming "Golden Generation" the likes of which Australia has never seen. A proper attacking side who score goals and often for fun, and genuinely inspire young kids.

- - - -

Thank you for reading another "Jamie rambles helplessly over something" editorial. I've had a lot of thoughts about this World Cup and it's hard to express everything well in text.

As an Australian, I'm still gutted they've been knocked out, but this isn't the end of the journey.

Thanks again to everyone who has donated to me and ASOTH via my ko-fi page. It's very much appreciated.

Follow me on twitter at @jamie_dunkin, or ASOTH at @asothdotcom.

Friday, 14 June 2019

Accessibility & Supporter Culture

I've recently come back from a week long trip back to my ancestral homeland England, and managed to sneak in two Fulham games in that period. Already relegated, but wasn't ever going to stop me from going to see my familial club.

My Dad's been a Fulham supporter pretty much lifelong, having inherited it from his mother who went in the 50s - the era of club legend Johnny Haynes. I inherited it from my Dad, and if you follow Mundial on twitter or Optus Sport, you may have seen the video of the two of us chatting about Fulham back in August.



While the season hasn't panned out as hoped for us, it was still brilliant to watch the lads live and in the flesh.

We arrived in England on the matchday of the Bournemouth away fixture, and drove straight there from Heathrow on Easter weekend. Absolute nightmare. What is usually an hour and a half trip from London to the sunny south coast town of Bournemouth ended up being a 4 hour drive.

With the sat-nav plugged in we slowly saw our estimated arrival time nudge up and up, as we got stuck just 6km away. We eventually arrived, I got into the beautiful Vitality Stadium just 5 minutes or so after kick-off for what was dubbed the Relegation Party by Fulham supporters. Hawaiian shirts, inflatables, beach balls, laius and other funny things brought into the stadium by the travelling support.

Honestly, it was absolutely rocking. 1100 of us in a 12000 capacity stadium just absolutely singing our arses off. From ironic chants of "we are staying up", to "1-0 to the Championship" after Fulham scored the sole goal of the game.

Despite Fulham serving up some of the worst defending and least inspiring football you'll see all season, the supporters forgot about it and really urged the players on to a strong performance. There's an undying loyalty that you can feel. The variety of people in the away end too was telling of Fulham as a club. Pensioners, middle aged, young lads, and very small kids all there to follow the club despite relegation being confirmed.

It made me think about how English football culture differs from the culture I know - Australian football culture. Yes, it does exist.


1) Access 

Without a doubt, one of the best things Australian football has going for it is the access to the players. They spend a lot of time post game with supporters taking photos and chatting, and seem more than happy to communicate on twitter and Instagram - being able to send a shitpost to a footballer and have them respond is amazing. Australian footballers are well known for bringing their sense of humour with them wherever they go, and pretty candid. We're incredibly lucky to have this in Australia. 

However, good bloody luck trying to have any of that that in the Premier League. Players do go to the away end after the game to clap the supporters before disappearing down the tunnel. Eden Hazard does not know any Chelsea supporters, and the fans connection to him is weak, whereas Alex Brosque knows a lot of Sydney supporters well. That's a powerful connection.

On social media, European players are so managed and media trained and just don't really interact with the public apart from rare examples like my favourite England player Raheem Sterling or in Fulham's case left-back Joe Bryan. I think this is a pretty vital part of being a supporter in the modern era, being able to see your clubs players have a laugh and interact with them.

Similar to the access to players in Australia is access to club higher ups and staff - with Sydney FC I can tweet at the club's CEO Danny Townsend and most likely get a response. At the 2019 A-League Grand Final he even went to the travelling Cove's pub to have a chat with supporters. This is valuable and doesn't happen much outside of our country's league.

2) Humour

This is where things go beyond being just sporting culture but national culture. Australia likes to see itself as very laid back (which I have mixed feeling abouts) with an optimistic approach to life, whereas there's a lot more cynicism in England. Football supporters in England can be annoyingly depressing and scathing about their football club - listening to TalkSport Radio over there can make you think that supporting Man United at the moment is paramount to torture.

The scathing cynicism of English supporters does however produce some of the best comedy and chants. The spur of the moment songs from the stands are witty and often add another layer to the match. You're not just singing a setlist, you're actively creating new songs and adding to a mythology.

On that away day at Bournemouth, we had chants being sung for players who had been basically bagged all season for not being completely shite on that day. Andre-Franck Zambo Anguissa, Fulham's €30m defensive midfield signing (voted flop of the season by FourFourTwo) had a rousing chorus of his name throughout the 90. That just wouldn't happen in Australian active support I feel.

