The chance to scratch your A-League itch
Sydney FC's Terry Antonis (right) is tackled by Adam Hughes of Perth Glory FC. AAP Image/Paul Miller
There is a pin-prick of light at the end of that long dark tunnel otherwise known as the A-League off-season.
Despite there being two interminable months to go, pre-season friendlies and practice matches have begun in earnest, and for desperadoes hanging out for a local football fix, we can at last get our appetites whetted.
Melbourne Victory begin their pre-season with a series of five Tuesday night matches against Victorian Premier League teams. This of course means forgetting about the shmick and polish of AAMI and the vast dullness of Etihad.
Instead, we are opening our street directories or firing up the GPS for the likes of the JL Murphy Reserve, Port Melbourne, and the Jack Edwards Reserve in Oakleigh.
What a joy it has been these past two weeks to attend Victory’s practice matches against Port Melbourne Sharks and Oakleigh Cannons. Filing into the single gate entry at the Sharks game last week (“no tickets, hava’ you five dollars cash ready!”) there was a momentary feeling of being at a Gold Coast United game, with three side of the ground cordoned off. That feeling quickly passed as we soaked in that unique atmosphere you only find at suburban football grounds.
A-League supporters accustomed to modern ground border signage for Telstra, Qantas and Hyundai were now confronted by the quaint and mildly amusing suburban advertising alternatives such as “Tim and Terry Oyster Supplies” and “Joe 1 and Joe 2 Marketing”.
Then of course there were the beguiling scents of souvlaki and hot chips drawing us to the impossible half-time queues at the club shop-stall (“no chips for five minutes, you wanna two potata cakes instead?”). And of course in the match itself, standing just a metre or so from the sidelines, we felt the crunching tackles as much as saw them.
It’s cold, it’s basic and it was very much the norm in the old days of the National Soccer League. My experience last week at the Sharks game brought back strong memories of Esther Park Mooroolbark circa 1977, the first year of the NSL. Basic they may be in terms of facilities, but charm, character and close-as-you-can-get action abound.
Of course from my own point of view (and that of the thousand plus other Victory supporters at both matches) we get to watch at the closest of range the re-birth of our beloved boys in blue, under the watchful eyes of our new leader Ange. It is very much early days, but it is a privilege to have the chance to be there and to bear witness to the changes taking place (it is not only a significantly altered squad, but already one practicing an entirely different style of play).
It is also watching the rough pre-season edges gradually being knocked off, and even seeing the growing potential of players previously thought of as sows’ ears benefitting from the silk-purse training that Ange and his coaching team are implementing.
But this is not so much a story about Victory as it is a timely reminder to all those other A-League fans who have yet to make the effort to go and watch your favourite team play its own pre-season matches. Do yourself a favour, attend the next game; not only will you get to scratch that football itch, but as I have discovered over the past two weeks, other unexpected rewards await those who make the effort.
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