By: Neil Adshead
The trip to City’s first public preseason match as preparation for the 2015-16 Premier League campaign started late on Thursday, with a 15 hour direct flight from Vancouver to Sydney after a full day at work. For travel geeks, I was told the trans-Pacific route is the second longest commercial flight available today, but I’ve not checked. Crossing the International Date Line meant that Friday 17 July 2015 was a day I never got to experience as I landed in Sydney on Saturday morning. The things I do for City. It’s also bonkers to be leaving beautiful Vancouver in mid-summer and going to SE Australia while it is experiencing wintery weather.
So far, so good, travelwise and the flight connection to Brisbane was also smooth and on time, as was catching the train at BNE airport for the ride south to the Gold Coast. It was an unusually brisk winter morning in SE Queensland and I read that local kids were enjoying the first decent snow dump for thirty years on the highest hills near the border with NSW. It warmed up nicely later in the day after the sun got to maximum height. Dozens of Liverpool fans in full colours alighted the train at Brisbane Airport as I boarded. Liverpool had played the local A-League side, Brisbane Roar, the night before at a chilly Lang Park. The crowd of >50,000 was much higher than attended a recent rugby union international, highlighting the huge pull that the red scousers and their plastic army still enjoy. City’s marketing hierarchy must wish their venture had the same attraction from the nostalgic segment of football-loving Joe Public. Liverpool beat Brisbane 2-1 with James Milner scoring the winner. Jimmy apparently had a decent game in the Gerrard-spaced gaping hole in the midfield. Milner always expressed a desire to play central midfield but with the squad at City his chances to shine were limited. I wish him well in his new endeavour, so long as he chokes in matches against us. If he finishes his career at Anfield at least he has a few medals from a prior engagement to tell his kids about.
A major reason for the visit to ‘the coast’ was to catch up with the paternal side of my family. My Dad is a septagenarian Blue from Bredbury/Hyde and moved to Australia thirty years ago. He has a new family of Aussie kids and grandkids and it was possibly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me to go to a City match with three generations. Saturday’s friendly was the first City match I’d attended with my father since the first City match I ever attended, at Maine Road more than forty years ago. It was also the first match I’d attended with my brother and two young nephews (it was their first City match). Another first I was hoping for was an appearance by Raheem Sterling in a shiny new sky blue kit.
After swapping family updates, etc., it was time for the five of us to get kitted up in sky blue gear from various eras. We were dropped off at RQ’s Tavern in the suburb of Robina, which I was told is the closest piece of civilization to the ground and was where out-of-town and local City fans would congregate, a couple of hours before the 5 PM time printed on the ticket (kick-off ended up being about half-an-hour later). The Cbus Super Stadium has no parking so getting to and from the match required further thought, but first it was time for a couple of pints, a pie and a sing-song. About 100 Blues ended up in the Billy’s Bar part of the “tavern”, which was really a converted store lot in a non-descript shopping centre. A large part of the establishment was a room of flashing poker machines, or what I called fruit machines growing up. Aussies love to gamble and I once read that NSW is second only to Nevada (think Vegas) in the number of poker machines. The functional pub had framed football scarves on the walls from the clubs you’d expect, including City, plus a few from more obscure clubs, such as Wrexham, Coventry (Highfield Road days) and Preston. We could have gone the way of Coventry with the same level of mismanagement. The wall art I liked most was the name of the over-40s football team that was based in the pub: Real Ale Madrid. That would be my kind of sporting endeavour. The largely local group of City fans, in the pub early doors, had a photograph taken outside and the sky blue Canada flag got an airing. The atmosphere ratched up a couple of notches when a United fan in Chevvy shirt was spotted and a few pre-lubricated Melbourne branch Blues turned up to add greater colour to the repertoire of songs. No harm done and all in the name of banter. The United shirt-wearing punter was last seen sulking on his own in a dark corner of the poker machine room donating the remainder of his money to whoever owns the poker machines, plus making a voluntary tax donation.