I don't sit in the Cove for home games due to hope of being able to better watch the match, but during away games I do and I've always been a bit disappointed by how few new chants are spawned in the stands. Things can be a bit too serious for me in the chants from The Cove, despite them all being tunes I hum or sing subconsciously day-to-day.

However, then there's an interesting split in the two...

3) The Split 


Australian football fans seem to actively embrace the incredibly dumb and funny stuff that happens in our league, far far more than any other league I know. There's a sense of pride amongst the hardcore of the A-League that our league's big trophy is a toilet seat, that we have giant sauce bottles and palm trees... or basically anything done or to do with Mariners in honesty.

English football and European football often seems so insecure about the dumb and funny things that happen. It's so homogenised that the players often seem humourless. I feel there's too much of an obsession with making yourself look serious and advertiser friendly. Personally I find the top top leagues of the world to be dull, full of overpaid players and too much money. I've lost a lot of love for European football, and part of it is how serious everyone takes it.

The A-League's marketing I think now shouldn't focus on highlighting "amazing football" and the "super amazing goals" but rather the absurd. Football is an inherently funny game and I think we'd be smart to capitalise on that. The original A-League tag line of "football, but not as you know it" is pure genius and still sums up the league fairly well.




FINAL WORDS


I fear Australian football is complacent with how great and accessible our players are. People bemoan the loss of "active support", but I believe the biggest loss our leagues could see is if we stop our players from the interaction with fans. That is our biggest strength. A-League and W-League should hone in on this in the future. Police and security issues mean active support will remain a mess until a lot changes, but the players and their connection to those in the stands is powerful.

I hope you've enjoyed this read, another one of the "Jamie rambles about something" type posts but something I've been trying to put to words for a long time.

Thank you to everyone who has donated to ASOTH via my ko-fi page. It's greatly appreciated and I'm very happy to say it's been a year since my first post on here. The support has been so amazing. I'm working on more things to put out throughout the long off-season - keep an eye out.

Follow me on twitter at @jamie_dunkin, and ASOTH at @asothdotcom


Monday, 20 May 2019

Sydney FC Season In Review - 2018/19

Across the board for Sydney FC, the 2018/19 season was one of definite success. With championships in the W-League and A-League, this will go down as a memorable year in record books.

Almost heaven, Jubilee Stadium...


W-LEAGUE


Let's start off with some coverage of the championship winning Sydney FC W-League side, captained by Teresa Polias.

The opening 4-5 weeks of the season were not ideal in the slightest. Bar an opening round 3-0 thumping of rivals Wanderers, there was little consistency from the side and just weren't cohesive as a team. A mixture of players not quite being at full fitness, interruptions with international breaks, and just not enough time to prepare.

A big 5-1 win over Brisbane Roar put the side back on track for the season, and from there things just started to click. Princess Ibini's impact off the bench soon became the X-Factor of the starting XI, with the 19 year old scoring 4 goals and assisting 3 goals. Around this time also saw Amy Harrison's full recovery from her anterior cruciate ligament injury from last year, which is always great to see players come back from - especially considering how well she played last year before copping the injury.

Caitlin Foord and Savannah McCaskill's partnership really blossomed after January, allowing for a great finals run-in. Matildas forward Caitlin Foord's confidence was high by the end of the season, scoring 10 goals and putting in some of her best performances for Sydney. Foord also bagged the most assists of any Sky Blue player, with 5.

At times Sydney honestly played some of the best football I'd seen in the W-League season even if their early season form cost them too much to win them the Premier's Plate. The finals series was a different story however, and it was a joy to see centurion captain Teresa Polias finally lifting the W-League trophy as captain. Arguably the most important player in the team and most definitely the heart of the club.

Goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe picked up the Goalkeeper of the Season award at the Dolan Warren Awards night, and definitely a deserved win. With a decent amount of chopping and changing of her two central defenders, she did a fantastic job throughout the season and saved many points. Thankfully for Sydney, she's still got another year left at the club on loan from Washington Spirit.

Something worth noting too is how high quality all the W-League finals matches were. All three games in the finals campaign were top spectacles and produced football that the A-League can only dream of for finals football. The future remains bright for the women, with the leadership of Teresa Polias and management of Ante Juric a dream combo.

