Senses working overtime

An absolute corker of a weekend to bring in spring in the suburbs, the temps in the high 20s and a feeling that the cold dark days of winter are well and truly behind us. It might not be the best conditions to play in, but it makes the whole football experience that much more pleasurable.

An unusually late kick off for the Under 15s Division 1 team gave the start of Saturday a different feel altogether. The first game was Zach’s refereeing appointment at Meadowbank No 6, and a lively West Ryde Rovers came up against rivals West Pennant Hills in Under 10 division 3. This was an altogether better football experience from Zach’s debut game with the under 9s last week, and knowing a lot of the Mums and Dads on the sideline gave this an extra edge. Rovers raced into a two goal lead and looked as though they were going to swamp West Penno, but the ball just wouldn’t go the right side of the post and they had to be content with two at half time.

The curse of half time caught up with Zach just into the second half, a couple of calls where the hand went up the wrong way before being corrected. All a learning curve, and don’t think the older refs don’t have the same second half confusion when the ball first goes out of play. The game suddenly turned when a looping shot evaded the home goalkeeper, but there was still no panic in the Rovers ranks and they kept on plugging away. Drama with three minutes to go though, a low ball into the area was helped into the net by a clearly delighted West Penno player. Surely the scoring was done, two goals a-piece, but no, barely a minute before the end of the game, a ball was slipped through to the visiting attacker who raced on, drew the goalkeeper and scuffed a shot past his despairing leg and the ball bobbled into the goal for a dramatic last gasp winner. Heads in hands from the Rovers. A fantastic finish to the game, and Zach again absolutely loved it.

It was then time for the bigger boys, the Under 15s travelling to Campbell Park, HQ to West Pennant Hills for a late 11am kick off. Traditionally the boys kick off at 8.30am to allow for the players to make refereeing appointments mid morning, the 11am timeslot a classic for uncovered games. This weekend though, the super computer from Atos responsible for generating the fixtures must have had a glitch.

A picture perfect game, taken in from the hill next to the single Campbell Park field, was meant to be a comfortable run out for the Rovers ahead of a blank weekend with the bye. However, as much as Rovers tried, they couldn’t find a way past the stubborn West Penno defence – in fact it could have been worse, Ari making two or three stops, one from a striker who was clean through on goal. There was concern in the Rovers ranks, the Grand Final top two chance slipping through their fingers. A moment of magic though finally prised open the home team’s defence, Billy controlling well and making space to drill home the ball from 15 yards. Relief all round, and it would surely be a matter of time before the away team cemented their lead. The home team didn’t read the script however, and a calamitous moment of hesitant defending left the striker through one-on-one with Ari again, and this time the striker picked his spot and slotted home the chance. With only five minutes left, Rovers threw caution to the wind and pushed up into all-out-attack. No further scoring though, and that result condemns the Rovers to a finish outside the top two barring some odd results elsewhere. A shortened season this year means no finals series, straight to the Grand Final 1v2.

It was clear when finally getting on to Pennant Hills Road that there were some heavy delays in the standard horror show Saturday traffic. Destination Thornleigh and Oakleigh Oval for a 1pm kick off, normally a 10 to 15 minute drive from Campbell Park. Not today though. My phone was buzzing as I navigated some back streets to make up lost time, two payers were running late, we were going to have to start the game with ten.

A shell-shocked Rovers team left the field dejected at half time, four goals behind and with no answer to the superior finishing of the Thornleigh team- first a delicate chip over keeper Matt, then a total stunner taken first time from 25 yards, crashing off the bar and bouncing over the line for a thrilling goal. Some cajoling and pleading for some simple possession football seemed to be heeded in the second 45, Rovers finally starting to come into the game. Naz fluffed a great chance before Rod calmly finished a great move to make it 4-1. There was time for one more goal and another delicate chip over Matt for the hat-trick, richly deserved and rightly earning applause from the Rovers players. 5-1 the final score, and it could have been worse – a deliberate handball from Joe was only punished with a yellow by the ref and from then on Rovers got totally on the wrong side of the official who was only too happy to tell the players what he thought of them.

