About a month ago I received a very strange phone call. It was from a close friend of mine named Chris. Now Chris had never really shown all that much interest in soccer. None of my friends really had. Sure, we’d spent most of our lunch periods at school playing, and we may or may not have spent a few long nights playing FIFA, but my friend’s interest levels in actually watching other human beings play the game was somewhere between zero and none. I, on the other hand, had spent most of my childhood weekends playing the game and watching Manchester United. I was the lone proponent of the game amongst my friends, or so I believed.
During that phone call, Chris pitched to me this idea that he and a few others had stumbled upon. We should become Adelaide United fans. Now I’m not sure what sparked this idea. In fact I’m still not sure. I thought it was a joke, one of those things that amidst the revelry of friendship is mutually agreed upon to be a tremendous and faultless idea, but one that ultimately unravelled once our stomach consisted of more than just Doritos. But he was serious. He had called to get my thoughts on this grand idea. So inspired was he that he decided to call rather than just wait until he next saw me in person. It was that important. You see, as the lone proponent of the game in our friendship circle, my approval was required. They needed me to confirm that this was, as they suspected, a brilliant idea. If I had dismissed it, then the whole thing would have deflated then and there. After all, if the soccer dude thought it was a bad idea, then it must have been. Fortunately my curiosity had arisen. There was no way I was going to be the one to stop this runaway train. I figured the first goalless game would do that job. So I told him I thought it was a great idea, and suddenly we were Adelaide United fans.
This past Saturday’s encounter against Wellington Phoenix was our third trip to Hindmarsh stadium, which is three more than I ever expected to make. We still didn’t really know all the players, but what we did know was Jeronimo, Adelaide’s Argentinian import. We’d first had a taste of the Argentine in our first United game against FC Bunyodkor. He’d come on as a substitute in the second half, and when his name had been announced, we knew he was our guy. How could you not love a name like that? It’s like a name that guarantees success in life. In our second trip to Hindmarsh, Jeronimo had scored the winning goal against competition newcomers Western Sydney. He and the fans had found some happy equilibrium. He enjoyed scoring, and we enjoyed watching him score. Not only did he have an awesome name, he was actually good. I’d have settled for one or the other, so to get both in one was like getting spoilt.
Walking to our seats for the Wellington match, we listened out for the starting line-ups, and cheered when his name was read out. The sun was out, and Jeronimo was starting. All was right in the world. As we took our seats, we mused over some of the small differences between the A-League and the AFL. Generally for a footy match, if the fixture says the game starts at ten past two, then the umpire bounces the ball at ten past two. The A-League was little more lax when it came to things like start time. Our tickets said kick-off was at 5p.m, yet our watches said it was a few minutes past five, and no teams, or officials, were in sight. Eventually they came out, and after more waiting, the game eventually began. Adelaide United looked the more assured side in the opening, while every time Wellington got the ball they seemed to go for the tried-and-tested-when-you’re-eight gambit of kicking the ball over the defender’s heads and hoping your teammate runs onto it. While the tactic sounds tremendous on paper, it loses its effectiveness if you try it every single time you go forward. It’s also hard to pull off against intelligent defenders, which would explain why it was being used repeatedly in the A-League. While the ball wasn’t being moved at a particularly slow pace, there were relatively few real chances created. One of my companions remarked at how dour the contest was. I agreed, but stressed it was all about the opening goal. The opening goal in any soccer match shifts the nature of the game dramatically, because now the conceding team has to attack more. It opens up the game for both sides.
Adelaide had probably nudged the contest, but it was the New Zealanders who would go into the break with a one goal lead courtesy of a successful ‘over the head of the defender’ passes to Stein Huysegems. It was, unlike most of their previous attempts, a brilliantly timed run from Huysegems and well-placed delivery from Paul Ifill (a last name that unfortunately lends itself to bad jokes, a fact I gleefully took advantage of throughout the game. IFILL terrible after that misplaced pass. IFILL like I didn’t pay enough attention at school. IFILL like the Eiffel Tower was not as impressive as I was lead to believe. Seriously the name does all the work for you).
