I enjoyed a great evening of football at WIN Stadium last night.
Two very competitive teams playing attractive football, good atmosphere and a near capacity crowd (and Wolves record) of 11,201 - and a late winner to the home side - what more could a football fan ask for?
I joined the thousands on foot traversing neighbouring and not so nearby streets - headed to Wollongong's biggest home game of the season.
The evening was fine and the sea breeze, such a feature of my previous visit to the then Wollongong Showground in 1981 (with fellow listee Warren Green) - when we watched Wollongong City debut in the NSL against Sydney Olympic - was calmed in anticipation of a greater occasion ahead.
I spilt, like a nut in a sea of assorted delicasies through the Hill turnstyle and down a covered area, to emerge in front of a gathering array adorning the Hill's 45 degree slope.
Up above, perched in a lookout tower that could have been borrowed from a cut-price Stalag 13, was Mike Cockerill and his crew with C7 cameras - preparing with their backs to the sea wall just metres behind them, and anticipating a backs-to-the-wall performance from South Melbourne - just minutes ahead.
I strode amongst many black leather jackets - of seemingly Macedonian or Italian parentage, duffle coats and sloppy joes of Anglo and of Australian heritage - the 'Gong of today. Most were under forty and about 85% male.
I took up position at the back of the main Hill at the halfway line, standing to my full 191cm (6ft 3.5") enabling me to see over all in front - consequently blocking any on the Concourse behind.
After a few minutes I was joined by a near mirror image in height. We must have be doing our own mental comparisons, for we looked at each other and acknowledged the advantage our stature provides.
I asked if he was a regular, and he told me he had watched football in Wollongong and elsewhere since 1963. I mentally apologised for seeming to turn this into an episode from 'Tales from the Urinal' but proffered 1961 as my initiation into our addiction.
As the evening's spectacle played out before us, we traversed the years, only to marvel at the occasions we had unknowingly shared: WC v Iran (Sportsground, 1973); attack on Baartz's (v Uruguay, SCG also 1973); the Centenary game v England (SCG, 1980); The 'Gong's debut in the NSL... and so it went on, just like two war veterans reliving their battles.
He spoke of his German father, and I of my Germanic surname. I introduced myself. He smiled, then laughed. "Holz", he said, "Gunnar Holz."
Gunnar, it turns out is a 47year old (3 years my senior) Superintendant of the Power Station at the Port Kembla Steelworks. His team broke, time and again, with the speed and precision of molten metal, flung from the furnace that is the broiling heart of the Wolves deep midfield, tempered by hours of practise and now years of success.
It had the hypnotic attraction of a volcanic explosion - its speed, accuracy and devasting effect made it just beautiful to watch - which the opposition did to its peril. No other NSL team can play this way.
South Melbourne, needed all their short passing, great close control, possession play and twisting and turning, to worm their way back after falling behind.
The 200 South fans, who had shown admirable control in remaining perfectly silent during a minute tribute to a just deceased Wolves stalwart, exploded into temporary life when Boutsi scored to equalise.
Their only other memorable contribution was two flares thrown from their midst, to significant derision from the locals.
The sea change anticipated from halftime seemed to eventuate as the Wolves searched in vain for the ball, being sheltered from their grasp by an increasingly confident visitor. But then came David, David Cervinski, to face the Goliath that was the NSL Minor Premier.
Cervinski arose - and all did quake before him. He became a giant among his fellow Wolves defenders, stopping the South advance in its tracks and delivering passes with the accuracy of a slingshot (yes, I know what you are thinking, but I did see them with my own eyes).
He and Horsley lifted the Wolves to another level and they started to take control once more - the tide had turned. A deserved penalty brought victory, and a week more shall tell us whether Souths can keep the Wolf from the Grand Final's door.
Gunnar watched all this in what I am sure is his usual quiet, reserved style - but there were moments when I could see the excitement was getting to him. He would look at me with a big smile, stretch forward to glimpse a corner, or seem to (almost imperceptibly) bop to the rhythm of the nearby Wolves samba drum beat.
As fulltime on a costal night sucked the assorted throng from Win Stadium like a vaccum cleaner cleans up after a wild party, I turned to Gunnar and said "It is on evenings like this one, big crowds, atmosphere, great football, that I realise why I love this game so much!"
Gunnar looked at me and smiled, then nodded - he didn't have to say anything - but I know we'll meet again, some football day...