Park the bus

What a week of football. A decimated 35/2 team almost snatched a draw from the league leaders, 15/1s lost their way, U13 GSAP were given a lesson, but football was still the winner and everyone left happy.

Saturday morning was super windy, the corner flags were fully unfurled, and Meadowbank Park would definitely not be the place for high quality passing football. The Under 15 Division 1 superstars were playing their final home game of the season. No chance of making the 1v2 final, playing for pride against the other team who would have made it to the finals if it was its usual top four round robin.

Rovers were excellent for large parts of this one, but the game hinged on the superior finishing of the visitors. West Ryde did their best to bring the ball down and play football, but the conditions didn’t suit them and too often the final pass would find its way out of play, carried by the ferocious breeze. A glorious finish from distance gave North Epping the lead, Ari no chance in the Rovers goal. A second half injury to striker Jake, going down as if he’s dislocated his shoulder, made things even more difficult, Zach B was given some rough treatment at the back, and a second goal sealed the game, Rovers just not able to play their usual fluid passing game. No complaints, but a very quiet team talk with only coach Steve trying his best to win a smile out of his players.

The players, coaches, parents and entourage made their way to the club house for an end of season presentation afterwards, Zach receiving his ten year service medal. Ten years! Far out, I was coaching his Under 6 team ten years ago, it really brings it on home just how old your kids are getting.

There were also medals for all the Rovers players who are refs for 2020, so there was one for Texi and one for Zach. A nice touch by the club, and it is encouraging just how many of the Rovers family do give back their time for refereeing on the weekend. Zach had a triple header of AR appointments again and I left him at the park.

No time to waste, with the traffic a real shit on Saturdays around midday heading north, it was on the road to Thornleigh for the Over 35 Division 2 clash between league leaders Normanhurst Eagles and 6th placed Rovers. An injury crisis was identified through the week and players persuaded to get out there instead of letting their injuries heal. Andy was crocked with an ankle injury, Sheeks had a groin issue, Matt in goal was the walking wounded as he often is at this stage of the season, Adam was 50/50 with a foot injury and Naz wasn’t sure if he would make it for kick off. Marty, who was headbutted last week in the win against Epping, had been for a scan and told that he shouldn’t play after a concussion, so Rovers had a team of eleven half-fit players. No subs. Icelandic superstar Sjonni made his long awaited comeback after a long term injury, arriving right on kick off, and West Ryde went into this one fearing a total shellacking.

But it wasn’t to be. What should have been a park the bus exercise against the high flying home side, ended up being anything but. A sensational first half performance saw Sjonni and Joe go close with snapshots, and Rovers give it a real go. The game was half an hour in before the deadlock was broken, a throw-in deflected into the path of a home player on the edge of the box. Yours truly was slow to shut him down, “as if he’ll shoot from there!”, and watched as the ball sat up beautifully and a raking drive from 20 yards was too strong for Matt in the Rovers goal. Minutes later it was two, this time Matt completely fluffing a clearance straight to their player, albeit on half way, and the Normo player lifted the ball over the stranded keeper and defence for a glorious finish. With the Normo number 10 grating on the Rovers team with his play-acting, throwing himself to the ground with ridiculous sound effects, this game was close to descending into a farce and a heavy defeat. The half time whistle gave the players some respite.

With no help from the bench and the sun baking, it was time to dig deep. The aim was to win the half. Matt started the half by pulling off a marvellous point blank save to keep the visitors in it, before a moment of controversy. A ball was played into the area by Sjonni to Ed, his shot took a deflection and fell perfectly to Naz who rolled the ball home. The referee consulted the first-year assistant referee and somehow disallowed the goal for offside. This fired up the Rovers. A corner from Naz was lifted into the six yard box, the heads went up, and Mark rose to plant a header into the net to set up a grandstand finish. It wasn’t long before another chance came, Texi hooking in a cross for Joe to connect, but the ball went the wrong side of the post and heads went in hands. At the other end the gamesmanship of the number 10 earned him a yellow card. Soon after, the boy who cried wolf was left holding his face after getting a finger in the eye, the referee tired of his nonsense and waving play on. Karma is a f*cking champion sometimes.

The game ended a little prematurely with the home side winning 2-1, and they were cheering loudly in relief. Rovers though can hold their heads very very high – a fantastic performance where they almost achieved the impossible. As Joe said as he walked off – “Feels like a win boys, feels like a win.” A hastily arranged esky by Texi in Marty’s absence made everything better, before attention turned to the other big game of the day at Magdala Oval.

West Ryde Rovers 35/4 had an outside chance of getting into the grand final. This was a big game against North Ryde. Joe had raced from the 35/2 game, Texi took his time and arrived just after half time. The game was poised at 0-0. A win was the only result that would do. There were chances at both ends, but it was Rovers who grabbed the lead when a cross wasn’t cut out, Gibbo shot and the ball fell for Mark who slotted the ball home for 1-0. With the familiar whistler in charge, the only referee in the comp who doesn’t leave the centre circle all game and holds the note of his Fox 40 just that little bit longer than normal, this was going to get tasty. Simon was flattened in the middle of the park and was adjudged to be the aggressor, a free kick just outside the area was wasted by the home side and Rovers started to make frequent substitutions to break up the play.

