Sunday, 22 April 2018

The Season In Travel - 17/18

As the 2017/18 A-League Season wraps up, I thought what better time to discuss the HAL away days?

This year, I embarked upon 25 of the 27 HAL games Sydney FC played, missing only two - Victory away on Australia Day, and Adelaide away in December. I've been very lucky to travel so much this season, and even luckier that the results have been really good. I went around the country with my Dad, and it's been a terrific experience.

Aren't we cute? Thank you to Jaime Castaneda for this brilliant photo

ROUND 1 - MELBOURNE VICTORY AWAY

We'd done this trip quite a few times before, including the 2010 Grand Final, 2015 Grand Final,  the 2009 Fulham friendly, the 2013 Lions tour, and lots of trips way back when visiting family in Mornington. This was a rather troublesome trip. I was very very ill, having taken a bad cold down to Melbourne with me. We had arrived a few days prior to the match, and I was intending to meet friends but I was struggling to get out of bed. I conserved energy for a few days, playing a lot of Football Manager and rewatching old games to hype myself up.

When the day came, I was still struggling. Breathing was an issue, and my throat felt like it had taken a robust Matt Simon tackle. We went to The Cove's prematch pub, and watched the F3 Derby over drinks and chips. That game was something else. We had been in a taxi on the way, and neither of us had score updates on. I jokingly say to him it's 4-0 to the Jets with an O'Donovan hat-trick...I was right. 

We arrive at Etihad, which is a truly horrible stadium for football. You're miles away from the action, and the noise just doesn't travel at all. The game itself was pretty bum average, very scrappy. I was impressed with Luke Wilkshire on his return to Australian football, and with Redmayne's domineering GK performance, but otherwise was a tad bored. I sang as much as I could, but definitely paid for it the next day. 




ROUND 5 - MELBOURNE CITY AWAY

Back to Melbourne already? On a Friday night? Why? Dad had work in Melbourne to do, and there was a game on so... we went to this game. It wasn't a brilliant awayday experience, but I am always keen to see more football.

We travelled up on the Tuesday, and I had a bit of relaxation after a stressful month or two of schooling. 

I met up with the other Sydney FC fans up the pub nearby, and had an excuse to talk football which is always good. The match itself, yet again, was a bit drab. 36 year old Luke Wilkshire scored the only goal of the match, as we pushed into 1st on the table. 

ROUND 6 - CCM AWAY

This was my first ever away trip by myself. I was a bit stressed, but luckily had some good people helping me out. I met some people off reddit, like Tahu, Lee, and Keegan on the way up to Gosford.

Gosford is my favourite awayday in the league. The sauce bottles, old farts, amazing water views, and the overpolicing all makes it feel real and proper. This is the closest to a London - Birmingham game there'll be in the A-League. It's an easy awayday too, especially from the Inner West of Sydney. Catch the train to Central, then there's a pretty quick 1 hour train journey to Gosford. I met Tahu at the station on the way, and we had some really good discussions over the future of the league, and where expansion should take place. This was his first Gosford away trip, amazingly. 

We arrived there, went to the local Subway, only to find out they had run out of bread and chicken. Amazing. We then walked to the stadium, met Lee and Keegan and took our seats. 

We lost 2-0 in the end, to a Mariners side who otherwise completely flopped during the season. It wasn't a fun match to watch, but was a kick up the backside they needed for the coming months. I had finally met Simon Overall too - who helped me get a ride home, thanks to his friend Andrew (thanks again!). I had only known Simon through twitter, but we'd often had good back and forths about football, so I knew he was on my wavelength about football and a lot of general life stuff. That was a fun trip home. I can't speak highly enough of both of them, and of how much fun we had on a simple trip home. It was capped off well with us stopping at Richmond Macca's, and getting some fuel for the way home, to find the most depressed but hilarious McDonald's worker calling out order numbers. The tagline of the night was "Order 172", which we then shouted out the car window for almost all the trip home. 

Good times. 


ROUND 10 - WESTERN SYDNEY AWAY


It's generous calling this an awayday, as ANZ Stadium is only a 20 minute trip from home via train. But it counts for the purposes of this blog! We had a really good feeling going into this match, and even I, the most pessimistic of football supporters felt good vibes. We had a rather lacklustre Oporto to begin the ANZ "experience". A truly soulless, cavernous, and godless part of Sydney. 

