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Three games, three days, three states

by Alex's view from the terrace on Dec 11, 2012

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This weekend would be a first, for me. What I had planned for this round was three games in three days in three different states. Some rather unkind people would probably say that the three states involved would be a state of denial, a state of confusion and, on Sunday night, a catatonic state. However accurate an appraisal this would be, what I'm actually referring to is Friday, November 16th in Queensland, the next day in Victoria and a return to NSW on Sunday. Considering how good the sale airfares were that I booked well-ahead of time, a state of poverty was avoided, at least.

It almost beggars belief that I could actually be looking forward to an away game in Brisbane when I was so utterly sure that my side would lose. The justification that I can make is that, as many of us believe, it's the quality of the company that makes an away trip more than any scoreline (mostly). The sense of dread was minimised, but unavoidable. All of my pre-game predictions came to pass; seeing and catching-up with some of my fellow true-believers was easily worth the trip in-itself and made the evening a pleasure. Sydney FC did their level best to put a dampener on my mood with some truly laughable defending and never genuinely troubled Brisbane for the points. Special as Del Piero's finish was for Sydney's second goal, we were never really in with a shout with a back line that leaks goals so readily. My main gripe has little to do with the club that I support but everything to do with the Roar's inability to attract consistently good crowds for a side that's done their city proud for more than two years. It leaves me scratching my head.

The anticipation I felt flying south the next day was for what promised to be the intriguing meeting of the admirably overachieving Mariners and a resurgent Victory. I'm probably one of a very small number of football fans in Australia who've travelled interstate as a neutral fan simply to support and appreciate the HAL. If I'm unknowingly starting a trend, that'd be an epitaph that I'd be proud to have on my gravestone: “He was the first of many driven obsessives”. Realistically, I'm almost certainly only helping-out our domestic airlines in filling seats and our bigger cities' hotels in booking rooms (all of those discounted and booked weeks or month in advance, I'd add) as well as enjoying my football, of course. Enjoy it I did, as well, thanks to an entertaining and enterprising two-all draw. I spent the first half up in the third tier of Docklands, enjoying the purist's eagle-eye view of the match. A teenager sitting next to me, clearly new to this view of a live game instinctively stuck his hands out to grab an imaginary playstation controller, thinking that a game of FIFA '13 was about to get under way. My second half experience boasted a slightly more earthy atmosphere, being one spent standing behind one of the goals next to a mate whom I'd roomed with on-tour in South Africa at the last World Cup. Whatever divides Sydneysiders from Melbourners, it's abundantly clear to me that we have much in common as Australian football supporters. Evidence of a shared experience is most obvious when the sides that we support are clearly in the ascendancy, dominating possession and enjoying the lion's share of attacking play but JUST CANNOT PUT THE @%$*&# BALL INTO THE BACK OF THAT %@#*&$ NET, FOR &%@'S SAKE!!!! This will be no major revelation to most, I know, but when the level of commonality is experienced first-hand, it's that much more clearly perceived.

Sunday provided me with another new experience – my first ever arrival in Newcastle by air. The welcome that I received from the mates that I've made amongst Newy's support was as familiar and warm as ever. In terms of the football, the HAL delivered an upset result that we should surely all expect as part-and-parcel of following our national competition. After seven full seasons of the unexpected happening with a re-assuring regularity, it was almost comforting to see the Phoenix, who don't have the greatest of away records, win 3-0 against a Jets side riding-high in the table with a marquee striker in goalscoring form. No comfort to Jets fans, I know. At least we got to witness the now time-honoured 80th minute tradition of Welly's support (usually observed at home), which involves their taking their shirts off and swinging them around, scarf-style, for the remaining 10 minutes of the match. This is done only when their side are winning, so not something they have as much opportunity to do in Australia as when they're back across the ditch. Who can blame them for taking their chance, just as their team ably took three of their chances to score. The Wellingtonians left the Hunter with three goals and three points while I completed my weekend's Odyssey with another three fixtures attended.