The referee blew the whistle for halftime, and Wellington had a one goal lead. The second half promised to be more exciting as Adelaide pressed for an equaliser, but first we had the actual half-time break. The A-League halftime break is actually far superior to that of the AFL. It consists of the same things, kids playing the game on the field while people walk around the fencing throwing freebies to the crowd. The difference is the odds of you getting your hands on said freebies are much better at an A-League encounter on the basis that there is a lot less competition in the stands. This time FruChocs were being thrown into the crowd. For those unaware of FruChocs, rest assured that they are perhaps the single greatest achievement our species has made. They are the Beethoven’s fifth of fruit and chocolate amalgamation. I was determined to get my hands on a packet. I won’t lie, as the man throwing FruChocs rounded the corner where I sat, I lost my mind. I started yelling, quite loudly, things like FEED ME in order to get his attention. Was it embarrassing? Probably. Am I told old to be carrying on like that? Perhaps. Did I get my hands on a free packet of FruChocs? You better believe I did. I cheered my victory and shared the spoils with my friends. If Adelaide United got up, then Saturday the 26th of October, 2012, would be remembered as a very good day indeed.
The second half got underway, and the Reds were immediately on the front foot. They controlled the majority of possession, though alarmingly Wellington seemed to generate a solid goal scoring chance the few times they managed to string a few passes together. Nonetheless, with the control United were exerting it was only a matter of time until they equalised. In the 55th minute Wellington failed to clear the ball from their own congested 18 yard box, and the ball ricocheted to the feet of our man. He knocked the ball to his left and simply slotted it low to the right of the keeper. United 1, Phoenix 1. Jeronimo had scored the equaliser right in front of us. To say we were excited would be an understatement. We were so close to the field that we could practically smell his wizardry.
United continued their dominance and were rewarded 11 minutes later with some brilliance from left-back Cassio. Taking possession in his own half, Cassio simply charged straight down the field virtually uncontested. Drawing the two central defenders, he knocked the ball to his left to the waiting, and apparently not offside, Jeronimo, who deftly knocked it back into the path of Cassio. The Brazillian defender calmly put the ball in the net in much the same manner as Jeronimo had before him. 2-1 United. FruChocs and the lead. Glorious.
Adelaide’s lead was nearly short-lived as Jeremy Brockie capped a superb Wellington move with a headed goal, only for it to be ruled offside. Having narrowly dodged a bullet, United re-took the ascendancy, manufacturing a decisive move to put Jeronimo one on one with the keeper with Wellington’s Ben Sigmund hot on his heels, or, depending on whom you want to believe, actually on his heels. Jeronimo went to ground, and Sigmund was given a straight red for denying a goal scoring opportunity as the last defender. As I applauded, I turned to one of my friends and said I think he may have dived. He agreed, and went as far as to say he thought Jeronimo was getting booked. Replays showed that contact was perhaps incidental at best. I don my Adelaide United cap and look at the positives. He put himself in a great position, and if he was fouled, then everything that followed was deserved. If he wasn’t fouled, well we learnt he could have a post playing career in acting. He is like Eric Cantona, minus the kicking of fans and amazingly nonsensical quotes.
United press with their man advantage and add a third goal six minutes from full-time. This time it is Jeronimo who is on the receiving end of a deft touch from Dario Vidosic. The Argentinian Dumbledore is put through unmarked mere metres from the goal, and once again calmly slots it. Three goals for United. Two goals and an Oscar for Jeronimo. Friends and FruChocs for me. A grand day. The referee blows his whistle, drawing to a close both the game and our third Adelaide United outing. A fourth outing is most certainly on the cards. Indeed that runaway train shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. I suspect it may come to a grinding halt once the footy season reappears on the horizon, but that gives us a few months to get better acquainted with Jeronimo and friends.
And the FruChocs guy. He better be there again.