If You Build It, They Will Come (or Where is our National Museum for Football?)

I am an unabashed, self-confessed lover of history. From the broad sweep of a millenia of ancient Roman history, or the German experience of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, through to the more idiosyncratic niche studies of the history of the Oxbridge comedians of the post-war era, or the Berlin Olympics of 1936, and plenty of spots in-between, I have dabbled or dipped my curious intellect again and again into matters of the past. Some of these efforts have been more serious than others, and my interest in subjects has been known to wax and wane over the years. Whilst I’ve always had a fascination with the history of military aviation, when it comes to say the Space Race of the Cold War era, or colonial exploration of Australia, they are the matters that I’ve left behind in my now distant youth.

Partly as a result of my age, and more significantly as a result of my exposure to and love for the Western Sydney Wanderers, I have started to look more and more upon what I knew personally and what I didn’t come to know about the history of football in Australia. As I have referred to in past posts, my first engagement with soccer (to use the still popular but arguably politically incorrect name for football) came as a little boy who saw the heroes of the 1974 Socceroos squad head to West Germany for the finals of the FIFA World Cup. I was fortunate enough to know who someone like Atti Abonyi was, or how good St George Budapest were in the old NSW First Division competition. There are still memories of the tumult over Jimmy Shoulder and Rudi Gutendorf’s tenures as Socceroos coaches (which on reflection would make some of the #HolgerOut stuff seem like a storm in a teacup). I recall with some clarity the launch of the Phillips NSL, the first tentative steps from players like Alan Davidson, Eddie Krncevic and Craig Johnston to leave Australia and play in Europe or Asia. The 1981 FIFA World Youth Cup in Australia, the Bicentennial Gold Cup, Ned Zelic’s goal against the Dutch for the Olyroos, Eddie Thomson, Hakoah, the Carlton and Collingwood entries into the NSL, Melita Eagles, Northern Spirit, Mark Bosnich, that match against Iran in 1997…these were but small flag posts on my rather limited exposure to soccer’s long and deep links with Australian society. Manfred Schaefer, Johnny Warren, Col Curran; they were my childhood icons from football, but I was an Anglo kid with barely any real understanding of what the sport meant for migrants, for people from such disparate backgrounds as Charlie Perkins and Sir Arthur George. I knew who Newcastle KB were, but did I have any knowledge of the links between the Hunter coal miners and football as part of their culture? Yes, I was familiar with Rale Rasic, but what about ‘Uncle’ Joe Vlatsis? I had just missed out on seeing a man who many still consider our best ever Socceroo play (i.e. Ray Baartz), and it’s no surprise that Joe Marston’s name was relatively meaningless to me up until the last decade or so. I’ve read ‘Sheilas, Wogs and Pooftahs’ by Johnny Warren, but I never saw him play in person for any of his teams.

What is all this meandering and circumlocutory ticking of boxes in my personal soccer history meant to convey? I guess what I am trying to get across is that even a middle aged Anglo like me who knows a little about football’s place in Australia pre-A-League, pre-Crawford Report, can only throw out a few tidbits of trivia, a scattering of half-accurate memories. There are going to be plenty of people both older and younger than me who will know more, however I would hazard a guess and say that the vast majority of those who have engaged with the sport especially since Frank Lowy supposedly ‘saved’ soccer in this country have almost no clue whatsoever about even the limited things I know, I recall. As it is there are young men and women in the RBB, the Cove or the Den (for example) who would look at older folk quizzically if you asked them about what happened in Australian soccer before Schwarzer and Aloisi combined to send Uruguay home from Sydney devastated at not qualifying for Germany 2006. Names like Tommy McCulloch, Marshall Soper, Allan Maher most likely mean SFA to them. How many of Graham Arnold’s devotees would be waxing lyrical about his quixotic attempt to conquer the J-League when in Eddie Thomson Australia had a real pioneer in coaching overseas successfully. There is plenty of debate and discussion over the recent moves by the FFA to ‘de-ethnicize’ football in Australia, but who among those who were cheering for the Wanderers against Al Hilal a few weeks back can recognise the man on the left and his role in Australian soccer?

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Left: David Hill (Head of the old ASF/Soccer Australia 1987-1995) with George Best (right)

 

Of course an intimate knowledge of history and past people, teams and events of football does not make one fan better than another. However as someone who has had a similarly long engagement with cricket’s history, I can categorically state that any debate or discussion about that sport’s current place in Australia is almost always referenced within an historical framework. Whenever a game is played at home or abroad the media, the fans and the players themselves often couch their experience of cricket with references back to say a Don Bradman or a Dennis Lillee or a Shane Warne. Cricket in Australia is very comfortable with its history, and never fails to exploit it as part of its dialogue.

