It’s something hard to ignore, the masses of NSL fans constantly belittling the new generation of football fans coming out of the woodwork and settling in to our game.
Everyone hates a ‘plastic’.
Those contemptible little gremlins who, in recent years have multiplied at the veritable feast football has offered.
The ones who come along because we’re the ‘cool new thing’.
The ones who know nothing of the sport and yet come along with their Google-sponsored knowledge and try to fit in.
How dare these people come to our game without extensive knowledge of Australian football history and the privilege of a city location in which to gain such knowledge!
Is every fan who can’t recall the 1994 NSL runner up one of these gremlins?
Here is the journey of a passionate football fan, who came to love the game without attending a single NSL match in his life.
I grew up in and around Dubbo, New South Wales, a rural area whose claim to fame is several rugby league stars, an international abattoir and the originator of the word ‘bogan’.
My first exposure to football was in the tiny village I lived in between Dubbo and Orange.
Every year this dot on the map with a population of 300 would put on a World Cup-style ‘Soccer Carnival’ which drew massive amounts of people from, Dubbo, Wellington, Molong, Orange and even as far away as Blayney.
I always had a kick around with the team Cumnock Public School entered, even though I had no idea about the rules, how important the game was in Europe, or even which way to kick the ball.
All I knew is that I wanted to do my village colours of red, white and blue proud against the sea of more professionally organised teams proudly representing far-off places.
This tiny ‘World Cup’ environment would set in motion reasons as to why I chose football over other sports, most notably rugby union, which I played at the behest of my parents, the game they supported and would probably be much happier if I stuck with.
But football already had its hooks in me, even if I didn’t realise it yet.
The next stage in my football development came with my obsession for video games, most notably FIFA World Cup ’98.
When it came to the World Cup in real life I had no idea when the matches were on, no idea who was in what group or who they faced after the group stage, all I remember from the actual games was arguing with my equally clueless cousins about who would win the final (I backed France, in your face Travis!).
But in video game land, I was a World Cup master tactician several times over, having won more tournaments with my chosen team of Italy than I care to remember.
My team choice in this game would see another aspect of my footballing life decided.
My favourite player to carve teams up with was a tiny rocket of a man, with impeccable dribbling and amazing finishing skills, a proto-Messi, you might have seen him in my display picture, the clever little so-and-so himself: Gianfanco Zola.
My admiration for this player would cement a love affair for the club he played for: Chelsea Football Club.
Upon receiving FIFA ’98 (different from the World Cup edition) I found Zola and immediately set about conquering the world with my new favourite club.
Flash forward a few years and a few football titles for various consoles, I found myself as a teenager with more freedom and a more relaxed bedtime, one late night channel surfing expedition I stumbled across the EPL in TV broadcast format.
Here were all the players I’d come to know right there on my TV, I also stumbled across The World Game, here were people talking about the game and the matches I was seeing.
I didn’t catch The World Game as often as I’d like to but Foxtel’s coverage of the EPL had me tuning in every weekend and sometimes late night Mondays.
Due to zealous protectionism from other codes I had no way of knowing who and what the NSL was about, the times I caught The World Game, I didn’t pay much attention to the NSL parts, as far as I was concerned the EPL was much safer ground I felt at home with it.
I saw the matches, I saw the analysis, something in which I only had a brief taste of with the NSL coverage.
I strangely saw the NSL as something far off in the cities as opposed to the utterly magnificent EPL which I could see in my living room or in my bedroom as I played FIFA.
Around this time the NSL started to go into decline and the new A-League was conceived, this would be a new league of unprecedented professionalism, unheard of standards of play and the ability to recruit better players.
And when I heard that Foxtel had the broadcasting rights I immediately chose Sydney FC as my team and I’ve been heavily invested in the A-League ever since.
I even came around to supporting the national team, I attended my first A-League and Socceroos game in 2005 when I was 18.
Does this sound like the story of some ‘plastic’ that floated in on the last breeze?
Time and time again I’ve faced ire from my fellow football supporters all because I don’t know who scored a brace in Marconi’s 3-1 win over the Football Kingz in 1999.
My path is a genuine one, the NSL didn’t lend itself to newcomers or people in rural areas so I missed out, I think a few people need to think before they judge A-League fans harshly.