Archive for January, 2013

So Happy Together

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.

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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.

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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.

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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’.

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Friday Night Lights

This Friday night is a red letter day for the Melbourne Heart, a chance for all members and supporters to show that not only are we a well supported club in Melbourne, but we are deserving of a place in the ALeague finals in around 10 weeks time.

To say crowds have been disappointing this season would be an understatement.  Even after a spirited Melbourne derby performance we could only draw 6,303 to a match featuring the reigning champions Brisbane Roar on a perfect Sunday afternoon.  Albeit it was school holidays and I’m sure some of our fans were enjoying the beach while Fred was scoring a second half goal to send us 3-0 up.  The following 30 minutes wasn’t as pretty to watch but what impressed me most was the performance of those ‘From the Stands’.  Brisbane managed to score 2 late goals and had plenty of time to find an equaliser.  That afternoon the crowd rose as one and managed to become the 11th man (Williams was earlier sent off) that we so needed.

I admit this blog would have been far easier to write after the 80th minute of last week’s match against Sydney (when our players decided to stop playing).  It would have read something like this; three wins on the trot and currently sitting in 5th spot come out to watch the red hot Melbourne Heart take on 2nd place Adelaide Untied.  Sadly we conceded two late goals, lost 2-1 to the badly out of form Sydney FC and sit outside the top six.

This Friday night represents our last Friday night game for the season and I believe a strong opportunity to build our ever expanding fan base.  The launch of the #OneMelburnain campaign and the clubs ‘Own the experience’ are key factors in realising financial stability on and off the pitch but these measures can only take a club so far.

The #OneMelburnian campaign is a fan based initiative that encourages existing members to seek out friends and family to attend at least one Heart game with the idea of becoming a member after attending the match.  The goal is for the club to reach 9,000 members.

Next season Friday night matches will be shown in lounge rooms throughout the country thanks to free to air broadcaster SBS and we must show the league and those in charge we do want Friday night football in Melbourne.  This will not only provide great exposure and sponsorship opportunities for the club but give Melbourians a chance to experience Friday night football in the summer months.  Our Aussie rules counterparts thrive on Friday night football, it’s about time we followed their lead.  This is a golden opportunity for the club and we must show we are deserving of such a prime time kick off.

Performance and consistency on the pitch is the one key ingredient the Melbourne Heart has been lacking ever since the inception of the club in 2010.  Sport is a results based industry and sadly Melbourne Heart has failed to deliver in this category.  One only has to look at the leagues newest franchise Western Sydney Wanderers and their debut season, Tony Popovic has performed miracles with that group and the team are receiving unprecedented support.

One does wonder though when the FFA pull the plug on their funding will the club have to resort to things like ice baths in wheelie bins like some other clubs in the league.

The 2012/13 season is shaping up as another wasted season unless we see improvements on the pitch.  We seem to linger around 5-8 on the table, and are losing ground on the top challengers in the league.  On our day we have the ability to be World beaters, but seem to lack the mental strength to string consistent results together.  As an outsider looking is it’s a frustrating results merry go round that we watch.  I’m as impressed with our home form as I am with our inability to win out of Melbourne.  Its 13 months since we have won ‘away’ and this is an issue that needs to be addressed quickly.  Is it our mental fragility, team travel plans or just sheer coincidence?  If this issue isn’t addressed we won’t be winning any titles in our near future.

Our derby form has been suburb this year, and you would have a great case to say we have outplayed Victory twice this year.  Why can’t John Aloisi and the players get themselves up for other games when they perform so valiantly in Melbourne Derbies?

Our squad selections haven’t been helped by injury, or the ridiculous size of the league’s playing squads.  These argument could be used by all 10 ALeague clubs, but it is hardly ideal conditions for a rookie coach to be working under.  The different situations relating to Vinnie Grella and Steven Gray are frustrating and puzzling to say the least.  Vinnie Grella seems to be more injured than Australian cricketing all rounder Shane Watson, and the value of his signature now has to be seriously questioned.  The signing of Steven Gray was a puzzling choice when made, using an visa spot for cover of Colosimo and Gerhardt central defensive position just doesn’t seem right when you are restricted to such a small squad as we are in the league.  Was this decision purely financial or did we believe he was a much needed commodity to win a title? We will probably never know.

The goalkeeper selection has been puzzling for the last four weeks, yes it worked for the first week or two but to have you most experienced and best keeper Clint Bolton sitting on the pine (or plastic Bunnings furniture) is staggering.  To his credit Andrew Redmeyne put his hand up for the error last week in Sydney but you have ask why was he out there in the first place?  Is there a tiff between Aloisi and Bolton or are we giving Redmayne some playing time in an effort to contract his services for next season when Bolton retires.  Whatever the situation Aloisi should have put his hand up for this blunder.

Once again we are in the position of selling our best young talent to help save our bottom line.  This is sadly a reality for most clubs in our league; one only has to look at Central Coast and their shining star Tommy Rogic.  Members have to realise that talent like Michael Marrone and Aziz Behich can only last so long at Heart before they move to wealthier or better standard leagues.  I’m more than happy to see our young talent leave to pursue greener pastures, but my worry is what if we don’t have one or two talented youngsters to sell off to balance the books next season, what happens to the club then.

