Any contributions should reach Ricky Onsman by Tuesday midday.

Goalkeepers are Different. Discuss

MATCH REPORT: by Adam Newcombe

Match: Balmain Rovers v Five Dock A
Venue: Rudd Park, Belfield
Date: Saturday 24 July 1999
Time: 1pm

It was one of those diamond sharp afternoons Sydney occasionally throws up in late winter. Just to whet the appetite of her inhabitants. A promise of another glorious summer to come.

The city had spent the previous fortnight pissing on her children from a great height, but knowing Balmain AA6B needed a bit of a win, she turned on the most benign of footballing afternoons. A gentle breeze, a fat and jolly ref, a sausage sizzle, two fit sides - what more appropriate gladiatorial spectacle could be had to honour such a day as this?

The Strathfield B pitch was perfect in the ways of the lower orders of the firmament. A little small perhaps, although the outdoor snooker players don't seem to think so. It had a covering of that rare commodity - grass - over most of its playing surface, which was a big step up from some of the joys we had been playing on - although I only know this third hand, as goalkeepers are seldom so privileged as to actually enter onto the field of battle. They are more castle dwellers than foragers.

None the less, this particular pitch had no substantial beach frontage running down its centre. And the local buffalo and hippo populations feel much more at home in the quagmires and swamps of Hurlstone Park. The ground's only drawback, of course, was that some senseless bastard had cut the legs of the pitch off short at one end, so the whole thing had a tilt on it that resembled the south face of the Eiger.

No matter - climbing ropes were issued to our brave boys at the front. The little ceremony of kissing the ref, tossing the coin and staying where you are took place, as it does at the beginning of every match. I must admit I haven't a clue about the intricacies of this ceremony because I can't see that far down the pitch, so I can't tell you much about it. Anyhows, goalkeepers are never invited to these semi-mystical social soirees. Russell, however, assures me of its importance, because each week he asks me whether we should order in or takeout.

Hell, how should I know? If there is a blizzard blowing from east to west and rain is pissing down the back of our necks and the eclipse of the moon is going to happen in our face, I'd suggest we all go home, take a Bex and have a quiet lie down, but he never seems to appreciate this sort of well considered advice.

So the whistle blows and the weekly ballet of the balls begins. Most of the early action takes place down behind Eagle Spur on the south face of the Eiger. My ever-reliable, steady-as-she-goes, base-camp companion Bruce and I get the occasional radio message that all is well. Occasionally we smell the whiff of cordite and hear the cheers of battle in the distance. We sometimes even see the tops of peopleís heads pop up through the telescope, and see arms waving and punching the sky, but little really disrupts our opium dreams and endless game of Go. "Another pipe, Holmes?"

At other times, our brave lads troop back to the centre line to re-start the ballet, and as I had not felt the need to scream at anybody on this delightful afternoon, and as it was not me picking the ball out of our net, Bruce and I surmised that we must be doing rather well. But we all know how unemotional the English are, so there was no telling what was going on down there at the front.

We occasionally interrupted our afternoon refreshments to hear reports of derring-do and near misses, of bulk annihilations and hideous winning scores. But there is unease in the air. The chaps at the coalface seemed somehow unhappy. Yet they had gone through the re-starting of the ballet ceremony at least three times that I counted, which I always thought was a good thing. Not that I'd know for sure, because it is just another one of those social events that goalkeepers are never invited to. My loyal backline have also, on occasion, expressed their sadness at not being invited, but what can you do?

Speaking of my calm, ever-ready wall of stout defenders, they too were showing rare signs of agitation. I'm sure I saw Glenn with his shirt not quite tucked in at one point and Richie and Gary completely disappeared for the day. I had, after all, given them all the afternoon off and they had wandered down towards the trenches to take in the smells of battle. Even Dave found his way forward, with compass and map in hand, to the half way line.

