Prior to kick off:
Despite living in Sydney and hence being thousands of miles away from the action, I was left with the impression that the build-up to this fierce derby was a little more timid than usual. I quickly attributed this observation to the fact that, with both Assyriska and Syrianska within touching distance of the Holy Grail of football – promotion to the top flight, local bragging rights and the promotion of nationalistic ideals were merely subplots to the bigger scheme of things – the pursuit of three points. While a derby victory for Syrianska is typically used as propaganda by the separatist pseudo-ethnic Aramean/Syriac faction intertwined within their organisation to iniquitously demarcate an already divided Assyrian nation, the simple sporting objective of progressing upwards in the league table and moving one step closer to promotion was the dominant thought for the vast majority of their Gefe fans. A victory for Assyriska meanwhile obviously promotes the more mainstream notion of an Assyrian identity, yet in similar fashion this was of little significance to myself and the rest of the mighty Zelge fans who for the past 2 months have watched in dismay as our seemingly triumphant procession to the Allsvenskan has been left in tatters.
In the weeks prior to kick off, there had been serious talk from Assyriska supporters about a boycott of the derby (which eventually came to fruition). There were two main reasons for this:
– Protesting against board and sporting committee’s poor handling of transfers both in and out of the club (in particular, the sale of Aziz Corr Nyang to rivals GIF Sundsvall midway through the season)
– The simple fact that some did not want to provide a single Krona (Swedish currency) to Syrianska’s coffers.
The result of this was a dishearteningly small presence of Assyriska supporters in the stadium (approximately 2,000 compared to Syrianska’s 4,900+). As such, we were heavily outnumbered and the Zelge fans were accused of “abandoning” their team.
Did I mention Assyriska had fired their coach Roberth Johansson just days before the derby and new coach Conny Karlsson had the luxury of a grand total of 4 days to prepare his team for the match?
The 90+6 minutes:
As usual, thanks to the dismal state of cable internet in Australia (which is about 300 years behind the developed world), the match resembled a slideshow for basically the entire first half. The commentary, however, could be heard perfectly and as such I was leaping with unexpected joy when I heard “Llumnicaaaaa” *insert Swedish word for goal* and “Assyriskaaaa *some other Swedish words*”. A quick check of the livescores confirmed that I wasn’t dreaming – Assyriska were off to the greatest of starts with a goal barely after kick off (4 minutes to be exact).
You could hear the euphoria among the brave group of Zelge fans present in the stadium, chanting “Tihe Assyriska” in delirium. All week, I was stressing to mostly indifferent and uninterested souls about our new coach, what he had previously achieved with Assyriska (Swedish Cup final in 2003) and how common it is for a team to suddenly embark on a winning run when a new coach is appointed. For once, my foresight proved to actually manifest to reality (the opposite tends to always happen). The generally cagey, feisty and messy nature of the first half added infinite importance to the early goal. Subconsciously, although we continued to attack, playing a stylish and attractive game, I felt this goal could be enough to win the match.
Syrianska were stunned by this early uppercut, and Assyriska dominated the opening periods. Like I said, it was a cagey start, but not without chances. Llumnica found himself through one-on-one, but with all the time in the world to round the keeper or conjure up a simple lob, he timidly sidefooted the ball straight into the arms of Syrianska’s relieved goalkeeper. A glorious chance wasted, but the only time Llumnica put a foot wrong in the derby.
In their only chance of the half, Syrianska’s leading scorer Michael Mensah went close, nodding a free header wide after a delightful cross from the left. Not much else occurred of note, other than some tasty challenges by a fired up Assyriska team – such as Llumnica hacking down an Syrianska player just over the halfway line, luckily escaping with only a gult kort (yellow card). Trying to outdo Assyriska’s Albanian striker, Philip Bergman (or was it Lorentzson?) left Robert Massi lying in a painful heap after a ball-and-all tackle for which the referee erroneously awarded a free kick. Massi spent the rest of the first half limping and looking helpless, summoning all of his energy and creative wit to pulling painful facial expressions for the camera in an unsuccessful attempt at detracting from the reality that Assyriska were simply playing at another level.
Mysteriously, the entire second half streamed perfectly on my computer, much to the detriment of my heart given the relentless drama that would follow. The pendulum of momentum swayed furiously. A few minutes into the second half, and merely seconds after Goran Marklund sent a shot in the general direction of Syrianska goalkeeper Frealdsson, Bergman put his body on the line to block a goal-bound effort deep in the Assyriska box at the other end. Meanwhile Eddie Moussa, the only Assyrian in the Assyriska starting XI, breathlessly charged up and down the right wing like a bull chasing the blood of his arch nemesis – the matador – continuing in this fashion right up until he was substituted. Eddie was a vivid example of the passion and fight Assyriska supporters had been calling for from the players all week. Moments later I and begin questioning the sanity of the referee and his assistants as Llumnica is taken out by a messy sliding tackle in the box. The Syrianska defender anticipated a corner, Assyriska demanded a penalty, but the referee awarded a goal kick to everybody’s bemusement. Madness.
A few more moments later, and Goran Marklund is put clean through on goal by a long ball from Bergman, and after shrugging off a petty Syrianska marker, smashes a left foot volley goalwards, only for it to be repelled by a solid Frealdsson. Around the 57th minute Eddie Moussa cements himself into Assyriska folklore by tripping/kicking an unfortunately positioned Syrianska player miles off the ball. Although the referee was oblivious to this, Eddie in all his excitement failed to consider the presence of the linesman (about 3 metres away from the incident) and duly received a yellow ticket for his moment of genius.
