Almanac Soccer: Melbourne City for the cup! (Or how I learned to stop worrying and enjoy the soccer)

 

If you are like I was until about four years ago, you might not know that the Australian grand final for the soccer is on this Saturday. You might not know or care who is playing and the result may mean little to the equilibrium of your life.

 

I understand. I was the same. Football meant Australian Rules to me until it became personal. But it was a long journey.

 

Footy and cricket mad, I had little interest in soccer growing up until the early 1970s. It was about that time that The Big Match and Match of the Day started appearing on our TV screen, usually late on  a Tuesday, after Monty Python and Callan. It was one match from the English soccer the previous weekend and some highlights of other games. Jimmy Hill I think was one of the hosts. The theme tunes were catchy.

 

It was the crowds that first caught my attention. They weren’t necessarily that much bigger than footy crowds but they made the most amazing noises – singing, chanting and occasionally fighting. It was about this time we started seeing the FA Cup Final live from Wembley. And, for the first time, in 1974,  Australia made the World Cup finals, in Germany. In hindsight this was remarkable. The team comprised entirely of amateur players from Sydney and Melbourne qualified and played out a 0- 0 draw in its first game against Chile and (only) went down 3-0 to the eventual winner, West Germany. You might not know many of the names in that team, but you may have heard of former Australian captain, Johnny Warren who grew up being told that soccer was for ‘sheilas, wogs and poofters’ (the title of his biography). It was to be 32 years before Australia made it back to the finals.

 

1965 Scanlens card of Johnny Warren

 

With this sudden upsurge in soccer on our screens and consciousness, as is the way of kids and sports, you had to pick an English team to support. Choosing teams to support is not a scientific process at the best of times. Local loyalties, parental influences and tribal traditions usually did for footy and cricket, but I had none of these for English soccer. For no other reasons than that I had a sky blue T-shirt with white trim and that they had a player who shared a name  with our state’s and nation’s wicket-keeper, I chose Manchester City. That player, Rodney Marsh, had a reputation for pulling out a ‘bicycle kick’ shot for goals in which he would receive the ball with his back to the goal, and then somersault backwards with his leg propelling the ball into the net as it went over his head. That was enough reason to barrack for them.  They won the FA cup in 1969 and the European Cup Winners Cup in 1970. In the last game of the 1973-1974 season, City won one of its most famous victories when it defeated its cross-town rivals Manchester United 1-0 to effect United’s relegation to the Second Division.

 

Rodney Marsh wearing my T Shirt.

 

But footy and cricket filled my sporting life for many years and my interest in soccer was limited. Living in Perth, there was general interest when Perth Glory entered the national stage and did well, but I never actually got to a game. Winter was pretty crowded with a different shaped football. And the move by soccer to summer didn’t help, with so much cricket to be played and watched.

 

Fast forward to 2016, I am now living in Victoria and my son Samuel begins playing soccer.  Auskick had never really grabbed his interest. He enjoyed coming along to Eagles games and, more surprising perhaps, was happy to wear the Eagles kit to school on ‘wear your colours days’ and to Auskick. At each, he was the only one in the Royal blue and Gold.  It helped that one of the teachers at his primary school (that had produced six AFL and AFLW players in 20 years existence), local boy, Michael O’Brien, had played a few games for West Coast. And Samuel and I had a memorable day together at the ‘G in 2018 (see Fathers’ Day in the 2018 Footy Almanac).

 

Maybe he was just happy that I was happy, and that’s OK.

 

But Holy Cross also had a soccer pitch with goals and another teacher who had played at the top club level,  and Samuel and a group of his friends loved kicking the round ball around at play time and lunch. This led to turning out for the local club Gisborne, and with friends made there, for the local Futsal indoor games. Goals were installed in the back yard and every spare moment was devoted to improving his skills. This also meant long Sunday drives as the league extended from Gisborne down to clubs along the Bay foreshore in Williamstown and Tarneit, now -entirely unsurprisingly given the massive numbers of kids we saw playing each week –  home of the third Melbourne based A league club, Western United. These were parts of the city I didn’t know well and I quite enjoyed the experience of getting to know them on these journeys.

