Almanac Soccer: A-League’s Melbourne Derby (or where were you on December 28 2013?)

If I were Mike Baird I’d place a ban on colourful football boots. I only want to see black boots out there from now on. All black. I don’t even want to see the tick or your three white stripes.


I’m at the Melbourne A-League Derby. I stand where I stood all winter when the Roos were at home. At the North Melbourne end. The Arden Street end. I’m on the railing behind the section of crowd that sit behind the goals. There are only Victory supporters around me now. The game’s just started. I recognise Berisha as he tries a clever first time ball off his chest. Apart from him and Timmy Cahill, I can’t see anyone else out there that I might remember.


There’s so many fluorescent boots out there though I can’t hardly concentrate. Even white boots look normal nowadays. I count five pairs of bright orange fluorescent boots in total. Four pairs are being worn by Victory players and only the one City player is wearing a pair. I’ll go for City then. Just quietly, given my current situation. Soccer shouldn’t be played on an oval anyway. It’s not fair on the fans.


Tonight I’ve lifted a self imposed ban on watching soccer. I’d had the ban in place since Luongo was named player of the last Asian Cup, in January 2015. I’d rather discuss it in person but I felt it was undeserved. A few things said and written in public this week had got me wondering what the standard was like this season and where the game was going in general. And so in the spirit of Baird I back-flipped, lifted the ban, and went along to the soccer. Unlike Baird though, I didn’t have to tell anyone.


I’m in a positive state of mind. I like being alone in a crowd full of strangers. So long as there’s no reason to feel awkward about it.


It’s not a great start to the game but then there’s a scuffle beyond the fence off to the right that grabs everyone’s attention. Cops are kneeling on someone. There’s a few of them keeping him down. You don’t see that at the Footy. There’s a chequered blue, red and white flag waving about above the scuffle. I’m not sure if that’s a City flag but it is a section of City supporters. It could be I suppose but it’s a rather dark blue on those squares.


Victory fans don’t approve. “Your support is fucking shit” they reckon out loud and in harmony, over and over again.


There’s only one player on the whole pitch who’s wearing black boots. Number 26 for City. He plays a nice little first time ball on the edge of the box. He’s my man of the match already. He’s a Ben Cunnington type. Looks an over eater but it might just be the shorts. He’s just floating around but he’s anchoring the midfield at the same time. Nice easy touches. Keeps the ball moving. A familiar type in the local leagues all over Australia. Whatever the code. Not quite athletic enough to be appreciated by today’s average fan. That’s my take anyway. I’ve got a high horse some times.


City get a free kick out to the right on the edge of the box. The only kid in bright orange boots for them whips a ball too far and to no one. He’s left footed and so I suspect that was out of character.


Seconds later there’s a scuffle in the middle of the park this time. You do see that at the Footy.


Then the ball comes back to the City Keeper and the crowd boos and jeers as it reaches him. How come no one boos when someone’s kicking for a goal at the Footy? Or do they? I can’t remember. The Saints booed Mason Woods when he let the shot clock run down this year right there in front of us.


The City keeper’s wearing fluorescent pink. I can hear Dad insisting the brighter the better because it makes the keeper look bigger and wider. I notice the Victory keeper’s wearing light green. Dad would suggest the pink was a better choice.


Victory get a free kick up this end out wide on the edge of the box. Victory player wastes free kick. Skies it long and out for a throw in. Muscat wants the player’s attention from the bench. Reminds me of the silliest thing the best coach I have ever had once did. A team mate, Rhodesy, had just done something very similar and Danny Wright jumped up from the bench and shouted “Rhodesy, Rhodesy, Rhodesy!” until he got his attention. Seemed to take an eternity. Everyone around the dugout went quiet in anticipation. “Next time…..just dink it over”. My mate Steve was beside himself in the crowd. As though Rhodesy might have otherwise gone and tried for the trees again. Next time.


