By Greg Blake
With almost faultless consistency his signature, as an integral cog in the Warrior fighting machine, Steven Pace has gifted Warrior fans five years of unprecedented success. As a champion of the game in his own right, his contribution to Heidelberg United has been a joyful one in every conceivable way. The entire Warrior Nation will celebrate with him this Saturday night at Dandenong Thunder, as the ‘Barometer’ chalks up his 150th game in the yellow and black.
You don’t just watch Steven Pace play. Rather, one luxuriates in his mastery. Peerless during his era at Catalina Street, Pace, at his best, is simply sublime. He is a predatory defender, who prowls like a cat stalking its prey. Ever evaluating and anticipating. All fast-twitch reflexes and preparedness to pounce. All balance, cunning and feline guile.
At the same time, his off the field his demeanour is beyond reproach, without fail carrying himself with a quiet dignity, unhurried and graceful, understated and polite. He has time for everyone. ”I just try and treat everyone with respect and do the best I can as a footballer for the club”, says Pace, with his customary humility.
Opposition players and fans may not share our affection for the 36 year-old (and who gives a stuff anyway!), but I daresay Pace is now unanimously considered a beloved son and bona fide legend of Heidelberg Alexander. He is loved by all, and it is a love affair that is reciprocated by the man himself.
Pace is unequivocal is declaring his five years at Warrior headquarters the best and most memorable years of his playing career. “Yes without a doubt (the best years of my playing life)”, he declares. “The Heidelberg football club has been great to me and the success we have had over the past two years has made for an incredible experience. It’s the people around the club who make it so special”.
It is impossible to reference Pace without mention of the magnificent ‘Twin Towers’, the mantle owned by he and his imperious partner in crime, skipper Luke Byles. So perfectly matched as the club’s gold class central defensive pairing, it is difficult to imagine any Heidelberg team without Pace and Byles, the combo already part of club folklore and likely remembered with their names intertwined as club legends forever.
“It’s been a great experience playing along side Luke for the last five years”, says Pace. “And I believe our record speaks for itself. It would be pretty special to be remembered alongside some of the greats of the club. But what I think is more important is the history the team has managed to create over the last couple of years”.
“Being part of a team that has achieved all that was put before it, speaks volumes. Not only for the players, coaching, fitness and medical staff, but for the committee and every single volunteer at the club also”.
And according to Pace, the wild ride and push for more success isn’t done and dusted, despite the Warrior’s mediocre 2-2-3 record in the eight games coming into Saturday night’s road trip to Dandenong. So is the dream run over? “Not at all – it’s just been more difficult this year as we have been the benchmark in the competition over the last two years and are the hunted every week”, Pace insists. “In saying that, we are still always working hard to improve our game each week”.
Steven Pace is not unique, but rare enough. Defenders are rarely considered the game’s artisans, but Pace is one exception. He reads plays as if he memorised the blueprints the night before. His timing is uncannily accurate and he so rarely looks off balance or wrong-footed.
In the maelstrom of twisting, contorting, heaving arms, legs and torsos he stands, balanced, evaluated and calm. The game seems to slow and swirl around him, and Pace himself moves calmly and almost rhythmically as others flail wildly. He plays in this languidly elegant zone of his own, always appearing relaxed, unhurried, sleek and stylish.
Or my personal favorite, watching Pace back-peddle and match steps with an often younger, fitter and faster opponent who, having finally decided that the veteran is wreckable, hits the gas to sprint clear, only for a perfectly-timed foot in from Pace sweeping the ball clear and away. An emphatic and an abject lesson in ‘don’t get ahead of yourself, son’, delivered by our very own 150 game champion, Steven Pace.
Footnote – Pace was a particularly popular special comments guy on HUFC TV, whilst out injured earlier this year and I asked him if he might join us as part of the HUFC TV team, when he eventually hang up the boots? “Only if you go on for another year, Blakey”, he responded. Well, right back at you, Steven. I’ll only keep calling while you keep playing. And a reminder that the HUFC TV call team will be going live on Saturday night as the ‘Barometer’ celebrates 150 magnificent games.