When I received a phone call during the week offering me a chance to #OwnTheExperience I couldn’t believe my luck. Melbourne Heart wanting to reward me for being a foundation member writing the occasional passionate blog about the club. Six of us hand selected by the club from various sources.
We started with a brief tour of AAMI Park, Australia’s finest football venue. We met in one of the many corporate boxes where we were briefed on our days activities, we would be pitch side for the duration of the must win clash and even learnt a thing or two about AAMI Park. Did you know that all home teams have lost their debut match at AAMI Park, me either. During our quick tour around the stadium, and walk up the player race, something most fans only dream of, it may not have the history or mystique of the Anfield tunnel but just to make that walk was pretty special.
Next on the list was an opportunity to discuss the excellent community program run by General Manager (Community) Sue Crow. Today’s theme was Indigenous round and she explained that some lucky children from Mildura United made the six hour bus trip to Melbourne to get the opportunity to play a mini soccer match at half time. Sue stated that the club try to reward those less fortunate and it’s a credit to all those involved. Only a few weeks ago we saw some ‘Street Soccer’ players many participants were sellers of ‘The Big Issue.
Tonight we would see a “Welcome to Country’ ceremony performed by Auntie Joy on behalf of the Wundjeri people. This was the third time in as many season Heart had been involved in the indigenous program and it’s something they wish to continue. The players were welcomed on the pitch by didgeridoo and David Williams had specially designed boots for the occasion.
This is when phase two of the #OwnTheExperience kicked it, the first performance of new club song ‘So happy together’ I admit I was sceptical when I heard this song was chosen but all that scepticism lifted when I heard the Yarraside and the rest of the crowd in full voice. From the bench the song was incredible, from the first moment ‘So happy together’ wasn’t a song any more, it was an anthem.
Time for kick off and my seats were the best I have ever experienced at an event. I was sitting just metres behind Adelaide coach John Kosmina, watching my Melbourne Heart play; somebody pinch me. We made a dream start to the match when Josip Tadic found the back of the net just after five minutes. This put the rapturous crowd on cloud nine and for the first 20 minutes of the match the noise from the crowd were the loudest it had been all season; largely thanks to the great #OneMelburnian campaign and the club initiative of opening the active area to a larger audience.
Our touchline seating gave the opportunity to see how quick and physical the league actually is. Quick foot skills, fluent passing and crunching tackles give a different perspective when you take it all in from ground level. When Matt Thompson layed one of his many tackles right in front of us I could feel it from my seat just a few metres away.
Half time was here and we were allowed onto the pitch to watch 10 lucky foundation members play a five a side match. The match was a kick and giggle affair but it allowed the selected foundation members the opportunity to run around on the pitch in front of their mates and for a lucky few even score a goal.
The second half commenced and the nerves started to kick in, we needed to maintain our shape, and take the points. Enter Richard Garcia, after a standout first half Richie was rewarded by excellent team play and found the back of the net to put the Heart up 2-0. Over the later stages of the match Andrew Redmayne proved some doubters wrong with some quality saves and great command of the box. Jeremy Walker was solid once again, and what he lacked in pace against Aaron Ramsey he made up in determination. Since the departure of Michael Marrone, Walker has found his feet at A-League level and was even backing himself to instruct experienced Socceroos player Richie Garcia.
There was one scare through the Heart camp when Fred once again limped off accompanied by our trainer, Aloisi later confirmed it was a quad injury not the hamstring injury that has been troubling him all season. At the 83 minute mark a hush came over the crowd as many of us remembered the events of last week in Sydney. Could we play 90 minutes this weekend? We needed to, our season depended on it.
When the referee blew the final whistle and we rose as one, Melbourne Heart won the clash 2-0 but more importantly played the full 90 minutes. The players as happy as they were relieved, the fans ecstatic and the 7000 plus crowd went home happy.
I must say getting the opportunity to sit behind John Kosmina was fantastic, the man has football and passion flowing through his veins and his contribution to Australian football is immense. Although the seats should come with a MA15+ warning it was a great insight to see the coach of his calibre in action.
Our final treat for the night was being ushered to the after match press conference where we got to experience what the likes of Michael Lynch and David Davutovic do on a weekly basis. As a fan this was an incredible experience, and for a bloke who writes football blogs a fantastic insight. There was no breakdown of match tactics or tough questions thrown at the respective coaches, but to see the happenings of the press conference was fascinating. We even received an acknowledgement from John Aloisi at the end of his interview; that was the final cherry on top of the #OwnTheExperience night.
This was an incredible one off opportunity provided by the people at Melbourne Heart. The #OwnTheExperiece gave me an incredible insight of what goes on behind the scenes, on the pitch and after the final whistle. Sadly the club didn’t reveal all, the identity of ‘Ticker’ is still a well kept club secret.
I can’t thank the club enough for the incredible opportunity this was and the lengths they go to with their fan engagement program. The next time I walk into AAMI Park to see the Heart boys play, it may not be from the amazing viewpoint as I had this week, but I’ll be there happy to cheer on my club Melbourne Heart ‘From the Stands’.