It occurs to me that fans aren’t shouting player names like they do at the Footy. There’s no one telling Jack to get stuck in or shouting “Big Ben Brown!” just for the fun of it. They’re not watching and riding every piece of play like they do at the Footy. They’re singing though. Are they connected with the team or is it just the occasion and the highlights they’re here for? I remember Sydney Football Stadium in 1993. Australia v Argentina. We’re trying to go to the World Cup. Dad asks the bloke next to me who he’s going for and he says Argentina. Dad asks him if he’s from Argentina and he says no, he’s from Greece. Dad says how long have you been here for and bloke says something like 30 years and dad says, so why don’t you go for Australia then and the bloke says nah I like-a-Maradona more. That poor bloke. I just remember him sitting there dead still off my shoulder the rest of the game after the serve Dad gave him. Dad had a bit of an accent too don’t forget. Big righteous prick he was.


Soccer reminds me of Dad and so I don’t like soccer anymore.


I’m not enjoying this game in this setting. We’re too far from it. I feel sorry for the kids. There was something about growing up watching the NSL at Perry Park with only a few other thousand. Much like the VFL must have been? It felt like one big father-child event, every second week. The players looked like your own Dad. They were hairy and mongrel and they growled at each other. You could see the sweat spray off their foreheads with every header. You could hear Frank Pimblett’s boot slap a ball fifty yards onto whosever chest he felt like. Anyone head Bryan Robson mention Frank Pimblett? Does anyone remember Frank Mengotti? I remember Frank Mengotti. He barely got a start with Brisbane United and I doubt he played more than a season or two with them. They were only around a season or two though. I can still remember him warming up in front of us before coming on off the bench. That big roman nose and those big shiny legs with those feet facing outwards. He was Ballerina looking. He was a star for Lions in the local league but couldn’t get much of a run with United for whatever reason. That’s how I remember it anyway. I bet he had three daughters and a beautiful wife though. No matter what. Alun Evans and those Mitch Nichols knocked knees? Remember him? Gees he could belt a ball. Was it spelt Alun or am I doing that because he was a Kiwi? was he a Kiwi? I was a kid.


Lest I ever forget Frank Mengotti.


I pay attention and can see City are the better team. Then Timmy Cahill turns and watches a ball bounce beyond him. He reaches it a long way out and hits a first time half volley into the top right corner. I laugh and the bloke next to me looks up and says holy fuck, before walking off, as if that’s all there is to see.


Timmy did it again. Fortune favours the brave and so on and so it goes. Tattoo that on your forearm, Timmy.


Victory fans are quiet. They applaud when they see it on the replay. Someone tells Timmy to fuck off though, rather loudly.


City keep pressing and orange boots whips one across the face to the far post to a diving teammate who nods it down at the keeper. Keeper can’t keep it out and its two nil already.


Gees that Fluro boots boy for City is starting to find his range with his left foot. He’s a bit of a Warren Moon type. You remember Moony? Miron used to bring him off the bench for Roar and he’d surge around sweeping balls across the park and behind defenders when they had nothing left in their legs.


To my left all of a sudden there’s a family meddling around the railing with me. Dad tells one of his three young kids at his feet to shut up. There’s three of them sharing one box of chips. A regular size box of chips. Mum’s in there too. She’s tiny. She looks like she found them and won’t leave them alone. She can’t have birthed them all. Not with that little frame. She looks a kid herself. I don’t know if I want to be so close to these guys. It’s making me feel awkward. They’ve got a long night ahead of them. I hope they got their tickets free. I got my ticket free. They deserve it. I don’t. These kids can’t even see from here. They’re not even trying to. I want to get them another box of chips.


This dark kid with floppy hair for City out wide looks dangerous. He and Cunnington work well together. Cunnington’s a smart footballer. My kind of player. I bet no one else appreciates this guy. Is anyone else watching this guy?


