Saturday night was the perfect opportunity to say goodbye in style to our adopted home in the suburbs, Netstrata Jubilee Oval in Kogarah. The Sky Blues had nothing to play for, apart from spoiling visitors Melbourne Victory’s chances of winning the Premiership. To the neutral this was maybe a low key affair, but to the loyal fans, who had not seen their heroes in action for three weeks, this was a big occasion. The Kogarah Clubhouse welcomed the Cove for one last hurrah, and two hours later, we were leaving Gate C safe in the knowledge that we were leaving for good and that our beloved team had plumbed new depths.
After a busy day of park football in the North Western suburbs of Sydney, the 4.30pm departure was a little optimistic, and we were finally on the road just before 5pm, destination Kogarah. Parking one last time in Park Street, just behind the Cove entrance to the stadium, we were in the Kogarah Clubhouse not long after 5.30pm. Unable to secure a table, we opted for the back room of the adjoining Asian restaurant and had our last supper as the crowd swelled in the main part of the club. Finishing our drinks as quickly as we could when the drums started to signal the final march, we joined the tail of the party on English Street. Having passed the mobile security cameras earlier, we knew that we would need to be on our best behaviour.
Luckily it was a carnival atmosphere, nothing but happy smiling faces, and the locals danced at their front gates and waved from their balconies, perhaps in relief, as the street parade moved down towards the stadium for one last time. It was quite a scene and evoked many emotions. Leaving Kogarah to go back to the Sydney Football Stadium is like leaving Loftus Road to play in the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium; the mystique of the dark suburban back streets, the floodlights looming into view, the smells and sounds of the surrounding areas, we’ll miss it all even if we don’t know it yet.
Entry in through Gate C was a little confronting. Metal detectors with your bag check, the horrible security guard who has been the cause of a lot of the angst this season making his unwanted presence felt, treating everyone as a second class citizen. There were some who failed to make their way in, the police adopting the ‘act now, questions later’ approach and removing those that were not complying from the scene altogether.
Once inside, the hill was busy. The main stand less so. And there was a good bank of Melbourne Victory fans at the far end, with a police presence behind them and a temporary fence to keep them away from the families on the eastern side. Going for an ice-cream at the far end would be an interesting proposition. The crisp conditions made way for warmth as we entered our usual spot in North 19; ideal footballing temperature, no wind and a crowd who were ready to give their all for the last 90 minutes of the home season.
There was a big delay and kick off time passed. The pull down tifo that was being held in the back row of the Cove was launched and the teams came out. Fireworks filled the sky. Blue smoke and flames leapt into the air. Silk scarves were held aloft and the Cove sang “We Are Sydney” well into the opening stages of the game. It was great to be back and optimism was high coming into this game of very low stakes for Sydney FC, but the away team with everything to play for. The anti-Melbourne entiment was high and the desire to win was all around us.
The opening exchanges were cagey, Victory looked the better team, and were dangerous every time they got the ball. It was no surprise when they went ahead either, and what a goal it was, Nick D’Agostino breaking down the right, reminiscent of the Terry Antonis semi-final winner a few years back, tying James Donachie in knots and lashing the ball home for a stunning opening goal. He disappeared behind the goal to celebrate, the temporary fence falling over in the process, the Victory fans going crazy.
Luckily the lead lasted only a few minutes. A speculative ball by Callum Talbot was helped on by Anthony Caceres and Adam Le Fondre let the ball bounce before unleashing a fizzing right foot shot out of the blue, the ball searing into the goal for a thrilling equaliser. The stadium erupted. What a goal! It could have been at this point when a big number of flares were ripped in the Cove, it might have been later, it’s all a bit of a blur now, and the air turned red. It was a fabulous sight. Why flares aren’t encouraged in Australian football I’ll never know – surely there’s a safe-ish flare out there that we can all use to create a bit of atmosphere. The security guards were slow to react to put the flares out, a few seats changing colour in the process, and the extinguishing of the heat made way for an eerie smoke screen that blocked out the view of the field for a minute or two.
The next few minutes were downright awful for Sydney FC. First, a break down the Victory left saw a player taken out by Paulo Retre in the centre of the park as the ball was played in. It was inoccuous, and no one up our end had seen it. If it was a foul, then it could well be curtains for Retre, but there appeared to be no sanction, a free kick the only result after a lengthy wait for VAR. Again, the question of the VAR in-stadium experience needs to be addressed. We just have no idea what’s going on. If you’ve got a big screen, at least put a reason why the VAR is involved so we know.
