Thursday, January 27, 2011


Australian Memories

Australian Memories

One of the rewards I’ve enjoyed since beginning Jakarta Casual has been the opportunity to run into familiar names and faces from my time down under following St George in the now defunct National Soccer League. Steve Darby, Abbas Saad, Darren Stewart, Scott O’Donell, Scott Ollerenshaw, Les Murray, Francis Awartefe etc were known to me, though I wasn’t to them, through the NSL.

I arrived in Sydney in July 1987 after a month or so backpacking through South East Asia. I was looking at 12 months or so before returning to England, mortgages and following the Arsenal over land and sea. Not surprisingly I have never made any plans since then!

Just about the first thing I did on landing was check out a newsagent. There had to be some football stuff! And there was. Australian Soccer Weekly was a, umm, weekly, about Soccer. In Australia! Perfect for me! I had access to fixtures, I was set. Thing is no-one had a Scooby what I was on about or where I wanted to go. They is couldn’t figure out why this Pom (Pride of Mother England) seemed so keen to watch a game no-one else did.

I had a couple of choices that opening weekend, well my opening weekend, and my options were limited when the staff at the Sydney tourist office had no idea where Edensor Park was. Shame really ‘cos in that Sydney derby between Sydney Croatia and Sydney Olympic John Kosmina was playing and he was the only name I knew after a spell with Arsenal 10 years earlier and an appearance with the Socceroos against Arsenal at Highbury.

In no way dispirited by the tourist office’s singular lack of knowledge, I managed to find out that St George were playing Marconi at the St George Stadium which didn’t look too far away. I went, I found the stadium, an anchor’s throw from where Captain Cook had landed 199 years earlier, and hey presto, my first game.

One name stood out that afternoon among all the unfamiliar Greek and Balkan names and that was Frank Farina and the boy done good in later years I think.

I moved to Brisbane where I took to following the unimaginately named Easts, they were my local team, and the biggest news there seemed to be a teenager named Scott Playle moving to Rangers. I took a taxi one night to see Rochedale Rovers because they had aging Scotsman Danny McGrain playing and I took in the XXXX final at Perry Park between Olympic United and, umm, someone else.

I was back in Sydney in time for the NSL play off final which St George won 4-0 against APIA after beating Preston Makedonia in one of the play offs, a system that left me bewildered.

My first impressions of Australian football was that apathy ruled, there was little info available and there was always a good chance of a row breaking out. I was hooked.

I spent the next few years following a St George who could never repeat that Grand Final triumph of 1987. Who cared? We had Zoran Ilic and we had Don Parkes. The rest could go rot. We had Brighton Le Sands Fishing Club before kick off, we had the police chase us back to Banksia after the game and we had away days in Wollongong. Life was pretty good for a transplanted Anglo with an unkickable football habit.

Memories from them days are legion. Getting drenched watching St George lose 2-0 to APIA with a 40 yard screamer from pint pot Joe Watson. Police refusing to let us use trains back from an away game and John Filan giving me a lift home. Lambert Park hedge burning down. Pele doing a lap of honour at St George and the massed ranks of the Saints Sunday Service yelling ‘You’ll Never Play For St George’ and ‘We All Agree, Ilic Is Better Than Pele.’

You had to be there and I was there. In many ways my experiences down under changed the way I viewed football. in England there was guaranteed anonymity among the thousands but in NSL Australia you were quickly identified as being part of the scene and we all like to belong, don’t we? Players became more accessible and the whole thing was much more of a laff.

More memories. Giving John Kosmina stick at Sutherland during a NSW State League game and him giving it back. Australia beating Hajduk Split 1-0 at Parramatta in front of about 10,200 and the 200 were Aussie fans. Tony Krslovic getting a hat trick in State League. Andy Harper giving me his shirt. Frank Arok arranging lifts back to Sydney with the players after police banned us from the trains. MM methodically removing chairs from the upper deck while I was chatting up a sole passenger. Thousands of Swedish backpackers heading west when 1FK Gothenburg came for a friendly.

Western Samoa playing Chinese Taipei in an Olympic Qualifier. Seeing Arsenal in a 6 a side in Brisbane. Reading about players like Abbas Saad make the move to Singapore, then a football magnet for Aussies attracted by higher salaries and bigger wages I guess. Seeing Zvonomir Boban for the first time as a teenager with Partizan. Watching England win 1-0 at the SFS and losing my voice. Seeing South Melbourne Hellas beat Wollongong Macedonia 7-3 at Middle park. Heidleburg Alexander v Preston Makedonia with a police presence to match Millwall v West Ham.

It had to come to an end of course. All good things do. i finally left in July 1991 just a few days after seeing Adelaide City play Blackwood in the South Australia State League at Hindmarsh Stadium and I’ve never been back.

Football down under has changed beyond recognition. No more games against Fiji and New Zealand for the national team, the Socceroos have an Asian Cup Final date this weekend and the biggest and brightest no longer gravitate to Singapore or Malaysia. Instead the likes of Tim Cahill have become established names in England while Indonesia has seen promising young players like David Micevski try their luck.

My Australian experiences have also shaped many of my attitudes to football in the region I know cover with Jakarta Casual. Apathy in the SLeague? Seen if before. Crowd trouble and awful pitches in Indonesia? Show me something new!

Football is the world’s game because it is so bloody simple. And because it so bloody simple someone somewhere will soon put it right. Football belongs to everyone. The guys who run it for now, they won’t be around forever.

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