By about the 58th minute, I began to notice the match heading down the path of the first half – scrappy, tense and devoid of any real tempo. Proving me inevitably wrong was General Marklund in the 62nd minute, wasting a glorious chance to put the game away. Nafver, having a fine game on the left wing, delivered a pinpoint cross to the far post for a patiently waiting Marklund, only for captain fantastic, with the goal at his mercy, to head wide past the far post. At this point I was beginning to worry. Wasted chances are always an ominous signal of things to come, especially when you’re Assyriska. Tiago Fereira replaced Marklund in the 68th minute, and it took him less than 60 seconds to display his class, delightfully lobbing the ball to an onrushing Nafver, who expressed his gratitude by volleying wide (clearly intending not to out-do Tiago’s fine pass). My heart rate suddenly doubled.
Syrianska’s best chance hitherto went to Mensah, whose header was closer to the local kebab shop outside the stadium than the goal. Syrianska were being blanketed by Assyriska’s high intensity pressing and aggressive tackling, with only Robert Massi possessing the quality to find some room and threaten our defense, which he occasionally did to his credit.
The game’s dynamics changed completely after about the 70th minute mark however. We officially stopped offering any sort of attacking play, with Syrianska initiating an all-out siege on our goal. With Zatara and Kunic withdrawn, Syrianska’s supporters began looking forlorn (no really they were, I didn’t just add that for rhyming purposes). They seemed amazed that their incessant “Suryoyo” chant wasn’t having the desired effect on the players (nonetheless, they kept at it to their credit and despite its obvious ineffectuality). For the last 20 minutes plus injury time Syrianska would threaten our goal at unhealthy levels (unhealthy if you are an Assyriska fan).
Christoforidis, on for the useless Zatara in the 62nd minute, threatened to single-handedly change the game and thus alter the universe beyond restoration. I refer to the 73rd minute and minutes that followed, in particular, where he was twice put clean through on goal, only for the linesman to rule that he was offside on both occasions (the second was clearly onside). It was probably three times actually, but I don’t recall as I was recovering from a heart attack and the witnessing of my life flashing before my eyes. By the 76th minute I was adamant that mountainous Assyriska goalkeeper Oscar Berglund would not be breached.
Syrianska continued to pile on the pressure, forcing Assyriska to summon super-human levels of courage and determination to keep the ball from breaching the wall and turning a momentous victory into a monumental disaster. Lions against crows – such bravery in the face of a dark enemy hasn’t been seen on the pitch since…..never!
The infinitely dangerous Christoforidis was denied by the Great Wall of Nineveh, Oscar Berglund, in the 81st minute and this was followed by Mensah somehow shooting wide from 20 yards. Something happened after that but I simply cannot remember as I was recovering from heart attack #2. Oscar Berglund saved us again in the 87th minute, this time after a powerful drive from substitute Kanga. From the subsequent corner and ensuing goalmouth scramble, I experience heart attack #3. By this point, the Zelge supporters were going ballistic, with Tiago acting as the chief cheerleader, prematurely gesturing to the Assyriska faithful to get the party started despite the small matter of the match not being over quite yet.
The 4th official indicated a minimum of 3 minutes of time to be added on, but some feigning of injuries (by us) and cruel luck (for us) meant that the game would only be over after an additional 3 minutes on top. In the midst of this 6 minutes of additional time (I cannot recall the exact point) something happened – the heart surgeons of Sodertalje suddenly began gearing up and Sodertalje’s suicide hotline operators stood by for an influx of calls (ok, maybe that was an exaggeration) – as Syrianska’s Denis Velic struck the Assyriska crossbar with a header from a corner or cross or something along those lines. The ball looped over the helpless Berglund (the rarest of sights) almost in slow motion, bounced off the cross bar and into the welcoming feet of an Assyriska defender who was able to clear the ball to safety. It was clear – our goal was leading a charmed life, and no Syrianska player was destined to score today. Assyriska held on for a remarkable and heroic derby victory (after losing the last three). Although Syrianska played well for the final 20 minutes and probably deserved something out of this game, the callous nature of history means that only the result will be remembered in the annals of time.
Cue the “Tihe Assyriska” chant to be repeated ad nauseum.
The jovial feeling of once again being the “big brother” in Sodertalje was cruelly dashed with the revelation that that some wretched individuals had set fire to Assyriska Association’s Headquarters (club house, offices, function room) causing serious damage to the property. Dosens of firefighters worked tirelessly in the early hours of the morning to contain the blaze, thankfully managing to prevent the entire complex from ruin.
Of course, I am not going to suggest that Syrianska supporters are responsible for this pathetic crime – that is for the police investigation to decide. However, I will reiterate that us educated and enlightened Assyriska supporters were hardly surprised something even as malicious as this has happened directly after defeating Syrianska in the derby (the fire started merely hours after the official post-derby celebrations involving the supporters and players no less) for their supporters are generally a violent and unruly set of uneducated clowns notorious for taking defeat like a child being deprived of his favourite toy (oops, did I just inadvertently suggest that Syrianska supporters are responsible for this pathetic crime?). Justice will be done, and the true face of Syrianska will be revealed to the world.
Long live Assyrians & AssyriskaFF – for we stand for peace and truth, while our evil adversaries aim for nothing other than desolation and ignorance.
By Luka the Assyriska Blogger.