I also believe that the manner in which cricket history has informed many Australians (Anglos and otherwise) means it is often used as a lens through which we see the world and ourselves. Talk about the Commonwealth, about our relationship with Britain sometimes sees references to the Bodyline series of 1932/33. Our ongoing developing engagement with India is often filtered through the eyes of how our cricketers have embraced or been embraced by the emerging Asian giant. If a sports boycott is brought up as part of the potential reaction to the policies of a repressive foreign government the manner in which cricket led the fight against South Africa’s apartheid system is often thrown into the mix. For some one of the most defining and positive developments in the history of white Anglo-Saxon Australian society dealing with black people came about as a result of the 1960-61 tour of  Australia by Sir Frank Worrell’s West Indian cricket team. It could even be argued that the recent death of test cricketer Phil Hughes due to being hit by a bouncer made many Australians consider broader, deeper philosophical issues such as fate and mortality, and this will be forever part of cricket’s historical meaning in this country from now on.

I would argue that where we as Australians know more about the history of one of our sports we more often than not see more clearly who we are, what we are about, how that sport reinforces or accentuates what it means to be Australian, and gives us another portal into how we interact with the rest of the world. Surely then with football being the global game, with possibly the most complex history of any sport in this country, it seems to me to be mandatory for football fans young and old, players and administrators, academics and lay people alike to get a better handle on what has gone before today, whether it be old soccer or new football. Through the wonderful agency of football’s unique Australian history we can all have a more informed discussion about our culture, our politics, or racial make-up and our international relations.

As part of this ecumenical desire to see all of the history of football in Australia given due diligence and respect, a prime starting point must be a national museum that provides the physical evidence for what has gone before in football down under. After all, if Bowral can lay claim to the International Cricket Hall of Fame a.k.a the Don Bradman museum, or the MCG host the National Museum for Sport (with a large collection of AFL and Olympic related material), why can’t (hypothetically) a redeveloped Parramatta Stadium hold a National Football Museum? In wider terms, if Australians are able to better understand our military history through the War Memorial in Canberra, or learn about our past as a maritime nation via the Australian National Maritime Museum, why can’t the sport that has seen so many unifying and divisive aspects for much of its long history be given its own home, a place for people to come and see the artifacts, hear the stories, see the footage of a sport that existed long before the last nine or ten years of A-League and Socceroos developments arguably raised popular awareness and acceptance.

Having hopefully built the foundations of answering the first question over such an institution (i.e. why football and the broader Australian society deserve a National Football Museum), the next issue must be what form or type of institution it must be. To my mind it must be several things. It needs to be a central repository of as much of the physical evidence for the sport’s history as possible. To give some basis to this supposition, let me make a small diversion. Like many who have been down to to the Shoalhaven village of Jamberoo I’ve made sure of a pilgrimage to the pub there, with its sizable and impressive collection of Johnny Warren memorabilia. A few days after the Wanderers’ victory in the AFC Champions’ League I had a chance to return there, and whilst I sat among the photos and posters, the shirts and the pennants, I felt a warmth not just about my club’s achievements but also how in many ways what preceded beforehand and was physically surrounding me was in some way honoured by the Wanderers’ win. I know from anecdotal evidence there was plenty of talk after the 2005 Socceroos qualification for the following year’s World Cup Finals that many fans and pundits talked about that team’s success tying in with Johnny’s immortal phrase “I told you so”. Being in the Jamberoo pub, seeing photos and souvenirs line the walls, seemed to give a similar perspective to what had been achieved in Parramatta and Riyadh by my club.

Some of the many items of memorabilia held at the Jamberoo Pub, from Johnny Warren's collection

Some of the many items of memorabilia held at the Jamberoo Pub, from Johnny Warren’s collection

The Warren collection at Jamberoo is a good one, and as my preceding paragraph hopefully brings out, it can have a powerful emotional pull that informs the visiting football fan of today. However it surely must be a drop in the ocean of material that lies out there in the wider Australian football and soccer community. There are all those small community and lower tier clubs that must have records, memorabilia, archives, photos and other such items that could be brought together from across the entire nation. Then there are the collectors, the old players themselves and those who were deeply involved in the game from the sidelines who could contribute. One of the most important people who should be tapped for a possible contribution is the German uber-fan of the Socceroos, Andre Krueger. He is one who has had a long term and abiding passion for the national team and Australia in general, and I am sure he would be someone who could provide either physical content or failing that advice and information to assist in the collation of items. Then there is someone like Ian Syson who continually, through his own research and the resulting posts on his Twitter feed throws up some real gems from our sport’s past. Les Murray, Andy Paskelides and Tom Anderson are three older media figures with long term exposure to football who must have a plethora of material. Throw in the fans, the old NSL diehards or even the more recent adherents of clubs like the Wanderers who were there when the club started, and there should be a rich vein of content to be placed in such a National Football Museum.

The assemblage of a large cross-section of material that could then either be displayed or archived would give all of us a central focus to see these artifacts, and thus have a coherent physical context for football’s history. It would be easier (for example) for people to understand how important the current Socceroos jersey was as a cultural icon within football’s traditions if and when it is placed alongside its progenitor, the 1974 shirt, and those that followed. There would be more appreciation of the recent developments with the FFA Cup if there was the old Australia Cup on display. Items predating the Second World War or even beyond the First would undoubtedly give more visible credence to the long term historical depth of the sport in Australia. That vision is something that is very hard to recognise when these items are hidden away in individuals’ collections, or swamped by rival sports’ displays (such as that seen at the aforementioned Bradman Museum).