 

Then, a couple of years back, with the move to high school in Kyneton, Samuel moved to Kyneton Soccer Club, home of the Rangers. You might have heard of them; they had one of the top ranked grant applications in the Federal Government’s fund for distribution to sports clubs, based on a dire need to get drainage at their home grounds so the hundred or more local kids on their lists can play there through winter – but missed out when the Sports Commission’s recommendations were over-ruled at ministerial level. No one has told them why yet.

 

The move to Kyneton didn’t make the driving any less; The Rangers play in the Bendigo league and one of the teams is Moama-Echuca Border Raiders, so we are rostered for ‘interstate games’. But again, I have loved getting to know more about Bendigo and its surrounding areas. And I have enjoyed watching Samuel play. His goal celebration is the Sam Kerr (Eagles No 1 ticket holder) somersault.

 

Samuel upside down

 

It only remained for my son to choose his team (s). He had already requested Lionel Messi numbered  Barcelona shirts. As the best player in the world that was fair enough.  He went to the Argentina- Brazil game at the ‘G’ and supported Argentina (Messi again). He watched the Christiano Ronaldo documentary and had a photo of himself inserted with Ronaldo at  the AC Milan interactive show at the Exhibition Buildings. Together we watched the mind-blowing documentaries on Amazon Prime in which the film makers had one season unrestricted access to each of Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur, two of the biggest sporting clubs in the world, with their idiosyncratic managers Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho (two of the best sports films you will ever see). In the end, Barcelona and Man City were chosen.

 

But it was the local team choice which was fascinating , unadorned by any conscious or unconscious influence from me. Despite a brief interest in Brisbane, it plainly came down to a choice between the (then) two Melbourne teams – Victory and City. Samuel went to a three day Melbourne Victory Masterclass camp which improved his skills and confidence and ended with a meet, greet and sign with the Victory Mens’ and Womens’ teams. Gisborne club was invited to go onto the pitch at half time at the Docklands stadium.  Both worthy  enticements to young players looking for a tribe.

 

The City influences were more subtle. One of his Kyneton team mates was a big fan and did work experience there. Jamie MacLaren their star striker was from nearby Sunbury, and thus almost a local. Their supporters didn’t seem quite as belligerent. The colours were the same as Manchester City (although this was due to the fact that the Manchester City group owned the club). The City Square pre game activities at AAMI were well organized and inclusive. Moreover, City began playing a really entertaining style of game in which the ball was in constant motion, passing quickly between players until an opportunity opened up.

 

He chose City and we began going to games at AAMI and away derbies with Victory at Docklands. I was apprehensive but I genuinely enjoyed the experiences. AAMI park is a wonderful place to watch sport and pretty easy to access and leave. And City seemed to care for its fans and the fans returned the love. What really surprised me was, although soccer translated well to TV,  how much more the game made sense seen live. From the movement of the players you could see where a play that started on the last line of defence was likely to end  up if executed correctly. I felt that there were things that soccer and footy could teach each other about ball movement and structures.

 

But City had never won the Premiership (finishing on top after home and away games- a bigger deal in soccer than AFL – they award a proper trophy) or the Grand Final. Starting as Melbourne Heart in 2010, their sole piece of silverware was the 2016 FFA Cup (like the FA Cup, a competition open to all senior clubs in the country). But they had made the grand final last year against Sydney FC. With the covid- affected season extended by four months, and the game to be played in Sydney,  Melbourne captain Scott Jamieson made the decision to remain in Melbourne for the birth of his son rather than travel and quarantine in Sydney. Scott brought the baby onto the pitch at home games this year.

