City Stories: 'Second Eleven' by Josh Grech
February 2nd, 2017, likely isn’t a date etched into the minds of the City faithful and a resulting 2-2 draw with Brisbane Roar might seem like an unusual game to have standout in your memory, but we rarely get to choose what leaves an impact on us. In my defence, I followed a fairly unusual path to falling in love with City, rediscovering my love for football in the process…
I haven’t been following – or as longer-term fans might describe it, enduring – Melbourne City for as long as most. Like most children of football-mad dads, I grew up playing the game because that’s just what you did, but being an average player at best – along with growing up in a semi-rural town that didn’t exactly have many football fans – I fell out of love with the game.
Years later I had an out-of-the-blue urge to come back to football and without a clue about the club’s background, I thought that City, with their smaller crowds, lack of trophies, and shorter history, seemed like an underdog and something I could get on board with; I didn’t want to take the easier road and follow the bigger, more established Victory and felt I could be a part of something greater by backing a team that needed me.
It was during the 15/16 season that a friend and I started going to games (courtesy of some free tickets – I guess the giveaways do work!) and with the likes of Fornaroli, Novillo and Mooy playing free-flowing, attacking, dangerous football despite a leaky defence that constantly kept fans on edge, Melbourne City had us hooked instantly.
It wasn’t until the 16/17 season that I felt a true bond with the team, the dangerous type that can either fuck up your weekend or have you soaring high and itching for the next game.
Enough about me for now though, let’s get to the game in question.
We were fourth on the ladder, just behind the Roar at the time, and were coming off the back of a particularly prickly Derby that left us short nine(!) players through injury and suspension. No Cahill or Bruno, no Bratts, no Brandán (oh, how we miss our tip rat), no Franjic, Deano or Jakobsen, no (much-maligned and underrated) Osama Malik, nor the rock in our defence Manny Muscat.
Those absences left us with a starting line-up of Sorensen (who made several key one-on-one saves), Tongyik, Rose, Retre, Killkenny, Caceres, Genreau, Colazo, Fitzgerald, Kamau and young Dylan Pierias, who made his debut and became the first player born in the 2000s to play in the A-League.
With hopes low and a small crowd expected (7,914 showed up – well below average for those days), my friend and I persisted with our decision to attend, still fairly early in our days as City fans but not ones to shy away during harder times.
Well, nothing galvanises fans like injustice and drama and this game had truckloads of both.
If our lack of experienced players wasn’t enough, we copped a rubbish penalty from non-existent contact between Jose Rose and Brandon Borrello that Jamie Maclaren (City blue suits him much better, by the way) converted with power, before scoring another before halftime by finishing off a nice team move.
Going into the second half whinging and feeling hard done by in already dire circumstances, the City contingent in attendance that night didn’t expect much for the rest of the game.
Yet, the young lads showed the kind of fighting spirit in the second period that we’ve often cried for and came out of the break fuelled by the tough circumstances, conjuring up a rare goal from Bruce Kamau via a classy Nicolas Colazo backheel. Buoyed by this goal, the team lifted and in a result-changing moment, Fitzy wriggled his way into the box before drawing a foul and earning a penalty that Colazo rocketed into the net.
The rest of the game was a dogged affair, though our soon-to-be wonderkid Daniel Arzani was subbed on with five minutes to go and by the time the final whistle blew, four yellow cards had been shown to each side.
If ever there was a draw that felt like a win, it was this one.
Our club has always had its identity questioned, but for me, it was solidified on that night; young exciting footballers playing attacking football, surrounded by a small but dedicated fan base.
People discuss stadium location like it represents everything to a club’s identity and, while it certainly plays a role, you don’t see that hurting the Manchester clubs, or more comparatively, the Milan clubs, who share a stadium as we do with the Victory scum.
Of course, we aren’t these immense, storied clubs with their long histories, but becoming a part of City in the early days and helping to grow it as we create our own history is an aspect of the club that has always appealed to me greatly.
We still reference that game every now and then, because even though it feels like ages ago, it was the first sign of that real grit and fight that we’ve all longed for and are starting to see more regularly as supporters of this great club.
I suppose there’s nothing to bind you to a team like being there when they need you.