Another function of a national museum for football must be to act as centre for academic debate, research and promotion of the sport. Football is as worthy of an intellectual discourse as art, music, film or any number of any other social or cultural activities. Naturally one of the most critically important aspects of that side of the museum’s activities or role would be to continually review and examine the relationship between our identity and the sport. To draw parallels with other institutions for other areas of Australian society and history, an example can be seen with the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne and its education program. If it’s appropriate for the South Australian Museum to focus academic energies on Antarctic research via the historical presence of Douglas Mawson in Adelaide, then what is to stop a National Football Museum to conduct or facilitate research on (for example) the politics of migration in pre-Crawford Report soccer? The FFA is certainly not the body to conduct this kind of research due to its own financial and administrative restrictions, and whilst universities may do so they would only exert the relevant energy and funding for individual projects. If we want to learn more about football and ourselves a coherent program of detailed research will be the best agency to achieve such an aim. The museum should serve as the prime agency for such a scheme.

A third arm or component of a National Football Museum would be to provide a focal point for the celebration of the sport’s Australian greats, via the agency of the FFA Hall of Fame. At various sporting venues around Australia there are statues or other insignia celebrating the careers and legacies of those heroes and heroines of the associated sports. Outside the Sydney Cricket Ground the likes of Fred Spofforth, Reg Gasnier and Paul Roos are given tribute in the form of bronze statues. All of Australia’s past Olympic swimming gold medalists and world champions are given a plaque outside the Sydney Olympic Aquatic Centre. Now obviously football is a team sport, but there is every reason to desire similar recognition for a Johnny Warren, a Mark Viduka, a Les Scheinflug, a Cheryl Sainsbury. Considering that so much of our understanding or appreciation of the great men and women of the past require some kind of articulated vision made concrete, as seen in (for example) the Hall of Valour at the Australian War Memorial, then for there to be (hypothetically) a display for Joe Marston or Rale Rasic at our National Football Museum seems entirely correct. This may be an incorrect assumption, however I strongly believe it would be a powerful inspiration for younger players if they could see more of the legends of football in Australia than just some archival footage from SBS or the ABC. Being able to access by sight and sound if not touch items owned by an Eddie Thomson or a Harry Kewell could serve that task very well indeed.

I would argue that the recent success of the Socceroos in claiming the 2015 AFC Cup has given more impetus to all these arguments in favour of a National Football Museum. Taking the first point argued previously, where better to hold the trophy if it is available for public display than in an Australian museum of and for football? From video footage to memorabilia from the Cup tournament, including say (for example) a pair of Tim Cahill’s boots, or recordings of ordinary fans’ reactions to that win at Sydney Olympic Stadium, all such items would help give some permanence to what has been arguably the finest moment in men’s football in the country. It goes without saying the same should have or could be done with the Matildas as well. Throw in the additional resources from previous continental tournament success (such as the OFC Cup wins by the Socceroos in 1980 or perhaps 1996) and there is a wider picture emerging of what Postecoglou’s squad achieved.

Additionally, it must be said that a well established and promoted a National Museum of Football could be a great revenue stream for the FFA and the local community where it is built. From exhibitions to conferences, books and souvenirs, videos and events staged at the museum would all serve the dual purpose of bringing money into the coffers of the FFA and promoting football. Perhaps if a leading international architect was given the opportunity to design the Museum building (such as Frank Gehry’s recent work on one of UTS’s new structures) that would also help raise the profile of our sport and the unique Australian context therein.

My final point, and one that will undoubtedly ruffle feathers and bring accusations of bias (of course I’m bloody parochial on this matter) is where it should be hosted. In my opinion a National Football Museum would be best positioned in Western Sydney, hopefully as part of a redeveloped Parramatta Stadium precinct. Whilst other cities and areas around Australia have strong links to the history of football in Australia, and may already have a strong cultural affinity to sporting history (such as Melbourne and the MCG), western Sydney is the powerhouse of the sport in terms of current players across all levels, past Socceroos and with a population of over 2 million with a widely diversified ethnic demographic, it would have a ready made audience. Throw in the paucity of cultural venues of national significance in Sydney’s west, and the tourism value of Sydney for the country as a whole, placing a museum focused on Australia’s past, present and future nearby or in Parramatta would be extremely beneficial for all vested interests. The ‘clear air’ such a museum would have in that location, against say the conflicting presence of a rival sports’ institutions, or indeed even other national icons such as say a War Memorial or National Gallery (as seen in Canberra) would be again work in the museum’s favour.

In closing, a National Museum of Football may be a hypothetical vision for now. However I strongly believe that it could create so many positives for our sport that it should be given some serious thought, particularly at this time where we have a wonderful platform for public acceptance of and/or support for the game. Knowing say in 10 years time overseas tourists, university academics, teams of U/10s boys and girls, and anyone else with a desire to learn just that little bit more about football down under could have a place to go to take it all in, to be enthused and informed, well, it seems like a no brainer.