The game was sealed by a rasping shot from distance by Joe after a mazy dribble in the middle of the park had seen the field open up in front of him. Rovers now 2-0 up, it was time to bring on experience and Texi made a fleeting appearance. Ten minutes later, after cracking a shot on target straight into the hand of the defender for no penalty, a hamstring tweak sent me scuttling for the sanctuary of the bench. The rest of the game was a case of Rovers creating chances and missing them all, while North Ryde kept the nerves jangling with some chances, keeper Brett too good though. A 2-0 result was the right result. News came through of the other results and the boys had moved into second place. Fantastic news!

There was more beer on offer, all quality stuff, and plenty of good banter while the players took in the first half of the 45/5 El Classico between North Ryde and West Penno. We’ll all be playing at that speed before long, as long as we’re still playing. That was the end of proceedings for Saturday. A fine day of football.

A glorious Sunday morning saw the mighty Gladesville Ravens Under 13 GSAP squad travel to Lucas Neill’s old stomping ground of Cromer Park to take on the force that is Manly United. It was only due to the Covid bubble that this fixture was taking place, otherwise the two teams would have steered well clear of each other. It was summery conditions, still a little windy, and the home side were surprised by the liveliness of their visitors in the opening ten minutes, even fashioning a shooting chance that wasn’t taken.

From the 10th to 20th minute though, Rovers received an absolute footballing lesson. The parents watched on through their hands as a series of corners produced five goals. Every one of them was lifted into the centre, no one reacted and the Manly players took full advantage. It was the most static of defensive displays ever witnessed, and showed exactly where Ravens need to improve. The half time team talk included some soul searching by coach Ed, unable to believe what he had seen.

The second half was much better. Manly only had two corners and didn’t score from either, but they still notched up another four goals. The Rovers keeper Nikita to be fair made some good saves, but a 9-0 scoreline tells you everything you need to know. Cromer Park has never been a happy hunting ground for Ravens. This was at least better than the Under 12s game that Aurelia helped out in goal a couple of years ago which went well into double figures.

A race against time to get from Manly to Meadowbank was pleasantly quick, thanks to the new road on the Waringah freeway. A refereeing appointment for a womens All Age 5 game on field 9 was looking a little sketchy with five minutes to kick off, a distinct lack of players, but we started with 11v11. It was a really enjoyable game too. There was a standout player, number 10 I think it was for Putney who ran all day and was unlucky not to score. This was good honest football, no yellows, no reds, no moaning, no niggle. A real pleasure to referee.

What a result for my beloved NUFC on Sunday night too – my eyes were hanging out of my head so I went to bed to watch it on my phone. Never a good idea at the best of times, but my phone ran out of charge with injury time looming. For some reason I didn’t call it quits and the phone flickered back to life after putting it on charge just in time to see an outrageous VAR penalty award for the Toon’s only shot at goal of the game. We’ll take it!

The week was busy. Aurelia had training on Tuesday evening at the marvellously named Bedlam Bay, the evenings getting lighter, Wednesday was potentially the final training of the season for Over 35s. What I really enjoyed about this one was Aurelia coming along and she didn’t look out of place, giving one of our players a nutmeg and playing some impressive one touch football with team mates 30 years her senior. It was a first airing for my new Newcastle Blue Star FC home shirt, a retro Toon look from a progressive club looking to make waves in non-league football back in the UK. Thursday saw Aurelia back at Bedlam, and then we both joined Zach on the field in a parents v players game for the Under 15/1 team in their final training session of the season. Another proud parent moment, playing on the same field with both of my kids!

That was the end of the football action for the week, but there is still the matter of an Unashamed Football Novel to complete in time for the Football Writers Festival in Manly in late November. I received the first edited draft back from the publisher last week with a lot of work to do, as well as suggestions to talk to more people to give certain aspects of the storyline a more realistic feel.

That took me to St Peters on Thursday to meet up with top sportswoman and all round champion, AFLW’s Gill Behan, to talk all things sport and relationships in the top-flight. Almost comically, I also found myself in Ikea with Zach and Aurelia on Thursday night, shopping for furniture after a typically Swedish meal in the restaurant there – I’m putting that one down as research too – all will be revealed when the book is released! I can’t wait to see this one in print. It will be even better to have people read it – potentially a risky subject and I’ll only get one shot to get it right!

Stay tuned as we enter the final weekend of the regular football season in the local leagues, teams are scratching around for players with it being the long weekend. Can the 35/4s make it to the Grand Final? Will there be training next Wednesday? Will GSAP Under 13s get a team together for Sunday’s game? Football in the suburbs is alive and well!

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