By Ben de Buen
One of Etihad Stadium’s best attributes is that if you own a bicycle you can be at Queen Victoria Market in less then five minutes without worrying about parking or traffic. There you can find a decent lunch for as little as the shrapnel you carry in your pocket, something far more interesting than the diagonally-cut white bread cucumber sandwiches with mayo that haunt corporate launches.
But there were no sandwiches for the peckish press assembled for the A-League Season Launch at Etihad Stadium. A spicy lamb borek from the busy stand inside the market would come to the rescue. I ate it at one of the outside tables just as Melbourne showed how indecisive it is when it comes to weather. A nearby cigarette bin was on fire but nobody seemed to care except for a semi-toothless woman in her forties. It would be heartless to call her a dero, no one else in a crowd of lunching suits could care enough to summon a bucket or a hose from the shop owners in the QV deli.
A Queen Vic Market regular, who usually lingers around asking for spare change, came up to me twice wanting a dollar. Normally he wants no less than five. Fiscal restraint?
While in the midst of my borek, I saw one of those Reebok Melbourne Victory tops from the olden days of the A-League; the same ones that Leigh Broxham once folded as the team’s kit man. He was at the launch this morning and so was Besart Berisha, both of them fully kitted with boots and all as though ready for Friday’s match against Western Sydney right there at Docklands.
During the A-League launch, SBS presenter and Master of Ceremony, Lucy Zelic asked Broxham his thoughts on Kevin Muscat, Victory’s current coach.
“He’s standing right next to me so I think he’s fantastic.” It was true; Musky was standing right next to Broxham.
Other fully-kitted A-League stars included new arrival David Villa and Melbourne City teammate Patrick Kisnorbo.
“Mate, you know if there’s a toilet here?” Kisnorbo turned to ask me halfway through the presentation. I was sitting in the row behind the players
“Sorry, dude,” I replied.
“I’m busting,” he added. He looked at fellow players sitting in his aisle, some from Adelaide United and others from Perth Glory who were also part of the event. In a week’s time these rivals would be keen let him suffer in silence.
“I was trying to think the last time I was this close to this trophy,” said Glory midfielder Michael Thwaite during his Q & A with Lucy Zelic. The silverware for the A-League’s winners was scarcely a meter away from him as he spoke.
Officials gave warm and welcoming speeches; new A-League promos that resembled epic films starring Brad Pitt or Russell Crowe were shown on big flat screens and eventually we all wandered off to the pitch for photo and interview opportunities. A bitter chill carried a few seagulls from the Yarra end towards the city. I bet David Villa was freezing.
The players lined up for the cameras and a referee drew a thin white line at their feet with magic spray. By the time we were done snapping away at the players, the line was gone.
With the A-League now days away, today’s pleasantries were most likely the last before hostilities that are natural to football ensue. Much was said about the off-season transfers and especially about the changes to Melbourne’s younger club, Melbourne Heart who are now Melbourne City and the league’s purveyors of bling – it was noticeable in their entourage, they simply seemed cleaner and better dressed than every one else. Who knows, they might drive better cars and fly first class since the takeover – sorry, acquisition.
As an amateur player and unprofessional footballer I’ve always been more wary of teams that show up in completely mismatched uniforms than those who look like they are good just because they’re well-dressed. From Friday onwards we will find out if this is true.
I’m not sure if the event was over, and perhaps missed the sandwiches, but it was time to make the most of my location. Five minutes later I was holding a borek and the bin was on fire.