The last decade has seen football in Australia take off to unimaginable heights. The expansion of the A-league has welcomed the likes of marquee international signings, new teams/owners and not to mention a wave of incredible fan support across the country.
The A-League has come a long way from season one, where it struggled to consistently maintain large crowds at games only averaging 11,627 and was often criticized for its lack of ethnicity in its support.
“Previously, while the game was still football, it was an ethnic game. Today, it’s a mainstream game. And we’re in Asia, where this month Western Sydney will play in the Asian Champions League final in front of a prospective audience of half-a-billion people” FFA Chairman Frank Lowy (A-League Launch Allianz Stadium)
The A-League’s media coverage has also gone from being a restricted subscription only Fox Sports channel to partnering up with free to air TV channel SBS. The growth of the A-League has resulted in viewing from over 53 countries throughout Asia alone.
The success of the A-League has also sparked success on an international level. The scintillating evidence speaks for itself. Australia has qualified and played in three consecutive World Cups, runners up of the 2011 Asian Cup against Japan in Qatar and has welcomed World Class outfits in Liverpool, Manchester United and Juventus all playing friendlies in Australia in front of sold out crowds. The round ball game is steamrolling ahead of the pack in its quest to become the number 1 code in Australia.
The opening match of the season between Melbourne Victory and Western Sydney Wanderers alone recorded a total of 800,000 fans who either witnessed the game live or on TV.
Here are some of the top moments we have seen in the A-League.
Melbourne Victory 6-0 thrashing of Adelaide in 2006-07 Grand Final
Melbourne completely stole the show in the 2006-07 Grand Final, sending Adelaide United home in utter disappointment after they were demolished by the Vic’s 6-0. 55,000 fans were in attendance at Etihad Stadium and witnessed the A-League’s largest scoring margin in a Grand Final to date. Victory hero Archie Thompson netted five goals and also currently holds the record for most goals scored by a single player in a Grand Final.
John Kosmina v Kevin Muscat on the sidelines
The clash between former Adelaide United Coach John Kosmina and former Melbourne Victory player Kevin Muscat was arguably the spark that ignited the flame in the classic rivalry between the two teams. Arguebly the most controversial moment of the A-League to date began when Kevin Muscat ran to the sidelines to retrieve the ball before knocking Kosmina over on his chair. This resulted in Kosmina grabbing Muscat by the throat in retaliation. The pair clashed again in the Grand Final later that year which resulted in Muscat having the last laugh as his side humiliated Adelaide 6-0.
Adelaide United amazing Asian Champions League Run
It was utter disappointment for Adelaide in the previous season losing in the Grand Final to Melbourne Victory in humiliating fashion. Although this was the case, Adelaide still had a chance to redeem themselves in the Asian Champions League in 2008, and that they did…. Adelaide’s dream run to the final began after defeating K-League winners Pohang Steelers home and away whilst remaining undefeated in their group. Adelaide goes down in history as the first ever A-League team to make it to the knockout stages of the ACL and the first to make the final. Adelaide fell short in the grand final losing 5-0 on aggregate to Japans Gamba Osaka. Due to Adelaide’s success in the tournament, they were eligible to play in the 2008 FIFA club world cup.
Dwight Yorke Sydney FC
Ex Manchester United legend striker Dwight Yorke signed with Sydney FC in the A-Leagues inaugural season in 2005-06. Yorke was not only a marquee man for Sydney, but for the A-League as a whole. Yorke kicked off his career with Sydney in perfect fashion scoring in his sides first ever goal against rivals Melbourne Victory. Yorke was awarded captaincy for Sydney and led them to their first ever A-League Grand Final against Central Coast Mariners winning 1-0. Yorke provided the match winning assist to Steve Corica and was awarded the Joe Marston Medal as the best player of the Grand Final.
The introduction of Melbourne Heart (now known as Melbourne City) quickly escalated into the first state derby the A-league has ever seen. The first ever Melbourne derby was won by the heart winning 2-1. To date, the Victory and Melbourne City* are stuck on 4 wins each, 4 draws each and 4 losses a piece. This makes the hype even greater for upcoming derby later this month. The rivalry and tensions are sure to be simmering due to the recent signing of David Villa to Melbourne City and the recent financial takeover from Arab owners at Manchester City. The rivalry between active supporters in the Northern Terrace and City’s Yarraside grows larger each year.
Alessandro Del Piero
The induction of Juventus’s Alessandro Del Piero to Sydney FC is quite possibly one of the most influential and groundbreaking marquee signings the A-League will ever see. In two seasons, Del Piero brought his class, popularity and skill to the game which completely changed the face of the A-League. He turned the league into a serious playing option for marquee international players seeking a new challenge. The exposure gained from his transfer has tempted and created attention for other veteran players who have played at the top level such as Damien Duff, Shinji Ono, Emile Heskey and not to mention David Villa who is still in his prime as a footballer. Del Piero recorded a tally of 24 goals in his two seasons at Sydney FC in 2012-14.
Brisbane Roars success
Brisbane Roar is the most successful team in the A-League to date. The team in orange has won all three of the Grand Finals they have played in. Brisbane also holds the record for the longest unbeaten run of any Australian Football code standing at 36 league matches. Their grand final win against Central Coast in 2011 was my greatest memory of an A-League game. To come back from 2-0 down in extra time and score two goals in three minutes to equalize was amazing. Brisbane won the 2011 Grand Final in penalties literally robbing Central Coast of a title. Brisbane Roar once again came back from behind in the 2012 grand final winning 2-1 against Perth Glory. Brisbane became the first team to win two consecutive grand finals back to back. Brisbane has proven time and time again that they are the comeback kings of Grand Finals and produce a spirit that is extraordinary in itself. Once again history repeated itself as Brisbane came back against the Wanderers to win 2-1 in this year’s 2014 Grand Final.
TRUE FACT: Brisbane have never scored before the 80th minute of a grand final and have still managed to win all three they have played in!
The story of the Western Sydney Wanderers is the most unique and heartfelt one the A-League has ever seen (in my opinion). Originally being from Western Sydney, I have seen the passion the fans have for the world game dating back to the old NSL days. Western Sydney was pleading with the A-League for the creation of a team and was originally given the name- Sydney Rovers by the FFA in 2010. It was not long after that the FFA pulled the pin on the new franchise. It was a year later that one of the greatest moments for the A-League occurred. On the 4th of April 2012 CEO of the FFA Ben Buckley and strong supporter of a Western Sydney team announced the creation of the Western Sydney Wanderers. The players were quick to gel as a team with Tony Popovic leading the squad as manager. The marquee signing of Japanese international Shinji Ono was another positive step for the Wanderers which paid off in a major way. The fans have also come together to be one of the loudest groups of fans in this country. Led by the famous Red and Black Bloc- the Wanderers fans make sure the whole crowd gets involved rather than just a terrace which makes this club so special and 12th man like. The Wanderers found themselves on an amazing run with a 10 consecutive game winning streak followed by a Premiers Plate in their first season. Despite losing both grand final’s in 2013 and in 2014 to Central Coast and Brisbane, the Wanderers are only the second team to make it to the final of the Asian Champions League. Their opponents- Saudi Arabian giants Al-Hilal will be more than a tough challenge in the two legged tie.
Can the Wanderers make history and be the first team to win the whole tournament?
A win in the ACL could see them on a run to play Real Madrid in the Club World Cup. The sky is the limit for this team.
Words by Ari Charilaou. Photos by Aleks Jason & Keith McInness.