What fine lads they are, these bruising silent assassins of the Balmain AA6B backline. Got an industrial problem? Don't worry about it. Need some lessons or a roof over your head? Itís already taken care of, Bugs!! Easily fixed. Software or money not even a speed hump. A man could ask for little more than to be protected by these simple yet gentle Rottweilers but I must admit, mixing with forwards is terribly damaging to a defence's morale. I'm sorry lads, there will be no more afternoons off, no more mixing with the forward riff-raff - itís too treacherous down there. A straight line becomes a ball of knotted string in the hands of a forward, you never know where you are.

The rotund man in black blows his whistle and itís half time. "Get those oranges out chaps, its time to put away the goal mouth picnic hamper."

Now I don't know exactly what happened down there in the midfield cauldron behind Eagle Spur, but we seemed to be winning. And lo and behold, those strange complex beings that inhabit the midfield seemed most unhappy. Not with the energy levels, not with the ref, not even with the score. But with themselves. I'll never understand the midfield. Halfway between the elegant and simple life of the defensive castle and the mad, chaotic opportunism of the forward patrols lies the thinking personís schizophrenic graveyard of the midfield. "Go get the ball, attack, defend, mark, collect, pass". Oh God - no wonder they upset each other, always trying to think and create amongst the maelstrom of battle.

Our lads had obviously had enough and thank god for the House of Orange. A steadying hand, a decision made. Off went the midfield and on went Balmain AA6B with its slaughter of whoever we were playing. Unfortunately, these vital details are always kept secret from goalkeepers. I, however, was taken up with watching an alien spaceship practice landing routines just in front of my penalty box, although the rest of you seem to have missed this most interesting phenomenon, as none of you mentioned it after the game. You were probably concentrating on scoring goals or whatever you were doing, up there on the other end of the south face of the Eiger.

This beautiful afternoon finished tinged with a niggle and a dramatic win for Balmain AA6B. I believe it was 6-0. And I also believe our heroic forwards and midfield had games to write home about. I, unfortunately, was otherwise engaged with feeding a distressed herd of giraffe that had apparently taken a wrong turning at Strathfield whilst on their way to Dubbo.

Mickey decided not to re-contest his British middleweight crown. Russell and Sam decided not to sue each other for misuse of the English language, as they work far better as a team. Serge absolutely, definitely promised to do it all over again next week, next year, sometime soon. And the rest of us? Well same time, same space, next season.

Oh!! and the points?

For calm and control beyond the call of duty and absolute leadership Gary 3 points

For learning the lessons and becoming the dynamic duo they are Russell and Sam 1.5 shared points each

And for Serge a big kiss from Q'uilla for his everpresent conduct of loyalty and organisation as club captain.

Goal Difference Makes No Difference

MATCH REPORT: by Ricky Onsman

Match: Balmain Rovers v Canterbury
Venue: Lees Park, Ashbury
Date: Saturday 25 July 1999
Time: 1pm

It came down to this: Balmain Rovers required one point from this match to be certain of qualifying for the finals. Five Dock B, with whom Rovers were level on points before the weekend's matches, had taken maximum points from the previous day's 1-0 win over Canterbury, played on the field adjacent to Balmain's 6-0 win over Five Dock A.

The Dockers' regular season was then over, but Rovers had one more chance to grab a point (or three) and lock itself into fourth spot. Circumstances dictated that this last game would be played against Canterbury (qualified in second spot), on their home ground, in cold blustery weather, a day after a high-scoring but somewhat slapdash Rovers win over a weak team.

As the game started, a drizzly wind swept from one end of the ground to the other, playing havoc with both sides' ability to control the ball and direct play efficiently. However, it soon seemed that Rovers had adjusted to the conditions better than their opponents, playing with the wind. A bolstered five-man Balmain midfield took early control, feeding several dynamic moves from Michael and Sergio but cut short by the offside trap.

Canterbury adopted desperate defensive tactics, and before long Russell stepped up to take a free kick from not too far outside the box. His powerful, curling kick proved too much for the Canterbury keeper to handle, and Michael was only too ready to force the ball into the net for a 1-0 lead.

