Edgeworth, Cevaps and the FFA Cup

So, how good is the FFA Cup?

Admittedly when it comes to the Wanderers, there will always be that caveat added by all and sundry regarding our first venture in this most recent iteration of a national football knock out cup competition. That shock loss to Adelaide City back in 2014 was arguably a presage of what became our ‘tempus horribilis’, although barely two months later the Wanderers were ACL champions. Since that 1-0 loss away any coverage of  the FFA Cup, most particularly when it comes to the context of any NPL level club upsetting a more fancied A-League opponent, will at some time or another include that result.

Our 2015 campaign was marginally better, thanks to a good win against Brisbane at Penrith, followed by a 0-2 away win over Mitch Nichols’ home club, the Palm Beach Sharks. The quarter final loss to Perth Glory was controversial, with one specific omen of the coming season, vis-a-vis the failure of then marquee Federico Piovaccari to slot home one of the required penalty shots. However to have progressed to the final eight was a marked improvement on our first foray into the FFA Cup, and one that has been matched in the 2016 edition.

Now before I get into the guts of this blog entry on the Round of 16 match between the Edgeworth Eagles and the Wanderers, let me take a diversion and make some personal observations on how I perceive the FFA Cup. In a nutshell, this is possibly the best addition to the domestic football environment since at least the entry of the Wanderers, with a strong argument for the FFA Cup being a partial redress of the errors and omissions made when the A-League was established. The fact that lower tier football clubs across Australia, many with a proud and long history (including perhaps NSL participation) can now play in a cup where they may beat the more fancied A-League clubs has re-engaged many fans of the code with its history and its community. It has also given the so-called ‘new dawners’ a chance to look at the clubs that were crucial to the history of the sport in this country pre-2004. Of course there are still fierce rivalries and some degree of suspicion or anger felt by some, left over from the split between ‘old soccer’ and ‘new football’. Having said that there are many A-League fans who revel in the opportunity to watch NPL teams compete either against their latter day clubs, or against each other. I have seen in person how vibrant and enjoyable the NPL experience of the FFA Cup can be, such as when I watched Sydney United take on South Hobart FC last year. Played at Edensor Park, this match saw the 58 year old Croatian based club take on the 106 year old Tasmanian visitors, with the result only going to SU58FC after a 3-3 regular time scoreline and a 3-1 penalty shoot out.

This FFA Cup tournament we have already seen two A-League clubs dumped out of the tournament by NPL teams, with last season’s premiers and Grand Final winners Adelaide United stunned by Redlands United 2-1 at home in Brisbane, and the Central Coast Mariners losing with the exact same scoreline against the Victorian NPL club Green Gully. Here’s just a tiny sample of the reaction to the Redlands’ victory on Twitter:

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This video shows how important such a result can be for the lower tier club, not just in terms of the on field reaction, but also for the community of fans and members who often put in the hard yards without anywhere near the support and glory that the A-League clubs can provide:

Watching the match from home I was unashamedly barracking for Redlands, though to be honest I have no knowledge of their club’s history, current playing roster or position in their local NPL competition. To cheer on an underdog in such a match, sensing how important football history and community is, recognising the value of the more recent football culture as vivified by the Lowy era FFA in engaging with soccer as it was and still is in Australia, well this is where I believe the FFA Cup delivers in spades.

Focusing again on the Wanderers, this current FFA Cup tournament has mirrored (so far) our last. Entering the mix in the Round of 32, the club took on our perennial bête noire, the Wellington Phoenix, at a cold, wet and miserable Campbelltown International Sports Ground. To be honest the initial performance of the team was underwhelming, and the 0-2 scoreline after 31 minutes seemed to indicate the Wanderers were going to lose again in a pre-season match against the Kiwis. Thankfully the balance was more than redressed by match’s end, thanks to two goals by exciting young striker Lachlan Scott, and a long range pearler from Mitch ‘Butters’ Nichols. Thankfully we had evaded an early exit from the FFA Cup, and possibly even more importantly, we had booked a rendezvous with Northern NSW Football’s Edgeworth Eagles.

Taking yet another diversion (I know, get to the point Manfred!) Wanderers fans generally love heading up the M1/F3 to Newy and watching our team play the locals. This has meant, until last Tuesday week’s match, a rendezvous with the Newcastle Jets. There are a host of good memories for a host of us, such as the final regular season round match in our debut season, with the 3-0 win over the Jets confirming our first piece of silverware. Then there is the Round Five game at Hunter Stadium last season, when Mitch Nichols won it for us near the death with a 86 minute goal. I would also argue that there is a healthy modicum of respect for the Jets and for the football culture in the Hunter given by many Wanderers’ fans, and vice versa from the Newcastle folk.

