No place like home

Following Sydney FC is like going to an away game every time. This time we were at the home of the Sydney Olympics, Stadium Australia, the stadium everyone knows as ANZ but which has recently reverted to its original name. A lot of people don’t rate this stadium, and it is very big, but it has served its purpose well and has been the seat of many a sporting triumph over the years. Today, Sydney FC were at home to Western Sydney Wanderers, the East v West derby.

The day started well. The Meadowbank Ultras, a social collection of keen football people, met to discuss all things football over lunch. The venue was perfect as we could see the ferry coming in the distance and timed our exit well.

Getting to Sydney Olympic Park was a breeze, a three minute ferry ride across the Parramatta River to meet a waiting bus. The bus wound through the streets of the former Olympic Village at Newington, showing us just how lucky the athletes were to be housed in quality accommodation so close to the venue.

Photo courtesy of Bruno

Meeting at a new pre-game venue (for me anyway) at the Locker Room, directly opposite the stadium, there was a raucous group of like-minded people. This was excellent, good fun, good beers and good company. A great vibe to take into the game, and we afforded ourselves a few moments to get across and into the stadium to get installed before the game kicked off.

The atmosphere was building. The crowd was small and masked up, but there was a lot of encouragement for the players to feed off. A poignant minute of applause for Frank Arok pre-match got the juices flowing and the A-League game was off and running.

The game panned out as expected. Sydney FC’s intricate ball work and superior possession up against a gritty Wanderers side with a swift break in their locker. Goalless at the break despite some entertaining enterprise from both teams, the game sprung to life in the second half with a fairly inoccuous challenge giving the Sky Blues a penalty, Troisi dropping the shoulder into Ninkovic instead of following his run. No complaints from our end of the ground as Kosta Barbarouses stroked home the spot kick.

We weren’t in the lead long though, and Wanderers fashioned an equaliser from nothing. A searching ball over the top was mis-handled by Redders and that man Troisi was there to sweep the ball home. Hopes of a VAR check for the offside player running through came to nothing, for once the video check not coming to our rescue.

There were plenty of chances in this game and the crowd definitely had value for money. What was even more value for money was the second game of the night, high flying Sydney FC women against their rivals Wanderers in a second derby encounter. Surely the 13,000 people who left their seats at the end of the men’s game were just going for a wee, right? Unbelievably, the stadium was almost empty by the time the game kicked off, how can that be? The unofficial active support had gone, the opportunity for these girls to play in front of a big crowd was denied. Such a head-scratching shame.

The football was free flowing. The second Ibini on show tonight took over where her brother left off and teased a foul from the Wanderers mid-way through the half to earn a penalty. Mackenzie Hawkesby slid home a text book spot kick for 1-0. There were a lot of chances too, Courtnee Vine was tormenting her marker down the right, the home side hit the bar then the post in quick succession. Probably scant reward for all their play in the first half, Sydney FC doubled their lead with a bizarre goal from a corner that was tapped in at the far post by the alert Ellie Brush. By now I was in a mid-strength Iron Jack induced haze, but Remy Siemsen was involved in a lot of Sydney’s attacking threats.

Lovely to see the players applauding to the crowd at the end of the game, not that there were many of us left. Marvellous entertainment on the field though.

Chanced upon Rose and Chrissy from The Ladies League after the game – you can always count on this tribe being in attendance at the W-League. A quick nightcap back at the Locker Room and a short Uber home and the football day was over.

So, how do we get more people to the W-League games then? It is quite an effort to sit through two games of football back to back and display equal passion for both, so how can the marketing gurus of the leagues draw more people in? Do we need a lucky door prize of $1,000 at the half-time break, where a ticketed seat number is drawn at random and if you’re in your seat, you get the cash? Do we need to do giveaways, extra entertainment, crowd interviews up on the big screen? All food and drink half price? I don’t know, any suggestions?

This match day experience brought up another fantasy idea too. Remember the Toon fans invading London for the last day of the season in the sunshine at Fulham and commandeering an flotilla of boats for a pre-game party? Any reason why we couldn’t do this in Sydney? Leaving from Cockle Bay for a two hour booze cruise, docking into Olympic Park wharf on to a waiting bus? Is there an appetite for it? Is it irresponsible? I’d love to see it happen!

Cracking day out this one. Only six days to wait until the next one. Logistically a harder one to get to in Kogarah, but the journey is half the fun.

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