Australia 2 New Zealand 0
The mighty Socceroos retained the Ashes at Brentford’s G-Tech Stadium on Tuesday evening, but it was off-the-field nonsense that had the Aussie active fans in uproar. With fans told not to stand or sing, then ushered in all different directions by the security officials, a simple situation could have turned into a nightmare. Commonsense eventually prevailed as fans of both teams were given their own section of the stadium to sing and chant, and the golf-clap brigade were given their peace in the popular stand as Australia dominated their Trans-Tasman brothers.
Following an impromptu book promo session at Stamford Bridge and stopping in at our temporary home at Ravenscourt Park to get rugged up, it was off to Brentford for this evening fixture at Kew Bridge. Walking from Gunnersbury station and down the hill, there was little sign of a football game taking place, and once inside the One Over The Ait pub by the bridge, there weren’t many Aussies in either. The distance from the centre of London and the fact that most people were at work meant that the fans would arrive much later and we had plenty of room for dinner over a few pints of Neck Oil.
The pub filled up as time ticked towards kick off, and capo MMTV started the chants. There was boistrous cajoling of the New Zealand fans as we passed the Express Tavern, the traffic stopped by the extra traffic police who would have been totally underwhelmed by the volume of fans. The stadium was only a hundred yards further, over the railway and around the corner, and the two team buses were parked in front. We were ushered around to our gate, all fans going through the same entrance, which had phenomenally small turnstiles, designed to keep the flow of people to a minimum.
Once inside, the concourse had the trait of many an English stadium, absolutely rammed and totally chaotic, the walkways not big enough to cope with the number of fans or the flow of people to every different part of the popular stand. Add to that the fact that beer was available and only able to be consumed down below, this was a scene that would bring dread to any family with young kids.
Avoiding the pointless beer queue, we headed into our seated area and congregated, with a view to singing our way through the pregame to start some atmosphere with our Kiwi cousins. We were in the stand opposite the main stand, both ends closed, with the New Zealand fans on the left and the Australia fans on the right. A few Aussie flags fluttered in the closed end.
The players emerged and the national anthems were excellent. The singing was underway, and the first chants were heard from the New Zealand fans at the far end. The crowd was going to be a small one, and despite more people coming in late, this was never going to be anything like a full stadium atmosphere that we see on TV every other week for Brentford games.
The game was only a few minutes old when security made their first move. Complaints had been allegedly received from the prawn sandwich brigade who weren’t happy with the standing, singing, chanting or the choice language employed in revving up the players. We would have to sit down.
A glance over to the Kiwi fans and they were all standing up. In a tit-for-tat exchange with the stewards, it was pointed out that the New Zealand fans were doing exactly what we were doing, so the issue was escalated and the kiwi fans were ushered into the end terrace behind the goal. In the meantime, Australia had scored up that end after a long looping cross had been headed back across goal for Mitch Duke to lash home, and we were off and running.
Now that the New Zealand fans had been re-housed in the end, surely we would be moved in a similar fashion. Alas no, the stewards wanted to take us all to the far end above the New Zealand fans, away from the rest of the Australian fans. No chance. Not moving. So, as a compromise, we all moved to the right extremity of the stand, out of the way of the regular supporters, and started making more noise as the Socceroos played some enterprising stuff on the field.
Martin Boyle had the ball in the net from a low cross, after the New Zealand fans had berated the Aussie players in the corner, but the offside flag was quite rightly up. Maty Ryan’s goal never really looked in danger, apart from a few crosses that caused some panic in front of him, and the half-time score of 1-0 was scant reward for a dominant performance. It was great to see Massimo Luongo back, and he received a lot of love from the Aussie fans. Oh, oh, oh, he’s magic, you know….
I bumped into an old friend from Sydney, now living in London, who was there with his boys – he was probably one of the people responsible for the stewards moving the active fans on. Good to see you Matt. There was no point queueing for a beer that you’d have to skull anyway, so it was a quick toilet break and then back into the stand for the second half.
The attendance flashed on the screen, a respectable figure for two teams not from the country, but by now Australia had gone further ahead. There was some brilliant football from the Socceroos, Duke and Luongo teaming up, and Connor Metcalfe brought a good save from the New Zealand keeper. Martin Boyle should have scored, but Michael Woud again saved at his feet. It was a corner that brought the second goal though, and it was Boyle’s corner from the left that was easily headed home by Jackson Irvine at the far post. Perhaps all eyes had been on Harry Souttar, but Irvine expertly muscled in and headed past Woud for 2-0.
Australia made a raft of substitutions, and one of those was excitement machine Brandon Borrello. His cameo though will be remembered for a Marco Tilio-esque miss at the far post, when a ball was flashed into his path and he connected from five yards out but somehow the ball went past the post. I must admit I was already celebrating, but that was curtailed when the ball went past the net and hands went on heads for an incredible miss. Borrello will admit that his time on the field was disappointing, but we know what he brings to the squad.
This low-key game came to a close and the players all congregated in the centre. A lot of people made for the exits, but we stayed to congratulate the players. The presentation was made, with both captains giving very succinct speeches, and the specially-made trophy handed to the Australian team. The players eventually did come over to say their farewells and thank the crowd, Andrew Redmayne handing over the gloves he promised to Lincoln, which MMTV donned in the away section like a prize fighter.
It took us a while to leave – as always it is only when there is absolutely no chance of any further action on or around the field that we leave. MMTV was locked in the stadium after visiting the amenities, but managed to catch up as we went around to the players entrance by the team buses. It was now as cold as you would expect on an autumn night in London and the wind was whistling through the area, barricaded off to let the players get on their respective buses. The Aussie fans cheered everyone who came through, from kit staff, coaches, players and media people. Jordan Bos and Connor Metcalfe got it and revelled in the moment. It was all good-natured, the biggest cheer for the Kiwi goalkeeping coach who got on the wrong bus.
Tom Glover had the team beat box, Australian football historian Greg Werner managed to extract more information for his Grass Roots football project, and even Arnie was happy to pose for photos with the last of the fans. This had been a lovely interaction between playing staff and supporters, and we were only ushered away when the buses started to reverse.
The early closing time for One Over The Ait meant that we’d pop in to the Express Tavern for one (or two) last beers, before the end of the evening saw us all go our separate ways. Luckily for us, the bus from in front of the pub was going our way and that was the end of the night. The Australian fans now all go their separate ways after a brilliant time in London, some of us heading north, others to Ireland or further afield in Europe. As an away trip though, this one has been up there with the best. Following the Wembley visit, we’ve done Kingsmeadow and the Emirates for game days and done Stamford Bridge and Craven Cottage as tourists. Bring on the next one.