The most wonderful occasion at the new Allianz Stadium gave the returning Sydney FC fans a fantastic experience despite the score going against the Sky Blues. With an unbelievable amount of rain tumbling across Sydney, this was a test of the mettle of the home fans, keen to celebrate being free from the shackles of Kogarah. It was high drama on the field and fun and smiles off the field in an action packed football day, and the weather couldn’t dampen the spirits of the crowd that was noisy and boistrous throughout the 90 minutes.
This special football journey started at 3.30pm, on a day when the morning had been bathed in sunshine, but the heavens had opened into the afternoon and we were scrambling for wet weather gear. A well-timed train trip from Meadowbank to Central left us with the dilemma – run the gauntlet of heading straight to the pre-game Cove meet at Watsons and risk having a tough time finding food, or eat near Central and make our way up to Moore Park closer to macrh time. After scouring the REH for a table – they seem to cater more for smokers than diners – we stumbled out of the monsoon into Molly Malone’s just across the street which was much more welcoming. Good spot for an early dinner and a short hop to the light rail to make the final leg of the voyage to the meet at Fox Studios.
The rain was heavy. There was a queue to get in to the pub and it was pissing down. As soon as we got in and ordered a beer, the Cove crew started to make their way to assemble for the march, super fan MMTV being interviewed in the downstairs area. The mood was upbeat, despite the constant rain. The march started at one end of Driver Avenue, past the SCG and up the steps to Allianz Stadium, with a number of stops along the way to blast out our favourite chants. The effort that we had gone to in order to stay dry was forgotten and we happily marched in the rain. The Sydney FC marquee outside our gate was hosting the domestic trophies – FFA Cup, Toilet Seat etc – and we stopped to have a look and take in these marvellous artefacts of Australia football history.
Once in the stadium via our now disintegrating printed paper membership cards, we decided to use the pre-match time wisely and do a circuit of the stadium concourse. We’ve been here a few times already, but it never ceases to amaze, what a well designed stadium layout. We welcomed the sizeable Melbourne Victory contingent to their bay, had a totally unnecessary Krispy Kreme doughnut and a squizz at the new merch in the club shop and all the while the rain continued to fall on the pristine playing surface of this shiny new stadium.
We found our new seats, which wasn’t that easy with a tray full of beers when I went up the wrong stairs, and what a view! We’ve migrated to Cove Heights, next stop the old people’s home you might say, but the vista is spectacular. The real action takes place in the safe-standing area down below, but we can see what’s happening down there and there was plenty of singing, standing and cheering in our section which is pretty central.
The light show was fabulous, there were fireworks, fire blasters, we had the Sydney FC orchestra tucked away in one of the tunnel areas and out of the rain, who started with “No place I’d rather be,” a fitting song for a return to Allianz Stadium. Memories of the flak that Sydney United fans received for not being switched on to the Welcome to Country were heeded and it was listened to intently, the moment’s silence for the people of Indonesia was impeccable and the frenzy as the tifo was raised and “We Are Sydney” was belted out was spine-tingling. Great artwork for the banner, and well executed by the Cove.
When the game got underway, the crowd was bouncing. It was so good to be back, there were smiling faces, and the feeling of being back amongst family was fantastic. James Donachie was playing, meaning that Jack Rodwell had missed out on his debut, and there was definite concern. The game was open and flowing, and it was Sydney who took the lead up the far end, Patrick Yazbek choosing not to shoot and he laid the ball into the path of Robert Mak who finished beautifully. Victory were level when Nick D’Agositino was given not one but two free headers in one passage of play. His first was only a glance that was crossed back in, and when he met the second one, it arrowed into the net past Redders for a fabulous equaliser.
Joe Lolley looked lively on the right for Sydney and hit the post after his shot squirmed through Paul Izzo’s hands. Mak was close again, trading passes in the area before unleashing a shot that just beat the post via a deflection. The football was exciting and fast. It was a shame to have half-time.
Half-time was spent trying to find a bathroom with an acceptable queue. With all the talk of the stadium having ten million toilets, all I wanted was a quick urinal stop and the queues were out the door. Turns out that the design of the bathrooms does not facilitate a quick passage through and it all ends up congested as everyone is trying to be somewhere else. They do though have a TV in there, so you can pee without taking your eyes off the game. The queue for a beer was more manageable and it was getting to the point where cans were more appropriate, less spillage by the time I get to my seat, but with a round of four at over $50 it did sting a little.
There were drummers at half-time and as always, the second half kicked off in a strange atmosphere, half of the crowd still in half-time mode down on the concourse. The rain was now as heavy as it had been all day, ten minutes into the second half it was noticeable that the players were splashing through pooling water, but there was no suggestion of the ball sticking in the surface water to make it dangerous. The football continued to be marvellous, and there was the added pantomime of Rhyan Grant smashing referee Chris Beath to the ground which held up play for some time as the whistler peeled himself off the grass.
Midway through the half, ex-Premier League player Nani split the defence with a perfect cross for Chris Ikonomidis to lash home at the far post. Time was starting to tick by when Anthony Caceres lifted in a free-kick from the Sydney left, and that man Donachie met the teasing cross with a perfectly placed header to bring the home team level again. Honestly, great to see a player, who was much-maligned last season, come good and start to win over the fans.
We finally had the lo-lo chant, so popular last year at Jubilee Oval, and it was again a true marvel, rubbish flying through the air as the fans dance and sing. Love that one. The rain by now was coming in sideways, and unbelievably, high in the second tier of the stadium, we were getting spray. A few unhardy souls from Bay 23 were seeking shelter in Cove Heights and by all accounts the rain affected a good percentage of the seats in the lower bowl, despite all the talk of a drip-line and every seat being covered by the roof. To be fair though, it was wild!
The winner came soon after in this topsy-turvy game, when D’Agostino and Ikonomidis sliced Sydney apart, a fabulous ball across the six yard box seeing former hero Josh Brillante slide home a great goal to set the away bay alight again. For all the hype of this game being a fierce rivalry, for all the angst of a home defeat in the return to Allianz, there is something strangely enjoyable about seeing the loyal travelling fans rejoice in their team’s performance far from home – we take solace that we have experienced that many times in the past. We know how utterly exhilarating it is and we’ll experience it again soon. There was time for Max Burgess to fire one in that was well saved, but the game ended in embarrassment as some idiots in the safe-standing area kept throwing bottles on the field as Victory slowed the game down and played out the final minutes of injury time. Such behaviour is abhorred by the Cove regulars, and it was sheer stupidity as Victory could milk it and waste even more time getting rid of the bottles. Not good, we’ve seen it before, and it is usually firmly policed internally by the senior members of the active area.
The final whistle was greeted with applause, not boos, and the players were warmly greeted when they came to Bay 23. The Victory fans were lapping it up, their team going across with the cameras to rejoice with the travelling bank of supporters. We let the crowds go and waited until it was thinning out. Back into the rain and back to the light rail. The wait was minimal and we chose badly with which entrance to Central to take, our train moved on to a different platform on the other side of the station, but we made it in good time. It was as odd balloon-filled journey back to the North West suburbs on the train, and we were home in time to catch the second half of the Matildas’ convincing dismantling of South Africa.
Great to see everyone again. It was wet but it was fun and we can’t wait to get back to Allianz again. Next game is against Adelaide, a 3pm Sunday game which clashes with a football tournament in Canberra; if we lose early on the Sunday morning, I’ll be racing back to Sydney to make the game. It’s a win-win situation!