The Other Ashes. The WA v England Media Soccer showdown.

I was expecting some kind of coronation or petals being thrown to my feet when asked to play for my home State for the first time in my life but instead it was an afterthought on an email about something else entirely.

“Oh and by the way, bring your boots down to Dorrien Gardens tonight if you want. Might be short on numbers.”

I had got the call up to play for a State team. I’d dreamt of playing State of Origin for WA in Aussie Rules when 8 years old (that would go hand in hand with my 300 game career with West Perth) but that dream had been crushed much like the concept of State of Origin had been. This would be my one chance to play for the mighty black and gold well in to my 30s even though we would play in the blue of Perth Italia.

The state team I’m referring to was the WA Media side for the now traditional football/soccer game against the visiting UK cricket media corps that’s played the night before the start of every Ashes test at the WACA.

Local football historian, author and general good egg Richard Kreider came up with the idea in 2002 to have this clash to mark 100 years since WA played their first ever representative game. The original WA side back in 1902 was comprised of players from faraway as Southern Cross out on the edge of the wheatbelt and former clubs like Corinthians against a visiting English cricket side which drew 5,000 people down to Fremantle Oval who had let curiosity get the better of them.

The ‘McLaren XI’ ran out 4-0 victors over WA.

In this new series of clashes WA had won the past two and wanted to make it three in a row but the travelling English media circus were taking it very seriously. Upon arrival on a more than warm Thursday evening in North Perth the English side was already warming up with drills and coach for the night, Sky Sport’s David Lloyd AKA Bumbles, was in his three piece suit looking like his side was playing at Wembley and it was cup final day. All he needed was the chrysanthemum in his breast pocket.

Perhaps he was looking at being the replacement for Manchester United in his native Lancashire if David Moyes was given his marching orders. After the warm up the English were retreating in to the dressing room with a humorous gee up of the team from Lloyd heard by the WA side out on the pitch. Lloyd had said before the game that he wanted to be a cross between Pep Guardiola (manager of some of the great teams in Europe in recent times) and Barry Fry (eccentric and lampooned Director of Football at Peterborough United).

I had the eye on the prize. Driving past the nearby Hyde Park Hotel would do that to me. The (in)famous pub was a shadow of its former glory after being bought out and gutted by a multinational monster but I’d seen some of Geelong greatest wins of the recent golden era in the back room of that pub and that gave me a steely eyed resolve that would bamboozle the English. Much like the J-Pod I’d be an Indian summer like revelation. The WA side was a smorgasbord of different ages, skills and reputations. There was Bob Figg who had been the press manager for Perth Glory in previous years and been ‘the token pom’ when community channel Channel 31 aired the Ashes series in 2001. There were a few current or ex West Australian journalists, old salts who had been involved with the sport of football from behind the mike for decades and the youngsters on various cadetships that we’d be hoping would run out the game and generally do all the running for us. Many of us had been in cahoots mainly in the NSL days of the Perth Glory and it was a good chance to catch up and perhaps generally lament what Glory had done in the modern era of the A-League with many now working in non Glory related positions.

Perth Glory’s inaugural coach, current Perth Italia chairman and former Socceroo Gary Marrochi would be our coach. He would play ‘inventive and imaginative football’ just like his Glory sides did which meant a back 3 with 2 wingers and the youngsters up front. It would also mean a lot of running from all involved so the tactics were questionable. I would play on at left back just like one my heroes did under Marrochi. I would be Scott Miller for 90 minutes with the only comparison I could really make with the legendary #7 being that we both only have a left foot and support Scottish football teams.

England featured a host of scribes and sprinkling of TV pundits. Oliver Holt from the Daily Mirror would captain the team and played a defensive midfield role like many captains do. Every big clash needs a Judas like figure and David Saker was playing for the enemy which may have been a clause in his contract as fast bowling coach for the ECB. Nasser Hussein would act as an assistant to Lloyd which meant complaining about the heat and throwing general comments the way of players close enough to hear during the game whilst dressed like a Western Suburbs yacht club aficionado or person of interest for WA Inc investigators.

The weather was hot and was a shot across the bows in so far as what the temperature would be over the next few days when the test would be played over at the WACA where people attending would be melting in their cheap plastic seats. The match was normally played at the old East Perth Oval (now NIB Stadium and home of the Glory) but thanks to Taylor Swift and her insufferable cross over country-pop we had been shifted. This wasn’t a bad thing. Dorrien Gardens once again still looked beautiful and was a ground that always had a sense of history for not only the sport but the general North Perth area.

