Our memories are short. We were in the middle of a crazy pandemic only a few weeks ago, locked down and unable to even contemplate being at a stadium surrounded by real-life people. To be able to take in not one, but two A-grade games on one day is bloody marvellous – perhaps a dry run for Qatar if the Socceroos make it. In the first game, a generous defence was punished ruthlessly by the visiting USA. That was followed by Sydney FC tripping up to a 1-0 home reverse against a gleeful Macarthur. Surely solace would be taken from the early EPL game on Saturday night. Alas no, another blank as my beloved Toon were battered by Arsenal to round off a zero point, zero goal day. But hey, we’re watching live football and it’s great.
Saturday afternoons are synonymous with football, and a good old-fashioned 3pm kick off meant top flight football in daylight for the first time in a long time. The weather gods were not playing ball, although the morning rain gave way to a dry spell just as we were leaving. We picked up Michelle around midday and were parking the car by twenty past at Concord West station, part of the getaway plan for Kogarah later in the day. The fifteen minute walk to the stadium, stopping for the customary Cove shot on the way, saw an ever-increasing number of green and gold shirts; this was going to be quite a crowd.
Michael had booked us a table at the Locker Room, a swish outdoor space upstairs overlooking Cathy Freeman Park, and there was a good crowd there. Aurelia had a meet at 1.30pm for ball crew duty, so I dropped her off and got myself some Qukes (baby cucumbers) and a Matildas clacker from the promo people on the concourse opposite. There would have been a good buzz there, with shooting comps and stalls in front of the main gate, but it had just started raining again and the wind was howling so I was happy to get back out of the elements and enjoy a pint.
After meeting up with Lucas and Brendan, the future of coaching in Australia who were on stretcher-bearer duty today, we were back out into the elements in good time to take in some atmosphere and get in to the stadium on time. Our seats found in the bays next to the active support, the initial remarks were of the scale of the stadium. Compared to CommBank stadium, Stadium Australia, sporting the logo of its fresh new sponsor Accor, was an edifice. The cosy compact surrounds of the rectangular stadium at Parramatta, scene of most of our football recently, were replaced by a soulless and eerie atmosphere.
The South end of the Accor Stadium was undergoing building work at the top, there was blank concrete where adverts would normally be, there was only one big screen working and the top tiers of both massive stands were closed. The clever patterning of seats to give the impression of a fuller stadium hadn’t been thought of at the time, so the blue seats highlighted just how sparsely populated the stands were in comparison to its capacity. Of course, we’ll have no problem in 2023 when this place is packed full and rocking, but today made the stadium seem cavernous.
And then we got The Wiggles.
The players emerged to a muted crowd and lined up for the anthems. The US anthem was glorious. Everyone knows the tune, but it was delivered with gusto and passion and evoked generous applause from the partisan crowd. The Wiggles then sung Advance Australia Fair and tried to keep it serious and passionate, but it went off the rails as it reached the crescendo and didn’t invoke anything other than chuckles.
We can’t blame an anthem for a bad start, but it was perhaps coincidental that the Matildas were behind inside half a minute, and there was disbelief around the stadium when a horrific header and static defending left the US striker all alone to easily beat Teagan Micah with her first touch of the game.
Playing out from the back is a beautiful thing when your defenders are oozing confidence, and it stretches out the opposition to create space, but it was not working, and the US were gifted a chance for 2-0 soon after that was spurned. In fact it could have been way more than that, the striker slotting past the post from point blank range and hitting the side netting. At least the Matildas did come back firing and with Ellie Carpenter making inroads down the right and Mary Fowler showing her style, the chances would come. You can read all about how the game went elsewhere, but Sam Kerr’s shot from distance was expertly saved and Kyah Simon somehow blazed a gift-wrapped sitter over the bar.
A bustling run down the right in the second half saw our defence exposed again, the cut back and finish simple to make it two, and a blatant dive won a penalty for the third, boos ringing out when the crowd had seen the replay on the big screen. There were good moments for the Matildas, Charlie Grant played a ball forward and amidst confusion managed to latch on to her own pass, sending in a cross that was cleared. However the day belonged to the USA who were much more composed and direct.
The sight of half the crowd swarming towards the front of the stands was encouraging, hundreds of young girls eager to meet their heroes at the end of the game. The football was maybe secondary to just being close to the players who have captured the next generation of footballers in Australia. The mums and dads in the crowd, who had endured rain on-and-off during the game on a thoroughly miserable day, were keen to move on. Only the injured Alana Kennedy gave the fans what they wanted, stopping for selfies and autographs.