I'll be looking forward to the World Cup kicking off in just over 2 weeks time, especially with 5 Sydney players selected in the Australian squad.


Player of the Season: Teresa Polias
Best Performance: Sydney FC 4-2 Perth Glory
Best Goal: Savannah McCaskill header vs Perth Glory





A-LEAGUE


The A-League season has been a proper weird ride. Prior to the season I didn't really have many expectations other than probably finishing top four. The losses of Adrian Mierzejewski, Bobo, Jordy Buijs, Luke Wilkshire, and Matt Simon can't be understated. That's five big players who were so impressive in their times at the club. Then there's the matter of Corica's debut season.

Replacing Graham Arnold is always going to be a tough act to follow, even without needing to replace the spine of the team. But somehow, Corica did a fantastic job in the end. The signing of Adam le Fondre a particular highlight, with the Englishman scoring 23 goals across three different competitions. 

Return of right-back Rhyan Grant felt as though it were a new signing, with the Energizer Bunny acting as if he never picked up an ACL injury just 12 months prior. Grant was just exciting to watch, every time he went for a bolting run down the wing you felt like something would happen. Having a player like him around is great for the team. 

Andrew Redmayne more or less made himself a cult hero during the season, with the keeper saving 4 out of 5 penalties faced in the season, and saving 2 penalties in the 2019 Grand Final penalty shootout to help Sydney lift the toilet seat. Seeing how he's developed in just over 2 years has been immensely satisfying. His confidence is sky high and right now it's hard to find a keeper more reliable if you need a penalty saved. His humble attitude towards his own success says a lot about the team culture around him too, this isn't a side that takes success for granted or drops their heads. He, much like the team throughout 2018/19, kept improving. 

Retiring club captain Alex Brosque proved just as influential as in previous years, with the skipper turning back the clock and putting in an outstanding final year. 11 goals in 3 competitions for a 35 year old who was not expected to play a huge role in the team at the beginning of the year is incredibly impressive. The club will not just miss his leadership, goals, skill, and consistency, but having that sort of anchor to carry us through tough times. There is no doubt in my mind Brosque will remain the Sky Blues greatest ever captain, and greatest ever player. Enjoy retirement Brosquey.

The 6-1 demolition of Melbourne Victory in the semi-finals was the sort of "wevenge" we'd all wanted after last year's heartbreak. Despite the Grand Final itself being a bit of a drab match, we'll always have 6-1. One of those performances that will live in memory, and a thwacking so good it got Muscat sacked from Victory. You love to see it.

Corica's first season as head coach should be seen as a huge success. Bimbi showed he is more than capable enough to take this team forward, and I'm very much looking forward to how he approaches next season. 

Player of the Season: Andrew Redmayne
Best Performance: Sydney FC 6-1 Melbourne Victory
Best Goal: Alex Brosque vs Melbourne Victory



Thanks for reading this season review. I plan on writing a larger piece about the Grand Final itself once I've had a bit of time to work on a few other projects, but it's safe to say Perth was a great host city for the A-League Final. It was brilliant catching up with so many other Sydney supporters over the weekend - this club has such a great family feel to it and I can't quite capture how great it feels to be in The Cove on nights like that.

Thank you to everyone who has supported me this season by way of sharing my articles, donating on ko-fi, and by interacting with me on twitter. The off-season will be long and will suck, but we've got some happier memories to keep us going through the long winter this season.

Follow me on twitter at @jamie_dunkin, and ASOTH on @asothdotcom.



Friday, 17 May 2019

A General Ramble: 2019 Grand Final

Sunday sees Perth Glory host Sydney FC in the 2019 A-League Grand Final at Optus Stadium - Perth's first chance of being Australian Champions in 15 years - their last success being in the 28th and final National Soccer League season 2003/04 where they triumphed 1-0 away from home against Parramatta Power thanks to a golden goal from Nick Mrdja (remember him?).



2018/19 has been a jubilant year for Perth. Winning the Premier's Plate at a canter and playing some great football along the way with some exciting players, plus qualifying for just their second final in the A-League era. It's not hard to see how much this has meant to their long-suffering supporters, who for 5 years put up with varying degrees of quality under Kenny Lowe. This season has seen some sellout home games, and now a likely full house on Sunday at Optus Stadium.

Before such a big game, it felt only right to talk to a Glory supporter and get their perspective on the season that's been, and the decider ahead. Thank you to fansite The Glory Post for helping out with this - check them out on Instagram and Twitter.


