2017 has been another stunning year for the Victorian clubs who competed in the Westfield FFA Cup. My 2017 FFA Cup journey started with the RD3 game between Cairnlea v Fitzroy. That was in March and here we are in October and still at it. As every round passed, and favourites fell away, I have spent many games trying to work out which Victorian team (if any) would progress to the final rounds.
The Quarter Finals delivered an intriguing situation where you had two of the Victorian powerhouse clubs Heidelberg United FC and South Melbourne FC remaining in the competition. 2017 has offered some incredible match up’s, none better than Heidelberg United who played off successfully against Perth Glory in the Round of 32.
For South Melbourne the FFA Cup has not always ended the way they would have hoped.
Imagine for one moment you’re a South player, the regular season is over. There are no weekly battles against your NPL rivals, no battle scars from the weekend, no pressure to get those important three points. There is, however, constant training. Training that is all in preparing for one opponent, one match.
Former Hume City FC player Marcus Schroen is the only player in the South group to have experience playing a Semi-Final of the FFA Cup. Undoubtedly his experience will be invaluable to his team on Wednesday night against A-League champions Sydney FC.
‘Last time with Hume was a great experience for the group; it was new territory for the club and me, which made it special. But now to play the champions Sydney FC at lakeside with South considering both the history and future the club has I think will make it even more special.
I know the pressure and intensity is going to be really high on the day. The game will go really quick and be over in an instant so if I can use my experience to help out and give us the best chance of winning, it’ll ne great! The important thing is to enjoy the experience and do the club proud.’
For the playing group getting to the final stages of the competition has meant different things to each one of them.
The weight of history has burdened the South players with an expectation of success from their fans.
Now, the club’s well-documented A-League ambitions have added further fuel to the fire. Wednesday night’s match against Sydney FC gives the club, players and fans the chance to truly prove they are A-League ready. Should they win they will set the stage for a possible return to the top flight of Australian football a place many South fan’s would argue they truly belong.
The nature of career defining football games has always intrigued me, I spoke to Hume City about their FFA Cup Final against Victory, I spoke to Green Gully about their tremendous run last year and this year South were kind enough to give me the opportunity to have a candid chant with some of their biggest players on the even of one of the biggest games in the club’s recent history.
I asked the players to try and pick one moment that defined their journey so far.
It soon became apparent that the consensus was that there were two stand out games that shaped the 2017 campaign so far.
‘The most memorable part of the FFA Cup run for me would have to be our late comeback win against Dandenong City. We had players out of position and we didn’t give up until the end. The best comeback I’ve been park of and some very emotional words shared during the game between Matthew Foschini and I’
For Matthew Foschini, ‘It has to be the preliminary round against Dandenong City. We were 4:1 down with 10 minutes to go and we turn it around 5:4. I don’t know how may time that has happened in world football let alone in Australian Football. It’s never happened in my career and I doubt I’ll every play a game like that again. To be a part of that night was something pretty special and something I think about pretty regularly. You, know everything just fell into place.’
For Milos Lujic the ‘late header to win the game against Edgeworth in the Round of 32 was one, also scoring a hat trick in the final 10 minutes to see us to qualify for the Round of 32 against Dandenong City. Both efforts were pretty special and sent our supporters into jubilation which was also nice to celebrate with them.’
‘It’s been fantastic both individually and for the club. South is a big club and its great to experience being on the National Stage with the club and its loyal and wonderful fan base right behind us.’
‘I think the FFA Cup has been great for soccer in Australia. It gives the local guy’s, juniors and all the guys who are not professional yet a pathway that they know if they can perform to their highest level that they’ll be playing at a big stadium in front of 20,000 people. So if you win all your games your going to make the Semi-Finals, you’re going to make the Final. So, it’s in your hands. Where as previously there was not pathway that existed like that. That’s the same for us. We’ve had a lot success in the local league but you just play the same teams in the same local league and nothings really different Once you’ve win 2 or 3 times you know the motivation dare I say it goes away a little bit. So, this new competition has freshened things up and given us another big target to aim for.’
For Defender, Luke Adams success in the FFA Cup has ‘meant a lot to the club, playing group, staff and everyone involved at the club. It’s been personal for me because we have seen other clubs do it in past and we have lacked progression in recent years. It’ll be great exposure for myself and other players against a-league opposition.’