The Five Dock B coach, who had come to keep an eye on the result, was already planning his team's end-of-year do, feeling certain that Balmain would run away with the game from here and qualify ahead of the Dockers.

Shortly thereafter, Canterbury started making substitutions, bringing on younger players as they arrived from junior games. The battle for midfield control shifted as Canterbury forced the ball wide and used their young speedsters. The last 20 minutes of the first half found Balmain under attack. While Richard was successfully nullifying the threat of Canterbury's main striker, their little men pushed forward faster than Balmain midfielders could backtrack to join the defence, resulting eventually in a successful foray to bring the teams to the half-time break locked at 1-1.

Early in the second half, it looked like Canterbury had worked out how to play both Rovers and the wind. Balmain brought on fresh legs in the form of Joey, who instantly added a spark with his darting runs and tenacious defence, and Sam, who added a depth to the midfield, controlling the ball and creating attacking moves.

And yet, it was Canterbury that broke the deadlock, with a long range speculator that was half useful cross and half hopeful shot. As Adam came off his line to meet it, the wind took the ball and lifted it, forcing the Rovers keeper to backtrack hastily - but not hastily enough. The ball slid between the keeper's fingers and crossbar.

It seemed only minutes later that Canterbury scored again to take a commanding 3-1 lead. Final substitutions were made: Canterbury beefed up its defence, and Balmain brought on Ricky in a speculative midfield role. Most of the Rovers were running on grit and willpower by now. Pulling himself forward for one more run, Pier found his way down the left past several defenders to the edge of the penalty box. With still a couple of defenders and the goalie in his way, Pier's sharply struck effort skimmed along the grass/dirt and curled inside the far post.

The last few minutes of the game found Balmain pressing the Canterbury defence hard, and it was to the locals' relief that the ref blew the whistle for full time.

This was a gritty game, never satisfying on the level of classy football, but demanding a lot of hard work while offering some genuinely exciting moments, including some dazzling moves from Carlos and Sam, midfield strength and creativity from Gary and Russell and a level of team commitment which found no player wanting. Despite the score-line (and what turned out to be a false post-match relief that we had qualified on goal difference), Rovers played well, done good against a genuine flag contender.

While there were players who had moments (and even passages) of superior play, this was a team effort and will be recognised as such by the Pele points.

One Pele point each goes to:

Michael, Pier, Carlos, Sergio, Russell, Gary, Norman, Richard, Glenn, Bruce, Adam, Joey, Sam and Ricky.

Into the Semis

MATCH REPORT: by Emrys Hughes

Match: Balmain Rovers v Five Dock B
Venue: Mackey Park, Marrickville
Date: Saturday 28 July 1999
Time 7pm

It would have been a brave punter to bet on Balmain Rovers making the semis at the start of the season, and after Wednesday night's performance, a better-off one. Having played the previous Saturday and Sunday there were some sore limbs taking the field, but as it turned out match practice made perfect, with the Rovers running away to a 3-0 victory.

The start of the game was a hard fought affair with few shots on goal from either team. With a spot in the semi's up for grabs both teams were hoping for victory and played as such. The ball stayed in the middle of the ground for most of the first half, both teams struggling to find the rhythm necessary to break through. Balmain's ever dependable back five were solid and fed the midfield reliably. Joey, Pier and Russell combined well on the right side, and Gary was as always in the thick of the action. Although some good runs were made pushing the ball through to the forwards proved difficult, but towards the end of the half this came too. Serge was unlucky not to score, a blistering shot bouncing off the upright and straight back out of the box. Soon after the moment came, Serge dribbling along the edge of the box probing for a chance before unselfishly passing off to Mike, who casually chipped over the keeper's head for the first.

