Me, Keith, Doomlord, and a fair-sized mob ventured out to the Lions' Den courtesy of the official supporters coaches, $15 a head. All sat drinking up the back, blatantly ignoring the driver's earlier warning. Only got in trouble when we all donned the sheepskin headrest covers as judges wigs: "Guilty M'Lord". "Put them back" ordered the driver.
A quiet first half. A big Spirit mob of several hundred occupied the concrete end. The Croatian mob at the other end looked small and were outsung.
Halftime we invited the large Spirit mob to change ends and follow us onto the Croat hill. We stood right next to them and they started to chant "Cro-arrz-eee-aaaah". So we started to chant "Ohh-straar-leeee-aaah" in the same manner. This infuriated them and you could sense the tension building. Their mob began to grow in size as Croat reinforcements arrived from other parts of the ground. A thin cordon of about half a dozen security moved in to form a buffer zone. More chanting, then a full beer bottle crashed amongst the Spirit faithful. It was returned with interest. Then the Croats began to kindly offer us several full cans of VB. Scuffles broke out, with Keith and the Doomlord injecting themselves into the fray. Security battled manfully to keep a lid on proceedings, along with Big Marco and Goran - two respected Croatian hooligans with whom our mob are friendly - who joined in negotiations for a peaceful end to the crisis. It was all over within thirty seconds.
The niggle continued throughout the second half, while the police stood timidly in the corner, looking scared and insignificant. Both club presidents came down to calm the warring fans - a bizarre sight seeing Nogarotto and Krslovic mingling with the hooligan mobs. Miraculously no further fighting erupted, though one senses it may have been a different story if Spirit had grabbed a late equaliser.
At fulltime the Croats baited us to meet them outside - normally an unavoidable proposition given that there is only one way out. But the two club presidents devised another plan, and had security escort us underneath the main stand - still a construction site - for a European-style away-fan rendezvous with our coach. It was an eerie feeling, and someone brought upon guffaws of laughter by suggesting that we were being led to a Balkan mass grave, somewhere amongst the piles of rubble and twisted metal.
As we waited for our coach, one of the guys who is a construction worker decided to call Workcover to alert them that members of the public had been forced against their will to enter a construction site. Workcover promised to inspect the site the following day and if necessary fine the club or shut down the site.
Meanwhile, Keith and I grew bored waiting for the coach and decided to walk out to the middle to inspect the pitch. After sitting for a while in plastic chairs inside the centre circle, discussing the conditions, we were asked by security to return to the group. As we left the ground we gleefully made rude gestures at the Croatian committee high up in the stand.
Finally the coach arrived, and as we were driven away the driver humourously remarked "Ladies and Gentlemen, you are now leaving Croatia."
A good day was had by all. We went to the Lions' Den, stood in their end, never took a backward step, and left with no casualties. But wait till they come to our place...