IAN KIRKWOOD: The game’s the thing

IT’S a good stadium they’ve got  at Gosford. Right in the middle of the city, side grandstands connected by an elevated walkway around the northern end, and a spectacular daytime view to the south over the Broad Water. 

On Saturday night it was home to the 29th ‘‘local derby’’ clash between the Newcastle Jets and the Central Coast Mariners, who played out an entertaining scoreless draw over 90 minutes of more or less steady drizzle.

I’d made a snap decision to go to the game after a family gathering at Swansea.

A $20 ticket from a scalper holding an envelope full of complimentary passes was a better deal than standing in the rain without an umbrella or one of those clear plastic coveralls that were the favoured means of protection on Saturday night.

A seat right on the halfway line in the western grandstand was a good place to watch the action and to look down on coach Gary van Egmond’s bald spot, the target of plenty of ribbing from the Mariners supporters.

Especially in the second half, when he kept jumping up to direct the traffic from the very edge of the field.

Former Newcastle Herald columnist Jeff Corbett occasionally used this space to dismiss soccer players as a bunch of histrionic nancy boys – and to question the sanity of people who paid good money to see them – but you won’t get any complaints about A-League football from my corner.

On the other hand, the A-League will never match the NRL when it comes to the combative side of contact sport. There’s a lot to yell about from the sidelines of a rugby league match.

The ‘‘beautiful game’’, by contrast, is more like chess on the run, with great slabs of game time devoted to tic-tac-toe passing designed to prise open, rather than smash through, a chink in an opponent’s defence.

It’s the sort of stuff that is greeted with polite applause, like a good return to the wicketkeeper in cricket.

Occasionally, however, the game does explode to life. The most exciting seconds on Saturday night came when players from both sides jinked past opponents close to the sideline and then angled in with blistering runs that could have easily resulted in a couple of goals to either side.

But it wasn’t to be. Despite the vocal enthusiasm of the Jets Squadron, who outnumbered and outsung the home-ground Marinators by a sizeable margin, it was a subdued crowd who filed out at game’s end, with the points shared one apiece.

But if the game was over, the public transport entertainment was only starting.

A few minutes later at Gosford station I bought a ticket to Newcastle, only to find the platform indicators saying the next train was either one hour away or two hours away, depending on which indicator you read.

Luckily they were all wrong, and a crowd of increasingly annoyed Jets fans were rewarded for their faith when an all-stations to Newcastle service rolled in almost immediately on the next platform. There’s nothing quite like being on a train full of inebriated, or just highly excited, young people.

For much of the journey, the driver – who didn’t sound any older than the miscreants he was pleading with – had to keep using the public address system to ask people to stop pressing the emergency button. The police strolled through in their slow, distinctive police walk but when they left the train the button-pressing resumed.

But the driver had his revenge somewhere north of Morisset. Announcing that the people smoking in the toilet had activated the smoke alarms, he asked them to ‘‘smile’’ as they opened the cubicle door, because the closed circuit TVs would capture their image in pursuit of a $400 fine.

Nobody came to collect my ticket at Hamilton, but I suppose that’s not surprising at 11.30 on a Saturday night.

Back on Beaumont Street, the night life was winding down, with only a handful of women tottering their way towards the Exchange Hotel in little black skirts and wobbly high heels. A car wound its windows down to ask some merchandise-wearing fans the score, but otherwise all was quiet in the old town. 

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