Thursday, 31 January 2008

On international duty

Whilst Kevin Muscat, Rodrigo Vargas and Archie Thompson all are in camp hoping for an international call-up against Qatar next Wednesday night, Melbourne Victory's very own Carlos Hernandez is already on international duty with Costa Rica. Los Ticos took on a coachless Iran in an empty Azadi Stadium (a stadium I would very much like to visit) and by all accounts the match was a rather drab affair finishing 0-0. For match reports click here and here. It is good to hear that Hernandez's choice of playing in Australia hasn't harmed his chances of international selection. Game time in this match and in an upcoming match against Jamaica will keep him match-fit for our upcoming ACL campaign. It is also interesting to note that fellow AFC heavyweights, Iran, are only to gain the services of their new coach, Javier Clemente, days before their first World Cup qualifier against Syria. Certainly interesting times for Team Melli.

Image "borrowed" from the Tehran Times.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

A fevered review

Nick Hornby and I have a few things in common: we both love football; we both have an appreciation for music; and most obviously we have the both the same first initial. Why the comparison? The reason being I have just finished reading Hornby's Fever Pitch, an autobiographical account of his obsession with Arsenal from his first game until 1992, when the book comes to an end. This book came highly recommended from fellow football fans and I read it not long after another Hornby book, 31 Songs.

Fever Pitch is an excellent read and extremely well written (as you would expect from a writer of Hornby's calibre) as Hornby details the growth of his obsession with all things Arsenal and its subsequent impact on his life. The book obviously appeals to most football fans as they can see part of themselves in Hornby's writings. Also because of the way it is written the book has also appealed to non-football obsessives, my girlfriend included, because they see in Hornby some of the traits that they see in their husbands, wives, girlfriends and boyfriends. The book is of course a little out of date as it was written back in 1992. I wonder if Hornby still has that obsession for Arsenal, a team I abhorred during the 1990s but now for which I have a grudging respect for their style of play under Arsene Wenger.

Reading Fever Pitch also makes one analyse or question their own football obsession or interest. I like to think that my interest is not as obsessive as that of Hornby's and that my life doesn't revolve around football or a particular team.
My girlfriend probably begs to differ and often complains about how much time I spend talking about football, reading about football, blogging about football and trawling forums about football. I like to remind her that I did give up going to one home game this season (my first ever) for her birthday but that apparently doesn't cut much shrift as I didn't give it up that easily. And whereas, Hornby devotes all his interest to one team and little else, my interest spreads to all aspects of football, both at club and international level and inside and outside of Australia. It will be interesting to see how my interest level changes in the years to come as I get older and my lifestyle changes.

If you haven't read Fever Pitch yet its well worth checking out.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Fitting finale

Goal celebration
Usually I am more of an individual supporter, happy to sit in the stands and support my team. I'm not that vocal with the only time my vocal chords get a work out is when a goal is scored and I proceed to try and deafen my neighbouring supporters with my shout of joy.

But last Sunday was different as I went to my first game with the Melbourne Victory away supporters. I had been to away games before but usually amongst the home team supporters. And it was for a game against Sydney FC, the arch enemy, as we looked to deny them the chance of a minor premiership.

After two days of almost constant rain, Sydney finally produced some sunshine for game day and it was quite humid as my girlfriend, Caroline and I made our way to the pre-game pub. When we arrived at the pub it looked like most had been there for a few hours already and were clearly enjoying the beverages on offer behind the bar. The pub obviously hadn't expected the turn out and the the three bar staff were barely coping with wave after wave of Victory supporters that descended on the bar.

After us being there for just over an hour the bar emptied as we joined our fellwo supporters as we took to the streets not bothering to obey the traffic signals as the group made its way into Moore Park. Through the group's sheer numbers the traffic was powerless to do anything.

After a good twenty minutes of walking, chanting and two security checks we finally made it into the stadium. Those who had obviously done this before quickly took up their positions either in the stands or made their way to the nearby bar for another pre-game drink. The rest of us novices took up positions further back in the stands but not too distant as to create a separation in the mass of support.