Anyway, Jake Brimmer stepped up and dinked a shot over the wall and what I reckon was within one metre of Andrew Redmayne. The Sydney FC legend stood and watched the ball curl into the goal. Not even into the corner. It looked from our distant spot that a simple arm out would have been enough to stop it, and from the replays I’m not convinced either. Happy to be corrected and it doesn’t feel right being critical of a top-level servant to the club.
The subs all appeared in front of us. Once the song being sung had ended, the Spandau Ballet classic started and we had a good few minutes of “Always believe in Bobo”, with the man himself clapping along to it. Brilliant stuff. His cheer squad with letters either spelling out former club Alanyaspor or future club Al Ahly (or more likely something completely unrelated in Spanish) were bouncing every time he made a move.
It wasn’t long though before a third goal left Sydney with a mountain to climb. A corner from the left was placed onto the head of the unmarked Jason Geria and he powered the header past the half-effort of Redders into the net. It didn’t look good for Sydney FC and the players weren’t doing themselves any favours at all.
A most bizarre half time ball race kept the crowd amused. There were mini games and a game involving members and half-time seemed to be over in a flash, the mood in the Cove as jovial and as pub-like as it could be at 3-1 down.
The silk scarves were commandeered to make “safe-missiles” that would be good to launch around later in the game when the fun “lolo” chant started. The all-important Celtic premiership decider had Siobhan tuned in to her phone instead of the game, and to be honest, the football took second place to the scenes in the Cove in the second half. Victory having obviously won the toin coss at the start, Sydney were playing towards the away end, so all the play was at the Cove end, and it was no surprise to see another goal, a limp-wristed flap by Redders from a corner half-cleared and then a static defence watched as man-mountain Brendan Hamill powered in a header for four. It was truly awful, but it didn’t matter at all.
Bobo did have a good chance to score up the far end, but the ball was blocked as he shaped to shoot. That would have capped off the evening. Instead, it was a matter of how many we would concede, by now the Cove in full “lo-lo” mode and no one was watching the game. A couple of Victory larrikins had made their way behind the Cove outside the stadium to goad us, but that didn’t interrupt what was a great atmosphere on a landmark night. The sight of plastic bottles, empty cans, flags, scarves, drink trays, chips and other unwanted food and drink flying through the air in jubilaton is a sight for sore eyes, and the chant is probably the best thing about being in a busy Cove at this low point in a season of lows.
Apparently the game had ended. As always, Mustafa Amini was the first to offer his applause. Then Rhyan Grant. The players all lined up and went to shake hands, sign shirts and take selfies with as many fans as they could, a good move. It went on for some time, then Bobo had his moment. In what was a slightly uncomfortable scenario, he sat through a video on the big screen that was way too long and inaudible to most, with a camera trained on him to capture the emotion. It would have been quite emotional to the player himself and he patiently took it all in before doing his best to meet everyone still in the Cove at this late stage. Michelle got her membership card signed, good idea.
The goalposts were removed as quickly as possible to disinfect the stadium of this dirty game that it has had to endure for way too long. Thankfully they will not be needed for a long time. There was a post-mortem for a few blocks of seats that seemed to have caved in during the celebrations at the end, and empty flares were collected as if this was a crime-scene not a football match. The security were quite rightly getting a little impatient by now, the final whistle having gone 45 minutes ago, and once the last of the patient crowd had been given their Bobo thrill, it was time to leave.
We walked past the bashed-up antique scoreboard, through Gate C for the final time, just in front of the life-size cardboard Bobo and into the night, one minute walk to our car parked in the adjacent street.
I hope that Kogarah does stay in the hearts and memories of those who spent way too many nights here. I know I’ll look back on it fondly, those soaking nights exposed to the elements, singing at the top of our voices and barracking for our team. There have been good times and bad times, like every stadium, but in truth we’ve never felt welcome in our adopted home, the feeling of being watched and policed for no reason not appreciated at all. That’s why I’m looking forward to going back to Moore Park. Even if it lacks the olde-worlde charm and the rustic goodness of a suburban ground, it’s our home and we’ll be doing our best to make the palatial surroundings feel that way from day one.
Thanks for reading! This has been another great season despite the poor football on show, surrounded by good people who are all there for the same reason. Only one A-League men home game missed this time, when the Adelaide game was scheduled on the same night as the Matildas (outrageous, although I didn’t miss much) and one home game for the women when Covid took out the family after the return to school. Plenty of away games though, and I’ll find time to wrap up the season once the final game has come and gone this coming Tuesday. There are plenty of highlights to share, most of them off the field. Until then, Forza Sydney FC.