It's one of the worst feelings that you can experience in football: A loss on the final day of the season seeing silverware that you once thought yours slip through your fingers. Perhaps the only thing worse is if you'd gone to the Supreme Court to fight for your right to experience it ... a year after the fact. Just ask Australian side Avondale FC.
On Tuesday evening, Port Melbourne Sharks defeated Avondale 2-1 in the National Premier League Men's Victoria, a state-based competition that helps to make up the second-highest tier of football in Australia. As a result, Oakleigh Cannons were crowned premiers.
But here's where things get complicated. A quick look at the NPLMVIC table for this season shows South Melbourne, not the Cannons, on top of the standings. Further, there are still three games to go. So how can Oakleigh have won the premiership?
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It's because the Cannons weren't being crowned premiers of the 2022 season as a result of Port's win on Tuesday but, instead, the 2021 campaign. And in a further twist, it's an honour they never really wanted and haven't been celebrating in the aftermath.
Confused? Fair enough.
It all goes back to last season, when Avondale found themselves seven points clear at the top of the table after 18 games and, by and large, looking unassailable. They had lost just a single game all year and their goal difference was nine clear of next-best team Oakleigh. Disaster would have to strike to deny them the premiership.
But then disaster did strike.
As the delta wave of the COVID-19 pandemic swept across Australia, Football Victoria was forced to suspend and, eventually, cancel the 2021 NPL season. No honours were to be awarded and promotion and relegation were suspended.
Given that more than half the season had been played to that point, and that they'd appeared well on track to secure major Victorian silverware for the first time in their existence, this didn't sit with Avondale, and the club took the federation to Victoria's Supreme Court in an attempt to be crowned premiers.
While they weren't successful on that front, a compromise was reached after a period of mediation: A "bespoke, one-off solution" wherein the results of games from the 2022 season, in the event that the corresponding fixtures hadn't been played the year prior, also counted toward the 2021 campaign.
But unfortunately for Avondale, a horror run with injuries and illness this season, combined with a strong run of form from the Cannons, meant their once inviolable hold on the 2021 crown had evaporated heading into Tuesday evening.
Two points back of Oakleigh with just one game of their 2021 slate remaining, Avondale needed to take all three points against Port to secure the trophy. But thanks to goals from Luca Tevere and Jackson Courtney-Perkins, they didn't.
It's a huge night in @nplvictoria. I'm sorry, but it is.— Joey Lynch (@joeylynchy) July 26, 2022
2-0 victors over @AvondaleFC84, @PMSCSharks are now just two points back of third-placed @oakcannonsfc with three games to go. The Avengers are now playing for their finals lives.
Oh, and Oakleigh are 2021 Premiers. pic.twitter.com/dbfrWyZ04A
The result was met with glee by supporters of rival clubs, Avondale effectively having paid to mount an unpopular Supreme Court legal action for the right to lose the 2021 premiership. The Cannons, meanwhile, have refused to acknowledge their new trophy across the club's social media accounts.
Making matters worse for Avondale, Tuesday's loss also leaves them outside the playoff places with less than a month of the 2022 season remaining. And should South defeat Dandenong City in a few weeks, they could even fall to third on the 2021 table.
Indeed, in the end, it appears that Avondale's players and coaches have discovered there is an entity even more powerful than Victoria's Supreme Court: Sod's law.