As the first half kicked off so did our chanting, fearlessly lead by our capo and his lieutenants. It was not long before both the team and us as supporters were under pressure took an early lead. The noise of the home crowd descended on us like a massive wave and for a moment it felt quite suffocating. At that moment I knew what it felt like for away supporters at our home games when the Victory scored. However, amongst this noise our capo urged us on to continue our own noise and support. The team managed to hold on for the remainder of the half and were only a goal down at the break.

Not long into the second half we were back on level terms as a deflected cross found its way into the back of the net. We as one roared in celebration. A flare was lit and soon the smoke was burning our nostrils. We were ecstactic. We thought we had another shortly after but for an offside call. As luck would have it shortly have it we were again a goal down shortly after ours had been disallowed. Again that wave of noise hit us from the home fans - if anything it seemed a lot louder than for the first goal. Our capo, who looked totally spent, exhorted us again to respond. This time it was more difficult.

When we drew level again with fourteen minutes to go all you could hear was our roar as the home supporters went silent. The guys behind us had warned us that if we scored a goal his beer would go flying and true to his word we copped some beer spray during the goal celebrations. Both him and his mate then proceeded to knock me from where I was standing as they slipped on a combination of rain and beer. The remainder of the game was spent either holding our breath, mocking the opposition supporters and generally having a good time. When the final whistle came we celebrated like we had won and the players came over and showed their appreciation.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time with the active supporters. As I said in my introduction I'm usually not the vocal of supporters when by myself but when you are amongst a group you can't help be dragged along by their enthusiasm. It also helps when there is that "us" versus "them" vibe that being at an away game generates. I will be definitely be looking to become a more active supporter in the future. I won't be in the terrace every week as it will depend on the people with whom I go to games, but I will be there.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Football, Fame and Oblivion

Its not often that I make my way to the local library, preferring to buy books for future reference and reading. However, recently the local library was paid a visit and I came away with a number of books*, one of them being Best and Edwards: Football, Fame and Oblivion by Gordon Burn (Faber and Faber, 2006). Best and Edwards tells the story of two of the greatest talents to ever pull on a Manchester United jersey, George Best and Duncan Edwards and how both their careers ended in dramatic fashion. Edwards, who died in the Munich air disaster of 1958 and Best, who quit United at the age of 27 and then proceeded to drink himself into oblivion for the next 30 years.

Edwards, who died at the age of 21, was considered by many to be the greatest talent going around. It is said that if he hadn't died in Munich, we would be speaking of him now in the same breadth as Pele and Maradona. Best, will be forever known as Northern Ireland's greatest ever player and described by Pele as the most skillful he had ever seen and remember he had played with Garincha. Best was part of a team that made Manchester United a force in Europe, culminating in the European Cup title in 1968. What links these two men is that the both played under United great, Sir Matt Busby, who is quoted on the dust jacket of the book as saying:
"Every manager goes through life looking for one great player, praying he'll find one. Just one. I was more lucky than most. I found two - Big Duncan and George. I suppose in their own ways, the both died, didn't they?"
The book is basically divided into two, the first covers the brief but brilliant career of Edwards and the second, the rise and then fall of Best. The chapters on Best highlight the cult of celebrity of footballers that basically started with Best and clearly illustrates its downfalls if the player is unable to deal with it. Burn in his writing can tend be a little winded at times. Chapter 6 is a case in point which drags on for a sometimes tedious sixty pages. Interspersed amongst the stories of the two players are extracts from books used to demonstrate certain points which only seem to demonstrate Burn's mostly fictional writing background. These are a bit unnecessary and detracts from what else is a fairly good book.

This book will probably be mostly appeal to fans of British football and Manchester United. It is also good starting point for those who want to know more about these two talented players, but for a more detailed description of their playing days is mostly likely to found elsewhere.

Coincidentally, this is the 100th post I have written for Victory In Melbourne in 242 days, therefore averaging a post every 2.42 days. Some have been good, some bad, some so-so and some difficult to write whilst others have been easy. Thankyou to all who choose to read my writings and occasional rantings, hopefully you stay with me for another 100 posts or more.

* - one of the others was Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby - will be reading that one shortly.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

All to no avail

Northern terrace thanks Archie

Last night both myself and my fellow supporters finally got to see the Melbourne Victory play football the way we had wanted them to play all season. Well, expect for me couple of people who were sitting to my front and rear who find reason to criticise at every opportunity. Goals to Hernandez, Ward and Patafta saw the Victory record a 3-0 win over the Wellington Phoenix. For the first time since mid-October the Victory theme song rang out around the Telstra Dome. The win kept us in finals contention for at least another 24 hours until unfortunately the Jets beat the Mariners and ended our chances.

