Sydney, 2027: A piece of creative writing to celebrate football

Stuart Thomas Columnist

By , Stuart Thomas is a Roar Expert

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    It’s the twelfth of June 2027 and a majestic Qantas aircraft lands at Sydney’s international terminal from Belgrade, Serbia.

    A lean man works his way through customs and goes unnoticed by otherwise engrossed travellers as he collects his luggage and moves towards the endless conga line of taxis waiting at the kerb outside.

    He flicks through his iPhone 28 and fires off a text to the boys, just letting them know that he has arrived and how much he is looking forward to seeing them that evening.

    His family has stayed at home this time. Despite a genuine love for Australia, his wife stays behind to care for his children, avoiding too much distraction to their routines.

    The sights and smells of the city bring back lucid images and he instructs the taxi driver to ensure that she uses Moore Park Road on the way to his hotel room in the CBD.

    Peering to the right, the Sydney Cricket Ground, Fox Studios and the newly named stadium next door come into view.

    The huge signage attached to the new roof bears the name of a gambling company that means very little to the man, he will always remember it as Allianz Stadium. He chokes up a little and enjoys the minute or two sitting patiently in traffic, soaking up the emotions he feels, sitting outside his old stamping ground.

    Initially he had planned a sleep for the afternoon, the length of the flight in mind, yet the energy he feels in anticipation of seeing his friends again prevents it.

    At 5.30pm, he calls reception and requests a taxi, takes the elevator to the lobby and is met by a handsome man whose badge bears the name Ahmed.

    ‘Your taxi is here Mr Ninkovic,’ he says, with an obvious awareness to whom he is speaking.

    ‘Welcome back to Sydney and thank you for everything you did for Australian football.’

    He is humbled and thankful in his thick Serbian accent and moves to the cab with a skip in his step and a smile on his face.

    Milos Ninkovic celebrates

    (AAP Image/Brendan Esposito)

    At forty two years of age, the hairline is a little higher and the strength and tone in his legs not quite that of his prime. Yet Milos Ninkovic is unmistakeable.

    The restaurant is a place he knows well. A place where the squad had dined often throughout the glory years. Tasteful, French and private, it was just what a tight-knit group of players needed to bond, talk and forge friendships.

    Friendships that were fundamental to their success and ones that would be revisited on this night.

    The first player to arrive, Ninkovic approaches the private function room near the rear of the restaurant, pushes open the door and sees a lone figure seated at the head of the table.

    Now sixty-three, bald but still in good shape, Graham Arnold stand up, holds out both arms and the two men embrace.

    The chance of a young boy from Belgrade and an Australian man born on the north side of Sydney forming such a bond and connection is slim in any other context.

    However, the power of the world game and the subsequent symbolism is what makes football special and stands it apart from most endeavours. That romance was never more evident than in the few brief moments coach and player had together before the rest of the squad began arriving.

    Hugs and handshakes were the norm, as the room energised and after the final arrival, the group sat down to a night of fine food, drink and memories of a decade ago.

    It is the tenth anniversary of the Sky Blues 2017 A-League Championship. The day that ended the nearest thing to a perfect season that the A-League has ever seen.

    It was also the day that a committed and brave Melbourne Victory team almost rained on the parade, with chances to topple the applecart in extra-time.

    Only penalties could eventually separate the teams and with just the one loss for the season, many felt Sydney were the deserved winners.

    Victory supporters took no comfort in that line of thinking, knowing full well that they had come within inches of glory after James Troisi thumped a shot into the left post, only to see his effort ricochet back into the field of play.

    This, and many other stories and moments proved the basis of the narrative throughout the meal.

    A perfectly flambéed breast of chicken, a delicate truffle sauce and bottles of Grange Hermitage provided by the Club, lubricated the conversation and the room grew louder.

    The harmony in the team was still evident, the title had been won on the basis of club. Not just the players. Arnold had moulded the structures to emphasise the wider collective. In 2017, Sydney FC became a family.

    Wives, children, trainers and every layer of personnel became integral parts of the Club and the spirit was palpable.

    Predictably, players took friendly jibes at each other, calling on some of the less glorious moments of the season.

    David Carney copped a bit for the dubious goal early in the season against the Victory, current Socceroo Rhyan Grant faced a tirade directed at his rather aggressive tackle technique he adopted early in his career and even the coach was targeted after suggesting a few players take yellows in the later rounds to avoid suspension in the finals.

    Sydney FC coach Graham Arnold.

    (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

    The international flavour of the group was part of its magic. Bobo and Dutchman Jordi Buijs had flown over for the occasion and seeing the Brazilian reconnect with Filip Holosko, his forward ally from their days in Turkey, was pure humanity and brotherhood.

    The heart and soul of the most miserly defence that season, had been Socceroo Alex Wilkinson.

    Having had no luck in previous Grand Finals in Australia, despite incredible achievements overseas, the win had meant more to him than most could know.

    Club legend and captain on the day, Alex Brosque, spoke after dessert. He reminded the players of their bond, how their belief never waned and organised a photo to commemorate the night.

    The room fell silent as Arnold rose. The man who masterminded every detail was still revered as a father figure by all of the boys who sat before him. He found it difficult to begin, but spoke of never forgetting.

    He said. ‘What we did was very special boys. Nobody, ever, can take that away from you. Every team that wins a title holds it forever.

    ‘To win it, the chemistry has to be right and for that one season it was as close to perfect as I have ever seen. What you need to remember, is that as good as we may be individually, without each other, we had nothing.’

    ‘You are the best team I have ever coached.’

    There weren’t many dry eyes and despite a feeling that the night was done, the players lingered til the wee hours.

    Nobody wanted to leave the restaurant in much the same way that no one wanted the leave the pitch on that glorious night.

    Of course, things must change and evolve and it was never precisely the same again. Never exactly like the night that Sydney FC won the 2016-17 A-League title.

    Stuart Thomas
    Stuart Thomas

    Stuart Thomas is a sports writer and educator who made the jump from Roar Guru to Expert in 2017. An ex-trainee professional golfer, his sporting passions are broad with particular interests in football, AFL and rugby league. His love of sport is only matched by his passion for gardening and self-sustainability. Follow him on Twitter @stuartthomas72.