‘I am a champion’

The date was in the calendar on the fridge—28 September—but it was a pretty low-key build up to this year’s Australian University Games in the Robertson household. Calum had picked up a knee injury playing club football with Mosman and it was touch and go as to whether he would play any part at all. He got the all clear from the physio the week before and went for a couple of runs, but all that did was made him realise just how unfit he was. I don’t think he even kicked a ball.

The University of Technology Sydney (UTS) football team had qualified for the first division competition for the first time in living memory by winning the Eastern University Games (EUG) tournament held in Newcastle in June. Having gone close on a couple of previous occasions, Calum was really chuffed with the EUG gold medal he collected. In the lead up to the nationals, UTS added a handful of players to the squad, but without a coach or manager no training sessions had been organised.

Being something of an old hand at these events, Calum didn’t appear too concerned. ‘It’s as much about the social side of things as the games,’ he stressed. A point confirmed on the official website, which says ‘Off the sporting field, an action-packed, week-long social program is conducted to complement the sporting activities and enhance the event experience for participants.’ In other words, drinking.  Lots of drinking.

All the football competitions were at the sprawling Blacktown International Sportspark in Rooty Hill, 41 km west of the city. The eight teams in division one were divided into two pools of four. The top two from each pool went into a semi final round, then gold and bronze playoffs. The bottom two in each pool went into a relegation dogfight. UTS were drawn in pool B, with 2013 runners-up Victoria University, 2012 winners Monash and University of Western Australia.

First up, on Monday afternoon, UTS had Monash. It was a blisteringly hot day, with the players’ discomfort compounded by the heat radiating from the little black rubber pellets of the artificial field. Midfielder Junior Asare rang up from Central Station 15 minutes before kick off asking where the game was – uh, oh. See you tomorrow Junior.

 

UTS pre game ritual

UTS pre game ritual

Monash looked slightly disconcerted and stole a few furtive backwards glances as the UTS boys went into their pre-game ritual. Inside a kneeling circle of players, goalie Chris Janssen read an incantation, exhorting each one of them to give their all, not to leave anything in the tank, draw on every ounce of physical and mental strength, to focus on the moment (you get the picture), punctuated by a regular call and response of ‘Who am I?’ ‘I AM A CHAMPION.’ As an example of on-field bonding, I had rarely seen better.

To the game. Goalie Chris made some fine saves in the first half, but Monash scored 15 minutes into the second half with a header from a nicely weighted cross to the far post. UTS gained in fluency as the game progressed, but couldn’t crack the Monash defence and the match finished 1-0.

Afterwards, it emerged that registration paperwork for two of the squad hadn’t been submitted. It was 5 pm. The deadline was 7 pm, at the Olympic Stadium, Homebush. Without it, the point earned from the game just played would be forfeited (yeah, three points for a win, two for a draw and one for a loss—it’s a varsity thing I guess). Calum and I climbed into the trusty Camry wagon, with Tim, Byron and the other Callum in the back and headed back down the M7 and M2. The boys dropped me off in Willoughby, picked up the paperwork from Central, picked up one of the players at Homebush station and made the deadline with 5 minutes to spare. A 68.4 km trip in peak-hour traffic. Phew. OK, now, time to get the drinks in.

Every night, the team gathered at the Central Station YHA where some of the boys had set up camp for the week. There they held ‘court’—to dissect and discuss the game, how good they were, how bad they were and to levy fines on each other. Oh, and drink. After court, they spread out to various hostelries and nightspots in the city and Darling Harbour area. To drink.

The next day, it was a morning game against the University of Western Australia who’d lost their opening game against Victoria University 7-0. I texted Calum – ‘How did you go?’ ’16-1′ he replied. ‘They weren’t very good …’

The boys dropped me off in Willoughby, picked up the paperwork from Central, picked up one of the players at Homebush station and made the deadline with 5 minutes to spare. A 68.4 km trip in peak-hour traffic. Phew. OK, now, time to get the drinks in.

Victoria beat Monash 2-0, so on Wednesday the equation was simple. UTS had to beat Victoria University to progress to the semis. One-nil down with 10 minutes to go, the situation looked grim. But after a brilliant individual goal from Jake Harris drew UTS level, Brazilian exchange student Pablo Salve coolly slotted the winner into the top left corner with 3 minutes on the clock. Cue pandemonium. UTS top the group and face University of NSW for a place in the final.

Junior rises against VU

Junior rises against VU

As the boys were sitting around afterwards, goalie Chris came up and said, ‘Hey guys, you know, maybe we’re not as shit as we think we are. Maybe we’re actually a really good football team.’ Everyone laughed, ‘Nah’.

The social theme for the night was double denim and as Calum was walking through Darling Harbour after midnight he texted ‘UTS is on the piss again’. Except the auto-correct translated it as ‘The Uterus is on the piss again’. In his somewhat intoxicated state he didn’t notice and sent it anyway.

After a ten man Victoria University prevailed over Latrobe in the first semi (via a penalty shoot out), the first half of the second semi was fairly even and scoreless at the break. About 10 minutes into the second half, Martin Mikhael floated a cross from the right-wing over the UNSW keeper’s head and Calum ghosted in at the far post to head home. He ran to the touch-line, jumped the fence, sat down in the third row and applauded himself. A yellow card was waiting for him on his return. Jake Harris added a second after another solo penetrating thrust from the left and then set up Tim Greber for a third.

As Calum was walking through Darling Harbour after midnight he texted ‘UTS is on the piss again’. Except the auto-correct translated it as ‘The Uterus is on the piss again’

UTS had made the final. Would they do the sensible thing, rest their weary bodies, give their livers a break and have an early abstemious night? Not a bit of it. Draped in their onesies, they hit the town hard. I heard Calum rattling round at 3am. He was one of the early ones. Apparently full back Bill Brown was still walking home as the sun was coming up. And off the back of a $10 bet, someone went for a late night fully clothed dip in the harbour. Great preparation.

In contrast, VU were taking things very seriously. See these interviews from Tuesday and Thursday. Not to say Captain Calum was lacking in confidence about UTS’ prospects—even though the interviewer misheard his name as Kyle.

And so to the gold medal game. Some cloud and a breeze provided conditions less taxing for players and spectators than previous days and a tidy crowd was on hand to see Victoria University come strongly out of the blocks with the aid of the breeze. UTS stood strong however and after Pablo was subbed off with a leg injury 5 minutes from the break, German exchange student Kilian Schlenter came on and with virtually his first touch, cut in from the left and curled a superb shot into the far corner. Oh yes.

Jake Harris added a second ten minutes into the second half and then a third five minutes later from the penalty spot. UTS relaxed and VU pulled one back and suddenly got a sniff. Calum initiated some push and shove after VU declined to put the ball out with a UTS player lying injured on the ground and that seemed to refocus the Whites who withstood all further attacks until the final whistle blew.

It’s the first time UTS has won the men’s football gold medal. And weren’t they happy!

Gold medalists - can you believe it?

Gold medalists – can you believe it?

I’ll let Calum have the last word.

And he and good mate Trimmers are already talking about Gold Coast 2015.

UTS on the podium with gold medals

UTS on the podium with gold medals

 

 

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