In the future, glowing on the big screen at Campbelltown stadium, there will be a neon sign beckoning fans to choose a side. It’ll simply read: Milicic versus Stajcic.
It finished 4-3 in soggy conditions but it is unlikely that many will remember Sunday’s game.
The 2008 A-League grand final was contested by the Central Coast Mariners and the Newcastle Jets, who at that time were undoubtedly the top two sides in the country as they finished first and second that year.
Given their proximity to either side of a motorway just north of Sydney, a natural rivalry was formed. With Newcastle stealing a victory on that day – as a result of a goal scored by an attacker pick-pocketing a defender and then a whole group of controversial moments that followed including the referee not awarding what the Mariners thought was a certain penalty in the dying moments – the natural rivalry became a bitter one.
The attendance that day was nearly 37,000.
The weekend’s match was attended by just over 4000 people, in its lowest attendance in 50-plus editions.
Granted the bad weather in the region had an effect and the two clubs are the smallest two clubs in terms of the cities they come from but whichever way you look at it, it was a disappointing turnout.
Looking at the previous meetings between these sides, there has rarely a dull game as there have only been three 0-0 scorelines in the history of this fixture. Moreover, more than five goals have been scored in three of the last seven games, including an 8-2 scoreline and the thrilling 3-2 comeback by the Mariners last March. Yesterday’s 4-3 win by the Jets made it four in eight games with a plethora of goals but this wasn’t enough to draw a decent crowd.
Despite these goals, the quality was poor, and it has been poor for the bulk of the last few seasons. Excluding the miracle season of 2017-18 – where the Jets played some of the best football the A-League has seen – the Jets have not made the finals in any other year during the last decade, finishing at the foot of the table twice, while the Mariners have finished in the bottom three every year since 2015, finishing last on three out of the last four occasions.
The weekend’s game displayed that there has not been much improvement. Three goals from poorly defended set pieces followed the Dimi Petratos opener. The fifth and seventh goals of the game were scored following comedy defending by both sides.
The Jets conceded at the very end of the game after giving the ball away in a situation where there was absolutely no danger while the Mariners had ample opportunity to clear the ball before Petratos scored his second of the day after Jack Clisby had lost the ball in a position a top-level defender shouldn’t.
For more fans to attend, they don’t just want goals, they want good goals scored after good football.
It’s fair to say that these two sides have the two smallest budgets in the A-League, but that doesn’t mean they cannot compete. Ideally what they need to do is foster some local pride and build a resilient team where the sum of their parts is bigger than the individuals. The Jets proved it could be done two years ago and you only have to look to other leagues where Atalanta, Freiburg and Sheffield United are punching above their weight and finishing ahead of disjointed financial giants.
The A-League is always better when these two teams are doing well, as for all the glory that the bigger clubs like Victory and Sydney have had, there is a provincial charm that goes with seeing these smaller clubs succeed.
The teams face off one more time this season in late March in Gosford and it’s very likely that the result will go a long way to deciding the wooden spoon.
But here’s hoping that when they face each other next season, the teams are playing for a bit more than to avoid finishing bottom.