The ground was nestled behind the Italian Club of WA and was surrounded by a stand on one side, high brick wall with its ‘traditional’ rusty sprinkler stains behind one set of goals on the Northern side and lush overgrowth, mower shed and scoreboard adjacent to the stand. Old rickety houses that I’d always imagined had been full of generations of Italian-Australian families making a good with life in the new country backed on to the Southern side of the ground but these houses were probably now sharehouses full of engineering students, members of local psychedelic bands and other assorted pond life like many other old houses in the North Perth area.

WA played a tight back three and despite not having much chop in midfield (with the exception of Perth Glory CEO Jason Brewer doing his best Vinny Jones impersonations on to the legs of any opposition player) they were matching it with the English. They obviously saw my lack of pace, skill or anything positive by attacking the right wing with their younger players outpacing the WA defence but being let down by their final ball in to the box with Jonathan Cook being Beckenbuer like for the home side.

A new taller player strutting around like a peacock entered the fray from 20 minutes in and was turning players in and out but was lacking the final ball. When one chance went to no one a barb was thrown at him from a team mate.

“Why even show up Vaughny. Should’ve just stayed at the hotel!”

‘Vaughny’ was the ex England captain and Ashes winner Michael Vaughan and now I believed why he’d said if his knees had been up for it he would’ve been a footballer. The big man had skills and could see why it was joked that he compared himself to Dimitar Berbatov. The thinning hair of both stars was spot on that’s for sure.

Two chances came to England through his trickery but sometimes Fox Sports presenter and author Ashley Morrison in goal was coming off his line at the right times and knowing where to be when the shots came in. WA was soaking up the pressure and as the sun rained down rays our familiarly to the harsh local conditions had us back in the game but more chances came to the English but Morrison made another glut of highly impressive saves.

After another save from Morrison I collected to ball from his throw back in to play. I stopped, propped and had too much time then what to do know what to do with. I saw one of the youngsters (The WACA’s Ben Somerford) make a run down the left and I sent a ball over the defence and to Ben who sent in a smart cross that was eventually bundled in after ping ponging in England’s defensive area. 1-0 to WA on the cusp of half time.

England found something in the heat and pushed hard towards half time. Andy Wilson from the Guardian was sent down the left with a paralysing burst of speed trying to inch past his marker on the edge of the box. The winger dinked to the left and then right before charging back left again and in to the area before being taken down and a penalty was given in what was a carbon copy of the Grosso penalty that sent Australia packing in Kaiserslautern in 2006. A booking for the foul and The West Australian Football writer, Shayne Hope, was on thin ice.

Being the alpha male he was Vaughan took the ball on put it on the spot. With all the pomp and arrogance of Christiano Ronaldo (a balding china white skinned 6’2’ version perhaps) he tried to send Morrison the wrong way but WA’s unflappable keeper guessed right and made a fantastic save to again deny England with the follow up shot sent in to the stratosphere. Howls of disapproval came from the Bumble and Hussein among a smattering of Barmy Army travellers on the sideline. Half time 1-0 and the WA keeper more definitely the hero.

At half time Marrochi told us to keep calm as they’ll tire out. To not panic and run after balls. This was easy for him to say in the comfort of the shade. Upon hearing Morrisson’s Swindon accent Bumbles said that an Englishman playing for WA shouldn’t be allowed and should swap sides at half time. An almighty vote of confidence for the keeper in the England side.

In the second half WA had another ring arrive late in another youngster (under 30 is youngster in this match) who looked like a cross between David Luiz and Joshua Kennedy and tore up the left wing with me in half arsed support. A dink over the England defence saw Luizennedy through and he squared the ball to another youngster who shot but was saved by the English keeper. The loose ball bounced away from the keeper and a WA player lashed home the ball from inches off the goal line. 2-0. Or was it 2-0?

The player had looked offside when he scored but the flag stayed down. In stepped match referee Eddie Lennie. Eddie had been the top referee in the NSL and had reffed many big games in Australia. He had been a ref at the 1998 World Cup in France as well as in retirement he had run for the ALP in the doomed 2013 State Election but curried no favour here when he overruled the linesman and said the player was offside. 1-0 it remained.

This had the WA side incensed. More for the fact a Scot had done the English a favour but this added some bite to the game and it was 2-0 minutes later when Luizennedy again sprinted down the left and did a neat 1-2 before his soft shot slipped under the English keeper (Dean Wilson from the Mirror) and in to the back of the net. By 60 minutes I was generally knackered so took a spell. Marrochi was worried.