2014/2015 Round Eight Preview: November 28th-30th

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Melbourne Victory vs Adelaide United (Friday 28th November 2014, AAMI Park)

This should be a great match with both teams undefeated this season, both with full squads and lots of history weighing on each club’s shoulders. Last time they met at Adelaide Oval the Reds looked to be slightly better for most of the match and arguably should’ve won, however a blemish in their defence at the death meant that both home and away teams went away with a point each. Muscat has possibly the better attacking options, due in no small part to Berisha, Thompson, Finkler and Khalfallah. However this is not any sleight on the opposition, who with Sanchez, Cirio and Djite also have plenty to offer in front of goal. Admittedly Djite is coming back from injury and may not start, however Gombau can also look to Carrusca and maybe Mabil for goals. Defensively both teams have a positive goal difference, and it will be intriguing to see if the continuing absence of Delpierre from Victory will be a problem for them.

Final Verdict: This is a match that is too close to call. Both teams could win and win well with their offensive capabilities, hence I think they will cancel each other out. Unless there is some major error or brain snap from someone I think honours will be shared. My Prediction: 1-1 Draw

Brisbane Roar Vs Perth Glory (Saturday 29th November 2014, Suncorp Stadium)

With Mike Mulvey deposed and various other members of the home club looking askance at their position, their team mates and the overall position of the Roar on the ladder it looks as if this could be another bad result for last season’s champions. In terms of playing personnel no one is under any illusions that they are as well structured, balanced or talented as previous iterations, and the ongoing absence of goalkeeper Mike Theo will be a headache for interim coach Frans Thijssen. In the past at other clubs there have been teams that have pulled together when a coach is jettisoned, and if anyone understands that it will be Kenny Lowe, brought in last season when his predecessor Allie Edwards was given the arse. Like Lowe in 2013/14 Thijssen has a rather shakey hold on some dubious reins at the Roar, so it will be unlikely for him to get all three points.

Glory on the other hand are motoring along nicely, if not too spectacularly. Their squad has plenty of quality across all parts of the park and for the first time arguably in their entire A-League history they’ve discovered how to win away from Perth. Whilst no one is really emerging as a true matchwinner, the likes of Keogh, Hersi, Marinkovic and Maclaren up front and Vukovic at the back means that they will be hard to keep out of goal and hard to get through for shots on goal.

Final Verdict: Brisbane are in a world of pain and I honestly cannot see them winning, or indeed drawing. Perth should win in what be an intense tussle, but one they have have every reason to believe can be won. My Prediction: 0-2 Perth Glory

Western Sydney Wanderers vs Sydney FC (Saturday 29th November 2014, Pirtek Stadium)

There’s no doubt that the Wanderers are coming into this match as underdogs following a very ordinary beginning to their A-League season. However in the last two games at home against the Mariners and Jets they have begun to exert some quality pressure on their opponents, thanks in no small part to the growing cohesion and increasing match fitness of key players like Juric, Castelen, Rukavytsya, Spiranovic, Saba and Topor-Stanley. Whilst Ante Covic has been a rock in goal there have been some chinks in Popovic’s back four, as the likes of Mullen, Adeleke, Golec and Cole have all struggled to fill their roles as well as last season’s players or as demonstrated in the ACL. Perhaps the key player will be Adeleke; if he can bolt down a hold on the left back position then that gives someone like Cole or maybe even Hamill a chance to play right back, thus setting the Wanderers with a firm base.

The visitors are obviously having a far better season and will come to Wanderland confident they can win for the first time there since the very first derby played against the Wanderers, all the way back in 2012/13. The absence of Gameiro and Dimitrijevic due to injury and suspension respectively does weaken Arnold’s squad somewhat, however there is depth across all parts of the park for him. Janko, Brosque, Ibini and Smeltz are certainly an equal to the forwards available to Popa, and in the middle it will be intriguing to see how Terry Antonis plays against what may be Poljak and La Rocca.

Final Verdict: The Wanderers are a work in progress still and who knows if they really have settled down to the normal hurley burley of league football with the combinations and structures needed to win. It must be said that the RBB and home fans will undoubtedly want to exert as much a positive influence on their beloved team, and Sydney FC will not have the comfort of a reasonably well-stocked Cove for their support. This should be when the Wanderers finally come good, otherwise they may as well forget the rest of the domestic season and build to the Club World Cup and defending their ACL title. Sydney will be a stiff challenge but as always I must back my Western Sydney Wanderers: My Prediction: 2-1 Western Sydney Wanderers win.

Wellington Phoenix vs Melbourne City (Sunday 30th November, Westpac Stadium)

Melbourne City are traveling to windy Wellington hoping to rediscover some of the form that saw them help contribute to the Roar’s woes only a few rounds back. They are still without Koren, their Slovenian marquee, and whilst Duff, Mooy and Williams can all threaten it’s not really going to be up front where the issues lie, especially against a Wellington who have shown at home (and occasionally away) a propensity to score and score well. Redmayne, Wielaart and Kisnorbo are still out the back at City after being part of Heart’s very ordinary 2013/14 campaign, and throw in midfielders like Mauk, Ramsay and Garuccio there is still a whiff of past mediocrities forming the core of van t’Schip’s squad. Throw in the very inconsistent form throughout the early stages of the current A-League season and it will be hard for the visitors to be ultra-confident going into this match.