A well earned beer after the game – please understand that this is only while the players are getting changed, so no rules are being broken, and social distancing is well maintained, before heading off for the final game of the day, the 35/4s at nearby Thornleigh Oval for a 3pm kick off. Okay, it was 3.30pm when I got there, and a couple of beers to the good, just in time to see the Rovers take the lead against Normo. I was named on the teamsheet but was expecting to be unused. However with 25 minutes to go Boyd suffered a classic hamstring tear and there were some players flagging in the heat.

On I came and I’d like to think I contributed as Rovers saw out the game professionally to snatch the three points and keep their Grand Final dream alive. More terrific beer choices saw an esky completely emptied by the time the last player changed out of their kit, such were the warm conditions and such was the thirst for a good brew and a chinwag. Remember, mens’ mental health is important (hey it’s RUOK day on Thursday) and a chance to chat over a beer is such a tonic in these anti-social times. That concluded the Saturday. A big day involving some good and some bad football.

Sunday morning, after breakfast in bed for Fathers Day from Aurelia, saw this Sydney FC supporter venture into enemy territory at Blacktown Football Park, home to the Spartans. This has changed since the last time I was here, the Wanderers have their base on the same side of the road now and there is a majestically positioned McDonalds, overlooking the fields and making suggestions to hungry kids.

The mighty Gladesville Ravens, fresh from their first win of the season, were in for a test, but they knew it. A tough tackling first half saw a number of chances to the dominant home team saved by goalkeeper Chloe. Alas after all those good saves came an awkward bouncing ball that bumped up into her arms and then out again, rolling into the unguarded net before the Ravens keeper could react. So, 0-1 at the break, could the Ravens get themselves back into this one? The first three or four minutes of the half suggested that they could, however the rest of the second half was one-way traffic, and the Spartans hit four more unanswered goals. Even when a chance finally came the Ravens way, Sage could only fire wide, and coach Eddie was left scratching his head after returning for this one and seeing his team soundly beaten.

A forfeit in the afternoon meant a bit of down time for once, and that spelled the end of the weekend’s action. Still an absolutely wonderful two days of grass roots football in the suburbs.

Having a Sunday off refereeing meant there was energy to be expended, and the opportunity arose to get back into the running groove, a fairly brisk 10km, well just under, leaving me absolutely shattered as you can see. Truth is, I’d been getting a little lazy and slovenly during the week, sitting at a desk all day, so the run was meant to snap me out of that rut. It definitely did, and I felt so much better for it, if not right away.

After training on Tuesday had warmed up the girls, Wednesday saw a fantastic initiative from Gladesville Ravens. The Under 14s NPL team were to play the Under 13s GSAP team, full field, no modified rules. A taster of NPL for the GSAP players and potentially a chance for he Under 14s to get a confidence boosting win under their belts. Ryde Council closed all non-synthetic fields that night after heavy rain, meaning that Rovers 35s training was off. Cue yours truly stepping in at the last minute to referee the game. Father and daughter on the same field, fantastic!

What should have been a one-sided game on paper was anything but, the GSAP 13s revelling in the extra space and really battling well in the challenge despite the disparity between the frames of opposing players. A first half high in intensity but low on end product saw the teams come in goalless. However, a corner midway through the second half was met by an unmarked Bonnie who headed home easily, exposing the frailties of the GSAP defence. The game was played at a high pace too, and the 6.7km covered in the 60 minute game was up there with the highest. Again, what a great initiative to introduce the Under 13s to top flight football, and coach Eddie handed out doughnuts at the end of he game to both teams.

The remainder of the week was for training. Aurelia at Bedlam, Zach at Meadowbank for a game v Under 18 Div 2. The week wouldn’t though be complete without a bit of book action. This time it was My Football Books, coming up with an absolutely fantastic review for what is fast becoming a hit, especially in the UK. If the reviews keep coming like this one, I’m definitely going to get my finger out and get stuck in to book five. Watch this space – just need to get through the end of the season and we’ll free up some time to get stuck into it in earnest.

That was the week that was. Football is certainly alive in the suburbs, and long may it stay that way. Stay tuned for another bumper post next week. Adios!

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