“Might have to park the bus here. We’ll struggle to hold on.”

I couldn’t see how. We were up 2-0 and dominating but just as he said this England made some changes and the tide turned. I guess that’s why he coached many great sides in WA and my greatest achievement was when I took Celtic to the European Cup in Football Manager on the home PC.

It was 2-1 with some 25 minutes left when a powerful toe poke after some good lead up work had the Poms thinking they had a sniff. 2-0 was a dangerous lead said Johnny Warren. This was mentioned to Marrochi. He chose to ignore the advice. Suddenly the WA side looked sluggish in the sun as England with their more abundant bench marauder down the wings and gave the WA’s back 3 many kittens. Ian Ward was pulling the strings in the English midfield and was looking far more composed than what he did in the 2001 Ashes series where he lasted through three less than impressive performances that ended his brief England career.

It was 2-2 with some 15 minutes left it was done in spectacular fashion when Vaughan collected the ball on the edge of the area and stopped, propped, took two steps and then lashed in a brilliant goal with his right foot past the diving Morrison. A fantastic goal and didn’t Vaughan know it with his celebration seeing him tear his shirt off and running to the far side of the pitch where he proceeded to kick an advertising sign in a celebration that mimicked Temuri Ketsbaia’s for Newcastle in the late 90s as well as many short tempered Latin footballers. An over the top celebration and much to the enjoyment of the WA players and coaching staff Lennie followed the FIFA rules to the letter and promptly booked Vaughan.

2-2 and all to play for but England now had their tails up. With Figgy now playing at the back I was pushed forward when back on the pitch trying to shut down the well placed and fitter wingers from the English side. Vaughan was still dangerous and tried to twist and turn with the ball in to the area before being slightly touched and launching himself on to the ground with a cry for a penalty that was waved away to the laughter of the WA players. I did manage to sneak in a comment to Vaughan as he slowly got off the ground that raised laughs, getting to sledge a former English cricket captain as a direct rival was something I never thought I’d do. Luckily their third goal came from the other side of the pitch of mine when they waltzed in to WA’s penalty area with the WA defenders slowly morphing in to the training cones in the harsh sun. A little lay off resulting in another thundering low shot with Morrison unable to be heroic one more time.

3-2, minutes to go and WA trying to find something to drive themselves back in to the game and find an equaliser which would have the organisers of the event wondering what would happen in the event of a draw.

“We should just do penalties really.”

“Yeah we don’t people dying.”

Cook was pushed up in a defensive midfield role while Luizennedy was subbed back on to work up front but the English were stoic in defence clearing one chance off the line and parking the bus. With the clock ticking past the designated time Lennie did his usual trick of squeezing out a few more seconds for the drama like he did in his NSL days with WA then winning a free kick on the edge of the area. Cook’s resulting free kick curved about the wall brilliantly but inches wide and that was it with the whistle blown. The trophy was lost. England were winners for at least this clash on this Australian tour with warm handshakes and sly comments about each other deficiencies be it weight, age or skill level between bouts of laughter emanating from beetroot red faces.

There was then a simple presentation minus the 13 steps at Wembley or glitter being shot out of cannons a la a Champions League presentation much to Bumbles’ disappointment but he accepted the trophy with warm sincerity regardless. The players either retreated for the showers or the bar to catch up and talk cricket or tall tales like the hopeful one of England also coming back from 2-0 down to win the Ashes 3-2. As a footnote I noticed on the TV and BBC coverage of the first day of the Ashes Vaughan’s goal and celebration amongst other highlights were shown with some crowing along and half-serious self indulgence from Vaughan. Some of the English scribes twitter accounts also showed off the trophy at the WACA in a group photo. There was a lot of pride in the win it seems. To use the old chestnut which many of them had probably used over their career, ‘They wanted it more’.

A fantastic late afternoon run-around despite the result and the heat. To be involved in a match with such people was a fantastic opportunity and fantastic fun. Playing for my State was the biggest thrill though. How many people can say that?

About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Glory Guerrillas Producer and Co-Host. Contributer to Football Nation Radio and Football West. Worships at the feet of the mighty Cats, Socceroos, Matildas, West Perth, Glory and Glasgow's Green and White most of the time.

Comments

  1. Great stuff. Good to see you are keeping yourself in the best of company, Dennis.
    Revenge today.

  2. First class article Dennis. Well done and thanks for being a part of the best game yet. The feedback I received tells me the next one will be even better – albeit in four years time! Richard.

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