 

In a tough and tense game, City appeared to take the lead in the 17th minute but were denied when a video review showed a Melbourne player blocking the line of sight of the Sydney goal keeper (who even knew that was a thing?). Nil all at full time, Sydney eventually scored the winner in the 99th minute and the game finished at 1-0, Sydney taking their fifth title. Literally Heart-breaking as City were wearing their old red and white Heart jumpers in their first grand final, as a nod to their origins, and to avoid a clash with Sydney’s sky blue.

 

Scott Jamieson player card

 

 

And on Saturday, Melbourne City and Sydney meet again in the 2021 decider.

 

Sydney FC is the juggernaut team everyone wants to beat. It is  the most successful team in the country having won five A-League Championships, four Premierships and an FFA cup.

 

In the regular (but again Covid-delayed) season, City seemed determined to atone for the pain of 2020. Under new coach and former City player Patrick Kisnorbo, a former Socceroo who played for Leicester City in the EPL, and a delightfully humble and intense man, City attacked the season fitter and faster, winning 15 of 27 games and finishing with a positive goal difference of 25 (57 for, 32 against). At times, especially on the manicured surface at AAMI park, their football was exhilarating to watch. Players such as Andrew Nabbout, Nathaniel Atkinson, Connor Metcalfe and Craig Noone have been brilliant. And Jamie Maclaren had a stand out season with 25 goals including five against arch rivals Victory, to collect the League Golden Boot 11 ahead of the next best.

 

But although Scott Jamieson will lead the team out wearing the blue strip, Covid – and injuries – are threatening the team’s shot at the title.

 

Star play maker Andrew Nabbout is struggling to recover from a serious adductor tear, and English import Craig Noone withdrew from the team just before the semi final, having not recovered from a knee injury.

 

The Covid delay has pushed the A league season into competition with Socceroo world cup qualifying matches and so stars Jamie Maclaren, Curtis Good and Connor Metcalfe have been in Kuwait and are now in quarantine.

 

And the Covid crowd limits threaten to deprive City of the right to the home final that their Premiership earnt them. The game might end up in Sydney.

 

But that might not be enough to derail this team’s destiny. All of those issues were thrown at them for their semi final last Saturday against Sydney-based newcomers Macarthur FC. The game had been scheduled for AAMI but was then changed to Kogarah in Sydney with the crowd prohibition in Melbourne. The Socceroos were unavailable and Noone and Nabbout didn’t play.

 

Two young blokes – Marco Tilio (19) and Stefan Colakovski (21) – stepped up and each scored from a pass from the other within a 60 second burst in the Semi Final, after Nuno Reis had run 30 metres to slide across the goal line to block a near certain Macarthur goal which was past City keeper Tom Glover. Tilio had left Sydney seeking more opportunity and Colakovski had been a Heart/City fan from the start, attending games as a ten year old boy. Great stories. Inspiring game.

 

So, wherever the game is, and whoever they have  available, it looks like City will be playing with a will to win. And good luck to them in their quest to overcome those substantial hurdles for a first A league title. We will try to get to the game if we can. Samuel chose his team and I am now enjoying watching them – and soccer too.

 

But maybe it is that I will just be happy if he is happy. And that’s OK.

 

 

AFL TRIVIA POST SCRIPT

There was a team called Melbourne City that played in the VFA for two seasons in 1912 and 1913. It didn’t win a game.

 

Melbourne City of the VFA

 

The Tigers (Covid) Almanac 2020 will be published in the coming weeks. It will have all the usual features – a game by game account of the Tigers season – and will also include some of the best Almanac writing from the Covid winter.  Pre-order right now HERE

 

 

To return to the www.footyalmanac.com.au  home page click HERE

 

 

Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.

 

 

 

Do you enjoy the Almanac concept?
And want to ensure it continues in its current form, and better? To help keep things ticking over please consider making your own contribution.

