Who would have thought that singing Boney M, Bonny Tyler and Spandau Ballet classics with a bunch of likeminded individuals would keep us occupied on a sunny Saturday afternoon in Leichhardt. But here we are, after a fabulous day out at Sydney FC’s home away from home in the leafy Inner West of our great city, with a game that we’d normally be disappointed to draw, this was a terrific occasion. Such was the convivial atmosphere we didn’t want to leave.
It was after 3pm when we left home, all Saturday stuff done and dusted, and about half an hour later we were parked up in front of the Orange Grove Hotel and on our first drink. The cool bar staff here make it very difficult not to get on the special drinks early and sangria was the order of the day that helped us on our way. The ten minute walk to stadium led us to the main gate, and there was a decent crowd, nothing like the game against the Mariners last time out here, but plenty all the same.
This was Wellington Phoenix’s home game, but our membership passes were valid, all very confusing, but Phoenix did at least have a number of fans up the other end from the Cove. A smaller turn out than usual in the home end, and I made my way in amongst it to help get the numbers and the volume up. It felt so right singing We Are Sydney, while Michelle and the rest of the gang took a prime spot next to the scoreboard on the family friendly hill on the far side, where the view was so much better.
The game was underway soon after; Mustafa Amini was back, the excellent Anthony Caceres returned to the side and Adam Le Fondre partnered Elvis Kamsoba in attack. There was also a return for Andrew Redmayne in goal, Tom Heward-Belle unlucky to revert to bench duty so quickly. My choice of shirt, the grey/blue away shirt from last year, looked ill-informed with Phoenix playing in an almost identical shirt while Sydney wore their white number.
Phoenix got the action underway, a break three-on-two leading to their livewire Jauchua Sotirio firing wide from a good position. The ‘home’ team squandered another similar position when failing to pull the trigger as Sydney FC were again caught on the break, before Amini played an enormous one-two with Le Fondre on the floor, leaving Amini with a free shot, but he could only find the goalkeeper’s hands from a good position. Seeing Max Burgess and Milo Ninkovic on the field at the same time was welcome, and Burgess tricked himself some space to fire low aganist the base of he post and away as Sydney tried to assert their superiority. All the while though, Phoenix looked dangerous.
The deadlock was broken almost on half time, and it was a dreadful piece of defending. The pathway to the player on the penalty spot was wide open, facing away from goal. Instead of forcing David Ball further away from goal, he was allowed to turn and the shot was deflected into Redders and into the net for a horrible goal.
Moments later Kamsobo burst through and had his shirt pulled for a free kick. An all-in melee threatened, and the crowd was incensed; for some reason Kamsoba recieved a yellow card through it all, although we couldn’t see why. The free kick was wasted and the half time whistle sounded with little to cheer for the Sydney FC faithful as the clock read a Harry Potter-esque 45:11.
The half time toddler race took on a battle of the sexes theme, a wee little girl looking odds on to score the first goal with the crowd cheering her on, only for a similarly miniature young lad to race past as she shot and fire the ball home to take the title. The hill was a place of refuge, and the mood was like a late afternoon picnic, kids rolling down the hill, beers flowing readily and generally everyone having a lovely time catching up, the football almost taking second place. There’ll be none of this at the football stadium, I’m sure we’ll miss it.
Taking my spot back at the Cove as kick off loomed, the second half had to be different. It hadn’t worked in the first forty-five and we had been so easily picked apart for the goal. What a breath of fresh air then to see the Sky Blues step it up a gear, and the corners started coming, the crowd willing their team on to turn this around. An hour had now passed and the forward searches were yielding no joy; Le Fondre took his eye off the ball at one stage and missed an easy pass in the penalty area as he had his back turned. The groans sounded out, but despair turned to hope as the veteran Bobo entered the fray to a long chorus of everyone’s favourite player chant.
It wasn’t long before he’d had a sighter on goal, firing just wide on the turn. Five minutes later he had the ball in the net. Burgess freed Caceres down the right before accepting a bold back heel in return. Burgess fired in the cross which Bobo swept home past Ollie Sail for a cracking team goal. Big celebrations in the home end, and hope for more.
Sydney pressed for a winner, but all the time Wellington seemed to have the right man in the right place for the rebound to swarm forward on the counter, and they were unlucky not to equalise, Redders tipping over well. The ‘Sydney Football Club’ chant got the Cove bouncing, the pre-teen supporters enjoying colleting the litter and tossing it gleefully into the mix; always a fun chant that one. Bobo then had a header that tested Sail, before the Phoenix keeper pulled off a cracker of a save to push away a cheeky shot from close range from the Brazilian sorcerer. The press didn’t look like yielding a winner, and it could have been worse as a shot on the break whistled past the post at the far end, Redders looking on in relief. A 1-1 draw was the best we could do, the players eventually came over and gave their applause, Bobo getting yet another rendition of his melodic chant.
The fans streamed out, those on the Hill though needed some prompting to leave, the weather, the grass and the seemingly endless supply of drinks giving this a festival feel. Light was fading, making the stadium look magnificent, and we headed out into the evening. Barely half an hour later, thanks to the car not being parked close to the stadium with the traffic lights making it hard to get out, I was back home, ready to take in the evening A-League game, which then rolled as is often the case into a night of EPL.
There’s been a lot of conjecture this week about how the A-League is bleeding fans at current, how the TV coverage is turning people away and how we’re in a mess. Honestly, if we can serve up more of this, we’ll have no problem attracting more fans. A Saturday evening in Leichhardt, Bonnie Tyler and all, count me in every time.