Sunday afternoon’s A-League match between Sydney FC and the Central Coast Mariners had something of an NSL feel.
The financial advantages and realities of playing at cavernous multi-purpose stadiums are well reported and difficult for club administrators to ignore.
Yet, there was something magical about an appropriate sized facility hosting a sea of colour and enthusiasm. It recaptured the community feel of football in Australia that was present during the NSL period.
As fans of many codes in New South Wales wait patiently for the ‘sure to be exciting’ state election on March 23rd and the subsequent future direction taken by the powers at be in terms of stadia, football’s latest venture into the ‘burbs’ appears to have been a success.
Much criticism and anger bled from Sydney FC fans’ social media accounts on Sunday night with claims of overzealous security denying fans access to the section designated for Sydney’s active ‘Cove’.
Complaints about the timing of the match were commonplace, with many fans frustrated at the lack of shelter available at Leichhardt on what was a hot and relentlessly sunny afternoon.
A combination of the heat and the home side’s inability to find the net, before Alex Brosque drew a penalty mid-way through the second half, saw the sound emanating from the Cove fail to reach anywhere near its usual levels.
With many fans frustrated at the finishing of the home side and the lone point gained from consecutive matches against the two cellar dwellers of the A-League, the expected knee-jerk Sydney reactions will be commonplace throughout the coming week.
I even spotted a ‘CORICAOUT’ hashtag; surely somewhat premature considering the quality of Sydney’s play this season and the fact they are still well and truly in the mix for a championship.
However, the concerns raised by the fans are real and fair. The fact they are raised at all makes them automatically so, as it is the fans that drive all sport, both viewers and attendees.
Aside from those concerns, there was a sense of ‘throwback’ in the air at Leichhardt on Sunday.
No doubt it warmed the heart of many an older fan; with vivid images of the champions of the 80s and 90s still etched in their minds.
Co-incidentally, I found time to watch the 1995 NSL grand final on Youtube during the week, with a young Mark Viduka, Andrew Marth and Steve Horvat leading the way for the Melbourne Knights against the Alex Tobin-led Adelaide City.
It was great viewing and truly dinosaur stuff. Seeing Viduka in his infancy and realising it was nigh on 25 years ago brought some sense of sentimentally. That same sentimentality was expressed to me in a slightly different way recently by a veteran Australian football journalist.
I shan’t name him out of respect but his stock standard opinion of the A-League, viewed through a lens that includes hundreds and thousands of Australian domestic football matches played over the last half century is simple.
Bluntly, he tells me the A-League is ‘shit’. Now, I know a mighty lot of people would concur, however they are generally non-footballing types or those glued to elite European leagues.
This man is a football nut and a well-respected journalist with a keen football brain.
For him, the modern game is poor, the players substandard and the indifferent results of the national team symptomatic of the situation.
In a recent discussion with him, I mentioned some of the talented players on display each week in the A-League; those players that excite me as a fan. Names like Sarpreet Singh, Roy Krishna, Joey Champness, Elvis Kamsoba and Chris Ikonomidis.
To which his response was, “Ikonomidis would be an also-ran in the NSL.”
Had I been seeking a debate my reply would have simply been, “A) you are wrong and B) you are drunk.”
Having followed Sydney Croatia’s NSL fortunes for many years, I too have seen the stars of days past yet resisted the temptation to adorn the rose-coloured glasses worn by the NSL dinosaur.
Chris Ikonomidis would be a star in any team and at any point in time of Australian domestic football. The 23 year-old is still maturing as a player, drew European interest at a young age and was one of the Socceroos’ best at the recent Asian Cup.
I couldn’t help but think that if my colleague, friend and NSL dinosaur had only seen Ikonomidis play in aptly sized venues, noisily buzzing with a sense of community and culture, that his opinion of him may have been different.
Could it be that negative commentary around the state and quality of the A-League is significantly fuelled by that hollow feeling created by the echoes of seemingly lone megaphones in coliseums across the country?
There were none of those echoes on Sunday afternoon, despite the oppressive conditions and it was old school.
Perhaps trips to Kogarah and Leichhardt is all it takes to halt the lamentations and sentimentality and awaken an appreciation of the contemporary game. Maybe Australian domestic football tried to get a little too big too quickly and in the process, lost its sense of community.