In my opinion, and within that context, there were plenty of WSW fans who schlepped up to Magic Park last Tuesday week who were both looking forward to bringing back some red and black love to the Hunter, and engaging with the smaller, yet vigorous, passionate supporters of the Eagles. Perhaps I’m drawing a far too long bow, but even the complimentary nature of the two clubs’ colours validates this willingness for the A-League club to engage with their NPL competitor. Throw in the (arguably unconscious) hope that the local club would benefit financially from a solid turn out of the Wanderers fans, and the attention given to them and NPL football in Newcastle, then the rendezvous at Broadmeadow for away fans such as I was most attractive.

I made my journey up to Newcastle with these thoughts in mind, accompanied by two boon companions from my Wanderers’ fraternity. One was my mate Mick, who was the poor bastard lumbered with driving duties. Mick has been a great mate of recent years, and provided one the guts of one of the best episodes of my ‘One on Wanderers’ podcast. The second member of our trio was renowned Socceroo supporter Pablo Bateson, who has seen more air miles following the green and gold than possibly anyone else in this country. We three set off early on the day, endeavouring to make it a real long term sojourn up north. As done by thousands of traveling fans over decades and decades, we were looking to enjoy some of the local delights pre-match (i.e. have a drink and feed in Hamilton), meet some of the locals (in this case catch up with the legendary ‘Nobody From Newcastle‘ Todd Blackwell, and then make our way to the game. It was a most convivial afternoon, fueled by plenty of football talk, some beverages at the Kent Hotel, and even a catch up with those friends of the Western Sydney Wanderers, the Public Order and Riot Squad from the NSW Police:

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From there it was a reasonable easy and short drive to Magic Park, the home ground for the Broadmeadow Magic. Competitors to the Edgeworth Eagles in the local Northern NSW NPL, this very attractive if small venue was allocated the FFA Cup match for the night.

The atmosphere on arriving at the venue was wonderful, thanks in no small part to the number of local fans who were there for a night to barrack for the ‘minnows’ versus the Wanderers. Whilst the Eagles faithful were out in force, including plenty of kids, there were other Hunter football devotees in evidence, some sporting Jets colours, others partisans for Magic, Adamstown, Hamilton Olympic etc. The volunteers were selling raffle tickets and Eagles merchandise, the stand on the eastern side of the ground chockers, the beers and barbecued meats flying out of the tents dotted around the perimeter of the ground.

Mick, Pablo and myself made sure to touch base with several fellow Wanderers fans who had made the trip up, chatting about the day, the match, our lads, the oppo…basically engaging in the usual chit-chat and socialisiation one does before a game. However the immediacy of the community environment for this FFA match was dare I say more fun, more carnival like. Yes, it was a serious game with a definitive expectation that the Wanderers should win. However standing around on the western hill, taking in the sights and sounds of perhaps an intimation of what football has been like for decades in this country, where the dogged band of committed soccer lovers get behind their local club and bugger the bigger, more fashionable rivals; it was pure FFA Cup goodness.

The match itself was a fairly hard fought one, with the Eagles being unwilling to concede early goals. They were unable to break the shackles of their own deep defending except for a brief foray here and there when the Wanderers lost their (dominant) possession due to an errant pass. Some of the Eagles tackles were exactly what one would expect; hard with little respect for the far more well paid professional Wanderers player they flew at. There was a particularly brutal challenge put in on Dimas which the Spaniard was not happy with. This however gave cause for much chiacking and derision from the Eagles faithful. I’ll happily admit it was both infuriating to see such practices from the ‘home’ team, but great to see their supporters giving our ‘stars’ a real old rev up.

As the game progressed the goals began to flow, with ex-Jet Scott Neville snaring the first and the third, with the latter coming after the half time break. Brendan Hamill grabbed a goal between those two, giving the plentiful of Wanderers fans something to cheer for. An old acquaintance of the Wanderers, ex-Mariner Daniel McBreen was the go to man for the Eagles when it came to responding, and he had already provided some entertaining resistance earlier in the match when he gave one of the Wanderers fans a bit of handbags after a contretemp near the RBB. However his more important contribution was scoring a well taken goal after Wanderers’ new Uruguayan import Bruno Pinatares, giving Edgeworth a small sniff of a comeback. Their supporters were keen to vocally do what they could, fueled by pride, piss and cevaps, however two late goals from Brendan Santalab killed off the match. The 1-5 win for the Wanderers was certainly a fair result.

