Match report by Ian Gray.
The second Robert Craig Memorial Day took place on 6 May at a 5-a-side football centre in Sydney’s Inner West. It is organised through Robbie’s partner Gillian, in conjunction with Sydney NISC, and it is basically an occasion for ex-pats to get together and have some fun by participating in a 5-a-side tournament, representing the teams that they supported back home. This year saw another great turnout from players and spectators, with 130+ people in attendance throughout the day. There is also a serious side to it, maintaining the memory of Robbie, and also highlighting the awareness of the horrible condition he had to endure for the last 8 years of his life, Ataxia, which is a degenerative neurological condition. Having known Robbie for years before the condition, and then seeing what this condition does, it certainly makes you look at life in a different perspective. Robbie would always tell the story of how close he came to signing for Glenavon. He spoke really highly of the Board, and in particular Wilfie Geddis, who wined-and-dined him at his home as he tried to get Robbie’s signature. Robbie did play one friendly game for Glenavon, but unfortunately the deal fell through. He honestly had a soft spot in his heart for Glenavon. With the money raised this year, Gillian asked if it was okay to give it elsewhere, as Sydney NISC had heard some bad news lately. One of the founding members has just been diagnosed with brain cancer, so the monies raised was offered to support his immediate family.
8 teams were represented this year, with Group A consisting of Ballymena, Coleraine, Glentoran & Linfield. Our group, Group B included Portadown, Crusaders & Rangers. Going by accents, Ballymena have obviously a huge fan-base in Australia, likewise Coleraine who must have supporters clubs all over England!!! We proudly fielded a team made up from players from Lurgan and Dollingstown, with the only exception being a hard-core Glenavon fan from Scotland…. (well, he actually lives in the same apartment block as a couple of the lads, and just wanted a game of football)! Talent wise we looked exceptional, with some players’ former clubs being European powerhouse teams like Lurgan BBOB, Hill Street & Lurgan Town. Our support base on the day was made up of partners of the players, and also the Bruce family, Paul & Elaine. It was great to have the only team in the comp with vocal backing, provided to us by Elaine, who some “middle aged” Glenavon fans might remember her from the infamous Glenavon Choir from the late 80s & early 90s.
Roll on the first game ‘v’ Crusaders. They also fielded high profile players with two ex-Brantwood stars. Our confidence was prominent from the first whistle, as we started the game with high-tempo play, which continued throughout the 8min first-half. We had chance after chance shot-wise, but unfortunately we didn’t test their keeper with the majority of them, and we were picked off on the counter attack, and went in at half-time 2-0 down. With it being a closed pitch, meaning the ball was continually in play and no stoppages, after a mere 8mins of play we questioned our quick tempo high pressure approach. We settled down in the second half, and again had more of the play, but it was the opposition who grabbed the only goal of the half, leaving the final score 3-0 to The Crues.
Our second game was against Rangers. Last year they had ex-player Gavin Rae playing for them, but he wasn’t available this year, but having played with 3 of their players for a number of years in our local Over-35 comp, and also knowing the majority of the other lads they had, I knew they were tidy footballers. Personally speaking, I was hoping that Rangers actually had flown 7 or 8 players from their current squad over, as I would have fancied our chances then!!! It turned out to be a really good game, with some quality play, and in the end both teams had to settle for a point each as it finished 1-1.
Roll on the final game against Portadown. Unfortunately for both teams, it was to see who avoided the wooden spoon! Again, our opposition were boosted by players having previously played for Portadown and Omagh Town. Our confidence was high, after settling into the pace of the pitch and a more structured rhythm in the previous game, we were confident of continuing that in our final game. Be Just And Fear Not. Without going into too much detail, we controlled the game from the early stages and ran out 5-1 victors. I never thought these words would ever cross my lips, but I did feel sorry for The Ports keeper, Glenn Fryers. Glenn had been back home in Portadown the previous month, at the same time I was in contact with Leigh Livingstone asking if there was any chance that there might be old tops or training gear lying about the gearshed, and if so, would it be possible to send 7 or 8 tops over to Sydney for the tournament. Leigh weaved her magic by getting us old training tops, and knowing Glenn was only a few miles away, they met up and the deal was done. This was the third set of tops Glenn brought back with him, as he also secured old Portadown playing tops and also done a favour for a Glentoran friend and brought their tops back with him as well. So a huge “thank-you” to Glenn for the tops, and a huge “get-it-up-ya” about the result!
In summary, if we hadn’t been so gung-ho in the early stages of the Crusaders game, we could easily have made it through to the Semis. For the record, Glentoran beat Rangers and Linfield beat Crusaders in the Semis, with Linfield beating Glentoran in the final on penalty kicks.
Again, a massive “thank you” to Leigh for the tops. Leigh had mentioned before we received them that they seemed tight fitting. We will let the photos do the talking. They were certainly cosy!!!