PART 1: ASOTH asks, The Glory Post answers...


ASOTH: Who has been Perth’s most underrated player in this stunning season they’ve been having?

TGP: I would say Juande. A lot of people underestimate the role he has played in the midfield this season, forming a great partnership with Kilkenny. The fact that he won the 'Player's Player of the Year' at our awards night shows the respect that his teammates have for him and how important he has been to our success.


ASOTH: Most memorable moment during the 27 rounds?

TGP:  For me it was when we lifted the Premiers Plate against the Jets. Yes, we had a few incredible comebacks and the game itself wasn't the greatest, but to see the joy of the players, staff and especially the fans who had been long-starved of success was a very special moment.



ASOTH: Best performance of the season and why?


TGP: I feel like our best performance was the first half of our Round 12 game against you guys. 3-0 up at the break. That was the best we'd played for a while and to do it against a club that we've struggled against in recent times, plus the team who was most likely to challenge us for the plate was extra impressive.


ASOTH: How is the city of Perth reacting to this season and the upcoming final?

TGP: Perth has actually been really pumped. It has definitely exposed the bandwagon mentality this state has though. An average home attendance of something around 10,000 and now you've got 60,000 people who will claim they've been behind the Glory the whole time rocking up to the Grand Final. The newspaper has us regularly on the back page with a liftout today I think. While it's great to see all the support now, I often think to myself 'Where were you when we weren't doing so well and during this season?!' If these casual supporters can wear their Glory merch or anything purple (not Freo) and join in with the chants that should be great.


ASOTH: Heading into Sunday, how are you feeling? Predictions?

TGP:  I’m quite confident. If the crowd can create a great atmosphere and the players play like they have all season, then I feel like we should get over the line 3-2.


PART 2: The Glory Post asks, ASOTH answers...


TGP: How have you found Steve Corica as head coach compared to Arnold?

ASOTH: As far as managerial transitions go, it's been mostly smooth. There are some obvious differences between the two like their demeanour in the media but "Bimbi" has been more than good enough. Corica understands what made the team work under Arnold and altering it slightly to fit the players he has. There's been some frustration from supporters over how predictable he can be as a manager but finishing second in a debut season I think reflects how he's gotten the team to work.

TGP:  Who has improved the most this season and why?

ASOTH: For me, it's probably Andrew Redmayne. He's never quite near the top of people's "best keepers in the league" list but has proved invaluable throughout this season. When he joined the club he was in a poor rut of form at Wanderers, but worked very hard after Danny Vukovic left to fill that gap in the team. Last year there was a fair few hairy moments with him due to what I'd say is probably poor communication, to this year being far more commanding and really working on his weak spots like plucking crosses out of the air.


TGP: Which player in the squad do you feel deserves to lift the trophy the most and why?

ASOTH: Despite a lot of the fanfare being around this being Alex Brosque's last A-League game and what a great send-out a trophy could potentially be - it really has to be Aaron Calver for me. Calver made his debut at age 16 and never quite got into the first team consistently but whenever called upon did a solid-to-good job. This season saw him get the most appearances he's ever had in a single season, and I think that's his just desserts considering how much waiting he's often done between drinks. Him hitting this recent good run of form I think really shows what he's capable of when given consistent minutes - hell he's even been scoring goals!



TGP: What has been the vibe between the Sydney fans this week?

ASOTH: There's been a pretty optimistic feel amongst a large section of supporters, with a lot of people still riding the high from the big 6-1 win over Victory. Whilst I see it as misplaced optimism personally, I think it's actually going to be a decent match in comparison to previous years' finals.


TGP: What are your predictions for Sunday? Are you confident?

ASOTH: I'm more confident about this final than I was for our last away Grand Final in 2015, but I'm just hopeful that the lads turn up and play to a decent standard. I can't see us replicating last week's performance and I think Glory are a far better side than Victory so it should be tight. Predicting a 2-1 Glory win.


Thank you to The Glory Post for helping out with this piece, highly recommend checking them out.

- - - -

Regardless of the result on Sunday, I've been more than happy with how this season has turned out after the losses of Buhagiar and Warland to long-term injuries.

Corica deserves a lot of credit for how he's gotten this team to second place ahead of rivals Melbourne Victory and for solid recruitment, youth development, and generally good results. I'll probably be writing up a full season in review for both the A-League and W-League seasons after this weekend, as well as working on a few other things.

Follow me on twitter at @jamie_dunkin, and follow ASOTH at @asothdotcom.