When the NSL died a slow and painful death and the early murmurings of a new competition that would eventually become the A-League began to surface, I was probably one of the most passionate in support of the new and futuristic incarnation of Australian football.
I’ve written extensively in the past about how I was never welcomed into the NSL landscape; frustrated and infuriated as I was in the seemingly ethnically defined top tier of the game, I’d always dreamt of something better, something more inclusive and something with the potential to grow off the back of an audience that included the broader Australian public and not just a small gathering of people from the migrant groups that had injected passion into the Australian game after World War II.
When the modern A-League was born, I automatically became a Sydney FC fan. It seemed almost common sense for someone who had lived nowhere else in his 33 years on the planet.
Logic suggested the Sky Blues were to become a powerful club in the short term, with a mob down south in the form of the Melbourne Victory almost certain to be their biggest threat when it came to becoming the most influential club in the land.
History tells us that Sydney FC has indeed become the most successful club of the new and modern era.
Championship years of 2006, 2010, 2017, 2019 and 2020 sit the club clear of any other and only Melbourne Victory hold a candle to their successes.
With the biggest city in Australia providing such an enormous potential fan and financial market, the establishment of a second team was a fait accompli and the Western Sydney Wanderers were born via A-League investment and support in 2012.
From day one, many referred to them as the McWanderers, knowing full well that the bandwagon support they had drawn in the early years would most likely have been directed Sydney FC’s way had the masses assembling actually had any serious interest in football.
Along with many others, I’d always felt that as soon as things turned sour, the RBB and a vast majority of the folk streaming to games when Asian Champions League glory was nigh would desert the club as soon as tough and inevitable times hit.
History has proven such a view to be correct and Western Sydney currently pull near a quarter of the people through the gates as they once did.
Mind you, they are not alone, yet as a team with a solid tenure in a modern and state-of-the-art venue in the heart of the biggest city in Australia, they should be doing far better. Albeit, the football they are producing is consistently poor.
My passion for Sydney FC died around 2017, after a mountain of online abuse from Sky Blue fans was sent my way.
I’d become a travelling interstate supporter by that time and when the fanbase began seeing my articles appearing on various publications daring to call a spade a spade and not toe the party line, I became public enemy No.1.
As a travelling supporter, a trip to Adelaide become the last straw when one of the most influential members of Sydney’s active support group, The Cove, stood face to face with me during the first half of what eventually ended in a nil-all draw and instructed me to leave the active support area via the phrase, “F–k off, journo”.
Many of you might be considerably tougher than me and subsequently thought little of the exchange, yet I was deeply hurt, and gradually over the months that followed and after copping a few more barbs from additional Sydney FC fans determined to insult and vilify under the cloak of anonymity that is social media, I threw my numerous Sydney FC kits into the brazier around which my wife, children and I sit and consume toasted marshmallows each afternoon during the depths of winter.
Thus, the idea that the seemingly ever-present Sydney FC will not feature in the 2021-22 A-League finals pleases me greatly; equally as much as seeing the dysfunctional McWanderers off on yet another premature end-of-season trip.
I dislike both clubs for different reasons and will thoroughly enjoy watching the brilliant Mariners, gutsy Reds and resilient Phoenix take on the three Victorian teams that appear to have a leg up when it comes to claiming the 2021-22 championship without having to endure the inherent media bias that exists when it comes to the plight of Sydney FC.
Across the country, I’m sure there will be many others relishing the absence of the Sky Blues during this year’s finals.
Let’s hope it all comes to a fitting climax, that the eventual champions are crowned without reference to the five-time champs and that perhaps a new and sustained period of success might be beginning in a few centres that the A-League as a whole should well be pleased with.
For someone with an eye to the broader good of the game and the personal grudges I possess, this finals series is a breath of fresh air.