We secured a lift to the Robina train station and walked the short distance to the Cbus Super Stadium, past large areas of fallow ground that would make a great car park. The ~27,000 seater stadium, used mostly by the local and poorly followed rugby league team, is in the middle of nowhere. The developer probably had a ‘build-it-and-they-will-come’ strategy. It’s not worked yet, apart from an outlet of Bond University, named after crooked/failed Aussie businessman Alan, not James, British’s most famous problem solver. The stadium was a pleasant enough venue, with plenty of outlets selling crap and over-priced beer, food and low quality merchandise that parents must loathe. The dual team scarfs of Manchester City v Melbourne City made some sense for once, given the relationship, but the price far, far exceeded the quality of the product. One oddity down our end, and we were near a corner at the other end of the ground for the pocket of boistrous City fans behind one goal, was looking through the partly open corner and seeing the sun setting over a fully functioning farm. It was a scene from greener parts of rural SE Australia, not what you’d expect while watching City play. The stadium ended up about two-thirds full, say 18,000 or thereabouts, which was not a bad effort for a chilly Saturday evening. It’s more than the local rugby league teams typically pulls. The ticket price was reasonable, at under £20, and it attracted an eclectic group of football fans. The most common, besides City and Melbourne, we’re wearing Liverpool garb (thought I even once heard a Liverpool chant), and proud Bosniaks with shirts, flags and scarves, all with the hope of catching a glimpse of Edin Dzeko.
Overall, it was a reasonably entertaining spectacle. Far from breathtaking, but much better than the majority of snoozy preseason friendlies I’ve enduring since my first foreign preseason tour in Switzerland in 1985 when Jimmy Frizzell was the boss. The match was competitive with the occasional feisty challenge. The quality of football from Melbourne was better than what I’ve seen from the weaker teams in the MLS. I’d attribute a big part of that to their midseason fitness. They seemed well-drilled too. With better finishing at both ends, and Melbourne missed a sitter in the first half and should have scored in the second too, it could have been 4-2 to City, rather than requiring Nasri’s excellent strike late on to win the match against our related club. I was going to write ‘sister’ club, but that’s not accurate. Melbourne City is more like our ‘mail order bride’ club, and that only works if we accept that polygamy is OK. City played their usual passing and possession match, which is less appealing for those seeking swashbuckling Stanley Matthews’ type of attacking (my Dad). Melbourne were far from overun but for most of the game they were chasing rather than controlling. I was surprised at the low number of substitutions. Usually in matches like this there is a mass change at half-time. Kompany played the whole match, as did Fernando (he did well at the back) and Clichy. Nasri and Toure played for 88 mins. Navas may have played the whole game – I’m not sure. If he was on from the start he was not too involved. A match program would have helped track the players and changes! I thought that Nasri did OK but could do with losing a couple of summertime kilos. He is a quality footballer with a gallic temperament. I noticed that towards the end of the match he was tiring, and made a couple of poor split second decisions, but then he showed his worth to score the late goal. Not as special as in Rome, but we enjoyed it nonetheless. Toure was omnipresent in first-half but faded in the second. We could still get another good season or two from him. It was a decent workout overall for what was a reasonable number of the first team squad. The South Americans who played in the Copa America are still on vacation and there was not a first team centre forward on the pitch. I did see Sterling, but only signing autographs in front of us either side of a prematch interview with Fox. Several younger players had a run out and did well. Who caught the eye is probably covered more accurately in the MEN match report, and without a match programme or names on the back of shirts I cannot provide a lot of useful feedback. Number 62, who I think is Brad Barker, caught my eye in his interchanges with Nasri, but that could have been because he was running up and down in front of us. Other young squad members who did OK and I cannot name are 36 and 78. Number 66 came on for Toure on 88 minutes and resembled Toure in the way he positioned himself on the field and his laconic run. Enes Unar, #83, came on for last 15 mins. Being given squad number 83 is hardly a ringing endorsement from the boss that you are going to make many Premier League appearances. And finally, on the match, I really like the new City home kit with the white shorts and trim. It’s probably because it’s traditional, and no doubt I’ve been emotionally manipulated by marketers to have that reaction by going slightly away from tradition for a couple of seasons, but it is a winner for me and I expect it will sell well (I’ll not buy one – I never do). Next season I bet the red and blacks strips are back.
On the walk back to Robina train station post-match for the crammed train ride north the illuminated Cbus Super Stadium reminded me of a poor man’s Allianz Arena in black and white. That night in Munich, when James Milner scored the winner after coming back from two-down early on, is one of my top ten City moments. So, thanks James, this Blue at least wishes you well. Next stop on the Aussie tour is the cosmopolitan and undoubtedly colder metropolis of Melbourne and what I believe is City’s first visit to the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground (aka ‘MCG’, and shortened even further by locals to ‘the G’). Pop quiz question – are next week’s matches the furthest from home that a City First XI have ever played? I’ll be in the Imperial Pub on Bourke Street pre-and post-match on Tuesday and Friday so come over and say hello if you see the sky blue Canada flag.