However what was a far more significant result was it was yet another instalment of what makes the FFA Cup such a worthy and enjoyable addition to the football environment in Australia. Two clubs with many disparate attributes were brought together, and alongside that meeting came the chance for people like myself to engage with a community and a history of the sport that sometimes we forget. In the A-League era it is all to easy to be hyped about big derbies between say the Wanderers and the Smurfs, or the two Melbourne clubs. A lot of attention this impending season is already being given to the advent of Tim Cahill as the league’s biggest name since del Piero. Many people in the huge amorphous pool of football fans in Australia see problems, division, challenges that no one can easily solve.

Yet on a chilly night in Broadmeadow, all of that was put aside by those who came to watch this FFA Cup match, and we all came away better for the experience.

Thanks Edgeworth!

 

P.S. The cevap rolls were good, but where was the avjar?

RUOK with WSW

Today is RUOK Day, a day when we are encouraged by RUOK organisation “to connect with others & ask about life’s ups and downs” as part of the public fight against suicide and associated mental illnesses. It is for many folk out there just another awareness event that lines up alongside other worthy charity days such as Red Nose Day, Daffodil Day etc etc. I can understand that, insofar as there is such a plethora of good causes in the public domain struggling for attention, for funding, for active support. However this year, this RUOK Day I have a significant commitment to this event, and (unsurprisingly) this is filtered and concentrated through my association with the Western Sydney Wanderers football community, and by extension others out there in the online and offline band of brothers and sisters that share my passion for the round ball code.

I have already touched upon some of the circumstances that have caused me some serious anguish earlier this year in my post on why I wish I had traveled to Adelaide for the 2015/16 A-League Grand Final. The most damaging experience for me emotionally not just in the last year, but arguably since I left school was the collapse of a sixteen year long relationship. I won’t get into the messy specifics of my situation, as there are some intensely private and personal matters to consider not just for myself, but also for my ex. However I think it is both appropriate and of value to put on the table some of the more general aspects of what has been (and still is) a seriously troubling time for me. This includes confronting certain emotional and mental health ‘demons’, and trying to address the very problems that RUOK Day is focused on. It is also very important for me to put out there the positive influence my comrades in red and black, and in football in general, has had on my ongoing battles. It helps me immeasurably to publicly acknowledge my brothers and sisters in red and black (and some in other clubs’ colours) as being there for me with a kind word or an open ear, never judging, always listening.

One of the earliest expressions of this most-welcome support came on the eve of the Easter holidays. Two of my Wanderers comrades offered out of the blue to meet up in Parra for a feed and a drink, with the added diversion of watching the Socceroos play Tajikistan in Adelaide on TV. Mick and Balks (they know who they are) sat down with me and did what great mates do. They asked me how I was, listened to some of my troubles, told me a few yarns of their own to get me out of my self-absorption regarding my problems, debated aspects of the Wanderers season, laughed with me about the shit state of Adelaide Oval for a World Cup qualifier. This therapeutic conviviality was definitely for my benefit, both in terms of their original motivation, and also in the effect it had on me at that time. I wasn’t alone, I wasn’t going to be left to stew in my juices; these two mates who I have found through our shared love of the Wanderers were there to help me at that time in the best way that they could.

There have been other moments of unsolicited sympathy and a willingness to let me pour out my heart and soul to my Wanderers comrades, and I have been grateful for every one of them, to every one. For quite some time earlier this year I was getting almost daily texts from one of my Red and Black sisters, checking in on me, asking me how I was fairing, discussing topics both football related and those that weren’t. Before one of  the Wanderers NPL2 friendlies I shared about an hour with one of the few WSW mates I have that is of my generation (i.e. an old bastard who remembers Jimmy Shoulder and the Phillips Soccer League), sitting down to chew the fat over a few beers before venturing next door to Popondetta Park. He was more than willing to both let me yammer about my problems, tell me a few things to help me put my issues in perspective, and divert my dispirited sensibilities into football.

I must also refer to two men who have really given me plenty to think about through the agency of their experiences and their thoughts, as I discovered when I sat them down for their sessions on my Wanderers themed podcast, ‘One on Wanderers’. First there was the recording I made with Matt. In this podcast (admittedly produced prior to my relationship breakdown) he made some cogent and (for me) surprising comments on the mental health benefits of active support. It was after my personal life had turned to shit that I really comprehended some of the wisdom and empathetic thinking within Matt’s words. I can verify through my own experiences since then (more on that later) how true his comments are about the positive aspects of active support on relieving depression and stress.