Merrick’s Phoenix are playing fairly good football this season and whilst they have had their bumps on the road back at Westpac they are a higher quality opponent. The return of McGlinchey from All Whites duties will be a big fillip to the team, as he is arguably their best attacking player (even though Nathan Burns has been scoring more goals). Then there is the improving Roy Krishna and Dutchman Roly Bonevacia, who is quietly building up a rep as being one of the best value for money imports in the A-League this season (and arguably better than his compatriots in other teams such as Hersi, Castelen and Jaliens).

Final Verdict: Phoenix at home should be a moral for all three points, especially if Burns, Krishna, McGlinchey and perhaps Brockie are given too much time on the ball near the City box. Whilst aaron Mooy can and will create problems, especially in dead ball situations, the traveling City are not looking as well structured or performed around the park as Wellington. My Prediction: 2-0 Wellington Phoenix.

Newcastle Jets vs Central Coast Mariners (Sunday 30th November, Hunter Stadium)

If ever a stage was set for a player to exert an influence over one of the fiercest rivalries in the A-League, the old F3 derby between Newcastle and Central Coast is laid out for Marcos Flores to do his thing. The Jet midfielder has the creative capability to pull apart most defensive structures, and whilst his recovery from injury and lack of match fitness may still impede him as demonstrated against the Wanderers he only needs a moment and he can swing a match. Defensively the Jets have also improved on the back of last week’s performance, and David Carney is another Jet who is giving reasonably good service in a misfiring squad.

The Mariners on the other hand are looking flat after a less than happy result against Adelaide at home, and the ruckus over possible internal problems and even the ongoing drama around Mike Charlesworth’s plans for the club must be drawing away some of the energy and positive feeling in the squad. Duke is not scoring enough to warrant high expectations and whilst there is plenty of solid work coming from John Hutchinson the rest of the team seem uninspired. Kim and Bosnar need to be contributing more and Caceres needs to be more creative.

Final Verdict: Neither side looks like a top six club so far this season, and whilst they have each drawn with the Wanderers away from home neither team looked superior to their lower ranked NSW-based rival. If Flores sparks expect a Jets win, but… My Prediction: 0-0 Draw

2014/2015 Round Seven Preview: November 21st – 23rd

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Melbourne Victory vs Brisbane Roar (21st November 2014, Etihad Stadium)

The Battle of Berisha’s Clubs kicks off the seventh road of the 2014/15 season, and there is plenty to consider for partisans of either club as well as neutrals. The Roar bounced back from their terrible run of form to thump the Jets last Friday 0-4, and there is some degree of renewed hope available now for their supporters. Matt McKay returns to duty for the visitors after his Socceroos hit-out against Japan, and Henriques was in blistering form with his hat-trick in Newcastle. Mitigating against this is the continuing absence of Michael Theo in goal; other more learned and famous pundits have seen his injury-related MIA status just as problematic for Mulvey as is the leaving of Berisha and Franjic.

As for the home team, their form has been very good all season with the depth of Muscat’s squad continuing to get the results when some important players have been out due to injury or national duties. Last week’s game against Sydney FC was not their best but they did more than enough with a weakened starting XI to get a draw away from home. Bolstered by the return of Milligan, Barbarouses and Pain, the focus will undoubtedly be on Besart Berisha. No doubt he will want to perform as well as he can against his ex-team mates, and there is a fluidity and strength to the home team’s attack that all clubs would love to have. It could be at the back where Victory could have issues, with Delpierre and Geria not part of the game squad. Having said that Victory are in a rich seam of form and the lift they should get from a home crowd will undoubtedly influence their effort at Etihad.

Final Verdict: The Roar’s form is nominally on the return however the win in Newcastle against a turgid Jets team to me is a bit of a red herring. The Victory with their squad depth and quality, fun of good form and playing at home should be too strong. My Prediction: 3-1 Melbourne Victory.

Perth Glory vs Wellington Phoenix (Friday 21st November 2014, nib Stadium)

Many have been sceptical about the possibility of the Glory doing well this season, so it is with some chewing of humble pie that the naysayers are now considering Perth at the top of the table and playing very decent football. Whilst Kenny Lowe’s side is not the most flamboyant or attractive side tactically and stylistically, they have that most important feature, wins and the attendant points. Their defeat of the Wanderers last Saturday was efficient and featured a very sweet dead ball goal from Scott Jamieson and some notable saves from Danny Vukovic. Andy Keogh, Youssouf Hersi, Mitch Nichols and Jamie Maclaren have formed a good combination of youth and experience, local and imported talent. Throw in Marinkovic’s spot kick skills and the aforementioned Vukovic in goal there are plenty of positives around Perth.

