A-League fans should thank Besart Berisha for grand finale
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Brisbane Roar player Besart Berisha celebrates being awarded a penalty kick during their A-League Grand Final match against Perth Glory in Brisbane, Sunday, April 22, 2012. Roar won the match 2-. (AAP Image/Dan Peled)
If rugby is the game they play in heaven and rugby league is the greatest game of all, they must have run out of superlatives to describe football.
Brisbane Roar and Perth Glory proved yesterday why the round-ball game is the most beloved of all sports across the globe.
After 83 minutes of tense, often gripping action, Perth Glory looked to have sewn up an unlikely A-League title.
And then, in an instant, Besart Berisha proved why the 50,334 fans who packed into Suncorp Stadium are hooked on the game of football.
Hitherto quiet, the enigmatic Albanian striker ghosted in front of Glory defender Steve Pantelidis, and with a header he must have practiced thousands of times in training, conjured the type of crowd response other codes can only dream of.
By the time his deft finish hit the back of the net, the noise around Suncorp Stadium was immense.
But it was far from a full stop on an absorbing game of football. Oh no, this one had only just begun.
In the period between Berisha’s equaliser and his contentious, wildly disputed winner, Roar substitute Nick Fitzgerald had stung the palms of the superb Danny Vukovic, and Glory defender Dean Heffernan had got himself sent off.
And then came the moment which will be talked about not just today but for many years to come.
Berisha, ever the belligerent, bulldozed his way into the box. Liam Miller, an artisan not a tackler, slid in from behind.
Knocked off an even keel, Berisha tumbled. Was it an air swing, a dive or a penalty? Referee Jarred Gillett put his whistle to his lips and blew for the latter.
Debate will rage on what was surely the most controversial refereeing decision in the A-League’s short history.
From my vantage point high up in the stands, it appeared Berisha had legitimate claims for a penalty. Of course the replays suggested anything but.
At best, it looked like an off-balance Berisha had simply missed his shot on goal and tumbled over. At worst, it looked like he dived.
Predictably, the online condemnation was as swift as it was hysterical. “Cheat!” screamed the masses.
Including, it must be said, some media analysts whose commitment to the pretext of objectivity – however flimsy – went flying out the window.
But what was missed by many pundits, though not all, was one simple caveat.
Why would a striker with 20 goals to his name, who has just slalomed through the defence and had only the goalkeeper to beat, choose to fall over?
After all, it’s not like Berisha is an infallible penalty taker.
Could it not be that Miller made contact with Berisha’s standing foot – however slight – causing the Albanian to tumble with the game-winning shot within his grasp?
His immediate reaction didn’t help, but then Roar coach Ange Postecoglou made the point in his post-match press conference that many Australians don’t understand how passionate players from Berisha’s part of the world are about the game.
Whatever one’s opinion, football fans should feel privileged to have witnessed such a spectacle.
For in the end, isn’t this what we want? A sold-out stadium. A pulsating contest. More twists than your average Hitchcock classic.
Yes, there were negatives – including the embarrassing mix-up which temporarily robbed Jacob Burns of the Joe Marston medal he thoroughly deserved.
But to dwell on them is to overlook something key.
We want fans to become hooked on the unmatched drama of the A-League – mistakes and all.
On that point alone, yesterday’s epic delivered the very thing most A-League fans crave.
Mike Tuckerman is a Sydney-born journalist and lifelong football fan. After lengthy stints watching the beautiful game in Germany and Japan, he has settled in Brisbane and has been a Roar columnist since December 2008. Follow Mike on twitter @Mike_Tuckerman