What a difference a year makes! Returning to Belmore Oval to watch Olympic play, same old faces, same small crowd, same introspection. The location was no matter, it could have been Leichhardt Oval, the SFS, Lambert Park or in the distant memories, Pratten Park. It was the same old deal.
But this time it was different. This time I was a Spirit fan, attending my first away game.
For more than 15 years I had tried to love Olympic, attending a small number of games each season, often enjoying the games (to this day they have a good team), but in the end getting nothing back. Perhaps it was the old Greeks that can only boo in a high pitched voice as they thrust their hands out. Perhaps it was the peanut man that also sold inexplicable videos, perhaps the foreign language chanting by 17 year olds, the over made-up babes, the lembas, the Greek announcements that had Dad screaming in fury to an incredulous ground announcer up in the tower.
But ultimately, it was the fact that nobody cared if we went or not; except for Andrew, their mad number 1 fan who is one of the few that can marry fanatic support for Olympic and for the socceroos in Bay 23. "You've changed you colours!" he yelled at me when I arrived in the Spirit jersey. Nobody else, from the rich fish mongers that own the club down to the peanut man actually care if anyone else comes along, nor is marketing a word they embrace or understand.
Thus it was that I returned to the "real" NSL, the only one I had known and sadly for many of the population, the only one they know. You see, going to North Sydney Oval hasn't really been the NSL; it's a whole new thing, so divorced from the past that it's unrecognisable. Sure the opposition are teams in the NSL but hey, no peanut man.
The game then, and everything with it finally severed me from the past. Olympic, still with a team that 15,000 should be watching every week, held out (just) by a gutsy Spirit effort. On the terraces, the fans held firm as the Olympic hoods approached; luckily no riot ensued. Their depressed diehards filed out early as they always do.
At the end of it all, I saw Andrew again, he was devastated as he always is after an Olympic loss. We shook hands and exchanged pleasantries. I turned and left the ground hoping/knowing I'd never have to go back to all that nonesense again just to get a football fix. The way forward never seemed clearer.