NORTHERN SPIRIT   0   SYDNEY OLYMPIC   2  Nth. Sydney Oval   Friday 9th October 1998    

The old sporting spirits of North Sydney Oval welcomed the new generation of the soccer variety last Friday night when Northern Spirit Football Club kicked off their National Soccer League career. Unfortunately, as is often the case on such occasions, the script was altered with Sydney Olympic downing the Spirit 2-0. On this night however, the result was less important than the occasion. Neither the result nor the rain could take the gloss off a wonderful evening. My late father, in his time a strong critic of  “Summer Soccer,” would have been delighted to eat humble pie had he been with us at North Sydney Oval.

 Northern Spirit on the attack against Sydney Olympic at North Sydney Oval
Northern Spirit on the attack against Sydney Olympic at North Sydney Oval

.The decision of North Sydney Rugby League Club to vacate their home and move to the Central Coast has provided Northern Spirit with a super stadium, a convenient location and a billiard table playing surface. Aside from the cricket pitch area, I have never seen a flatter nor greener pitch. A far cry from the barren, rock hard North Sydney Oval on which I made my grade soccer debut way back in 1968. The ground now was a picture, everything in it’s place even down to the final coat of brilliant white paint on the goalposts.

I have waited 30 years for this night. A night when a team supported by the soccer playing men, women and children outdrew an international rugby league match on the same night. A night when the soccer fraternity of Northern Sydney stood up and was counted – all 18,985 of them. It was a magnificent public response, warmly applauded by the players of both sides after the match.

Young players from Wakehurst FC take part in the pre match march past
Young players from Wakehurst FC take part in the pre match march past

I went along with my own budding Clayton Zane and Robbie Slater to North Sydney Oval for a night of entertainment and was not disappointed. Despite Olympic fans having a reputation for rather erratic behaviour, I felt very safe among the large good natured, well mannered crowd, most of whom like me had brought the children.

From the opening chords of Merril Bainbridge’s “Under the Water” there was plenty to keep the fans interested. There was the unerring accuracy of the sky divers, the kids at half time throwing themselves kamikaze like at the giant Pepsi Cola ball and the pre match parade of a sprinkling of the thousands of local players who turn out every weekend to play the “World Game”. There was the “Mexican wave” enthusiastically received by the various stands but especially those in the Macartney Stand (obviously no arthritic knees amongst that lot !). We had Olympic fans blasting loud discordant phrases from primitive trumpets and even an Austen Powers imitator offering encouragement from the hill area. This was entertainment – “Yeah baby, yeah !”

The spirit of North Sydney Oval surfaced early. Spirit’s Mark Rudan and Olympic’s Adem Poric were sent off after only 15 minutes as they exacted “hit ups” on each other and a near all in brawl erupted. The spirit of rugby league would not go quietly.

The cricket spirit of North Sydney Oval also raised it’s head when after 27 minutes Kresimir Marusic created a chance for former Socceroo Graham Arnold. The Spirit player coach who obviously had neglected batting practice whilst playing football in the Netherlands sliced his shot to the boundary fence between extra cover and mid off. A  straight drive would have been the better option. Even referee Simon Micaleff seemed under the influence of the supernatural, performing an impromptu shimmy in the middle of the cricket pitch area, midway through the first half.

Robbie Slater & Graham Arnold celebrate a Spirit goal in 1999 (photo Tim Clayton)
Robbie Slater, Graham Arnold and colleagues celebrate a Northern Spirit goal in 1999 (photo Tim Clayton)

The fans in “Spirit Point” seemingly inspired by the spirit of John Lennon (ironically on the former Beatle’s birthday) chanted “All we are saying is give us a goal” but unfortunately on this night it was not to be. At half time one had to look twice to realise that the gentlemen vainly trying to shoot balls from point blank range, through a plastic replica of a sponsor’s motor vehicle, were not Spirit strikers.

The spivs trying to sell raincoats in the second half, met with lukewarm response as Olympic snatched two second half goals. Spirit inspired by the tireless Robbie Slater, had several chances to peg back the Olympic lead but tonight was not going to be the night

Graham Arnold withdrew himself from the fray in the second half, probably wondering if this player / coach thing was his “bag”. In the end, their National Soccer League experience, coupled with some clinical finishing by Kalantzis and Cardozo sealed the win for Sydney Olympic. Northern Spirit however showed enough to prove that they will more than hold their own in the National Soccer League this season.

As we streamed away from Bear Park to the strains of Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky”, I reflected on a most enjoyable evening, despite the scoreline and hoped that every one of the 18,985 spectators would return for the next home game in three weeks time – I for one will be there

David Jack

Copyright 1998