Del Piero. Hesky. Ballack? Western Sydney Wanderers. Ange at the Victory. You could go on with the talking points but the point is, people are talking.
Last season’s Harry Kewell-inspired pre-season frenzy built the anticipation for the start of Season 7 and it looked like Season 8 would, in comparison, have what smart alecky marketeers in pin stripe suit coats and designer T-shirts would call a “soft launch.”
Yet here we are, on the eve of the NRL and AFL Preliminary finals, and those two August codes are sharing the media spotlight with the A-League.
Who’d have thought?
The signing of Alessandro Del Piero by Sydney FC kicked off the attention and his airport arrival last Sunday was without doubt one of the most memorable off-field events in the sport’s history in Australia.
At almost any other time, the signing of Emile Heskey by the Newcastle Jets would have been major news, no matter what the general opinion is of the fromer EPL and England striker. But it was a mere southerly change compared to the cyclone that is ADP mania.
It seems that the A-League is growing up. As we stare down the barrel of Season Eight, the league is now making its own history. The league has now got enough mileage in its young legs to be able to reflect on its history and ponder a bright future. A history that includes:
That’s a crowd figure many would have had trouble imagining for ANY kind of football match in Australia a decade ago. But that was the number of people that went to Docklands to see Melbourne Victory take on Sydney FC in a regular season game on December the 8th 2006. While the match ended in a disappointing scoreless draw, the much-maligned captain of the Victory that day Kevin Muscat made the salient point that none of the Aussie players competing in Europe on that weekend would have played in front of a crowd of that size.
The quintessential Bling FC boy Dwight Yorke helped Sydney FC to the inaugural A-League title in 2006. The Sydney Morning Herald then ran a story that tracked Yorke’s week-long celebration of the victory, as he went from bar to night club to club function to bar to night club to… well, you get the idea.
The Nine Goal Thriller
In a re-scheduled game on the 22nd of December, 2007, Central Coast Mariners and Sydney FC played what is possibly the most memorable regular season match in the league’s history. Sydney ended up winning 5-4 with a 95th minute winner from the penalty spot by Ufuk Talay.
The Mariners were 2-0 up when keeper Danny Vukovic was sent off. Sydney clawed it back to 2-2, the Mariners went ahead again, then Sydney scored twice to lead 4-3 and that would have satisfied most fans. But Adam Kwasnick scored an 89th minute equaliser before the final cruel twist.
Archie Sinks The Reds
In front of the biggest crowd in Australian club history, Archie Thompson scored five goals in Melbourne Victory’s first A-League triumph, as they thrashed Adelaide 6-0. Five goals? In a final? Where else has THAT happened?
The neutral venue Grand Final
Way back in 1980, the NSL Grand Final was played between Heidelberg United and Sydney City in neutral Canberra. It was the first match ever televised live by fledgling broadcaster Channel 0-28, who we now all know and love as SBS.
Twenty eight years later, the A-League went neutral when the Newcastle Jets and Central Coast Mariners drew nigh on 40,000 to the Sydney Football Stadium for Season Three’s Grand Final, and the footballing cradle of Newcastle finally won that elusive national title.
The first away Grand Final victory
In 2010, Melbourne Victory had already claimed the prize as first multiple A-League winner, with victory in the 2009 Grand Final against Adelaide.
But they were now attempting back-to-back titles, only to be denied by their other arch-nemesis, Sydney FC.
In winning the final, Sydney became the first and so far only club to win the Grand Final on their opponent’s turf. It was also the first Grand Final in which both teams scored, and the first to go to penalties.
Best match in A-League history?
What more could be said about the classic 2011 A-League Grand Final between Brisbane Roar and Central Coast Mariners? A full house at the best football ground in the country, a scintillating match, a four goal extra time, including the Roar’s two goals in the last three minutes, and Michael Theoklitos’ two penalty saves in the shootout. Football at its theatrical and dramatic best.
The Streak and back-to-back premierships
The Roar and their coach Ange Postecoglou re-defined the football style in this country. It was thrilling to watch and was rewarded with an Australian record unbeaten streak for any code of 36 games.
Although the streak was ended by Sydney FC in December 2011, the Roar would create the history denied the Victory two seasons earlier, by being the first club to successfully defend their premiership by beating Perth Glory 2-1 in the Season Seven decider, in front of the biggest crowd to ever watch a football match in Queensland.
With Season Eight a mere fortnight away, the league will continue to write its own history.
The first Sydney club derby since the NSL days looms in round 3.
Sydney FC’s first home game against Newcastle is, if the hype is correct, heading for a sellout at Allianz Stadium, which would be a first for a regular season game in the harbour city.
Sydney FC will become the first club to have paraded two former World Cup winners when Del Piero takes to the pitch in Wellington.
Brisbane will be looking to claim an unprecedented hat trick of titles in Season Eight and thus equal their AFL namesakes, who were the last team of any code to achieve three titles in a row from 2001 to 2003.
The Mariners will be hoping to avoid unwanted history as four-time runners-up, but if the unthinkable happens, at least they won’t be comparable to the NFL’s Buffalo Bills who lost four successive Superbowl finals from 1991 to 1994.
Or perhaps Ange Postecoglou will be looking to create a personal hat-trick, and become the first coach to lead two different clubs to championships in the A-League.
The hype has been great. The season now awaits.