Hello Sydney, welcome to big time club football
The National Soccer League began in 1977. It beat basketball to the concept of a national competition by a year and was five years ahead of rugby league and Australian Rules in expanding out of state boundaries.
The roller-coaster history of the NSL has been documented on this site quite often. However, it would have taken the most optimistic of player, offical or administrator who plied their trade with any one of the ten or more Sydney clubs that appeared in the NSL to have imagined a night like October 13th, 2012.
Almost 36,000 people flocked to Allianz Stadium to see Sydney FC take on the Newcastle Jets in Round 2 of the A-League. Most were drawn by the allure of one Alessandro Del Piero. Many were probably attending their first A-League match.
I went to the game with two friends who provided a microcosm of the make-up of the crowd on the night. Tim, a former State League team mate of mine who hadn’t till now been truly captivated by what the league had to offer.
And Wendy, a lady whose main connection to the game was listening patiently to my depressive episodes or helping me with whatever injury had befallen me during my career and generally being that rock anyone needs when football deals them a cruel blow (or who shares in the joy the game delivers). She was curious about the fuss created by ADP.
Suffice to say, after tonight, both of them want to know when the next game’s on.
If football was a script, this veered close to cliche. A fantastic game was enhanced by a brilliant atmosphere. Five goals, lots of attacking moments and talking points, and both Del Piero and Newcastle’s big signing Emile Heskey opened their A-League accounts.
Quite often, the anticipation of a big event is not matched by the game itself but perhaps the only thing missing tonight was a last minute Sydney equaliser to send the Cove into orbit.
That would have been unfair on the Jets who were the better team for most of the match and defended like their lives depended on it in the last ten minutes.
Tim made the observation that the Jets speedy left back Craig Goodwin could be an early contender as a resolution to the Socceroos left-sided woes. He scored the third, taking advantage of an unfortunately timed hamstring tear to FC defender Adam Griffiths, and could have had two more.
Wendy decided to cheer the Jets due to their superior sharpness and her view that Sydney had lead in their boots. She came around to the FC cause when ADP curled his exquisite free kick into the net in the 27th minute and was as captivated by Del Piero’s outrageous skills as the rest of the crowd. His class deserves its own post code.
The stadium was rocking in the last fifteen minutes when Blake Powell scored to bring the game back to 3-2. Brett Emerton pushed into midfield in the second half and constantly got in behind the Jets defence. The final pass went agonisingly astray or was dealt with by an increasingly stretched Newcastle back four. Ben Kennedy saved brilliantly from Ali Abbas, shots were cleared off the line, crosses cleared.
The full time whistle brought the curtain down on a magnificent spectacle. The blue section of the 36,000 crowd, the biggest to attend a regular season game in Sydney, may not have got the result they came to see but they certainly got full value for their ticket. Surely many of them will be back for more.
I know of at least two new fans who will be.