Hornets on top down under
By Simon Marchant
All in all, it was turning out to be an extraordinary month.
For instance, only ten days previously, I had, for the first time in my life, entered a pub bursting for...a coffee. The reason? It was 4.15am and I was there to see the Golden Boys play Crystal Palace in the Play-off Semi-Final Second Leg on a special satellite feed. You see, I live in Sydney, Australia and have done for eighteen years.
It's a great place to call home but it's a real challenge for a football-loving Pom. Only now is Australian football getting its act together; there's World Cup qualification and, at last, a viable nationwide League with a broad spectator appeal and without ethnically-based clubs. Yet we round-ball enthusiasts are still a vocal minority, outnumbered by followers of the egg-shaped codes (the two rugbies and Aussie Rules). The autobiography of the late Johnny Warren, admirable former Australian football captain was, somewhat controversially, titled "Sheilas, Wogs and Poofters" - his ironic way of mimicking the predictable and idiotic derision that soccer fans have endured from Aussies ignorant of the charms of 'The Beautiful Game.' NOTE: 'Wog' in Aussie slang means person of Mediterranean origin.
Anyway, back to the pub at 4.15am and that double espresso, although you must understand that we exiled fans 'down under' are used to a few early mornings. My own diurnal rhythms are programmed to wake me up around ten to four on Sunday mornings from August through to April to catch the Saturday afternoon results live on the BBC World Service, and then fall back to sleep rejoicing or cursing, depending on the Watford score that James Alexander Gordon has intoned. However, I'd never been in the position of seeing Watford play on TV in Sydney. The Premiership (not premier, not a ship) is on Pay TV here but there is nothing of Division Two. However, for the play-offs, it seemed that the special Setanta satellite service would be on at a few locations in Sydney. I chose Scruffy Murphy's Irish Pub in the City; a watering hole with the emphasis on hole. It's a 24-hour pub and I arrived just in time to find the floor being mopped with fresh beer to keep the odour levels up. There were a few bored backpackers sitting around a lager or two and...no football fans except for me; not even exiled Palace. So, I watched the game on a big screen and with plenty of space in which to spill my coffee as the impressive 0-0 draw took us to Cardiff.
The final would be broadcast at the same venue but I was sure there must be other Hornets in Sydney. And so there proved to be, thanks to an advert on the bsad noticeboard which elicited a dozen replies and which led to more than a few of the faithful gathering at Scruffy Murphy's. We met as strangers just before midnight on 21st May but parted a few delirious hours later as comrades in arms; Sydney's Yellow Army. A few sacred relics were on show - a flag and rosette from Wembley '84, more promisingly a scarf from Wembley '99 and a variety of WFC shirts; all of these items being twelve thousand miles from Vicarage Road.
We were outnumbered by the Leeds contingent of course but, like Aidy Boothroyd, we were better prepared than our rivals. We arrived first and cornered the best viewing positions and, like the team itself, once in front we stayed in front. To be fair the Leeds fans were, despite their disappointment, friendly and brave in defeat. Well, almost all. One pigeon-brain in white disgraced himself by making threats of great violence but he was soon led away by security.
Our little group debriefed until the dawn was not far distant and has vowed to meet again in the new season when, surely, some of our games will be on ordinary Aussie Pay TV. It'll be good to share more victories with the boys and girls of the new Sydney Hornets Appreciation Society.
It seemed odd going to bed at 6am on a Monday morning. The family were all sleeping, even the dog (named Luther). But there I was, rejoicing and with plenty of Scruffy Murphy's Guinness on board; all this at about the time I am usually getting up for work. But, of course, it had turned out to be a most extraordinary month.