After more than a decade of being an A- League snob, I decided to make the trek to the spiritual home of Australian football, Western Sydney, to watch Sydney United 58 take on Sydney FC in the FFA Cup round of 16.
Walking through the entrance of Edensor Park with my brother George and our friend Michael we were greeted by Smurfs hanging by a noose off a light pole (Sydney FC’s nickname is the Smurfs).
As I entered the stadium the Sydney United “ultras” behind the goals at the scoreboard end chanted:
“Sydney Croatia! Sydney Croatia!”
Sydney FC’s The Cove at the opposite end on the hill chanted back:
“Sydney Australia! Sydney Australia!”
High quality football banter is one of the lifeblood’s of football. The to and fro form the reunited tribes of “Old Football” and “New Football” (time to change that offensive moniker hey?) throughout the game showed the magic of the FFA Cup.
For the last 10 years new football has shunned old football. Half of football’s competitive advantage has been locked away like a deformed family member in the manner of Shireen the daughter and only child of Stannis and Selyse Baratheon from TV show Game of Thrones
Sydney United 58 fans do not hide their cultural allegiance, their passion and love of the game and their heritage are old football’s strength and weakness.
The strength such as quality coaching and football knowledge provided the long list of former Socceroos and the weakness the ethnic ties and small supporter base is probably the reason why Sydney United 58 may struggle to reach the top tier of Australian football once again.
In some form I’d love to see clubs like Sydney United 58 make it to the A-League.
Football Federation CEO David Gallop said in his State of the Game address that the A-League doesn’t have enough teams.
A spring September night with Old Football and New Football together celebrating the FFA Cup experience is a snap shot of what Australian football future could be.
The existing National Premier League finals where the winning team from each state federation play off in a series of play-off finals games to determine the best NPL team in the country could be a future pathway for an existing NPL team to make it to the A-League via promotion and relegation.
Perhaps it may be sooner rather than later but being at Edensor Park and watching the game I could see it happening.
The gulf in talent is not huge, Sydney United 58 were not swamped by Sydney FC. Although they lost 3-1 at crucial moments during the game they hit the bar with a header and had a goal ruled offside. With a bit of luck the outcome of the game could have been much different for the home side.
I recently interviewed National Soccer League legend Peter Katholos. When I asked the ex-Sydney Olympic, Marconi and Apia Leichardt midfielder his thoughts on the FFA Cup, the Kat told me that it was about time the tribes were reunited.
“It should have been done ages ago.” Katholos said.
“You can’t forget about your roots. Your roots are your ethnic clubs that kept football in this country going.
“Who kept the Soccer going? Your Sydney Olympics, Marconis, the Apias, South Melbournes and Heidelbergs.
“You can’t forget about these clubs. You need to embrace them and not forget your history and I think now the Football Federation of Australia is embracing their history.
“It’s great to see! Because no football code, Aussie Rules, Rugby Union, forgets about their history. Because if you have no history you have no substance, you’ve have nothing.
“There are people that have worked tirelessly for years to keep the game going. We the players that played in the 80s, we were never recognised properly.
“You know what I mean? But now there’s a little bit of recognition coming and that’s the way it should be. We offered so much! We inspired the current generations!”
Being at the game brought back the memories of the NSL when I used to support Sydney Olympic.
Now that the A-League has gone mainstream Con, Spiro and Koula share the stands with Shayne, Wayne and Cheryl.
That is the way it should be. The multicultural aspect of Australian football supporters is the code’s competitive advantage.
Driving back home after the game had concluded we listened to ABC radio station 702 in the car and there was a review of the game.
The brief match report went through the atmosphere that the 8,000 Sydney United and Sydney FC fans brought to the game.
It went through the two cracking goals by Sydney FC midfielder Christopher Naumoff. It told the listeners how Sydney United equalised and how the team who have a much smaller wage bill than their opponents gave as good as they got.
More than 10 years ago a radio station like ABC 702 would never have reported on an Australian football cup competition. Hearing the match report is an indication of just how big the game has grown.
Being at Edensor may have been a blast from the past but it could also be a glimpse into Australia’s football future.