The moment Besart Berisha nodded home the latest of winners against Sydney FC at Suncorp Stadium last January – and carried on with some post-game histrionics with Pascal Bosschaart soon after – the rematch between Brisbane and Sydney loomed large on the fixture list. What a shame that the return tie failed to live up to its billing: a 4-2 victory to the Queenslanders, in which the New South Welshmen (Alessandro Del Piero excepted) barely fired a shot.
We booked our trip north of the border in early August, and when Del Piero’s signature was secured later that month, there would have been plenty of hope that Sydney might be able to snag a point or three from the Roar, who had lost coach Ange Postecoglou to Melbourne in the off-season. But despite Brisbane’s own form worries early this season, Sydney’s poor start to the 2012-13 campaign poured cold water on that optimism.
Making our way to the away corner before the game, we bumped into a 219 cm goliath outside Lang Park with a familiar Brylcreem hairdo and a jaw that would make Mr. Incredible proud: goalkeeping coach Zeljko Kalac, indulging in a pre-match durry. “Good luck,” we proffered as he sparked up. “We’ll need it,” he fired back. Spider wasn’t wrong.
The players entered Suncorp to a peculiar tifo by the Den: a blood-spattered banner proclaiming “No one escapes”, supported by crying smurfs (the incredibly witty nickname attributed to the Sky Blues), tombstones feting wins against the New Zealand Knights (which hardly puts Brisbane in elite company), and Lion King‘s Scar/evil Mufasa holding a captive Del Piero. Points for effort, if not clarity of message.
The majority of the 22,970 in attendance leapt out of their seats when Berisha found the net only to be settled by the lineman’s flag, but they didn’t have to wait long for Brisbane to open a two-nil lead. Sydney’s Italian marquee closed the margin with a terrific individual strike but the Roar hit back immediately to go into the break 3-1 up. Del Piero struck again early in the second stanza before Besart Berisha – appropriately – skinned Sydney’s statuesque defence to settle the game 4-2 on the hour mark. The final 30 minutes was a painful kick around featuring too many ambivalent players and too many characteristic turnovers.
When the players trudged over to the small pocket of travelling Sky Blues (and the clowns blocking the front-row dressed in inflatable soccer balls and fluorescent wigs, or the people in rugby league jumpers trying to nab a Del Piero autograph they could stick on eBay), the style of applause on both sides of the fence varied greatly. Pascal Bosschaart clapped vehemently with a furious look on his face, Rhyan Grant looked stunned, Fabio seemed on the verge of tears. Terry McFlynn appeared genuinely apologetic as his name was chanted – he might be a terrible footballer but at least he cares about the shirt on his chest. As for the fans, some clapped, some yelled, few booed, but all were pretty flat.
On Friday night, a pocket of Sky Blue fans tried to goad the locals with chants of “you’re going to flood in a minute”, but no one was laughing when a so-called superstorm rolled through Brisbane this morning and their prophesy came true. The foyer of the Brisbane City YHA (a terrific hostel, incidentally) took on plenty of water as the supercell lashed Brisbane and drove rain (and trees) sideways.
With trains cancelled, power lines down and a plane ticket on Tiger at 13.35, the storm threatened to cap a pretty miserable journey to the ‘sunshine’ state. Thankfully, Queensland Rail ferried any commuter with a pre-purchased Air-Link train ticket to the airport via cab, allowing this Sydney fan to return to New South Wales with his tail between his legs.