Just killing time until Gus Tsolakis comes back from holidays.
With all due respect, both teams in the New South Wales Premier League grand final can go to hell. But what's more interesting is that apparently they have heaps more space to use in the Sydney Morning Herald, allowing for a sort of grand final preview, while The Age and Michael Lynch simply can't manage to scrounge up the requisite inches.
Old soccer still has a place in the new football world
There’ll be more than a scent of past glories at Belmore Sports Ground tomorrow. And, no, we’re not talking Bulldogs.
It’s the grand final of the NSW Premier League between two of the game’s proudest clubs. Sydney Olympic, the minor premiers, and Sydney United. Both formed at the same time to represent the local Greek and Croatian communities respectively. Both formed in the same year, 1957, that newly-arrived immigrants precipitated the split between Newcastle and Sydney and created what was then known as the NSW first division, but is now known as the NSWPL. They’re as old as the competition itself - a semi-professional competition Sydney United have won five times, and Sydney Olympic just once. But it’s at national league level that these two clubs really made a name for themselves, helping to groom some of the finest players of the modern era. Brett Emerton. Graham Arnold. Robbie Slater. Zeljko Kalac. Ned Zelic. Jason Culina. And many more. Sydney Olympic won two NSL championships [1999, 2002] - one in front of nearly 50,000 fans in Perth. Sydney United, heartbreakingly, lost three grand finals - one in front of 40,000 fans in Brisbane. The bridesmaids but never the bride.
Times moved on, and these clubs didn’t move quick enough. The NSL closed down in 2004, and they were never likely to survive the transition to the fully-professional A-League. ‘Old soccer’ became ‘new football’, and there was less room for ethnicity. Besides, neither club had the money. It’s been a tough adjustment back to the ranks of part-time football for two clubs accustomed to being at the pointy end of the pyramid. Sydney United have done marginally better, winning the NSWPL title in 2006. This will be Sydney Olympic’s first grand final in the post-NSL era, and it will be the first time these two fallen giants have met to decide the title. There’s talk of a record NSWPL grand final crowd, upwards of 5,000. There’ll be the chants ‘Cro-at-zia, Cro-at-zia’ and ‘O-lym-pic, O-lym-pic’. Bet on a flare or two, and mindful of the usual braggadocio from would-be hooligans, officials have put plans in place to try prevent anything more serious than that. It’s old soccer, out and proud.
Mark Rudan and Ufuk Talay are as proud as anyone of their NSL heritage with Sydney United and Marconi Stallions respectively. After the match these best mates are heading into retirement, and there’s a big chance they’ll be reflecting on their achievements with a post-match smoke behind the grandstand. Two of the better players never to have played for Australia - and teammates when Sydney FC won the first A-League title - they’ll be aiming to go out as winners. Rudan, especially so, because he’s back where it all began.
It won’t be easy. Sydney Olympic are favourites, marginally. Like Sydney United, they’ve got a clutch of players [Chris Triantis, Paul Henderson, Brett Studman] with A-League experience. And they’re playing on their home ground.
For rivals coaches, Jean Paul de Marigny and Peter Tsekenis, there’s also the chance to put a stake in the ground. Tsekenis, 38, is a young coach with a growing pedigree. This is his fourth NSWPL grand final, and twice he emerged victorious with his former club, Bankstown City. Like Rudan, the shirt has special meaning. ‘‘I grew up supporting Olympic, I captained the club, and now I’m the coach,’’ he says. Where his coaching career takes him remains to be seen, but his apprenticeship is going nicely. ‘‘I definitely want to get involved in the A-League at some stage because I believe I’ve got something to offer,’’ he says. ‘‘But I’m not looking too far ahead because I know I’ve still got a lot to learn.’’
De Marigny, 47, is further down the road, and it’s a travesty he’s still waiting for his big opportunity. An assistant coach at Newcastle Jets, and shortlisted for the North Queensland Fury job, the former Socceroo keeps banging at the door. De Marigny guided Sydney United to their last NSWPL title five years ago, and is clever enough to do so again.
The waft from the souvlaki stands will tell us this is not A-League. But it’s the next best thing. With the new A-League season kicking-off next weekend it’s a timely reminder of the game’s heritage, but also of it’s potential. Rejuvenating, and respecting, second-tier football is an issue which despite six years of neglect from head office simply won’t go away. Next year, the FFA Cup will be launched in the first concrete step to mend the fences.
In the meantime those in the know appreciate where things stand. Robbie Slater will be there to present the medal for the man-of-the-match award named in his honour, and has promised to wear his old Sydney United shirt to the ground. Mark Bosnich will be there as a board member of Sydney Olympic. A-League coaches, and players, will be there in abundance. Fact is, despite plenty of propaganda to the contrary, the game does have a history and it’s not going away. ‘‘We are Football’ is the new slogan for the A-League. That, you’d assume, means everybody.