Last night I also got my wish from last week in seeing both Ward and Hernandez start on the pitch together, although Carlos was playing in a much more forward role due to the absences of Allsopp through a virus. The combination worked well and complimented each other effectively. This combination bodes well for our ACL campaign.

Special mention should go to Sebastian Ryall, who at only 18 years of age is making a name for himself in the Victory defence. Time and time again he made crucial tackles and never looked panicked. As the weeks go by he is looking more and more comfortable on the ball. Playing in a backline that has both Muscat and Vargas in it has probably helped his development.

Kaz Patafta has been one of my favourites for the year almost to the point of stalking and it looks like my fellow supporters are also becoming fans as a huge roar erupted around the stadium when he came on as substitute in the 75th minute. He responded in kind with his first goal for the club and our third for the night, a well taken goal from a tight angle after Thompson scuffed a shot. I don't think I would get any disagreement by saying that he has been under utilised throughout the season and Merrick and his coaching staff have to take some blame for that. Its unlikely that he will stay beyond his loan period but I will probably maintain my "stalking" although from a much greater distance.It looks like our good run of form came to nothing and we only have ourselves to blame, our style of football for the majority of the season has been poor and we didn't really deserve a position in the finals. I am off to Sydney next week for our final game of the season and my first away game where I sit/stand in the "away" end. I am looking forward to it even though there is nothing to play for. But I hope the boys put one last final effort and stop those boys in baby blue from taking out the minor premiership.

Bottom image "borrowed" from The Age.

Monday, 7 January 2008

A speck of blue in a sea of orange

Moments before kickoff
One should never allow an opposition supporter choose wear you sit at an away game. Last Saturday night was my second away trip to Brisbane to see the Victory take on the Queensland Roar at Suncorp Stadium. After days of rain, which I enjoyed on Stradbroke Island, Brisbane was at its balmy best for the match. I have a few friends up north who support the Roar and attend these away games with these people. Therefore I was always going to be sitting amongst opposition supporters. However, this time I was deep in enemy territory sitting in the Northern Stand barely fifty metres from "The Den". As I made my way to our seats I was subjected to many a good natured jibe from the Roar fans.

The first half was a fairly tense affair and a pretty ordinary performance from the Victory as the Roar basically camped in our half of the pitch. I thought it was going to be a long night as the team barely created any chances and were being dominated in the midfield. There was a lot of wasted possession and long balls that went to nobody. Luckily for us, Queensland failed to take advantage of their dominance and the score remained 0-0 at half time.

With the second half came a change of mood as twice I leapt to my feet scarf raised amongst the sea of orange as we went two goals to the good. On both occasions I was on the receiving end of some projectiles, namely empty beer cups and coke bottle or two. Luckily none were full and most missed their target and no harm was done. My girlfriend, Caroline, who also joined in the celebrations, didn't cop anything as she wasn't wearing Victory colours. For the next 25 minutes I sat nervously as the Roar went on the attack. The crowd of just over 21,000, a season high, roared into life as Marcinho pulled one back for the Roar and also had very good claims for a penalty as Muscat appeared to handled in the box. For once this season the luck and the call went out our way and the claims were waved away. The sea of orange was livid and vented their frustrations on referee, Matthew Breeze. For the second year running I managed to walk out of Suncorp Stadium with a smile on my face.

Our finals hopes are still alive, although barely as a win or probably even a point to Newcastle in either of the final two rounds will see the official end of our chances and those of fellow 2007 grand finalists, Adelaide. Standout players for me on the night were Theoklitos, Vargas, Thompson and Hernandez with honourable mentions going to Allsopp, Ryall and Muscat. Its good to see Allsopp gaining confidence in front of goal, although to be honest its a little late in the season. Hopefully it continues through to our ACL campaign. I would like to see Hernandez and Ward both start the next game to see how they work together and unfortunately for Caceres that probably means a spell on the bench.

