If you’ve never done Melbourne Victory away, you’re missing out. The sense of parochial pride as you represent your club, your city and your state as your team goes into battle on foreign soil is the most sought after feeling of any football fan, and a big blue in Melbourne delivers in spades. I was transported back to my late teens following Newcastle United in the dark days of Ossie Ardiles and Division 2. The journey to the game, the meet in the pub, the singing and chanting, the march to the stadium, the feeling of being in the minority in an imposing atmosphere and the pure elation of scoring. Absolutely fucking brilliant.
We set off at 8am from Ryde, dropped the car in a hotel car park, shuttled to the airport and were on our first beer by 9.30am. We arrived in Melbourne at midday and we were Ubered by a lovely fella who filled us in on what to expect in the city over the next three days. Getting stocked up with supplies and dressed in our finest Sydney FC threads, it was off to the Crafty Squire in town for a 3.30pm meet up. The pub, effectively split in two to cater for this sort of scenario, filled up and all the familiar faces from the Cove were getting ready to support their team in the Big Blue clash.
By 6pm, after sampling every James Squire beer and enjoying some smashing food, the Cove congregated outside the pub ready to march with a police escort to AAMI Park. Now this is no quick event, and with an hour and a half to get to the stadium, the stop-start walk was well-natured and full of fun.
We walked through the streets of Melbourne, across the railway and through the Australian Open precinct, with bemused tennis fans looking on as the Cove suddenly interrupted the placid poshness. We were taken past the protesters, not sure what they’re protesting about these days, and arrived at the impressive structure of AAMI Park. Up the steps and around the stadium, we arrived at the corner bay, wedged in between the less active Victory fans.
The pregame was entertaining, a Greek Zorba dance getting the crowd pumped up, and the anthem was belted out while a melange of cultures were represented in a lovely show of multi-cultural Australia. Who knows what these new Australians were thinking as the Cove roared to life as they waited in the tunnel area next to our bay.
The crowd was growing and by kick off the stadium was bouncing in the home end, and the opposite end just next to our bay was coming to life.
You can watch the highlights right here or read all about it on the internet, so no need to go into it too much, but Sydney came out with a bit of fight and a new look defence, James Donachie returning and Connor O’Toole and Harry Van Der Saag coming in to replace the two Socceroos full backs. Victory took the lead in front of us, Ben Folami controlling a sweeping pass to fire home from the angle past Tom Heward-Belle. The sight of Melbourne Victory fans give it the large one in front of us was well and truly returned with interest later in the half as Elvis Kamsoba and Trent Buhagiar combined to cause havoc in the penalty area and Milos Ninkovic opted to control instead of shooting first time, the defenders flying everywhere to leave a gap that the wily Serbian exploited, firing home from close range.
Half time came and a tricky incident in the smoking area when Victory fans threatened to engulf the Sydney fans having a puff, the police and security guards nipping it in the bud.
The second half was breath-taking, Heward-Belle somehow saved from close range when Folami surely had to tap-in. Victory then took the lead again, a cross tapped home by the much-maligned Robbie Kruse to set the Victory tribe away again. The subs flowed, Bobo and Mustafa Amini on, and Sydney battled well, creating chances and giving us lots to be hopeful about. A head clash halted proceedings for some time, but with ten minutes left of the ninety, a corner from Adrian Caceres was headed home beautifully by Bobo, simply standing his ground and outleaping his marker to power the ball into the corner of the net. The Cove went crazy. The final throes of the game were end to end stuff, Amini picking up a yellow for a necessary foul, and Sydney FC looking lively on the counter-attack. After eight minutes of injury time, the whistle sounded, and the Sky Blues had proved their doubters wrong with a battling performance.
Amini was keen to applaud the visiting fans, who had sung throughout, and the players trooped off, leaving the seagulls to invade the pitch. We stayed to take in the surroundings of a now empty stadium, and headed off out into the night.
The area was awash with people, and the walk back to our home for the night was colourful, plenty of heckles from the locals, but nothing but friendly cajoling. Thank you Melbourne for making this a fabulous spectacle. More football to come this week as the Socceroos take on Vietnam at the same venue and we’ll be standing side by side with our rivals in support of our country. Catch you all there!