To add to Matt’s football-focused comments, a few weeks after I was fortunate to find an even more expansive and positive message in another podcast guest. Another Wanderers comrade who goes by the name of Mick was incredibly open and brave when he talked about his battles with mental health issues on the episode I recorded with him.  This was produced only a week before things went seriously pear shaped for me on the home front, and through the agency of that podcast I was lucky enough to hear a man, a fellow Wanderers supporter, express his emotions and thoughts in a context very similar to mine. I feel even more fortunate and dare I say a little bit proud (which in turns helps me) that Mick was willing and able to pour forth his experiences, his ruminations on being bipolar, on his time in mental health care, and how he connected his efforts to stay well through football, through the Wanderers.

There are numerous other people I could refer to, several other occasions or experiences that I could mention, where someone who shares with me a love of the Western Sydney Wanderers has given me a shoulder to lean on, a reason to smile, an ear to pour my heart and soul out to. I’ve had deep and meaningful moments over a stein with fellow WSW addicts male and female, young and old, new friends and not so new. At the semi against Brisbane I was taken into the bosom of the RBB with Lloydie, FCB, Wal and Valter and whilst I was feeling gutted away and outside the active stands at Wanderland, for those glorious few hours focused on that magnificent defeat of the Roar, I was given the heartening comradeship where my euphoria could supplant my depression. Admittedly if we had lost that would have drawn a pall over things. However we didn’t; that 5-4 come back from the dead ‘Miracle at Pirtek’ was the final sanction on a day when my red and black fraternity gave me every reason to feel good.

Perhaps the most crucial moment when I found how valuable, how life affirming it was to have my Wanderers’ mates behind me was the morning after I admitted myself to crisis care. Without going into all aspects of my situation, I was at that most low moment, where one questions why one should keep struggling with the emotional hell you are going through. Beaten down by issues relating to the ex as well as my work situation at the time (or should I say impending lack of work lol), I was in need of a refuge where professionals would make sure no self-harm would come to me. When I was asked to hand over my belt and shoelaces on admittance I was in serious doubt of my ability to go on, to continue to struggle with the feelings of hurt and hopelessness that seeped into every pore and bone of my being. However, when the immediate danger passed and I was later able to walk out of the hospital with trousers and shoes secured, there were my Wanderers mates there to ask me; are you okay? I had come through a very dark passage and they were there to shine a beacon of friendship to light the way.

Before I close off on the subject of how my Wanderers brothers and sisters have been so valuable in these last seven months of emotional trouble, I must make reference to the communal nature of this willingness to care, to listen, to openly discuss problems that give cause for RUOK Day. In the West Sydney Football forum, the home of Wanderers related chat online, there have been threads opened and fervently conversed in addressing mental health issues. It’s there that members and fans of my beloved WSW can articulate their own personal doubts and griefs, or perhaps offer succour to those like me who are in need of support during shitty times. I’ve availed myself of a willing audience for my woes there, plus also offered some thoughts and encouragement to fellow correspondents to try and help them with their issues. It’s a wonderfully positive and helpful conversation that helps set the paradigm of why being with my fellow Wanderers advocates is not just a football fan thing; it’s a real community in the best sense of that word.

At this point, before I finish this blog post, I would like to widen my observations on how my football friends have asked me ‘RUOK’ and then been willing to listen, by commending a bloke who is not a fellow traveler in red and black. A great mate for me and I firmly believe for the wider football community, Todd aka ‘A Nobody from Newcastle‘ has been consistently sending me messages via Twitter, Facebook, in person and by text asking me how I am, what I’m up to, chatting about his Jets or my Wanderers. Todd is the kind of member/supporter that every A-League club needs to look to when searching for that one individual that embodies the best values of their community. He is passionate about football in his Hunter homeland, but equally impressive is his commitment to mates away from Newy who share his love of football. He and I have bounced off each other through bad times and good, and I find his friendship incredibly life-affirming. I may feel miserable about what has happened to me due to my domestic issues and my mental health problems. However whenever Todd asks ‘Are you okay?’, or sits down with me at a pub in Parramatta or Hamilton to iron out the latest issues with our beloved clubs and code, the blues get pissed off quick smart. I would not be lying to say my brother from another A-League club is at the heart of my inspiration to engage with the whole message of ‘RUOK Day’.

I’d like to finish off with the message that asking a friend, a work mate, a relation if they are okay is something that is of so much value, so much help when one feels that it actually isn’t. From recent personal experience I have had family contacts, mental health professionals and old friends ask me how I am doing, sometimes to good effect, sometimes not. I appreciate their efforts, even if at times I have been reticent or have even rejected them. However, when it comes to the ‘RUOKs’ proffered by my fellow Western Sydney Wanderers comrades, from some select and amazing football mates, I have never felt unable to answer back “I will be, thanks in no small part to you.”

RUOK?

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