 

 

Become an Almanac (annual) member – CLICK HERE
One-off financial contribution – CLICK HERE
Regular financial contribution (monthly EFT) – CLICK HERE

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Rick Kane says

    Hi John

    What a great story as the round ball game wound its way through your life and into your son’s. I wish City all the best on Saturday. As my Mum is Dutch, when it comes to the world game I’m a Netherlands supporter and so far, touch wood, we’re doing okay in Euro 2020.

    Cheers

  2. This is a wonderful reminiscence, John.
    I recall getting to know the round-ball game when I stayed over at my grandfather’s house on Saturday nights, and together we would watch Match of the Day, hosted by Brian Moore.

  3. Peter Fuller says

    Thanks John for a very interesting account of the evolution of your engagement with the round ball game.
    I discontinued my membership this year, waning interest (plus distance). I still think of myself as a City supporter and definitely want them to win as beating Sydney is only slightly more pleasurable than thrashing Victory. I’ll also be delighted for those like Kisnorbo and Chisholm, who have endured the tough years. As they say in the north of England of bandwagoners “Where were you when we were shite?”
    I’m conflicted because Manchester City’s dubiously-sourced money will be (already is?) the ruination of the A-League, just as it (along with a handful of other teams’ financiers) have destroyed competition in European club football. I’m also frustrated that City have taken so long to achieve on field what their resources should have ensured a few years ago. That refers to the men’s team as City women’s excellence dominated the W-League until recently.
    My interest in the sport has waxed and waned but originated with written accounts in Tiger Annuals (Roy Race of Melchester Rovers). As this was before television – and I don’t recall seeing newsreels depicting play, my concept of what the game looked like began entirely as an exercise of imagination, and bore only a rough approximation of the reality which I first saw on television a few years later; later still, I saw the local version of the real thing at Olympic Park.
    I certainly relate to your “you had to pick a team.” My brother and I went further as we competitively picked a team in each division and Scottish top level. Jim went Wolves, Sheffield United, QPR, Northampton Town and Hearts. My allegiances were Manchester United (just after the Munich air crash), Sunderland, Norwich City, Shrewsbury Town and Celtic. Promotion/relegation obliged us to make additional selections, so like Chris Waller we might find ourselves with two or three horses in the race. Bear in mind at the time, we had only a rudimentary knowledge of English geography, to say nothing of politics, history or other motivations for picking a team. However, we devoured the printed word in newspapers, magazines and of course Tiger Weekly. Some of those allegiances have endured, most haven’t.

  4. John Gordon says

    Thanks for h nice comments guys. Brian Moore is right Smokie and Jimmy must have been the Big Match. Lovely reminiscences Peter. The City money does trouble me too i must admit. I remember the Roy of the Rovers comic serial, one of the few comics ever produced about sport I think. interesting choices for teams Peter – what was the basis for such a widespread and eclectic mix? I have a memory that late on Saturday night the BBC would read out all the results from all divisions – was that right? And i love the northerners judgment. The sentiment remains true in every code in every country. But they said it best!

  5. Lovely stuff, John. Glad to learn your son has enjoyed his experience with the round ball code. If it has helped broaden your horizons too that is a real bonus.
    While I was doing my football (soccer) journalism I bought memberships for my wife, Frances, who sat in the stand at AAMI and Docklands (whatever they call it now) to watch Victory and Heart/City. Since I gave up paid journalism, we both have memberships of all three clubs now. A couple of seasons ago City were dreadful, unwatchably bad. When it came time to renew I told the lad from the club that and he agreed. So have you a membership that means you don’t have to watch City? I wanted to keep Frances’s foundation membership going. ‘We’ve got the very thing’, the lad replied, so since then we support the club with effectively a little donation, but this current season has been a revelation. Paddy Kisnorbo cut his coaching teeth with the women’s team and now is doing the business with the men. Not even a torn achilles stopped him, thanks also to his offsider Des Buckingham, who stepped in seamlessly. So the Grand Final success was a great capstone to an excellent season. Thanks for the excellent post.

Leave a Comment

*