Balmain Rovers 4A v Canterbury
Birchgrove Park, Birchgrove
Sat 22 July 2001
Report by Ricky Onsman
To put this match in context, a little background is needed. First, the Canterbury team in Premier League Division 4 Reserves withdrew from the competition - presumably due to a lack of players. Under Association rules, the results of Canterbury's first round matches stand, but all their second round match results were withdrawn and each of the teams they played (or would have played) were given a win result and a playing bye, including Balmain Rovers Reserves, who were to have played Canterbury this weekend in the last match of the regular season.
While giving the Reserves three points, this robbed them of valuable match time in the lead-up to the Finals. As it happened, Enfield managed a 1-0 win over Balmain B, leaving the Gentlemen of Enfield in second spot behind Abbotsford and us in third place ahead of Sydney University. This means Balmain Rovers Reserves will play a sudden death qualifier against the students next week, while Abbotsford play Enfield for a spot in the Grand Final. If Rovers can beat Sydney Uni, they will then play the loser of the Abbotsford-Enfield match for the other spot in the Grand Final. In the meantime, the Reserves players were available to play in this week's Firsts match against Canterbury.
That Canterbury team had managed to not only have an abandoned game against Abbotsford given against them as a 0-3 result, but also had a separate win against Abbotsford reversed into a 0-3 loss and a draw against Balmain B also turned into a 0-3 loss - the last two for having fielded an illegal player! Not only did this push Canterbury down the ladder, it also pushed Abbotsford up to the top, equal on points with Balmain Rovers but ahead on goal difference.
The last round match against Canterbury thus took on interesting ramifications. Balmain Rovers would need to win, and hope Abbotsford either drew or lost to Five Dock, to take out the minor premiership - against a team which had provided such a bitter match in the first round at Lees Park and which had been shown to have an attitude to the rules and spirit of the game that can be described as 'dodgy', at best.
So, we're all set - almost.
This home match for Balmain Rovers had been scheduled by the Association to be played at Lees Park - Canterbury's home ground! Some urgent phone calls between Rovers, Balmain & District Club and the Association resulted in this being changed to Birchgrove Park. This meant that Rovers would have to dress the pitch, which was no problem - except that the corner posts and goal nets were safely locked away and the groundsman was off with his team at another park! More phone calls were made, keys were produced and the equipment set up.
Twenty minutes before kick-off, there was still no opposition and no referee. Everyone wondered whether the Association had informed Canterbury of the change of venue. Then, in the space of five minutes, the players turned up and the referee found the park, having driven around for 'hours' trying to find it.
With Browny out injured (and displaying technicolour bruising to anyone willing to examine the back of his thigh) and Gary and Nik away, Rovers added only Donny "Charlie" Nicholas to replace the ill Glenn Bacic in a strong line-up of Denis, Joey, Kon, Andy, Pier, Eddie, Clem, Ally, Mike and Sergio. Reserves Ammon, James, Ricky and Paul Millard occupied the bench.
Now, you might think that after all the pre-game drama, the actual match would be an anti-climax. Think again. These Canterbury boys are truly one-of-a-kind. They began the game with a surly attitude to their opposition, the official and each other, which in short time developed into a poisonous venom that was quite jawdropping to behold.
Their putting away of a goal midway through the first half did nothing to brighten their disposition, nor did their language become any cleaner, nor did their respect for the ref grow as he tried to keep a reign on the game. If the official gentleman thought giving a Canterbury player a yellow card would teach them a lesson, he was as soon disabused of the notion as he was abused by a phalanx of blue and yellow shirted delinquents.
Half-time came quickly with the score 1-0 to the ungracious visitors. Denis succumbed to the beginnings of flu and was replaced in goal by Joey, and Rovers' leading goal scorer Ammon Mackie was brought on to "help the defence", "settle the midfield" and/or "add firepower up front", depending on who you listened to. The more aggressive Rovers had done well to keep their tongues and feet in check, and the team determined to rely on their collective coolness to bring the game around in the second half. And indeed, the match did start to turn. As Canterbury turned more and more toward blatant fouls, the midfield machine of Eddie, Clem, Pier and Ally took control, ignoring the petty (and not-so-petty) taunts of the opposition.
Ammon was finding space up front, where he enjoyed considerable attention from the louts who seemed to think his blondness was a personal affront to them. Fifteen minutes into the half, he was joined in his antics by Paul Millard, who instantly became a favourite with the Canterbury defence as well. At least Millard is actually English, lending some credence to a popular theme among the name-callers in the opposition.
With Donny fitting in smoothly into the rock-solid Rovers defensive line, Eddie lifting his game yet another notch in midfield and Ammon and Paul dancing through the opposition studs up front, it wasn't long before Canterbury cracked. A little "You have it", "No, you", "No, go on, you" between Millard and the middle Mackie set the ball up for a cracking Pier D'Angelo special - an unstoppable bullet into the Canterbury net.
Oh, how we laughed as the blue and yellow lips curled even more and the sneers became even more savagely directed at their team-mates, the referee and us on the sidelines.
According to the Canterbury invective, several people's mothers were now in danger of bodily harm, all non-Canterbury people were English and therefore scum and the south bank of the Cooks River marked the border of true manhood.
Sadly for them, this did not seem to lift their game - nor did the attempted (and often successful) fouls stop Balmain Rovers scoring again, this time from Ammon's boot. James Mackie joined the fun for the last 15 minutes for Pier, whose work was done and done well. Two minutes from the end, the referee, who must have been wishing he'd never found Birchgrove Park after all, felt compelled to show the red card to the most consistently offensive Canterbury player, who showed his respect for the gesture by not leaving the field.
Considering the explicitness of the language and the physicality of its delivery, the most bizarre aspect of the game came in the aftermath, when these juveniles proceeded to shake hands with mutterings of "Good on ya, mate", "Good game, eh?" and "See you next time".
The prospect of playing these young thugs again in the Finals is not a pleasant one, and we can only hope that Strathfield, Five Dock or Abbotsford put them out of their misery and the competition. On the upside, Balmain Rovers' squad strengths came to the fore, ready for further development next year.
The Pele points go to:
1 point - Donny, stalwart and unshaken by the step up in class
1 point - Ammon, changed the game from the time he came on
1 point - Ally, played with the desire to win every ball
1 point - Andy, out-thought and outplayed his opposition
1 point - Eddie, provided most of the attack in the first half
1 point - Joey, attacked in the first half, saved in the second