Melbourne is the sporting capital of Australia, and when I first booked my flight last year I had a fairly immediate double dose of sporting action in mind with the opening race of the 2019 F1 calendar on the Sunday preceded by an A-League soccer match on the day of my arrival. The latter then annoyingly got brought forward to the Friday night when I’d be in the air and thus unable to go. I’d long given up on it and had almost erased it from my mind until my sister messaged me a few days before my trip to say that it had been moved back to Saturday night meaning that I could go.
Marvel Stadium was pretty much my first port of call on arrival in Melbourne from the airport early morning. Even though I knew I’d be returning there in the evening I thought I’d get my ‘Ghost Rider‘ (2007) match-up shot of the stadium exterior out of the way. Also, just beyond the stadium was the beautifully revamped Docklands area. The thing I wanted to see though was the surreal Cow-Up-A-Tree sculpture!
I’d told my sister that I wouldn’t be at her house until at least 1:00 pm so I got some food and looked round the city for a bit before heading south to the suburbs to be re-united with whoever was around. I was expecting to see just her and my two nieces as I had been told that my brother-in-law and nephew would be out at the F1 qualifying session. I was delighted to discover on my arrival that all the family were there as their plans had changed. As a result, my 11 year old nephew would be joining me for the football (and the F1 race the following day too) which was great news as I’d expected to be going alone. Before taking the train back into the city to Southern Cross station a little later we had dinner together at a local burger joint.
This was the first proper A-League game for both of us although I did actually attend a few Perth Glory home games in late 2001 in the National Soccer League (NSL) which was the previous incarnation of the A-League. As for my nephew, he played on the pitch at half-time during the home match against Adelaide in December last year but only saw part of the first half before having to make his way down to pitch-side ready for his part in the interval proceedings.
With a capacity of 53,359, I was never worried about getting tickets for this match once I’d looked at what was the average attendance for Victory home games. For the record, it was 16,357 at this particular one. It cost $25 for me and $5 for him which to be fair was cheaper than I had expected in advance. A subsequent ice-cream for him cost the same price!
Back in April 2001, I was in attendance at this stadium for an AFL match between Essendon and Port Adelaide. It was called the Colonial Stadium then and has since been called the Telstra Dome, the Etihad Stadium and is now the Marvel Stadium. When it comes to comic-book heroes I am more of a DC fan!
We took seats high up in the stands for the first half and discussed our predictions for the game among many other things. For an eleven year old, it has to be said that he is good at having conversation with adults. At that age (and add another ten years or so!) I am sure I could never have interacted with grown-ups like he can do. Impressive.
Just ahead of the 7:50 pm kick off, the teams entered the fray and the classic Ben E. King song ‘Stand By Me‘ played out over the public address system as the home supporters held scarves above their heads throughout.
The man I was most looking forward to watching was former Milan and Japanese international midfielder Keisuke Honda whose mispronunciation of the word “fact” in this video a month before did amuse many! When packing on the day of my departure, I only just remembered to put an old shirt with his name on the back in to my hand luggage.
New Zealander Kosta Barbarouses scored a brace for Victory on 24 and 39 minutes respectively as The White Stripes blared out whilst the fans waved their scarves and sang the chorus melody. I don’t think I need to tell you which of their tunes was used! On the second occasion though it was curtailed as the referee needed VAR to decide whether it was onside or not. This was my first live experience of VAR and it has to be said it was quite exciting but that may be because replays were shown throughout the game, even for the slightly controversial incidents which sure never happens in Japan!
It was 2-0 at half time and my nephew wanted a coke (something he is only allowed to have on special occasions and when I’m in town!) so we went down into the concourse to get one. I also got a bottle of water for $5 and then seconds later I typically saw a drinking water fountain which even had a sign above it saying “Why pay $5 for water when you can drink it here for free”. Damn! We wandered round to behind the goal hoping for a bit more atmosphere (above the Victory’s more vocal fan section) and to see all the home team’s goals go in!
Brisbane pulled one back with a fantastic chip early in the half but never really looked like getting an equaliser. With the score at only 2-1 though it was too close for comfort for the Victory fans. That third goal sadly eluded them but they sure did go close a few times.
Taking my nephew to this game (or did he take me?!!) was a wonderful experience and one I won’t forget. Hopefully, he’ll have a chance to watch them again sometime soon. The video below shows brief two minute highlights of the match.
Bonus: The bubble wrap-like Melbourne Rectangular Stadium (commercially known as AAMI Park) is more commonly used for home Victory matches. It is located next to the Rod Laver Arena (and the other courts used for the Australian Open tennis tournament) and across from the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) where I would go later in the trip to see what the Aussies refer to as football!
There is a statue of legendary and iconic Hungarian footballer Ferenc Puskas outside the state-of-the-art stadium. He was the Coach of South Melbourne FC between 1989 and 1992 and guided the team to National Soccer League and NSL Cup glory during that time.
Click here to read ‘Australia 2019 Pt II: Watching A Lot Of The F1 Australian Grand Prix On TV Despite Actually Being There!