To be honest with you, I have an abysmal record as a sports fan. My beloved teams of Leeds United and Miami Heat have not won a game that I have attended. My NFL team, the Dallas Cowboys, have a mighty five Superbowl wins in their history. They have not won it in the sixteen years I have supported them. So I thought I would give the Brisbane Roar a try!
My hostel is in a ideal situation only a ten minute walk from the Suncorp Stadium that is home to the Reds (rugby union), Broncos (rugby league) and Lions (Aussie Rules). Australia is renown for their love of all sports where kids are brought up on being athletic and competitive. Football falls short in popularity. Aussie Rules football, rugby union, rugby league, cricket are all ahead of boring old soccer. No matter. I decided I would support Brisbane Roar.
The first match I got tickets for was an Asian Champions League group match against Korean team, Ulsan Hyundai. Coincidentally, the day I picked up my tickets was the same day the A-League grand final tickets also went on sale, so I picked up one for that as well. I managed to get a decent seat for $30, a price unheard of for a Champions League game back in the UK.It was a warm, clear Tuesday night in the Suncorp Stadium and as I approached the ground, it was quite something. It is a 55,000 seater, enclosed stadium, making it bigger than most English Premier League stadiums. I navigated to my seat that was literally pitch side, row 3, just a few feet off the halfway line. I was fortunate to get a seat to this rather nice local called Mark who had been a Roar fan for as long as Roar had been established. We chatted about my trip and his time in Brisbane and he also told me about the current squad and crazy A-League rules. The stadium itself looked very bare in the floodlights as only a couple thousand fans turned up for the match. There was almost as many Koreans as there were Australians in the ground and boy did they let everyone know they were there.
The quality was quite shocking, perhaps the same standard as the 3rd or 4th tier of English football. At one stage I felt like putting on some boots and running on to the pitch to add some flair to the occasion. Roar play a frustrating game of always passing back to the keeper. If a winger near the opposition’s box had few options he would pass back to the defense, who would pass back to the goalie. It would be passed back to a defender and the process would repeat. I was shocked how many times the ball would be played across the face of their own goal or how a defender would let the ball bounce in front of them when a striker was lurking. I’m an average player but I know the fundamental no-nos like that. Besides all that it was a close encounter. They went 1-0 early on before Roar equalised from the left-back. Both teams then hit the post and it looked like it was going to end in a draw. A few minutes from full-time, the lanky Roar defender touched a Korean in the box and he went down like a bag of potatoes. This Korean team were notorious divers! Mark and myself cursed the ref as we were doing the entire game. Ulsan went 2-1 up and that was that. Another lose to my record as a spectator.
No dramas! I still had the GRAND FINAL to look forward to, Brisbane Roar vs Perth Glory. My two new Scottish mates from the hostel, Steven and Alistair, accompanied me to the stadium on match day and we soaked in the atmosphere. It was a bit surreal as we walked by mobs of Roar and Glory fans giving each other serious but light-hearted abuse. If this was the UK, many a fight would have broken out by now. There were a lot of activities going on around the stadium, I queued up for contest to kick a ball into the back of a Hyundai but only managed to hit the side of the car. Shucks! The Scots were gutted not to have bought tickets as it was a sellout and looked to be a cracker. I found my seat directly behind one of the goals, ten rows back and stared around me for the sea of orange and purple supporters. I was hoping to see some Roar goals in front of me and dreading to see any Perth ones.
The first half was poor and uneventful, I believe Perth managed one shot on the goal I was sitting behind. 0-0. The second half was a different story. Early on, on the far side of the ground Perth Glory opened the scoring with a soft goal coming off one of the Roar players. Perth were now quite content to defend while Roar kept using their frustrating possession game tactics. The clock was at 83 minutes and it looked like Perth Glory were going to be crowned champions when the left back broke down the wing and crossed in a deadly ball, calmly headed into the net by the Albanian player called Besart Berisha nicknamed “The Bear”. Sitting directly behind the goal I leaped from my seat and joined in the celebrations of the rest of the Roar fans, going crazy in delight with the equaliser. Luck was going our way when a Perth player got sent off just before full-time. Good-bye I waved to him.
In a moment of controversy, way into injury time, Bear dribbled past around four Perth players in the box before finally going down. PENALTY!!! “No way!” screamed the Perth players as they surrounded the ref but he simply waved away their protests. Bear placed the ball on the spot while me and the fans behind the goal were standing and holding our breath. On the 7th minute of injury time, Berisha put the ball past the keeper as cool as a cucumber sending the orange part of the stadium into jubilation. We were all screaming and jumping up and down while the players mobbed the goalscorer. It was the first time a team in the A-League had won back to back Championships and I was there to take part in the history.
Maybe things have turned a corner in me being a sports fan.