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'Moved to tears': Massive inconvenience to players, but die-hard fans embrace Premier League circus

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Roar Rookie
23rd May, 2024
30
1390 Reads

Try telling the thousands of die-hard Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur fans who flocked to Melbourne on Wednesday evening that this was a meaningless friendly.

Au contraire, the opening Global Football Week fixture between these EPL heavyweights was an opportunity for fans from around the region to come together and enjoy a match day experience that would otherwise be out of reach – for some a a once-in-a-lifetime chance to represent their club in their club colours and reinforce that connection and devotion to their favourite football team.

The Precinct bar in Richmond was a sea of black and white, familiar faces from late-night bars across the country where the English Premier League plays out in the early hours every Saturday, and familiar faces from the last time the club ventured to our region ten years ago for the Football United tour of New Zealand.

The atmosphere was hedonic, the whole place was singing together, the bar was five-deep and the mood was one of togetherness and happiness. The Australian-based Newcastle fans had organised three pubs, all close in proximity, to host the hordes, making Richmond an impromptu fan-zone, and it worked.

Moving into the stadium, the organisers got it just right too. The Wor Flags movement from St James’ Park had provided black and white flags for the Newcastle United active section.

There was a pre-match drumming of the most famous Geordie song The Blaydon Races; one elderly fan grabbed my arm as she walked up the aisle and told me it moved her to tears. Migrants and expats, those with family roots and those who simply chose Newcastle United as their team all those years ago, were united in the will to do their club proud, cheer on the players and out-sing their opponent’s fans.

Even the Glory Glory Tottenham Hotspur song, the airing of Ange Postecoglou highlights and the appearance of the man himself was done well, the fireworks fizzing above as the 87,000 attendance moved into position to watch the action.

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Ange Postecoglou Tottenham MCG Friendly

Ange Postecoglou, coach of Tottenham Hotspur and assistant Mile Jedinak acknowledge the crowd. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Both teams boasted a strong starting line-up, as is demanded in negotiations for these games, Bruno Guimaraes pulling the strings for the Toon and Son Heung-Min the main man for Spurs. The pace of the game was nowhere near the intensity of a Premier League match, but there was still plenty of action, and local World-Cup referee Ali Faghani still had a game to manage, without the spectre of VAR.

England’s Kieran Trippier, still returning from injury, departed early after a planned half-hour run out, and that was sandwiched by the two goals. First Nick Pope, back after a lengthy absence but not considered for national selection, gifted a ball in the penalty area and James Maddison smashed the ball past him to the delight of the majority of the crowd. Then, on the stroke of half-time, Trippier’s replacement Jacob Murphy crossed and the ball was palmed straight to Alexander Isak who made no mistake from point-blank range.

The contest was all but over after half time as both teams took stars off the field and replaced them with youngsters. The substitution of Son soon after ended the game as a spectacle for a lot of the fans, and the rain tumbling midway through the half sent a lot of fans away from their seats. Every single starting player was substituted, some of those subs even making way later in the game, but one bright moment was the unexpected appearance of Garang Kuol.

From the last All Stars game in Sydney, and that World Cup moment against Argentina when time stood still, his star has dimmed, but he was thrust into the game to give him a chance to see what he could do.

With less than ten minutes to go and the scores locked at 1-1, the crowd erupted in laughter when the announcer informed us that the match would go straight to penalties in the event of a draw. And that’s what happened. The players went through the motions, the first penalty from Bryan Gil was brilliantly saved by Mark Gillespie, and the remaining penalties were all scored, the Newcastle young guns showed class and composure to overcome the pressure and seal the win.

Luckily Dan Burn was on hand to make a spectacle of the penalty shoot-out victory, racing from the bench to congratulate Joe White for the winning spot-kick. Otherwise it may have just ended in handshakes.

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The post-match press conferences were insightful. Ange was happy with his team’s first-half performance and knew that they had to put on a show for the 80,000+ fans. He was also grateful for the opportunity to return to Australia and catch up with family.

Eddie Howe, on the other hand, had never experienced such travel, and indeed a number of the players would be returning home, leaving a much younger squad to face the A-League All Stars on Friday night.

It was clear who the home side was this evening, and as the journalists lined up for mixed-zone interviews with the Spurs players, the Newcastle United bus had already departed.

Was this a meaningless end-of-season stroll? Of course it was. A massive inconvenience for both clubs, and for those players heading to international tournaments with their national teams.

Was this meaningless for the fans? Of course it wasn’t, and judging by the mainly-Korean crowd of Spurs fans waiting for the bus to exit onto Brunton Avenue over an hour after the final whistle, this meant the world to so many people. We only have a week to wait before the next circus rolls into town, try telling Australian-based fans of AC Milan and AS Roma that their clash in Perth is not the most important game of the year.

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