Aurelia had enjoyed her afternoon in the ball crew despite the scoreline and we met her at the gate. We were now officially in a hurry to get to Kogarah in time for the next meet at 6.15pm, and she filled us in with stories from the game on the fifteen minute walk back to the car.
As usual on a Saturday afternoon in Sydney, the traffic was heavy. Finding a relatively smooth passage to Kogarah though, we had parked up in the back streets near the stadium by 6.45pm after dropping Aurelia at the gate. Unfortunately the Cove’s march had already started, we could hear it in the next street, so took the opportunity to refresh and use our Kogarah Club membership to steel ourselves for a potentially chilly evening out in the elements at Jubilee Oval.
We took our usual position to the right of the Cove, who were out in good numbers for the first home game in the final season at this stadium. This was a Sydney derby, and there was a contingent of animated Macarthur fans at the far end enjoying themselves. The blustery conditions made the chants drift off into the night, but the Cove were in great voice. The Terry McFlynn chant to the tune of ‘Love is in the air’ and the ‘Woah-oh-oh-oh Sydney Football Club’ chant we’d never heard were fantastic. The blue skies were replaced with menacing clouds.
The music was absolutely blaring before the game, the players emerged and the game got underway. This was clearly not going to be a football spectacle tonight though, and the wind was going to play a big part. Sydney FC were playing into the stiff breeze in the first half, and drop kicks weren’t even reaching half way. The Sky Blues were getting in behind, especially down the right, but the quality of the cross wasn’t there. From one such cross, the ball seemed to hit Le Fondre and looked like a tap in, but the ball was behind the striker and he couldn’t react quickly enough. At the other end, there was trickery in midfield from Ulises Davila and Craig Noone was lively. It wasn’t long before the visitors took the opportunity to dance into the area and a clever flick by former Sydney player Danny De Silva left Lachie Rose free to bury a goal in front of the Cove.
A flare was ripped in the away section, prompting the security guard to race away with the beaming object, like the nuclear rod in the opening sequence of the Simpsons. Unfortunately he didn’t get the top on the box on properly to extinguish it and the flare continued to burn. The miscreant was helped on his way by security and ejected by the police.
Sydney toiled but couldn’t get anywhere, Macarthur soaked up pressure and forced wayward passes from the home team, many times a simple pass went straight to the visiting player or straight out of play and it was embarrassing. The visitors should have had a penalty too, a clear foul in the area went unpunished after a VAR check. Half time came and an excuse to get out of the wind.
Plenty of half-time entertainment from the youngsters on the field, mums taking grainy video of their kids in the distance and the announcer getting the crowd pumped up again. The appearance of the players for the second half went almost unnoticed. Sydney FC had the wind, had the home crowd on their side and surely we’d see a goal or two up our end.
And of course, that didn’t happen. We had the lion’s share of possession, but couldn’t get our goal. Adam Le Fondre headed wide at the near post, Adrian Caceres made a great run into the box but couldn’t get the shot away. When Paddy Wood and Calem Nieuwenhoff arrived on the field, the intensity went up. Wood blazed into the side netting from a good position, and the Macarthur keeper made a good save to deny Le Fondre on the turn. Four minutes of injury time brought corners and a last chance free-kick, but again the quality of the cross wasn’t there and the game was over, Steve Corica clearly upset at the manner of the defeat.
Collecting Aurelia from the main gate, there was a commotion as a fight had broken out between Macarthur and Sydney FC fans on Jubilee Avenue. We got the lowdown on the visiting fans from Aurelia, who had been positioned in front of them; apart from some fruity language it was all very jovial as you would expect when your team wins at your rivals. Back home by 10.45pm and straight into the third in a trilogy of defeats for the day in the EPL, that topped off a great day of following live football. We look forward to the next opportunity on Tuesday night in Newcastle.
Special word on the Cove tonight. Numbers were good and the songs were loud. Great to see everyone back and enjoying the evening despite the lack of quality on the field. Some unwelcome faces were dealt with internally – a bunch of English louts launching full beer cans on the field and into the air were chastised and made their way to the other end of the stadium, and some hood rats throwing cans into the mix were asked to try throwing another one and see what happens. The Cove is a family, and it was heart-warming to see self-policing in action. Looking forward to more fun at Kogarah next weekend.