If Carlsberg Did Weekends…. (Part 1)

Recently, a few mates and I were fortunate enough to spend a weekend away in Sydney. I use the word fortunate because – as it transpired – the weekend turned out to be one of the best short breaks that any of us had experienced in our lives and I feel suitably motivated to give a little summary of events as they transpired, if only for my own gratification and posterity. But if you’re that way inclined, then I invite you to sit back, relax and read my wee story from the trip. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you: “If Carlsberg Did Weekends….” – Part 1

A few months ago, a couple of Aussie mates decided they were going to go to watch our local football team, Brisbane Roar, play against Western Sydney Wanders, in Sydney, on a Friday night and were going to make a weekend of it, taking in another game on the Saturday evening, Sydney FC versus Adelaide United, returning to Brisbane on the Sunday evening. Was anyone else interested?

Now, anyone who knows me will realise just how interested in a trip like this I would be, so I, along with another mate, signed up for a weekend that promised plenty of beer, banter and football.

It didn’t disappoint.

Going to an away match in Australia can be quite the daunting experience, considering the distances involved. Indeed, according to Google maps, a little under 1000 kms separates the two stadiums, so driving certainly wasn’t an option for such a short getaway. Flights were organised pronto, to take advantage of the $75 flights being offered by Virgin Australia.

Unfortunately, in my haste to book the flights, I made a rookie error and booked the wrong outbound flight, ensuring that I had to get up at 04:30 in the morning to catch the 06:00 flight. The rest of the boys had the relative lie-in of only having to make it to the airport for the 07:00 flight. I did enquire about rearranging the flights but the 280 dollars quoted to do so ensured that I didn’t do so. I love the guys but I don’t love them 280 dollars worth.

And anyway, with access to the business lounge, waiting for an hour in Sydney airport was certainly no great hardship to endure.

Both flights were uneventful and arrived on time. And no - I am not on commission.

So, it came to pass, that a little before 10am Sydney time, we were in a taxi making our way to our accommodation for the weekend – a lovely 2-bedroom serviced apartment in the Sydney suburb of Waterloo. This had been recommended to us by a friend from Northern Ireland who lives in the neighbourhood. I have to say that the accommodation was dead on, to use the Norn Iron vernacular. 

Modern, spacious and with great service thrown in for good measure. We were pleasantly surprised to be able to check-in when we arrived at 10:30 and, to be honest, over the course of the weekend, the staff made sure that everything we wanted, which admittedly wasn't too much, was catered for. I'd recommend them to anyone. And no - I am not on commission.

Despite our spacious and luxurious surrounds, it wasn’t long before we were getting the train, in the manner of excited teenagers, to Circular Quay, the world-iconic location of Sydney Harbour. 

Sitting there, in the Splendid Sydney Summer Sun (TM), sipping on cold beers whilst also drinking in the spectacular backdrop of Sydney Harbour, Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House, all was good in our world. Indeed, we spent so long in this wonderful environment that we all ended up with a bit of a roasting from the sun that day. We should have known better, of course, but boys will be boys.

Later that afternoon, with game-time fast approaching, we made our way to our home for the weekend to freshen up before taking ourselves off to the Western Sydney suburb of Parramatta, where, naturally enough, the Western Sydney Wanderers play their football. Two of the guys had already been to a game in Western Sydney and the game plan, according to them, was to go to a Bavarian Bier Café which was only a short walk from Pirtek Stadium. So that’s what we did.

The 10-minute walk from Parramatta Station was a memorable one. It seemed that everyone in Parramatta was wearing their red and blackstriped Wanderers shirt and – considering that Brisbane Roar play in a rather noticeable orange shirt – we stuck out like the proverbial thumb as we made our way to the café. 

In the past few weeks, there have been a few unsavoury incidents involving supporters associated with the Wanderers. There have been running battles with other teams’ supporters, including stabbing and beatings dealt out with baseball bats. Whilst well aware of the hyperbole that the Australian media perpetrates when it comes to "soccer hooliganism," it was hard not to think of these stories as we walked through the Parramatta heartland in our seemingly fluorescent Roar shirts. 

This was nothing, however, compared with what lay in wait for us at the Bavarian Bier Café. And no - I am not on commission.

As we approached the bar, it was evident that this was a popular pre-match pub with the Wanderers as we could see a few dozen of them wearing their shirts sitting in the bier garden at the front of the pub. There were also half a dozen police cars parked outside, which was a little disconcerting but reassuring at the same time. Always a good idea to drink in a pub near the local police station in times of uncertainty.

Walking into the pub, however, we were greeted with a narrow walkway down to the back of the pub where it opened up into another bier garden. Lined all along this walkway were dozens more Wanderers supporters. The four of us steeled ourselves for comment and ridicule but as we walked through the throng of red and black and, whilst many heads turned, nothing was said. 

I guess we didn’t look intimidating enough to even warrant a bit of sledging.

After running this 'gauntlet', we reached the bier garden at the back of the pub and noticed our first Roar shirts of the evening. A couple of young fellas sitting rather nervously in the corner trying their best to look like they belonged. Or invisible. Biers procured, we joined them to swell our numbers to a massive 6. 