It's a massive hole of a place. It's ugly, empty, and truly without a soul. There's nothing around there to do, there's nothing to see. It's the home of Australian sport's biggest moments, but has no atmosphere. 

The match itself was fun to say the least. By the time the second goal went in, I knew there was no stopping us. Adrian unveiled the biggest of muscle flexes on the league, and he's been the best player ever since that brace. 

The Cove that night was a special place to be. Chants firing out like a cannon. Hugging people you didn't even know when celebrating, and that feeling of unity. We all knew this would be a landmark game in the club's history. In the league's history, even. There was something special in the air. 5-0.

ROUND 12 - WELLINGTON PHOENIX AWAY


This was the trip we were both really looking forward to. He had been earlier in the year for the Lions tests in NZ, but wanted to experience Wellington for longer than a day. I was set on trying to complete my set of A-League grounds. 

This was just before Christmas, and it seemed like an ideal time to travel across the ditch. The flights over were a pain in the backside, with us flying Jetstar to Auckland, before another flight to Wellington. By the end of the day, I was absolutely spent from travelling. We went out for a walk to get some dinner, and picked up some subway before it shut (we came in moments before their kitchen was going to close). 

The first day we did some quick exploring of the city, and a trip up the mountain to the Wellington Botanical Gardens, and had a good discussion over lunch about the A-League, the future of, awaydays we'd like to see, and more. 

Looking for Barnaby Joyce
I can't give enough credit to the people of Wellington, and amazing it is as a tourist. There's a lot to do, and it's just a great place to walk around. The following day, we went for a tour of the New Zealand parliament house, and had a cultural enriching. Our tour guide was a Nix supporter, and we
managed to chat about football which really made you feel as if you were in an English city.

The game day, we went to the city's museum, down by the sea. It was a stunning summers day in Wellington, they really turned it on for us. We ran into Graham Arnold outside the museum, and I'm pretty sure he thinks we're stalking him by now.

If you're looking for good hosts in an A-League awayday, look no further than the Yellow Fever. Absolutely tremendous group, who made us feel welcome and made me feel like I was on a Fulham awayday. They were generous, kind, and really understood football and football culture. They're passionate about their team, and have really stuck by some shithouse times. Dad couldn't help but relate to this stuff, as he supported Fulham back in the grim days of the 70s and 80s, travelling around the country.

The game itself, was a 4-1 win. Bobô scored his first A-League hat-trick, and we remained top of the table for Christmas.

I also had the chance to meet one of my heroes, Ali Abbas, post-game thanks to the Yellow Fever. They found out I was keen to see him, and they organised so he'd drop by and have a chat. He's a gentleman, and one I hope at some point comes back to the Sky Blue.

This was by far my favourite trip of the lot, and I'm hoping it's not the last I'll make to NZ for the A-League.



ROUND 15 - BRISBANE ROAR AWAY


This wasn't exactly a trip we had ever really thought about doing. It wasn't obscure enough like Perth or Nix away, or at a good venue like Adelaide. We went, as we would then be 1 ground off the complete set of A-League grounds. 

We took Mum with us for this, as she had friends she wanted to see, and it's always nice having company and family time away. I was very very unwell with my Crohn's disease during this period, and have been since - it's amazing I managed the rest of the away trips from here on out. 

I didn't do any tourist stuff until the day prior to the match, when we went on the "Brisbane Eye". It was a neat way to experience the city, but I shit you not, it started off with "in 2011 a bajillion people died in the floods", followed then by a funny story about one of the nearby buildings. Tone deaf? 

We also met one of my dad's closest friends, Graeme Rothwell. He had recently moved to the Sunshine Coast and had been a Sydney FC supporter for a while, but lived too far away to ever consistently get to Allianz from up the F3. 

He enjoyed his first awayday ever, and his second SFC game in as many weeks, having seen us a week prior at Sydney FC vs Newcastle Jets. He loved the raw chanting during these obscure away games. After Redmayne had pulled off a terrific save from a Massimo Maccarone shot, a chorus of "JUST A SHIT FORM OF PASTA" was heard from the travelling Cove. 

Sydney ran out 3-0 winners, as we saw probably the worst ever Roar performance against us.




ROUND 16 - ADELAIDE UNITED AWAY

I had been keen to do this away game for a while, having heard and seen amazing things about Hindmarsh Stadium. We flew in the night before the game, and flew out the day after, so I have very few stories to tell unfortunately. 