You may or may not agree with some of the points I have made, but one thing is certain; we need bigger crowds and a bigger supporter base to succeed in this ever improving league.  Heart fans grab your friends, family, neighbours whoever and get along to this Fridays crucial clash against Adelaide United.  Together we can achieve great things, OneMelburnian at a time.

Trials and Tribulations on the Central Coast

The transfer window has created some major buzz by ALeague standards, some players are using this opportunity to change clubs within the league, but what has created most controversy is the decision of Central Coast who could send three of their players on trial during the transfer window duration.

All key players for Graham Arnold and his coaching staff, but the Mariners are a great team and I think the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages.  Sure the Mariners are still reeling from there fade outs of the last two seasons, and I can understand fans feeling apprehension towards the proposed moves.

Australia rightly or wrongly follow the American way when it comes to crowning our sporting champions, we must have a playoff/grand final to determine the winner of every competition played on Australian soil.  Forget rewarding the most consistent team for a stellar performance over 27 weeks, let’s reward a team for a 90 minute performance.

This has cost the Mariners Championship supremacy last season, but the new finals system allows Graham Arnold to send some of his best players on a 10 day trial to explore European options.  The finals system rewards the two top teams evenly, both rewarding them with a double chance.  Home ground advantage is given to the Premiers, but the Mariners can play on any ground in the league under the tactically astute Arnold.

Currently 7 points clear from third, with the ability to increase that to 10 points after a win over Melbourne Victory in Tasmania over the weekend.  Such a lead allows the club to send players on trial with the peace of mind that it shouldn’t affect the clubs superior position on the table.  Yes the club deserve this lead, but what good is a 10 point lead with our current finals situation.

Maty Ryan is in the final year of his contract and has expressed he wants to play overseas in the near future to increase his football knowledge and continue his rapid rise in the keeping ranks for the Socceroos.  Ryan has also publically stated he want to win a Championship at the Mariners, but unfortunately for Mariners fans his current contract will force the clubs hand in gaining the best transfer fee for the bright young star.  The bottom line has to take priority at Gosford, and the Central Coast may see a new man between the sticks before the month is out.

Tommy Rogic is a different situation.  I see his trial more a teaser of things to come, and won’t be surprised if we see him back in the ALeague after his trial.  The Mariners have put their faith in the ability of this youngster and want to be financially rewarded for this star on the rise.  The trial at Celtic could create some buzz around Europe, but I don’t see the pockets of Celtic being big enough for the Mariners liking.

Bernie Ibini’s trial is from left field, Ibini has hardly been a standout this year in the league but his talent alone has probably won him a trial.  If he stays he may help the Mariners during the season, but if he leaves his role at the Mariners will be filled quickly.

Sadly our league is a feeder league, and losing young talent is a reality faced by all our 10 clubs.  Fans need to embrace this and seek comfort in the fact the league is growing and bigger clubs are circling out league for our emerging talent.

Graham Arnold and his team should be proud that their production line keeps churning out quality young Australian talent.

Points or Play?

Scorching hot days in Melbourne and an influx of International tourists can only mean one thing.  The tennis world is about to settle in our great city once more.

With so many tournaments and options open to the world’s best players some face a dilemma that has the potential to setup their 2013.  Match practice or ranking points, risk being knocked out of the first round in Brisbane, Sydney or Hobart or guarantee yourself some much needed matches at a venue that is not only setup perfectly for acclimatisation yet set in one of Australia’s most recognisable and iconic sporting venues Kooyong.

Ranking points are precious, especially early in the tournament.  A great January can lay the foundation for a very successful year ahead.  If you are currently ranked just outside the seedings the Australian tennis summer is a very important destination.  Gone are the days where you can catch a few of the bigger names off guard this early in the season with superior fitness.

It’s a double edged sword though, earn points early in the season and you will be under pressure this time next year to defend those points earned.  A quarter final in Sydney not only guarantees some solid points, but a great lead up to the Australian Open.

So what’s the appeal of the Kooyong Classic to those elite eight who decide that Kooyong is the path for them?  Some may give up defending their points for last year, but they gain valuable match practice in the unforgiving Melbourne summer heat.  The tournament directors have secured two big guns in Tomas Berdych and Juan Martin Del Potro.  Both players have the potential to go long into the second week of the Australian Open and Kooyong is the perfect hit out.

Berdych and Del Potro will look to take advantage of the absence of Spaniard Rafa Nadal and will to a potential semi final birth.  Local favourite Lleyton Hewitt is in the twilight of his career and a surprise run of form could see him win one final title on Australian soil.  Marcos Baghdatis will be again the crowd favourite and his matches will be keenly attended by locals.

Another upside of playing Kooyong is that in 2014 you won’t have any points to defend, if the 2013 calendar turns pear shaped you know you have the opportunity to get the 2014 season on the right foot.  The tennis calendar is a long gruelling eleven months of the year and with the talent deeper than ever before, only a fool would be silly enough to see any chance slip by you.

Whatever the decision of the player (or their entourage) both options present great opportunities to all involved to be best prepared for the first grand slam of 2013.