The first ever derby between Macarthur FC and Sydney FC, and lots of grumbling about the price of a ticket made this an unusual build up to the game. Would there be any Sydney fans there? Would the rains make this an epic Saturday night? Would Sydney FC get their mojo back? The answer to all those questions was ‘yes’.
Buying a family ticket, and Aurelia asking her mate Bonnie along, we at least saved a bit of cash off the $45 a head asking price for tickets. The flat $50 a ticket for an over 18s ticket for the away active bay was an utter joke, especially when the bays were separated by nothing and the stadium was at 25% Covid capacity. We made our minds up early though to get the slightly cheaper non-Active non-away bay next door and we were off and running early, the last pick up for Michelle at 4.30pm in Ryde.
A flawless drive down Silverwater Road and onto the M5 saw us pulling in to the Wests Leagues Club car park at 5.30pm and jagging the final free car spot. Result! Any illusion that there would be no Sydney FC fans was immediately dispelled when walking through into the club, the sky blue shirts outnumbering the home shirts as we settled in for a pre-match feed and a schooner or two. Plenty of familiar faces around. We gave ourselves 20 minutes or so to get to our seat pre-kick off. Little did we know that Gates A and B were next to the club, but Gate C was a bloody mile away. Memories invoked of trips to Vicarage Road to see Watford in the 1990s and having to circumnavigate the allotments to get to the away end.
We arrived at the gate right on kick off, a group of African drummers all bedecked in their Macarthur gear being denied entry thanks to the unmoved stewards. The whistle blew and we hadn’t even reached our seats. Plenty of space, and an Active Bay next to us that was both active and vocal, in between visits from the local constabulary to suggest that they stop being both.
The game was played at a good pace, and both teams had gone close. We were right next to Ryan McGowan as he rifled in a thrilling half volley up our end that had Adam Federici acrobatically pushing the ball away, while Redders made himself big to deny Derbyshire at the other end when a more prolific striker would have finished calmly. A misplaced header from an aimless upfield punt then put Trent Buhagiar away and he was too fast for Milligan. The clumsy challenge sent the young Sydney FC striker to the ground and was a definite red card. The Macarthur captain was cheered and jeered off, but the rest of the half was all Bulls, plenty of chances and some rather sluggish play from the visitors that had their fans worried. There were glimpses though, and Anthony Caceres showed us his best Milos impersonation with some incredible trickery to beat three players, but the goal just wouldn’t come. Just as half-time sounded, the accumulating cloud above the stadium opened, sending 90% of the crowd scurrying to the undercover parts of the stadium.
All Covid regulations went out of the window as fans squeezed together to shelter from the chilly rain, and it became obvious that the players weren’t coming back out. The storm eased and 40 minutes later than scheduled, the players finally returned, still no goals at this point.
The second half was again Macarthur on the attack, Redders coughing up a low cross and relying on his teammates to bail him out, and there were chances. A clear offside goal for the hosts was not even sent to VAR, and then all of a sudden, Sydney found their higher gears after some tinkering by Steve Corica. A sweet turn by Ninkovic in his own half had the crowd frothing for more before Rhyan Grant, lead singer of Lime Cordiale, slipped through Kosta Barbarouses in the clear. His snapshot was well saved, but sub Paddy Wood was there to stab the rebound into the empty net. Next up was Milos Ninkovic, and it was from a similar position to Grant for the first goal, this time no pass, but instead a deft surge through the static defence to finish with class despite a lunging tackle. That was a cracker of a goal.
A third goal wasn’t far away, and new boy Wood was well placed to take advantage of a fortunate rebound and looked to have all day to pick his spot for 3-0. Sydney FC were rampant, but took their foot off the pedal, reverting to the frustrating style of the first half, unable to penetrate the penalty area despite dominating possession. It was a procession by now anyway. There was huge applause from the away fans at the end.
A lovely moment, akin to last season’s trip to Central Coast when Marco Tilio and Harry Van Der Saag both scored on their debuts, this time Patrick Wood thrust into the spotlight to lead the celebrations with the visiting fans.
The evening was finally over, an hour later than planned, and still with the best part of an hour in the car ahead. Michelle returned to Wests to continue her evening as the rest of us drove past a rowdy Lumeah station echoing with ‘Forza Sydney FC’. Farewell Campbelltown, the pleasure was all ours, and we look forward to the next visit.