A while later, a couple from Toowoomba who had decided to take in the game as part of a romantic break to Sydney (who says romance is dead?), joined us. Our numbers now stood at 8 but the Wanderers kept streaming in and the bar was soon a torrent of red and black, with a small island of orange stuck in the corner.

But then, a strange thing happened - well - perhaps not that strange, seeing as it had been pre-arranged.

A coachload of Roar supporters arrived at the bar and joined us in the bier garden. My mates knew some of them and I even knew one of them as well. (You know you've been in Australia for quite the time when you bump into someone you know, a thousand kilometres from where you live.)

All of a sudden, this meant that there were 20 - 30 Roar supporters in the bar. The banter was almost as plentiful as the drinks, leaving only the football itself and, with kick-off fast approaching, it was soon time to make the last leg of our journey from Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane to Pirtek Stadium, Parramatta – just a mere 5-minute walk.

Thanks to the crrrrrrazy idea of daylight saving, a concept which my adopted home state of Queensland steadfastly refuses to grasp, the conditions were glorious as we walked to the stadium for the seven thirty kick-off.

Along the way, we got chatting to some of the home supporters and I am happy to report that everyone – and I mean everyone – was very friendly to us. A far cry from the demons that the Australian press would have you believe support the Wanderers. Now, of course, I am not naïve enough to think that these demons don’t exist but my experience of the average Wanderers supporter that evening was that they were both passionate and knowledgeable about the Beautiful Game and their team. Which makes them alright by me.

A bizarre footnote to add at this stage was that when we arrived at the stadium, a single security guard, upon noticing our arrival, said to me "Shit - why didn't you guys phone ahead?" before proceeding to take us on a walk around pretty much the whole of the stadium through all the Wanderers supporters, so that we could go into another gate, which was basically almost the whole way 'round the stadium to where we had first arrived. At the time, I couldn’t understand the reasoning behind it – and now, in the cold light of day and with the benefit of hindsight, I STILL can’t understand the reasoning behind it.

The atmosphere generated by the WSW supporters is widely regarded as the best in the A-League competition. A combination of a compact stadium and a loyal and passionate fan base ensures that the vast majority of the supporters in the stadium join in to make for a great atmosphere. The capacity of the stadium is a shade under 25,000 and that evening, there were (if memory serves me well, which is highly unlikely) 16,403 supporters at the game.

I have to be honest, these numbers were a little less than I expected, thanks to the stories that perpetuate in Australia about how the number of season ticket holders were capped to allow for a small fraction tickets to be made available for "at the gate" supporters, as well as away supporters, so I was a little disappointed when I saw the empty seats but, credit where credit is due, the ones that were there gave it a great go, as this wee video clip proves:

(Apologies for the gratuitous language and the even more gratuitous close-up of myself around 39 seconds into the clip)

Needless to say, our pocket of away support made as much noise as we could and I woke up on Saturday morning with the sore throat and hoarse voice to prove it.

Oh - and we got on the telly!

The match itself was a tight enough affair, with Brisbane Roar scoring half-way through the first-half and then Western Sydney Wanderers applying a lot of pressure after the break which eventually resulted in them equalising in the 84th minute. The game went on to finish 1-1 and upon reflection, it was probably a fair result and, considering we were top of the league, leading WSW in second place by 7 points going into the game, we were none too disappointed when the final whistle went and, judging by the way that our players and manager came to celebrate the result with us, it showed how much the draw meant to us all.

Leaving the stadium, once again the conversations I had with the WSW supporters were enjoyable. There were compliments from both sets of supporters as to how well the other team played and most agreed that the draw was a fair result. All very pleasant and all very amicable. 

Still – we weren’t naïve enough to think that a pub-crawl ‘round Parramatta would have been a sensible thing to do, so we made our way back to the train station and made our way back to our adopted home for the evening.

It’s worth noting at this stage, however, that it wasn’t all plain sailing though...

Whilst at the train station, waiting on our train, we did meet a loud, obnoxious supporter and I am a little embarrassed to report that it was a Roar-supporting female who 'won' that award from the evening. And then, upon disembarking at the other end, events took a rather surreal twist, when one of my mates had his Roar scarf stolen out of his back pocket by a little street-rat kid who had followed us off the train, nicked the scarf, and then ferreted his way back onto the train as the doors closed shut again. It was all over in a flash and there was nothing we could do about it, apart from learn from the experience. It served as a timely reminder that we shouldn’t let our guard down too much. Country bumpkins from Queensland that we were.

When we got back to our apartment, one by one the guys went to bed, suitably happy with our lot in life and it wasn’t long before I did the same. After all – at least one of us had been up since the crack of dawn and we had another big day ahead of us. 

But, as I went to  bed that evening, I was oblivious as to just how big things were to turn out.



Samantha Lamont said…
Wonderful! Is it weird that I read this with your voice? Lol
Samantha Lamont said…
Wonderful! Is it weird that I read this with your voice? Lol