THE countdown was on.
In less than one hour the Newcastle Jets would take on the Central Coast Mariners. It was a home ground for neither side, yet the crowd arrived at Maitland No.1 Sportsground in droves.
After renovation it’s a new-look Sportsground these days, but still, it had an unfamiliar look with soccer goals where the league posts have stood for generations.
With the city fields sporting brown, brittle grass – a reminder of the enduring drought – the lush No.1 Sportsground was the greenest patch of land in Maitland.
And wouldn’t you know it … just three minutes away from kick off the first rains drops fell.
I looked at the weather online to see what we were in for – they predicted a thunderstorm from 3.30pm (kick off) to 7pm (when the game was all over).
The fans weren’t fazed – they zipped up their hoodies and asked for someone to pass the peanuts.
The crowd wasn’t as big as the Knights v Eels NRL game in February, but they were just as dedicated to their code.
They just wanted to see some football – so much so that even the Jets fans erupted when the Mariners scored the first goal 15 minutes in.
The Central Coast team came out faster and dominated early.
A player smashed the ball into the crowd, a kid in a poncho scrambled to catch it.
The rain had eased a little by this point, but it wouldn’t have mattered otherwise.
There were happy faces – and it was raining – who could complain when 100 per cent of the state was in drought?
Natural disasters and sport have something in common – they bring people together.
While most eyes were on the field, it was clear many were glancing around to see if they could catch a glimpse of the man of the moment, Olympic champion and Mariners hopeful Usain Bolt on the sideline.
A Jets goal five minutes out from half time brought all eyes back on the game.
The roar was louder than any threatening thunderstorm had created.
Children counted down the final seconds of the first half, and seconds after the buzzer they rushed towards the man with such speed it was as if they were trying to race the man himself. Photo, autograph … whatever they could get. This is Usain Bolt, after all.
In the end it was a two-all draw.
A game when no-one came out on top?
Wrong. Sports fans of Maitland were the clear winner.