Five Dock's best chance of the game came soon after, Balmain's defence out of sorts after a corner, but it was not to be their night and the ball flew past the right post and safely out. Before the whistle Balmain almost scored a second after a frantic scramble in the goal-mouth, but as keen as we were to score Five Dock were to stop us, and the first half finished with Balmain confidently one up.

The second spell could probably best be described as scrappy, interspersed with touches of brilliance. Luckily for us most of these seemed to be from Gary, who scored two magnificent goals. Five Dock made some re-arrangements at half-time, and to give them credit got some good ball into the middle of the ground. Not good enough however for Carlos, Glen and Russell who cleared it out dependably, only leaving Adam a couple of good saves to keep his hands warm. Five Dock seemed to grow tired, allowing the Balmain midfield to push up and pressure their defence. A free kick was awarded outside the box, giving Gary the opportunity to curl the ball past the Five Dock wall, in a perfect arc to the back of the net. It wasn't the first free kick and it certainly wasn't the last, with both teams becoming heated at times and a number of fouls being committed. For a time the game became staggered, a number of players going down and some tough tackles. Five Dock lost their composure and Gary struck again, taking the ball past three or four players before calmly slotting it into the back of the net from the right of the box, a great solo goal. Five Dock made some late runs but the freshly-subbed legs of Bruce and Ricky took care of them.

In the cold and under the lights a performance to be proud of, three points to Gary for two exceptional goals, one each to Richard, Glen and Adam because Five Dock rarely looked like scoring.

The Flying Dutchman Does It Again

MATCH REPORT: by Michael Sommers

Match: Balmain Rovers v Enfield
Venue: Ewen Park, Hurlstone Park
Date: Saturday 31 July 1999
Time: 12.30pm

The Balmain Bandwagon marched on into the finals with a hard fought 2-1 win in extra time over Enfield at Ewen Park.Watched by their ever faithful supporters, Rovers had to dig deep into their reserves to pull off a well deserved win over the tough battling side from Enfield.

With a finals place up for grabs, this was never going to be a game for the faint hearted. Tthe object for the day was always going to be to one thing: put the ball in the back of the net - by any means possible.

Yours truly got Balmain off the mark doing what I think I do best - picking up on any mistakes by the keeper, or in this case, picking up any rebounds from an attempted shot. The attempted shot in question came from none other then Richard Walsh, and what a fine shot it was, from outside the box. It had everything - pace, swerve and direction. Had it just dipped a few inches earlier I feel I would now be writing about the goal of the season! But alas, it came off the crossbar - and straight into my path for me to slot home my 5th goal of the season - albeit very shakily. Sorry to scare you like that boys, but I knew what I was doing (yeah, right!).

From there on it looked as though we had this match all sewn up, with Russell bossing it in the midfield alongside the dancing feet of Sammy Davis Jnr (not his real name) and with a solid defence we looked almost impenetrable.

The first half finished 1-0 to Balmain, but this game was to take a sudden turn for the worse as 10 minutes from the end a slight error of judgement at the back gave Enfield an equalizer they never deserved, leaving us to try and play out the last 10 minutes on very tired legs.

As we trudged from the pitch, knowing we had to now play an extra 20min of extra time, we all felt very annoyed for letting it slip. But to our credit (and I must say I was proud of you guys for this), no-one complained or tried to point the finger at anyone. We just got ourselves ready and went out there and played the best 20 minutes of football we have ever played.

It was always going to come down to who wanted it the most, and right from the kickoff we showed Enfield we were not prepared to give this game up for anyone. We pushed Enfield hard, exposing their defence for the out of shape players they were, and won ourselves a corner early in the first period of extra-time. This was the cue for Gary ďThe Flying DutchmanĒ Van Heugten to rise like a Tulip from Amsterdam (yer I know it sounds corny, Mr Editor. Youíre not wrong there - Editor), to place a glancing header on to a well flighted ball from that master of the corner kick Russell Borman, into the back of the net.The Balmain supporters went wild, the Enfield bench fell silent!

