Then Marcus came home from school with a ticket, and Elf announced she was very keen to go, so we did. Marcus’s mate EJ came too. We packed raincoats and jumpers, and I threw in my thermal top and even mittens. We were going early to see the curtain raiser (Tasmania v Melbourne Victory juniors) so I wanted to be ready for any weather that might crop up, sitting on a hill for five or so hours.
The early game was a pretty good standard. The “Tasmanian” team was 90% drawn from South Hobart soccer club, and coached by the notorious Ken Morton of the eponymous Soccer School. The well-informed crowd were un-ironically yelling “Go South Hobart”, as apart from the strip they wore it was very much the team they see from week to week playing at Darcy Street. Melbourne scored first, but Tassie responded with a beautiful goal shortly after. Then, um, Melbourne scored six more goals at regular intervals.
It was in fact very warm, which was great. We were sitting on a steep grassy bank, pretty damp, so were able to build ourselves little wedges to sit on, out of jumpers. Luckily we had a groundsheet and a rug, but like a lot others we found that "waterproof" is a relative term. I had never been to this new venue, the Twin Ovals, before. The top ground that was being used was just immaculate - I have never seen a surface like it. You could play international hockey on it, it was that smooth.
The main sponsor for the day was PFD Foodservices - I don't actually know anything about them. But seeing the words PFD plastered everywhere, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one thinking about lifejackets more than usual. I expect there’ll be a bit of a sales bump out of it.'
The teams came out for the main game, holding hands with local junior players, like you see on TV before Champions League games. A lovely idea. Except on TV the kids are 5 or 6. The Wanderers came out with a team of littlies from Kingborough Lions, all good. But Melbourne came out holding hands with what looked like an under 14 girls team. Each player holding hands with an underage girl - awkward.
Poor planning was shown up at the next stage of the ceremony, when the Wanderers left their kids and filed past the Melbourne players shaking hands or fist bumping with each one as they went past. Normally this all happens over the heads of the tiny mascots, but in this case there was a lot of awkward bobbing and weaving required by the inconveniently tall girls. Hilarious.
As soon as the game started it was clear this was a very different standard. The pace and intensity was terrific. Unfortunately we’d lost the kids by this stage - had to keep dragging their attention back to the game and away from the touchscreen. Michael was (as usual) terrific at the soccer despite his complete lack of interest in the game. Elf really enjoyed the games and the whole day.
Melbourne were the better team on the day, scoring one in each half. They have put a lot of money into soccer in Tasmania so they were the “home” team, and we were pleased they won, but we were hoping the Wanderers would get one back at the end. They had a good cohort of loudly chanting travelling supporters who we thought deserved something.
So we had a good day out and left with a good feeling about the impending A-league season. I’m delighted that its going to be on free-to-air TV on Friday nights starting in October. Not only will I and millions of non-pay-TV people get to see it, but its a sure sign that soccer has taken another step up into the mainstream of Australian sport.