Sunday, 4 March 2012
Flooding and faux hooliganism
Summer in Australia is definitely over. The rain has been crashing down for the best part of a week in our region and huge areas have been hit by flooding. In the last seven days, Albury has had 256mm of rain and we're grateful for a decent drainage system to keep the town moving. Elsewhere, they've not been so lucky. Some kids got trapped on Mount Buffalo (two hours south of us), which has had an incredible 525mm, while the papers have been full of nightmare stories and photos from waterlogged homes, roads and bush land elsewhere. The photo above, which appeared in the Border Mail on Friday, was taken in South Albury, two kilometres from our house.
The big story has been in Wangaratta, an hour's drive south-west of Albury. Two of the big AFL clubs from Melbourne were due to play a pre-season game there on Saturday and 10,000 tickets had been sold. St Kilda travelled up by bus on Friday night but Essendon waited until Saturday and flew. Their plane couldn't land at Wangaratta or Albury Airports, so they had to turn round and go home. Real shame for the local Aussie Rules fans and generally a big mess.
We spent the weekend in Melbourne with Rob and Jan Bell. You may remember them from our first Australian blog post. Despite the drizzly weather we ventured out to a spot called Arthurs Seat (above), south of the city at the lower end of Port Phillip Bay. We had lunch, bought some pic-n-mix sweets and marvelled at the intricate topiary of the Enchanted Maze Garden.
Down a steep, twisty mountain road to the beach. We couldn't believe these lifeguards had really put the flags out to mark the safe swimming area on such a grim day.
Back at the Bells' I booked tickets for the A-League game between Melbourne Victory and Newcastle Jets at AAMI Park. This was to be our first taste of Australian 'soccer'. We caught the train into the city, both wearing green rain jackets borrowed from our hosts.
Victory are by far the best-supported club in the league, averaging gates of 21,000. This was a must-win game if they were to have any chance of dragging themselves into the top-six and reaching the end-of-season finals. Managed by former Ipswich boss Jim Magilton, they have under-achieved big time this season and I was intrigued to see them for myself.
We sat with the noisier element of the home support behind one of the goals. The away fans were segregated into the far corner of the ground, but there even appeared to be factions and cliques within the Victory supporters. A group behind us held banners and chanted 'back row hooligans' while those you can see in the picture above waved banners, flags and scarves and were whipped into a semi-frenzy by an abominable character yelling into a megaphone. Around us, the range of accents - and even languages - was extensive. The British expats brought a touch of gallows humour to proceedings, eastern Europeans broke into sporadic song, an Irishman hurled abuse at the referee and the young Australians towards the front of the stand flitted between chants from all nations. In their search for footballing identity, Victory have aimed somewhere between the Premier League, Serie A and the more hostile outposts of the Champions League atlas, falling painfully short of them all. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but the biggest football club in Australia could do worse than concentrate on being simply 'more Australian'. It was easy to see why the A-League will never rival the AFL. Three bottles, thrown in the general direction of their own goalkeeper, was a low point on an afternoon when Melbourne Victory did themselves no favours on or off the field.
A 3-1 defeat effectively ended Victory's season, with Newcastle - who occupy sixth spot - putting further distance between the pair. Harry Kewell boshed home this penalty to make it 1-1 but the Jets had scored twice more before he missed from the spot on the stroke of half-time. A former colleague of mine covered the League Two clash between Oxford United and Swindon Town later that day and I would suggest we both watched a similar standard of football. There were 12,457 inside AAMI Park and 11,825 at the Kassam Stadium, for a game in the fourth tier of English football. Nowhere else in the world does the love for any sport run so deep.