One of the kids at our feet is crying and City have all the ball and Dad says shut up again. Ref gives a soft free kick for studs up. Dad tells me how soft it was. So fucking soft he says to me. I can’t disagree. Up on the screens in front of us they’re playing magic moments on the TV. From Victory’s perspective of course. Like they’re trying to distract us. That Brazilian fellow who looked like Kaka is on the screen and he whips a free kick over the wall and inside the near post. Where’s he nowadays? The Kaka lookalike. Finkler?


City Keeper collects a through ball and kicks early to a lone City striker. He brings it down softly on his instep. With ease. Great touch. Is that the Uruguayan bloke everyone raved about last season?


Another free kick and Moony’s over the ball again. The City fans with the Croatian looking chequered flag have all got their shirts off now. They just seem to be chanting at the police force in front of them. Like that’s what they came here for.


More magic moments on the TVs above me as Moony readies himself for the free kick to City. Onscreen it’s the Fink again curling the ball inside the near post. Gees the keeper took a face full of post trying to keep that out. I hadn’t noticed. Moony’s in a similar position as Fink was, just outside the box. Nothing comes of it though.


Then Cunnington goes down in the box. No free kick. It’s half time instead. The cameras find Cahill calming everyone down as they walk off. Is Josh Rose out there for City? Did I just see Josh Rose with Timmy? A lot reminding me of Queensland tonight.


There’s a circle of kids out there in the middle of the pitch now waving some form of advertisement up and down. What are they advertising? and to who? It’s facing skyward. Is there a big crowd upstairs? I’m glad I’m not a kid nowadays. Would I have done that?


Bozza’s up on the TV but I can’t hear him. They flash his name underneath his talking head and list his credentials as a former Man United and Chelsea player. His best days were at Villa but there’s no mention of that. I bet he’s got something of value to add, right? Trick question?


TV flashes to the sheds. Why’s Timmy wearing a sports bra? A few of them are. Since when and for what benefit?


Dane texts me and asks how it is. I say Timmy scored a screamer but I could go home.


I wonder what Muscat’s like as a coach. Is he screaming in there or has he got something meaningful to share? How’s he going to save this game? They need to use the width of the park better. Like City are. They don’t have the calibre City do though.


Second half starts and I wonder what ever happened to all the playmakers. The spatially aware? Where are all the ballerinas striding about? Just playing in the local leagues or are have they made it through to this level but they’ve had their creativity bench-pressed out of them? Wish Broich was out there somehow. Is he still in Brisbane?


Timmy’s been given a license to float around. He’s smart isn’t he. Never takes a touch he doesn’t need. There’s a lesson in that for Luongo.


Weird looking riot police walk past with a purpose. They’ve got ninja turtle shoulder pads on but the shell-like padding runs right down to the back of their hands. Where are we now, America? Security bolt passed them. As if that’s the protocol: security provide the first contact and at speed; riot police swan in afterwards. You don’t see that at the Footy.


Cunnington finishes a nice piece of football that came from out wide on the left. Floppy haired dark kid had a hand in it. Same again with the Magic Moments up on the TV above me. Why are they only playing the Finkler free kick? As if this is the “go-to” whenever Victory fans are on the brink of a tantrum? Here suck on this while City celebrate.


Why were those coppers dressed like that?


Who’s going to get a hold of this game for Victory? There’s not much to them. Berisha doesn’t want the ball unless he’s within 18 yards of the goal but all of a sudden he’s inside his own half screaming for it.


The dark kid for City is dangerous. Is he the Dutchman they were talking about last year? The Uruguayan has a great touch if that is him. He likes bringing it down on his laces. He’s a stocky unit too.


Cunnington’s class though. He could be that little fellow from Roar all grown up and grown out actually. Luke Brattan. Is it Luke Brattan?


Muscat’s on the big screen looking confused. Imagine going into the sheds with him after a performance like this.


That is Luke Brattan. I just looked it up on my phone. I bet Broich misses him if he’s been left up there in Brisbane. Brattan’s down here helping Timmy look good now. Meanwhile they’re both out on the right slowing it right down now, sharing the ball back and forth. Like a stroll in the park.