Wellington will have to make their longest away trip of the season so far and they will be welcoming back several of their international and injured players, with McGlinchey and Brockie the key returnees. Their last minute loss last week when understrength against Adelaide was a disappointing result, however there is still plenty of potential with Merrick’s squad. Louis Fenton’s dislocated collar bone means there is a gap in the Phoenix’s structure but they will still be a challenge for the table topping Glory.

Final Verdict: Perth are on a roll and at home, and will be favoured to pick up the win. The all-round strength of the Glory gives them another leg up over a Nix who are very attractive in attack but not as cohesive in defensive. My Prediction: 2-1 Perth Glory

Western Sydney Wanderers vs Newcastle United (Saturday 22nd November, Pirtek Stadium)

The Wanderers have to play their third game in seven days and their second at home in four days, and hopefully they will continue the improvement indicated in their match against the Mariners. The combination of their newer recruits such as Adeleke, Rukavytsya, Castelen and Saba with longer serving Wanderers such as Covic, Poljak, Juric, La Rocca and Bridge showed some stuttering promise in their first match at Wanderland this season, and crucially they will have Nikolai Topor-Stanley returning from Socceroos duties. Tony Popovic is working hard to manage his squad with a very burdensome schedule whilst they adapt to an alternate style and it has not been that successful so far. It won;t be a season-ending match if the Wanderers lose but there will be almost no expectation of a top four finish if no win comes.

Newcastle are on the downward curve and there seems little to redeem their trajectory. Their 0-4 loss at home last Friday was one of the worst results for any club in recent A-League history, and what is most disappointing is there is no tactical or stylistic imagination. In almost every game this season they have been unable to maintain pressure on their opponents for lengthy time periods, keep their opponents out and obviously score a win. As much as they are in a better position pn the table than the Wanderers it is very hard to see where their improvement can come from.

Final Verdict: The Wanderers should be favourites to win, and they do have some real quality. If they can get over the physical demands of their crowded schedule and improve their cohesiveness then they should take care of the visiting Jets. My Prediction: 2-0 Western Sydney Wanderers win.

Melbourne City vs Sydney FC (Saturday 22nd November 2014, AAMI Park)

Sydney travel to Melbourne to meet City again, after previously playing back at Allianz in round one of the current season. The biggest problem that the away side has is the season ending anterior cruciate tear for their high scoring forward Corey Gameiro, and whilst they are not critically damaged up front there is still reason for concern. Mark Janko, Alex Brosque and Shane Smeltz are still an intimidating set of forwards, however its at the back and midfield that is the real strength of Sydney FC. The difference between this iteration and the past two seasons’ teams is remarkable.

Melbourne City would feel a little aggrieved in letting last week’s match against Central Coast slip away from them, however since David Villa has left there has been an improvement in their ability to find outlets and goals across the team. Aaron Mooy is back from his short sojourn in Japan with the Socceroos however there are still some significant absences. Murdocca, Germano and Slovenian marquee Koren are not fit and not part of the squad. John van t’Schip may still be looking for answers to all the issues facing City, but he must feel better now than after the derby against Victory.

Final Verdict: FC have a lot of reasons to be considered the likely winner and maintain their unbeaten record this season. City will challenge but should not be able to match the intensity and capability of their fellow Melburnian club. My Prediction: 0-2 Sydney FC win.

Central Coast Mariners vs Adelaide United

Yes, the Mariners have been able to snare two draws away from home in the last rounds, however truth be told they were playing two teams who have been finding it hard this season so far to score goals in large quantities and regularly, and to some extent the Mariners were able to get out of jail against both Melbourne City and the Wanderers. They are almost at full strength and with the likes of Rose, Duke and Hutchinson there is a core of players on Phil Moss’ books that know what should be done particularly back at home at Gosford. They will also welcome the return of Storm Roux who has been an important part of their backs, now that his absence due to international duties with the All whites are over for now.

The Reds come to Gosford without Bruce Djite, however all over the park there are options for goals as well as plenty of potential to dull the home team’s attack. Carrusca and Cirio will no doubt form a huge part of Gombau’s offensive plans, whilst at the back Elrich is doing quite well. Awer Mabil is growing in stature and is another positive part of the Adelaide squad. Assuming that the Barca-inspired passing and possession game can break down the Mariners then look for more than one or two goals from the visitors.

Final Verdict: The Reds are a class above their hosts and one of the top four teams going around this season so far. My Prediction: 0-2 Adelaide United win

2014/2015 Round Six Preview: November 14th – 16th

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Newcastle United vs Brisbane Roar (Hunter Stadium, Friday November 14th 2014)

Considering neither club is sitting on a shitload of points at the moment this match at the Jet’s home ground is another crucial one for both squads and their respective coaches. Brisbane have been a tad unlucky in their four losses so far this season however there are deficiencies and problems that are all too apparent (e.g. the lack of a replacement for Berisha, Young’s struggles in goal, verbal stoushes on the pitch). Throw in the travel away from home, the absence of Matt McKay, and the continuing non-appearance of Adam Sarota and Michael Theo then this is not the best qualified Roar squad aiming to win on the road.

