Come in Number 23

Before we start, some instructions – if you’re reading this on your mobile, you might be able to swipe the photos to see the next one in the sequence. I didn’t realise that you only got one of the photos in each gallery. You’ve been missing out! Anyway, on we go.

The weekends are for football. This year we’re playing our football a little later in the year and we caught Sydney on two cracking summery days as we bid goodbye to winter. Sydney FC topped off the weekend with a hard fought win at the home of their arch rivals, Sydney once again is sky blue.

Meadowbank Park was resplendent, there’s something magical about the crispness of a winter’s morning, but this one was already starting to heat up by the time we reached the 8.30am kick off time for the West Ryde Rovers Under 15s clash of the titans against Epping FC.

These two teams played out a classic earlier in the season, a penalty miss and a late goal condemning Rovers to defeat, and this time the visitors were on the back of a seven game winning run. The home team were a little tentative out of the blocks, but were soon off and running, grappling with their opponents and giving the referee plenty to do.

A solitary goal separated the teams at the break, and Rovers felt aggrieved to not be getting the run of the ball, some suspect decisions going against them. A second goal soon after the break could have broken the home team, but a superb run and shot by Jake, back in at centre forward, brought them right back into it. The rest of the game saw dogged defending and increasingly fervent attack, but despite late calls for a penalty, this wasn’t going to be the home team’s day.

The feeling of dejection for Zach didn’t last too long – the nervous excitement of handling his first refereeing appointment was at the forefront of his mind. Remembering the rules of mini-football and getting the calls right had him chewing his nails. This was the glitz and glamour of Under 10 division 6 on the hallowed Meadowbank 6 turf, a field graced many times in the Under 9s and Under 10s when Zach was under the stewardship of coach Dad.

My little laddie Zach looked like a giant amongst men out there, and he was straight into the action, a handball by the keeper outside the area giving the home side a good chance to equalise an early goal. Despite lengthy discussion with the attacker that it was an indirect free kick, the Rovers forward lashed the ball into the net off the bar – the goal quite rightly chalked off amidst the cheers and then the jeers from the Dads on the sideline. Controversial start, not five minutes into his refereeing career.

The game ended up being an absolute classic – the Rovers Dads were animated in that light-hearted self-deprecating way that only Dads of young kids can master. Huge cheers for anything good, encouragement when things weren’t so good. Rovers overturned their deficit to fire into the lead, the second goal a rocket of a shot from distance. As time ticked on, the Dads became more and more nervous. Wins were obviously at a premium. After dominating for the majority of the match, it was perhaps inevitable that the visitors from West Pennant Hills caught them napping and equalised late on. Was there time for either team to snatch a winner? Bloody right there was. The visitors broke free and with the final kick of the game nabbed a dramatic winner, sending the away contingent into raptures and leaving the home team’s entourage looking at each other in quiet resignation.

Zach loved it. It was a classic under 10s game, surprisingly skillful given the level, and Zach said that the game went so quickly. Great stuff – there’ll be more to come hopefully now that he’s got a taste for it. When he starts to tot up all the games, I think he’s going to be in for a decent pay packet!

Dad had to quickly nip back home to get his gear after earning a call up to the 35/4s – with the mighty division 2 team not playing until the Sunday and a 5pm referee appointment, there was time for a good three quarters of a game. Alas, a terrible performance from team and individual left the high flying Rovers beaten 0-1 by the league’s bottom team. Luckily I was substituted when I was, as the journey to Christie Park for the evening kick off was a little longer than expected.

Arriving at a refereeing appointment with five minutes to spare still dressed in your playing gear is not an easy way to start a game. The players were out and ready, but there was no rush – the Macquarie Dragons and Epping Eastwood Over 35 Division 6 teams were just happy that a referee had taken this uncovered game.

Another absolute corker of a game this one, Macquarie looking the more youthful and vibrant of the two teams taking a 1-0 lead into the break. The more experienced yellow team came out firing, but a second goal seemed to break them and it could have been more. Cue a superb comeback. The goalkeeper dropped a corner to present the visitors with an unlikely way back into the game, and then a mad scramble in the box led to a chance at the far post for a hard-earned equaliser. Brilliant drama. A superb game played in good spirit, Macquarie blessed with a player who was so skillful but just didn’t want to show it, and Epping boasting the most imposing central defender in the league. So glad I took that game, you just never know when you’re going to get a superb encounter like this one. There was also time to take in some of the Under 16s AYL derby game between Spirit and Ryde Magic on the adjacent field on the way out.

