First stop was the Precinct Hotel to catch up with Steve from Broady, because he reckoned that the Cricketers Arms, where the Green and Gold Army was planning to set up, was a hole. Let's be honest though, the Precinct is also a dump. Eventually we did wander over to the Cricketers Arms - but not before bumping into now former South player Shaun Timmins on the way there - in order to meet up with a South supporter who is not completely disillusioned and/or cynical with whatever it is that the Green and Gold Army is meant to be these days.
Aside from inexplicably watching Australia vs India during the 2011 Asian Cup at the Celtic Club - an event which somehow did not make it to this blog in any form - my one and only other close up experience with the Green and Gold Army was back in 2009, which I wrote up in a hyper jaded manner on this blog. The ensuing years have made it harder to hate the Green and Gold Army though. Stripped of relevance by pretty much everyone, replaced by the one game wonder of Terrace Australia [sic], but still kicking on, who am I to kick a dog while it's down?
I must admit that on face value the Cricketers Arms is perhaps an odd choice for such a meet and greet. Apart from its close proximity to the ground, both the interior and the beer garden out the back were liberally decorated in VFL, AFL and cricket paraphernalia. Apart from re-telling unpublishable South gossip, the only other significant thing to do was to become complicit in someone's alcohol problem. But I suppose that's what going to a pub is all about anyway.
Steve from Broady wanted to head to the ground early for some unknown reasons. On the way there we spotted a suited up Alan Davidson talking to someone, before we crossed over into Gosch's Paddock (named after some long dead Melbourne City councilman) and tried to get a handle on what the pre-match festivities consisted of; as it turned out, it was mostly a handful of tent booths with skill games for the kids, and a merch stand.
Outside the Gate 2 entrance at the Bubbledome, there was ethnic dancing of a sort, though I didn't hang around long enough to notice if it was a generic (or specific) Levantine dabke, or something altogether more Kuwaiti. If it indeed was a Kuwaiti folk dance, one wonders if they'd have been allowed to do it in Kuwait proper, where dancing (among other 'fun' things) is prohibited. And of course, my thoughts turned to the NCIP and all that, before being distracted by the white line on the concourse with the attendant instruction 'no smoking beyond thus point', as if the cigarette smoke and the wind could read, much less care where they would end up. But back to the NCIP for just a moment, how good was it that Asian Cup organising committee managed to choose a meat pie as our national dish? It's one of those things that in reality is almost entirely inconsequential, but because of that in-consequentiality manages to rankle my feathers even more. For the record, I would have gone with stale bain marie dim sims.
Once inside, Steve and I did a lap around the inside of the ground to kill time. I bought a scarf in part because it was going to get colder and the threat of rain, and because my green with one gold star Hattrick t-shirt wasn't going to cut it on that front. We bumped into two fellow South fans as well, which just goes to prove that we're not all Socceroo hating, old soccer Nazis. It was my first Socceroos game for a year and a half, the last time being a forgettable (in that I'd forgotten about it entirely) World Cup qualifier against Jordan at Docklands. The last time I was at the Bubbledome was for a Rebels game. The last time I saw a soccer match at the Bubbledome was for another, earlier World Cup qualifying game against Saudi Arabia. It was interesting to see all the elements of the normal Bubbledome stripped back, by which I mean the sponorship boards, but there was also a very large expanded media space on the western side of the ground. Otherwise it was pretty much the same place.
Now it's true that unless you're shoved into some corner, there are not really any bad seats at the Bubbledome, but it was probably a bit dishonest to class the seats we had as 'category A' seats, considering that we were behind the line of the goal - surely that definition should have applied more strictly to areas including only more central bays. At least we could get a good look at the scoreboard from where we were, which became became more necessary in the second half as the bloke next to me was an unnecessary leaner, meaning that we, too, had to lean forward every time the ball went down toward the Olympic Boulevard end.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott made an appearance and was booed by large sections of the the crowd, unlike the time I saw him make an appearance at Brookvale Oval in 2014. Of course back then he was in his own electorate, and accompanied by a sick child as well. Frank Lowy got a much kinder reception though, except from me. If you're going to have a chip on your shoulder, you may as well be sincere about it.
The opening ceremony was all a bit ho hum, some strange inflatable set up, three artists I knew next to nothing about - one song I recognised from some ad campaign on television - and music played at an earth shakingly loud volume, which jarred with the tolerable volume of the pre-game entertainment before that. It probably didn't help that I was seated right behind some massive pitch side speakers, covered in plastic I assume to protect them from any possible deluge, but because of this also making a huge distorted rustling noise. If anyone can make head or tail of all the people running around and doing backflips and cartwheels, good to you. Opening ceremonies are for television audiences anyway, not for people in the stands with obstructed and only one view of the action.
Would've been a much more authentic piece of Aussie culture if opening ceremony was people running through sprinklers pic.twitter.com/wm2Gn7haFxOh yes, as warned in an email before the match, there was also audience participation by way of what the organisers called a 'tifo' - which was really getting a coloured card out from the back of your seat and making sure you flipped it at the right moment. We even went through a taxing practice run; taxing in that we flipped the cards several times during that warm up, while it only required one flip during the opening ceremony itself. More on those pieces of cardboard later.
— Paul Mavroudis (@PaulMavroudis) January 9, 2015
"TIFO" at the Asian Cup... lame! #AsianCup2015 #AC2015 pic.twitter.com/Q1Pc6uOzkzThe first 30 odd minutes was pretty mediocre stuff from the Socceroos, the goal conceded from the corner being the highlight of said mediocrity. A close runner up however was the first corner we took which was played short RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME! Aside from whatever irrational hatred I have of short corners, we have this guy called Tim Cahill, who even though he's a self-aggrandising, right wing nut job associating shill, has a magical forehead onto which every lofted ball we can send into the area should be sent to.
— Cindy N (@cindyn) January 9, 2015
Nevertheless, as was expected but not assured, we managed to run over the top of them. As we all rose up to celebrate the Socceroos two first half goals, I got accidentally elbowed in the side after each time by the Unnecessary Leaner in bis excitement, which took the edge off the celebrations for me. Further injury was avoided because for the third goal everyone was standing up in anticipation of the penalty, and the the fourth goal was a such a junk time effort there was no real point in celebrating it anyway.
At half time the sprinklers either turned themselves or were turned on by someone for the same reason (which escapes me at this moment) they were turned on before the match. Either way the photographers had to make a bit of run for it. The second half was entertaining at least as we peppered the goals, but the Kuwaitis were also able to break through the offside trap on a handful of occasions and barring some good work by Mat Ryan in goal, it might have been a tighter finish. Instead the crowd grew bored as the Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! chant started going through the crowds, and the pieces of cardboard used for the opening ceremony were crafted into paper planes. A handful were well crafted enough to make it onto the field; most seemed to make it as far as the space behind the ad boards, while a good few didn't even get that far, managing only to collide with the back of people's heads, reminding me of the time I got hit in the head with a coin at a Victory game.
At the end of the day, the man of the match was clearly the referee, who bucked the trend of all referees being rubbish all the time, what with having an excellent game all around, especially in not falling for pretty much any of the diving antics of the Socceroos. Remember the days when we were all self-righteous about the diving and feigning of injuries of Asian teams? Well judging from last night's match, that's gone completely out the window now, as we have now become the petulant equals of our region's finest in this matter. Welcome to modern Australian football.