I can’t believe that’s Brattan. Who else is out there that I might remember? Was that Josh Rose? I’ll look that up too.


Victory score out of nothing. Sharp little turn and the fellow slides past a few defenders through the middle of the box before finishing well. Good goal. A flare goes off behind the goals at that end. I thought that was the City fans’ end. Why’d they do that? In celebration?


“Who’s the wanker with the flare?”. The crowd down my end finally have something to sing about but then City score a fourth. A ball goes over the top out wide and the smallest kid on the pitch wrestles his way to the ball first and leaves the Victory defender on the ground behind him. Could have been a free kick but he plays on and finishes nicely. Muscat reckons that should have been a free kick.


I go and get a red wine while the bar’s quiet and there’s no one in there to judge me. There’s two young girls on either till and it reminds me of Michelle Obama’s speech this week. Did anyone give these two a hard time tonight? They look shell-shocked or are they just bored. I feel sorry for women everywhere. This little mum near me. No one is safe anymore else why would the police need to be dressed up like that?


City take Cahill off and the Victory fans boo him. They don’t mean it. The dad next to me turns to me and says good debut eh before glancing down at my red wine. That’s unsettled him. His kid daughter’s looking up at it like she’s never seen a glass of red before. I pretend it’s medicine and get rid of it quickly.


There’s only ever been one Magic Moment? They’re playing that free kick again above me on the TV. I pay closer attention. Screen does say Magic Moment. No plural. December 28th 2013 it says it was.


Through the stadium at the other end I can see police lights flashing. You don’t see that at the Footy.


Brattan overplays it when he mistimes a through ball and gives the ball away for the first time all night. Covers his face with his hands as if he wants the crowd to know that that was just so unlike him. It frustrates me. We know it’s not like you. Get on with it though. I’m the only one watching you anyway.


Berisha’s frustrated. He’s the quintessential “on the last man” type but he’s darting around the middle of the park trying to find some time and space.


City have all the ball and so Fink’s up on the screen again taking his free kick. Fuck it wasn’t even against Melbourne Heart I realise. It was the red and white of the Wanderers they were playing against back then. December 28th 2013. I want to have a conversation with the person responsible for this Magic Moment business.


I’m ready to go home but Osama Malik is coming on for City. I didn’t know he was at City. He’s another gifted footballer. Good on them for taking a chance on natural ability. I like City’s squad.


There’s a lot going on in the crowd up the other end. I can’t even tell which supporters they are. There’s a dark blue and white flag waving about so they must be Victory fans? They’re dancing around and I can here ole, ole. They watching the same game or just being defiant? I can’t even tell which fans they are.


Brattan’s out on the left now dancing around the ball, slowing the game down. It’s a clinic. I’m not even sure who I’m supposed to admire in this Victory team. What’s Muscat look for in a player? There’s not a footballer out there for Victory in Brattan’s class. There he goes now biting into a tackle, just like Muscat would have.


Tiny Mum’s sitting cross legged on the ground beside me now with her three kids around her. They’re watching her scroll through a facebook feed on her phone. She’s not giving them much of a view. Dad can’t believe there’s four minutes of injury time to play. How the fuck can there be four minutes of injury time to play he asks me? Beats me, I don’t know mate.


Malik gets fouled blatantly out wide right in front of the linesman. Both officials just wave him up as if he doesn’t deserve a free kick. I think of America again.


City’s Warren Moon lookalike plays one final through ball to the lively right winger who’d come on late but the keeper saves before the final whistle goes. I march off and then look back and see the mum and kids still sitting there on the concrete, waiting for Dad to finish watching the highlights. Or was it the Magic Moment.


If Brattan didn’t get man of the match last night I’ll give myself another ban I reckon. I’m scared to look it up. Can someone look it up for me? I bet it went to Timmy.

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