But it was soon all hands to the pump as we still had some 12 minutes of extra-time still to play. Enfield, to their credit, tried hard, at one stage forcing Adam to make a save which I feel was one of the best I have ever seen, but it was becoming all too apparent that they had nothing else to give and they were well and truly beaten. We had done it! We had made the finals and are now only two games away from being crowned champions, a team that was forced to play 4 games in 8 days (yes, you heard me right: 4 games in 8 days!), had beaten the odds and staked its claim for the Championship.

A big two fingered salute to the Football League for making us play so many games I say.

It is hard to pick out a man of the match from this game - there were so many stars out there. But one player that stood out for me would have to have been Glenn Bacic, for his performance at the back. You did a top job, mate. But I am in a generous mood today so I am giving everyone Pele points whether they played or not (If thatís alright with you, Mr Editor. Whatever you say, Mike, whatever you say: Editor).

The best moment of the day was Sergeís mud slinging match with one of the opposition who happened to be a few inches taller and wider then our dear Manager. Heís always picking a fight that Serge, I wish he could be more like me!

We played 400 minutes of football in 8 days and came through it. Stay fresh, lads. Bring on Canterbury.

The Pele points go to:

Glenn, Gary 3 points
Russell, Sam, Adam 2 points
Everyone else 1 point

Premature Elimination

MATCH REPORT: by Sergio Fiorenza

Match: Balmain Rovers v Canterbury
Venue: Strathfeld Park, Strathfield
Date: Saturday 7 August
Time: 2.30pm

Balmain Rovers entered the preliminary final against Canterbury with some optimism, due to the form shown in our previous matches. However, when we arrived at Strathfield Park, the first disappointment was the sand dune/beach in the middle of the field. As we are a passing team it was obvious that this would upset our midfield. At the kick-off, though, the mood was confident as we were fielding a full strength team, albeit minus our regular wingback Joey Nicotra.

The next setback was the referee, who was an obvious B. Mussolini fan or he had a control complex, because quite frankly his refereeing left a lot to be desired (unfortunately it was only after the game that I found out he was not supposed to be officiating ANY games involving Balmain ) The match itself turned out to be a scrappy affair, although I would have given us the edge on points at half-time due to our better goal scoring opportunities. This is one area where I myself must shoulder some of the blame as I had a couple of good chances, but failed to put them away - shooting practice this Sommer for me then (pardon the pun Mikey)!

So honours even at half-time: 0-0, but this was where the match turned slightly against us. Our central defender, Glenn ĎJaap Stam Ď Bacic had to go off with a groin injury, although we have a perfectly capable replacement in Ricky ĎOsmaní Onsman (anyone remember Ipswich Town in the late 70s or early 80s coached by Bobby Robson? They were a fantastic footballing side!) It sometimes upsets a teamís rhythm just by making a change, and this is where we became unsettled. We still had quite a good share of possession, and the pressure finally paid off when Mr Versatile himself (Carlos) popped up from a corner kick and bundled the ball into the net! 1-0 Balmain. Now, if we are ever in this position again, I think I would shut up shop and put eleven men behind the ball and squeeze the opposition out of the game - but I am still learning and so we continued to press for a second goal (which we very nearly got), but alas, it was not to be. At this point, I would like to give a special thanks to the linesman who was a walking advert for an opticianís services, because he could not see the difference between on and offside, which, on reflection, is probably what cost us the game.

Anyway to cut a long story short, Canterbury equalised and the match went into extra-time for the second week in a row. Now Iím not sure why, but for 7 or 8 minutes we were a bit flat, and they capitalised on this and scored two quick goals, one a dubious penalty. The rest is now just a blurring memory, we had a few chances to try to get back, but it was not meant to be. I think we can all look back, though, on an extremely successful season. All of you should be proud that we went as far as we did, and we will be back next year, better than ever. Enjoy the off-season!

Pele medal points are: I am taking the managers prerogative and awarding 3 points to everyone for a great effort and a great season.