Jesse Daley is one of the younger players in the South squad
‘The FFA cup has been an incredible journey and it’s meant quite a lot to me personally, being able to go back to QLD and play in front of friends and family and even get on the score sheet was something quite special. Playing in front of big home crowds at Lakeside, travelling interstate as a team all these experiences have brought us together as a playing group and will hold us in good stead for Wednesday night. I also think the exposure that it’s given us, as a club has been fantastic. ‘
‘After late heartbreak in 2015, its been wonderful to have a great run and to get the club back into the National spotlight. [The upcoming Semi Final] is arguably the biggest game I’ve been involved in and it means so much for me and the boys to do it with his club.’
‘It has been a really enjoyable experience to get a taste of playing in big games in front of big crowds. It is the games you love to play in, where there is a great atmosphere and you are playing foreign team in a do or die game where the best team on the night goes on to the next round and the loser is out.‘
‘The boys are well equipped for it. This game means more than just the 90 minutes that happen on the park. Obviously we can’t control the rest of it, but we know everyone at the club is behind us. We know everyone in the community is behind us and if we win it’s going to be something special. We know ourselves that were going to go there and do our best and we hope we can do some good things for Victorian Football. At the moment we’re the semi pro’s and their the pros. We’re going to try and show that the gaps not that high. Because we believe there’s a few players in here that are good enough to plat at that level and we want to show that we can.’
‘Playing the A-League champions in a National Knockout Semi Final is an opportunity that doesn’t come around often for NPL players and clubs. As a player, you always look forward to the challenge of taking on top quality players like Ninkovic and Bobo. With the history and ambition that South Melbourne has, it will be an exciting night for everyone involved.’
For the Nick Epifano for an NPL club to have the opportunity to play the current A-League champions is ‘a dream come true to be honest. To play against arguably one of the greatest Australian teams in Sydney FC with everything they accomplished last year. To go up against them is just going to be an amazing experience.
We are pretty confident we’re the underdog. We have nothing to lose the pressure is on them. We’ll just go out there and give it everything and that’s all we can do. When we put our mind to it we’re pretty much unbeatable on the day.’
The optimism of the playing group that they can achieve the ultimate goal on Wednesday is only tempered by the fact that they will be without their spiritual leader and regular Captain Brad Norton. Norton booked an end of season holiday to Europe to propose to his girlfriend and could not possibly have imagined that he would miss possibly the biggest game of his career.
Captain, Brad Norton offered the final word on the FFA Cup journey and how he would feel not being at the game.
‘Being involved in the FFA cup and doing so well has been an awesome experience for the players and the club as a whole. Vying for A-League submission has been such a big talking point for the club and it’s a great opportunity to not only show off what we can do on the field and the talent we have, but also to show what amazing facilities we have. For me it’s been an up and down experience, obviously being captain and a member of the club for 6 years now I have loved being a part of it and supporting the team, but to miss the most important stages has been hard. As I am a fan of the club I want us to win it, and as I mentioned in the fox sports interview before the round of 32 I want to win this and I believe we can!
The boys winning so well in Gold Coast in such an important game for the club was amazing, and being in Positano Italy, every time we scored I jumped! My partner, now fiancé, was trying to walk away from me, the whole time. I mean every game has brought its memories and the 93rd minute winner against Edgeworth is also up there.
Like I mentioned earlier, it’s a bittersweet feeling. As a supporter and captain of the club it’s the greatest feeling and I am so proud that the club has been able to showcase everything we have (players/club) especially considering I have seen the ups and downs of this club for 6 years. But being here for 6 years, seeing some good moments but some happening ones to, it was my dream to captain this club against the best in the country and win!! I am praying for a grand final appearance and cannot wait for the boys to get out there and hopefully get a win!’
Thank you to everyone at South Melbourne:
Chris Taylor, George Kouroumalis, Frank Piccione, Marcus Schroen, Tim Mala, Brad Norton, Jesse Daley, Kristian Konstantinidis, Leigh Minopoulos, Luke Adams, Matthew Foschini, Matthew Millar, Michael Eagar, Milos Lujic, Nick Epifano, Nikola Roganovic,