Olympic FC v Brisbane City FC, Queensland National Premier League Grand Final, Goodwin Park, 8/9/2013
The crush of bodies at the canteen is ten-deep and impenetrable and I’m concerned that my aroused appetite for skewered meat may not be sated tonight…
Report by Scott Gittoes
The banners adorning the clubhouse have me stumped: “Olympic FC, NPL Premiers 2013”. I’ve just arrived for the grand final and whilst pre-game optimism is healthy, this is downright presumptuous. Common sense tells me even Europeans aren’t this sure of themselves, so I interrupt a passer-by to straighten things out. My enquiry is met with a disturbed, almost pained expression and I don’t know if it’s due to my obvious ignorance or his slowed momentum towards the food stand. Probably both. I can hardly take offence though; the primal scent of charcoaled souvlaki also has me on my toes like a bloodhound. I get the gist of his fading reply as he forges onwards – in this sport, the leader at the end of the home and away season takes the premiership flag – and I’ll later also learn that this finals series is an inaugural add-on considered rather superfluous by some. The players don’t seem to think so though as the match turns out to be an absolute belter, replete with all the drama of finals football. You wouldn’t know by looking around either; it’s a big turnout tonight. At a guess, there must be over two thousand here. I expected as much; founded by Greek and Italian immigrants respectively, Olympic and Brisbane City’s community bloodlines run deep.
As far as grassroots clubhouses go, the grandiosely named Australian Hellenic Sports Centre is unique if not impressive. I’m not sure what sports are played here other than football but it’s pleasing to know that the epicentre of Hellenic sport in Australia is only a discus throw from my house. Passing-by on my daily work commute, I monitored the glacial construction of this building for the better part of a decade; brick-by-painstaking-brick. It stands as testament to the persistence, industriousness and solidarity for which Brisbane’s Greek community is renowned. I’m confident that the materials for this thing were acquired gradually, as funding allowed and, well, probably ‘below retail’. It’s more than just a clubhouse though. This is clearly a multi-purpose community hall and it’s no surprise that the warm ‘big family’ atmosphere tonight is almost as rich as the trail of grill-smoke I blindly follow outside.
The crush of bodies at the canteen is ten-deep and impenetrable and I’m concerned that my aroused appetite for skewered meat may not be sated tonight. Young women dressed in cafe-all-black are working feverishly under the eye of the matriarch of the canteen. Any serious grassroots canteen is home to a matriarch, directing traffic and maintaining law and order. I get the feeling this one runs a particularly tight-ship. A greying Greek man wearing an Olympic polo is hovering over the cash register with a fistful of cash. I don’t think they take eftpos here. I opt out of this ravenous mass and squeeze towards the grandstand, reassuring myself that the time for match day meat will surely come later.
The grandstand attendant is wearing a fluoro ‘high-vis’ vest, the universal garb of grassroots officialdom, and has the look of a man who once boxed, many Greek dinners ago. As I take a seat it’s hard not to notice the winning captain from the curtain-raiser repeatedly clutching himself ‘below the belt’ during his speech. I’ve been watching grassroots grand finals all day and this is the third time I’ve seen this same nervous tick. I’m not sure what to make of this; perhaps Freud could shed some light. Regardless, I’m glad the speech is over and kick-off is imminent.
The first half proceeds as football matches frequently do – the seemingly dominant team, tonight it’s Olympic, fails to convert its gluttonous territory and possession into goals, whereas the largely back-footed side, Brisbane City, puts away its limited opportunities. This is part of the inherent beauty of the round-ball game. Brute superiority often isn’t enough; if you can’t finish, you can’t win. Fortune and ruthless opportunism are the real levellers and no team is immune. The Italians go to the break leading two goals to zip.
My attention turns to the elderly men chatting to my left. I guess they are Japanese but only by looking at them because I’m certain they’re speaking Italian. It’s then I realise how ethnically diverse this crowd really is. There is meaningful representation from every continent and not just in isolation; families spanning three, four generations abound. The smashing sounds against the back of the grandstand are misfires from a pan-ethnic mob of kids shooting goals beside the canteen.
Deep into the second half I’ve joined the Greek supporters behind the goals and the script hasn’t changed; it’s been all Olympic but they’re lucky not to have conceded more. A middle-aged man is telling the referee and anyone else who will listen what he thinks of the game’s adjudicator. I’m not sure what malakas means but it certainly isn’t a pleasantry. But that’s just the thing, it’s all delivered so gregariously that it seems to be understood by everyone as a necessary part of the soul of a good fixture. Even the referee is laughing. I wander down to the Italian end and it’s exactly the same story; a younger but no less gregarious spokesman is entertaining the crowd with wisecracks at the expense of the players. The banter is infectious.
As I return to the grandstand the old boxer is ejecting a City supporter. I think it’s because he’s brought beer into the stand, but if this is the case there are plenty of unchecked offenders. The escorted is muttering insults under his breath, prompting the old-stager to rest his arm over the kid’s shoulders in a condescending display of strength. The Greeks are a tactile bunch. At that moment, ten from time, Olympic nails a flying header and the game really comes alive. This is followed minutes later by a penalty in the box that locks up the scores. It’s into extra-time.
The skills tonight have been first class, not least the deftly accurate passing. Early in the second period of extra-time, it’s an intricate string of those very passes that ends with the Greeks ahead three-two. The Japanese left-back who delivered the silky finish has been among the best-on-ground all night; simply rock-solid. His reliability is equalled perhaps only by City’s Korean midfielder (who ends up man-of-the-match). These rocks of the orient (ROTOs) are genuine assets. Any team looking for silverware next season would be mad not to recruit a ROTO or two.
With little more than five to go, City loft a header that floats in eternity but ultimately finds the back of the net to tie the scores. A penalty shoot-out is a cruel way to finish such a compelling contest.
Olympic hit the winning penalty just as I launch one final desperate attempt to secure some highly-prized meat. It’s a cool night but the Greek lads working the remaining racks of souvlaki have worked-up a sweat. “Sorry mate, these ones are for the players”, I’m told. I leave nursing a cup of potato gems, hungry but otherwise content.
Match Day Burger Score: (Souvlaki – 7.5 on scent alone)
MBD Cost: (Souvlaki – $3.00/stick)
MDB Service Atmosphere: N/A (impenetrable)
Match Score: Olympic FC 3 v Brisbane City FC 3; Olympic FC wins on penalties 3 – 0.
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