When the fourth encounter of the season between Hills and Ravens was announced midweek, the players were clearly unamused. A draw and two narrow defeats had given Ravens scant return for some good performances. With coach Eddie having booked a weekend away with the family to coincide with the now cancelled trip to play South Coast, Under 12s coach Olga took the reins of the U13 GSAP superstars.

The team self-managed the warm up, central defender Issy marshalling her team and running the last drill, then the Ravens, in their change strip of Sydney FC blue, kicked off and absolutely nailed the first half. It was proper boiling hot in the sun, and goals from Anna and Erika, the first a delicately working team goal, had Ravens two goals up at half time. The Ravens fans on the sideline were full of praise at half time, but after last week’s last gasp equaliser, were rightly on edge. The home team came at the visitors with an onslaught at the start of the half, but as the conditions got hotter and hotter, the Ravens started to boss the game, and grabbed a third, Sage racing through the power home a shot past the keeper. A flurry of corners kept the ball up the right end and the final whistle ushered in some big celebrations. The girls got to do their chant for the first time. There was singing, dancing and excitement. A rousing round of applause greeted the players as they came off, and then a big huddle as the players phoned coach Eddie to tell him the good news. This was bloody fantastic. Grass roots football at its best, a team who have battled hard all season, going down to the odd goal and conceding late equalisers, but no one was taking this one away. Thoroughly deserved!

Dad would go into his own game on Sunday afternoon then with his tail up. This was a tough ask against second placed North Epping at a smoky Ron Payne park. Rovers were again without a recognised striker, Naz asked to do all the work himself in a 4-5-1 formation as Rovers would look to soak up the pressure and hit their hosts on the break. The referee was having a bit of a one-eyed game, the yellow cards coming out one after the other, but the visitors were happy to have come into the break level with the sun still beaming down. But it could have been different. A hopeful ball forward was headed away but Texi (that’s me) headed the half-clearance into the path of Naz for a run through on goal. He snatched at it early though and the chance was gone.

The second half got off to its usual start – Dimitri, forever the second half entrant due to his unusual work patterns, went straight into the referee’s book for yet another foul. Keeper Matt worked the referee’s ticket with some acerbic banter. George was lucky to stay on, his smooth talking with the man in the middle giving him a little leeway. A shoulder to shoulder challenge with fifteen to go settled the game, Naz adjudged to have bowled over the attacker for a penalty which was calmly dispatched. Central defender Mark was then unlucky not to get a sweeter touch on a rampaging run through the middle, only able to steer the ball out of play when reaching to round the keeper. A wild shot from Naz saw another chance go begging, Ed flashed a header wide from a corner and a Texi shot was the last chance of the game, the keeper too good. So, a 0-1 reverse, but a cracking performance and so close to getting something out of a tough game.

A post-game ‘picnic’ was declared, and the warm conditions meant that the fabulous selection of beers went down beautifully. A few of the guys were heading off to the Grand Final – what better way to warm up while getting changed out of your football gear than a cool ale. Just repeating, this was a picnic, not post-match drinks. A picnic. All in the name of men’s mental health.

Now, how good was it to be back at a live top-flight football match after six months absence? Even though we had rows and rows of seats to ourselves due to the pandemic regulations, the atmosphere was amazing. A seat behind the goal and up high was the perfect view of the disallowed goal, everyone scratching their heads at the decision, and Sydney FC lucky to get that call. The City keeper made some great saves towards the end, but Rhyan Grant, Aurelia’s number one player, snatched the win with an unorthodox finish up the other end to send Sydney FC to the summit. What a superb evening, it was easy to get in and out of the stadium, there were lots of familiar faces, the songs were belted out and it was a glorious night out. Bring it back!

The week that followed was a warm one too. Training for Aurelia at Bedlam on Tuesday, a massive turn out for the Over 35s on Wednesday, so much so that we had to revert to a full field game. Zach had training on Thursday and we somehow got Aurelia to training only five minutes late after Sydney trains were all stuffed to bits in the afternoon. The photo above shows Aurelia doing her solo warm up, the curse of the late arrival.

No Coerver now until next year, so a Friday night in listening to the heavy rain, but we’re promised sunshine tomorrow for the start of another big week of football in the suburbs! Thanks for reading.

Leave a Reply