Next is our final home game for the season, barring an unlikely finals appearance, against Wellington. Heres hoping our winning streak continues and the guys below have some more to cheer about.
Melbourne Victory supporters
The bottom photo appears courtesy of smurfie_77 and also appears in the Victory In Melbourne Flickr Group.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Three get Socceroos call-up

Today, new Socceroos head coach Pim Verbeek picked 22 players from the A-League for a training camp to be held in Sydney next week. While not a final squad for the Qatar match, it makes for interesting reading. Three Victory players got the call up, being Muscat, Thompson and Vargas who has been rewarded for his consistency over his two seasons in the league. Disappointment must have been felt by Michael Theoklitos, who along with Covic have been the outstanding keepers of the season in the A-League.

To be honest I am a little surprised at some of the selections, with names such as Corica, Durante, Coyne, Talay, Matt Thompson and Pondeljak springing to mind. It is also worth noting that Graham Arnold has also called up fifteen players from the Olyroos squad for a camp as well. Players such as Milligan, Djite, Vukovic and Musalik in that squad would also be under consideration for the full squad. It would also provide them with excellent preparation for the Olympics. The absence of Craig Moore from the squad raises a few questions, as one would expect a player of his experience to be an automatic selection. This is reported to be the first of two camps before our first qualifying match. It will be something of interest to see if the squad changes between camps as Verbeek sees them first hand and takes in more A-League matches.

It is also interesting to read that Verbeek thinks that an all A-League squad for the Socceroos may not be up to the task of beating Qatar on February 6 and will most likely call up European-based Australians for the game. It is good to seek Verbeek not taking the Qataris lightly and demanding improvement in the local competition.

Squad: John Aloisi (Central Coast Mariners), Clint Bolton (Sydney FC), Alex Brosque (Sydney FC), Simon Colosimo (Perth Glory), Steve Corica (Sydney FC), Ante Covic (Newcastle Jets), Jamie Coyne (Perth Glory), Travis Dodd (Adelaide United), Andrew Durante (Newcastle Jets), Adam Griffiths (Newcastle Jets), Joel Griffiths (Newcastle Jets), John Hutchinson (Central Coast Mariners), Matt McKay (Queensland Roar), Kevin Muscat (Melbourne Victory), Jade North (Newcastle Jets), Lucas Pantelis (Adelaide United), Tom Pondeljak (Central Coast Mariners), Ufuk Talay (Sydney FC), Archie Thompson (Melbourne Victory), Matt Thompson (Newcastle Jets), Rodrigo Vargas (Melbourne Victory), Alex Wilkinson (Central Coast Mariners)

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Victory makes for easy listening

Being not able to get myself in front of a TV due to New Year's Eve commitments I had to resort to listening to old friends, Zappers and Trimmers on SEN for my Victory versus Mariners football coverage. Listening to the game makes any objective comments about the game quite difficult as the boys from SEN aren't what you would call impartial.

From what I heard it sounded like we finally put in a performance that is worth talking about and the 5-2 scoreline surely points to that. The result certainly put me in a good mood for the remainder of the night about until we had to try find a way home from the CBD. Nick Ward made his full debut for the squad and by all accounts his hard running in the midfield had a significant impact. Good performances were also put in by regular performers, Thompson and Theoklitos.

The win has huge ramifications within the A-League and mathematically we are still are chance to make the finals. The proviso on this is that we have to win our last three games and hope results go our way in the other matches. Maybe I was a little premature with my performing of the last rites on our season. Our win would have certainly pleased the guys (one Roar Fan and two SydneyFC fans) with whom I watched Sunday night's Perth Glory/Queensland Roar match as it put the Roar on top of the ladder for the start of the new year and gives Sydney still hope of taking out the minor premiership. Wellington's win over the Jets also keeps them in with a chance of finals. The new year will make for an interesting one in terms of the final weeks of the A-League season.

Speaking of the next three weeks, they will be extremely hectic for myself as I will be taking in all three remaining Victory games live, including two away trips, one to Brisbane and the other to Sydney. Slotted in between them will be our last home game against Wellington Phoenix. I am looking forward to the away trips, in particular the Sydney one as I have never done this trip and it will be my first time in the "away" end. So northern states, you have been warned, Victory In Melbourne is heading your way looking for some wins and a finals charge. Optimism may be returning, the next three weeks will tell.