The game was a 0-0 draw in the blistering heat of Adelaide, in a nice but flawed stadium in Hindmarsh. With this game, we had completed our set of A-League grounds. 

ROUND 20 - MELBOURNE CITY AWAY

I decided against the Australia Day match, as I had been travelling far too much over the previous weeks and really wanted to sleep in my own bed for a while without interruption.

This was a good quality away day, filled with watching the W-League team on the telly in the pub win their semi final.

AAMI Park is a funny thing. Great for football, but Melbourne City can not attract a crowd. Not even against their supposed rival club. Lots of choruses of "is this a library" rung out by the travelling Cove.  

ROUND 24 - CENTRAL COAST AWAY

The iconic sauce bottles of Gosford.
After a blip the previous two weeks against Newcastle and Brisbane, it felt like this was a do or die match. The last two weeks had been filled with "Are Sydney FC collapsing?" articles which made this match both anxiety inducing and something to look forward to in a sadomasochistic way. Mariners boss Paul Okon had resigned during the week, meaning this should be a surefire win for the Sky Blues... right? The league title was on the line. Jets had continued to steam on in second place following the Round 22 clash between the top two clubs. 

We travelled up in a group of four - myself, my father, Luigi, and Simon (repaying the favour from earlier in the season). We were all pretty nervous and spent a lot of the drive up talking about the recent events around the club. See, during the "blip" two weeks, SFC boss Graham Arnold had been confirmed as the next Socceroos boss following the World Cup. It seemed like the announcement was almost made to destroy our season. Questions were asked of the club and why they made the announcement so early. 

The game itself wasn't exactly beautiful flowing football, with Sydney FC prodding the Mariners defence for a good 65 minutes but only finding themselves 1-0 up. A nightmare moment in the 82nd minute as manager-less Mariners equalised thanks to some dodgy defending from Sydney FC. 

Hawaiian shirt night in The Cove
It felt like the entire season was built up to this very moment of collapse. But sometimes, the football gods work in mysterious ways. 

Matt Simon, a cult hero for some, and useless plonker for others, was brought on. We needed a goal. We needed to win this. In 90+4, the man affectionately known as the Wizard of Woy Woy conjured up a magic moment. A deflected cross from Paulo Retre found its way to the far post, and who else to finish it than the Albino Messiah. His first league goal in 2 years. Beer showers, hugs, and crazy celebrations in the travelling Cove. 


That goal effectively won the league for Sydney FC. The first in national league history since Melbourne Knights to win back-to-back seasons. And it came from Matt Simon.


Cometh the hour, cometh the man.








ROUND 25 - PERTH GLORY AWAY

We had already done this away trip the season prior, but were keen to do it again. The heroics of last week meant that a win would mathematically win us the league. 

Matt Simon, and his biggest fan.
I really enjoyed my visit to Perth from the previous year - it felt like an open city with good football fans. I thought their fans displayed incredible hospitality in our previous trip, giving us a free ride in their bus to the game from the pub. Whilst I wasn't well enough around this time to go for pre-game socialising, I still loved the day.

It was 3-0 at half-time, thanks to a Bobô brace. Sydney were looking comfortable but completely flicked off in the last 15 minutes. Former Fulham player Adam Taggart continued his great return from injury to push the 3-0 to a 3-2, with two well taken goals. Sydney hung on, despite their best efforts.

The players are a class act with how they mingle with the fans. Adrian was late for the celebrations, as he was spending some time chatting to some Perth fans, and then stayed behind for quite a while signing shirts, taking photos, the works.

The following day we took the first flight out of Sydney, and ran into the squad again, with Adrian chucking a quick hello and all before they headed off to Suwon.


THE WRAP

I've had a terrific time this year travelling with my Dad around the country and going to places and stadiums I had only dreamed of going to for away days before. I can't thank the Shane's from SFC membership enough for their help with this, their support has been top notch.

In the future, I'd love to be able to do more away days in different parts of Australia. Wollongong, Canberra, Darwin, Tasmania, and the Sunshine Coast would all be terrific places to go to for football in the future. 

One last thing - the FFA needs to stop asking why people aren't going, and ask why people ARE going.

A view I'll never get sick of, flying back home to Sydney.



Follow me on social medias. 

@VuvuZuvela on Twitter, @jamie_dunkin on instagram. 

2 comments:

  1. Great read Jamie. You have certainly inherited your fathers literary skills. An enjoyable year with yet more joy ahead.

    ReplyDelete