Having said that Newcastle are only a few increments above the Roar in terms of points and player quality. There 2-2 draw against Melbourne Victory was a good match and showed that now they are off the road Phil Stubbins can possibly jag some results. There are some players who should be doing much better, including Flores and arguably Neumann. Griffiths and Jaliens have been well performed and David Carney has started to find his feet. It will be interesting to see if Madaschi and Celeski get much game time as they are welcome additions to a relatively threadbare line up.

Final Verdict: Brisbane are still a team to be respected if not feared, and it will be important for Mike Mulvey that the likes of Broich, Stefanutto, North and Brattan start achieving more. The Jets are at home and do have a better recent form run, but it will be hard for them to defeat last season’s champions. My Prediction: 2-2 Draw

Adelaide United vs Wellington Phoenix (Coopers Stadium, 15th November 2014)

Whilst Adelaide may be a little fatigued due to their midweek FFA Cup exertions they have the luxury of having played at home and a squad that is almost at its best. Unfortunately they are missing Bruce Djite, and in his absence it’ll be important for Cirio, Carrusca and Isaias to add potency in front of goal. Perhaps the most pleasing aspect for coach Gombau is the form of Young Socceroo Awer Mabil and recently re-signed journeyman Tarek Elrich. Both of these players at the opposite ends of their careers are coming into some really good performances for the Reds.

This season’s iteration of the Phoenix is no easy beat, and their position on the ladder and their preceding form  of wins at home and away indicates they are a very strong prospect for a final’s challenge. Burns and Bonevacia have been impressive however other key players such as Louis Fenton, Michael McGlinchey and Jeremy Brockie will be absent due to injury and/or international duties. Travelling away from Wellington is an additional challenge for Ernie Merrick’s team, and whilst they are probably more rested they are still stretched in terms of quality personnel.

Final Verdict: I can’t see anything but an Adelaide win, even without their key striker Bruce Djite. The mixture of style and substance from the Reds has them higher on the table than their visitors and alongside Perth Glory, Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC they are well ensconced in the pundits’ visions of top four finishers in 2014/15. My Prediction: 2-0 Adelaide United

Sydney FC vs Melbourne Victory (Allianz Stadium, 15th November 2014)

What should be one of the biggest of the so-called ‘Big Blue’ derbies has been diminished by a combination of international representation and injuries impacting both on FC and Victory. The visitors are arguably more impacted by these issues, including Pain, Milligan, Barbarouses, possibly Thompson, and Georgievski all not able to play. Antonis, Gameiro, Janko and Jurman are missing from the home team’s line up, with Antonis’ omission being somewhat controversial after receiving an injury that precluded him from playing for the Socceroos. Importantly for the home team their well-credentialed defensive structure has not been impacted by such problems, and Allianz Stadium is becoming a fortress for Graham Arnold’s squad.

Kevin Muscat still has plenty of quality to breach the walls of the Sky Blues, with Finkler, Khalfallah and Berisha to  give Sydney FC some pause to think whilst Delpierre and Valeri should bolster the midfield and defence for the visitors. The Victory have already shown this season that they can be more than competitive with holes in their side, but it will be a big result if they can nullify the likes of Brosque, Ibini and Dimitrijevic.

Final Verdict: Almost too close to call and I suspect that this is a match that could become a real slug fest. A draw seems the most appropriate result for two teams that are so evenly matched. My Prediction: 1-1 Draw

Perth Glory vs Western Sydney Wanderers (nib Stadium, 15th November 2014)

Perth and Western Sydney are at opposite ends of the table so far in 2014/15, and unlike the last two seasons it’s the old NSL powerhouse who has rediscovered an ability to win and the junior A-League club which is struggling to find the points. Perth have formed a so far successful approach to this season by combining some quality juniors (most notably Jamie Maclaren and Daniel de Silva) with some good acquisitions (Andy Keough, Mitch Nichols, Youssouf Hersi). Throw in some veterans from 2013/14 who have found a new lease of life, especially Nebojsa Marinkovic, and this is a formidable opponent for the Wanderers.

However Perth will be missing Nichols, Maclaren and Woodcock, and they have played a midweek FFA Cup match away from home. The Wanderers are also still dealing with issues from being on the road, and then there is the obvious burden of coming out of their tumultuous AFC Champions’ League matches. They have lost to Socceroos duty Nikolai Topor-Stanley and there are stories that Covic, Spiranovic, Castelen, Juric and Adeleke will not be going to Perth. Obviously being without a win there is a lot of pressure on Popovic’s squad, and it will be interesting to see how Rukavytsya and Saba particularly deal with the burden of being key creative players in the opposition half. It’s in defence however that the Wanderers will need to lift, and if Mullen, Golec, Hamill and Cole are at the back they have to be better than past efforts.

Final Verdict: I refuse to tip against the Wanderers but this will be another hard task for a team that is feeling all the effects of putting so much effort and getting so much success out of the ACL. Perth at home with the personnel still available are going to be favourites. My Predictions: 1-1 Draw

Melbourne City vs Central Coast Mariners (AAMI Park, 16th November 2014)

The Mariners will be looking for some redemption for not just the loss to Adelaide in the midweek FFA Cup semi, but also to try and reverse the run of disappointing results they have had since their first round win over the Jets. Not as badly hurt by the problems of international duties or injury (though Matt Simon and Storm Roux will be missed) as City, they are still underdogs on the road against a team that clobbered the Roar last week.

