I was convinced by the opportunity to catch up with a few South fans - as well as my media pass granting me free entry - to turn up to this yesterday. Dandenong Thunder had streaked the league, four or so games clear by the end, but that counts for nothing when you have finals. Their opponents wee Altona Magic, defending champs, third grand final in four seasons - never having finished first on the table though in any of those years.
There was plenty to see and a few surprises as well. Altona Magic's main cash cow Melissa Fischer-Massa came out of hiding - she's been scarcely seen at a VPL venue since allegations of the abysmal financial state of her nursing homes came to light. The Albanian contingent seemed in reasonably strong presence, air horns and all. The Magic's fans had some presence, but mostly elderly and as usual a small group of young people for whom this is probably their first Magic game of the season.
As per usual, the PA system at Lakeside was a mess - the national anthem was half done before anyone realised it was on. Now, I'm not a huge fan of national flags and anthems, ut I don't believe there was any disrespect meant by people not singing or standing to attention - and besides, isn't that what's so great about a country like Australia? That we don't have to have guns at our heads making us pay our respects? It used to be like that I reckon, but perhaps my memory is faulty. The next surprise was the start of the 'Vou-vou-voulgari' and 'Tsi-tsi-tsigani' chants from the Albanians directed towards the Magic fans. A Heidelberg fan next to me attempted to note the irony of it all.
The game itself was lacking in any sort of cohesive quality. There was at best, an implied edge, that there was something bigger than three points on the line, but the game never really lifted in tempo or quality throughout its torturous 120 minutes plus several stoppages for injuries. The Thunder took the lead in the 2nd half, a saved shot ricocheting into the path of Thunder's captain who headed home. Altona leveled from the penalty spot, after a long range shot hit the arm of a defender. The young Magic fans bring out their ethnic flags, and the police and security move in, eventually. Reports soon spread that a guy had collapsed in the stands. The medics worked hard to revive him - and they do - but ultimately it is to no avail; he doesn't pull through. Three ambulances turned up in total. For some it put the game in perspective - it is just a game after all. But the game went on.
The penalty shootout saw the Thunder fans move behind the goal, and that's when the flare show started, and the FFV brought out the receipt book. If a flare lit is worth a $1k fine, then that's $7k at least that Dandenong will have to find from somewhere. At least a couple of flares were thrown back into the grassy area behind the scoreboard, which started a small grass fire. South board member George Koukoulas added Fireman Sam to his list of roles played at the club by putting out the fire with a fire extinguisher from inside the social club. The fire brigade turned up eventually, but they didn't have much to do. Bottles were also thrown from the grandstand onto the field.
After the game, the Thunder contingent left peacefully - leaving pretty much no one on hand to witness the Magic raising their fifth Victorian championship cup. A couple of us inspected the damage after the show, taking photos for the benefit of the FFV who'll have to pay up for it. Quite a few grandstand seats damaged in the sections the vocal Thunder fans were in, as well as some damage behind the goals where they'd moved for the penalty shootout. It's not the final game at Lakeside as we know it, but we're getting there.