By Ian “Magic” Hughes
The highly-anticipated return of Cool and Smooth Empire to the Premier Division, on Saturday, turned out to be bitter-sweet for the 13-times champions and one-time kings.
As usual, supporters were present in their numbers. Pre-game, they were loud, restless and extremely animated in pronouncing that Empire is back in the top flight, where they truly belong.
Coach Steveroy “Demon” Anthony had boldly predicted that his team would finish in the top three this season and then go on to claim a fourteenth title in the next three years.
But the famed club lost their season opener 2-0 to Fitzroy’s Rewinding Pigotts Bullets, which, like Empire, was promoted from First Division last season.
By Saturday evening, the club and fans were reminded that it is no cakewalk at the top, and that there is talk and then there is action.
The Bullets men cared nothing about Empire’s past exploits or the club’s enormous fan base and came out swinging.
But Coach Anthony said the early disappointment for fans and club alike aside, the top-three mission was not derailed.
“This is a long tournament,” Anthony said. “Yes, we would have liked to have won our opening game – and we really should have done so –but we squandered a number of chances.”
Anthony, a former utility national team player, said Empire has already moved past the defeat and is looking ahead to this week’s encounter against the defending champions, Asot Arcade’s Parham.
“We have to concentrate on Parham and the guys understand that,” Anthony said. “There are a number of things we will have to work on.
Of last Saturday’s match he said, “The game (against Bullets) should have been over in the first 20 minutes because we created the chances but failed to shoot.”
The atmosphere is set for this Sunday’s match, as Parham, too, came away from the weekend as losers. They were routed by Sap 5-1, with Peter “Big Pete” Byers scoring a hat-trick for the victors.
As early as it is in the season, Sunday’s feature game may well be a must-win for Empire and Parham.