Missing the A-League? Try watching a local club

Mike Tuckerman Columnist

By , Mike Tuckerman is a Roar Expert

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    Football in Australia doesn’t begin and end with the A-League – a point exemplified by Brisbane’s high-flying NPL Queensland club Olympic FC.

    I spent a few hours down at Olympic’s atmospheric Goodwin Park home yesterday, chatting with media manager Braden Asujamaa and checking out what makes the club tick.

    I’ve been down to Olympic a few times before – most notably for the NPL Queensland grand final in 2013 – but I wanted to see how the club was getting on now that the latest incarnation of the Queensland state league has a few years under its belt.

    For those who don’t know, Olympic has plenty of history. Founded by the local Greek community in 1967, the club has played in both the Brisbane Premier League and the old Queensland State League, before taking up the offer to join the new NPL Queensland in 2013.

    They’re one of three traditional inner-city Brisbane clubs now plying their trade in the National Premier Leagues – the others being Brisbane City and Brisbane Strikers – in a competition featuring a couple of other familiar names in the form of Northern Fury and Brisbane Roar’s youth team.

    And with several more upwardly mobile clubs like Gold Coast City, Western Pride and FFA Cup giant-killers Redlands United kicking about, the standard of football is well worth keeping an eye on.

    It’s a standard Asujamaa would like to see more fans come along to watch, suggesting it offers fans the chance to watch the “future stars” of Australian football in action.

    “It’s not like it’s a lower tier,” he says. “It’s really exciting.”

    “The fans are passionate, the players are passionate for the club. Obviously this is where they get their first chance at the big shot, so they all put in their best effort.”

    brisbane-roar-supporter-a-league-football-2012

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    There was plenty of effort on display as Olympic drew 1-1 with Northern Fury in an entertaining encounter, with Fury goalkeeper Ryan Murphy turning in a Herculean second-half performance to keep the frustrated hosts at bay.

    Olympic skipper Shane Stefanutto looked every inch the former Australian international, organising his defence, urging his team forward and ultimately talking himself into the book after skilful midfielder Kazuya Ito was denied a decent penalty shout at the death.

    Ito’s influence is keenly felt – the Osaka-born midfielder has been with the club since 2013 – and just last week Olympic announced a formal player development and coaching partnership with Japanese first division outfit Ventforet Kofu.

    With promotion and relegation to the A-League seemingly years away, it’s the sort of pathway that could potentially offer another route into the professional game.

    There’s no doubt another much-needed pathway has been opened up to clubs like Olympic – the FFA Cup.

    I was there the night Olympic stunned Melbourne Knights 3-1 in the inaugural FFA Cup, and it’s safe to say every available vantage point was jam-packed.

    It was an experience more akin to watching English lower league football, with fans standing right on top of the action.

    Yet the most obvious difference between our state leagues and England’s lower leagues is the fact there are usually far fewer spectators in the stands here at home.

    That’s not to say supporters at this level are non-existent – Asujamaa said the derby against Brisbane City drew a huge crowd earlier this season – and state league clubs around the country have been drawing decent attendances for years.

    But they could always do with a few more fans, and the A-League watchers among us could probably ditch the attitude that the football season in Australia is only six months long.

    So if you don’t often head out to watch winter football, why not follow a local club on social media and check out an upcoming fixture?

    I saw my old mate Taka Uematsu in the carpark on the way out – his little boy plays for Olympic – and I’m looking forward to watching a game with both of them soon.

    After all, as the affable Asujamaa pointed out to me, “you don’t know what you’re missing until you try it”.

    Mike Tuckerman
    Mike Tuckerman

    Mike Tuckerman is a Sydney-born journalist and lifelong football fan. After lengthy stints watching the beautiful game in Germany and Japan, he settled in Brisbane, and has been a leading Roar football columnist from December 2008.