Fellow football lovers,
I just thought I would share with you the extremely pleasant evening I spent at Knights Stadium yesterday.
Yes, the surrounds are bleak and grim, and yes, the merchandise stall is chocka with 'Hrvatska' scarves etc, and yes, there is a lot of broken and cracked glass in and around the Croatian Sports Centre premises.
But despite all that, I experienced genuine warmth and friendliness, and the company of people who have a sincere passion for the beautiful game. The crowd was very sparse, with just a smattering of Gippsland supporters among the Knights diehards. Knights fans are obviously suffering, and every mistake by the home side was met with a pained groan. The groans that greeted the 2 Gippsland goals were ones of resignation, but they never stopped encouraging their team. After Perinovic's 2nd half dismissal (Falcons 9th for the season), the game turned and the Knights always looked like getting something from the match after all. The supporters did their part in ensuring they did - and I admit to hearing only a couple of muffled 'Cro-artzia' chants as they rallied to the cause. But what the hell - South Melbourne's supporters at Morwell last weekend chanted 'Hellas! Hellas!' non-stop.
To come to the point of this posting, throughout the match I enjoyed good conversation, and a little banter, with the people around me. Falcons supporters had no problem with the locals when the visitors took a first half lead, nor when that lead was extended in the second half. No nasty glares! No demands to shut up and sit down! No abuse or spitting!
Throughout, all the locals wanted to do was talk football. We talked about the current problems of both clubs as well as past glories. The middle aged Croatian immediately behind me asked how long I had been in Australia, to which I answered 25 years. His eyes lit up when I confrimed to him that I remembered Duncan McKay, his namesake the late Jimmy, and Johnny Gardner - all great Croatians, eh??? I should point out here, that the delighful young blonde lady who delivers beer to those in need, makes a trip to Somers Street worth the effort alone.
Before and after the game I also found a warm welcome in the Social Club - unlike another Melbourne based club who shall remain nameless - where the food (cevapi rolls - fantastic) and drink was served with a warm and generous smile. Not once did I feel unwelcome or out of place.
My colleague and I had the great pleasure after the game, of enjoying a beer and a chat with Hellas legend, Jim Armstrong (Lachlan's dad). Jim has a great passion for the game in Oz, but as we discussed the days events we concluded that it was increasingly likely that neither of the day's combatants would feature highly in the future plans of football at the National level in this country.
As I trudged home, I thought about that. All those people, who have done so much for the development of the game. The passion and enthusiasm of supporters of clubs who have been around for many years. In the eyes of folk like Nogarotto, Tana and Sticca, it all accounts for nothing. That is sad!