Melbourne City have perhaps got out from under the shadow of the David Villa cameo, and even with some serious absences (Mooy, Koren, Germano, Chapman) there is a potential match winning line up under van t’Schip’s guidance ready to take on the visiting Mariners. Paartalu is finally showing value as an acquisition, Williams’ radar is finding guidance and Damien Duff is still one of the better overseas signings for any club this season. There may not be the support from the home fans at AAMI Park as seen in earlier matches, however there will be an advantage being back in Melbourne and not having to deal with a midweek match like the visitors have to.

Final Verdict: The Mariners are not quite at sixes and sevens, however they are looking vulnerable. City are also far from perfect yet they have more points than Central Coast and look more capable of winning in any match let alone this one. My Prediction: 2-1 Melbourne City win

2014/2015 Round Four Review: 31st October – 3rd November

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Melbourne City vs Adelaide United (1-2 Adelaide United win)

David Villa’s last game for Melbourne City in this stint (and probably for all time) was one of missed opportunities early on, combined with some errors and ill-discipline that let a a resurgent Adelaide United back into the match, concluding with a come from behind win for the visitors. Reds goalie Galekovic was lucky to not concede before five minutes were up. Worse was to follow less than three minutes later for Adelaide when new City talent (Damian Duff) combined with an old Heart recruit (Kisnorbo) to score off a well worked corner. David Villa almost doubled the lead however his miss accompanied with some counterattacking energy from Isais and Cirio kept Adelaide in the match. Then, at the 35th minute one of the best but least recognised current A-League players, ex-Wanderers’ defender Tarek Elrich put a cross into the City box that was buried by Adelaide’s key striker, Bruce Djite. Djite was again threatening for Adelaide in the second half, and the cynical hack on him from Kisnorbo should’ve resulted in a red card. It wasn’t, and shortly thereafter two Latino stars of the game almost scored wonder goals, first from Carrusca having a go near the half way, trying to emulate Engelaar’s goal last season, then Villa weaving some magic in the Reds box. David Williams should have buried the rebound from Villa’s attempt, and the miss was made worse in the 77th minute when Redmayne fouled Kamau, leading to a spot kick which Carrusca converted. Full time came shortly thereafter and the result was one that was frustrating for City. The Reds won more through the failures of the home team to capitalise on their best moments and through the ruthless marksmanship of Djite and Carrusca.

Perth Glory vs Newcastle United (2-1 Perth Glory win)

Perth got their season back on track with a win at home, however whilst the scoreboard and the stats were in their favour it was not a clear and easy victory. with the Jets doing all they could to defeat the Glory’s challenge. As a spectacle the match was a scrappy one, with mistakes and scrambling play dominating the first half and much of the second half. There were some scares for both teams’ goalkeepers, with Birighitti and Vukovic benefiting from errant shots, and the respective defences of the home and away teams were able to deny the more meaningful attacks, including some last second line clearances. It wasn’t until the 77th minute, when ex-Reds player Jeronimo pounced on a sweet pass from his Jets comrade Jacob Pepper and was able to stay onside that finally a goal came. Fortunately for the home team young sub Jamie Maclaren came on and within six minutes of the Glory going down a goal he had wrought two goals (the first assisted by Youssouf Hersi, the second coming through a corner that was directed from Rosytn Griffiths goalwards, which Maclaren headed into the net). The score stayed 2-1, and Phil Stubbins and the Jets left nib Stadium pondering what may have been. Kenny Lowe’s squad are looking very much a candidate for finals football as the rounds tick away in this season.

Sydney FC vs Central Coast Mariners (2-0 Sydney FC win)

Before this match there were the usual Graham Arnold mind games, played out in the media and in them he talked about knowing Phil Moss and the Mariners’ plans. However it wasn’t the pre-game jousting that defined the result, but the combination of a quality home team taking some excellent chances (most notably Antonis’ first half goal) and keeping the Mariners out. There is no doubt that there is an improvement all round in the Sky Blues playing stocks, however where they are starting to look very much the goods is at the back and in the midfield. This improvement was reflected in the second half goal for Ognenovski and the problems posed for the Mariners by Ryall and Dimitrijevic. For the visitors there was little joy even though they acquitted themselves well statistically. There is a distinct problem with the reliance on Mitchell Duke as the man to get them goals, as he is nowhere near the threat that others in similar roles at other clubs (e.g. Djite at the Reds or Gameiro for Sydney) are. Set pieces either defensively or offensively are not working for the Mariners and perhaps questions need to be raised over the structures that Phil Moss is working his players in, and of course the actual talent at his disposal. There is every reason for those who have been disappointed with the mediocre results for Sydney FC to realistically believe in their club reaching the top four by this season’s end if they continue to get these results.

Melbourne Victory vs Wellington Phoenix (2-0 Melbourne Victory win)

Injury woes to the likes of Delpierre and Berisha may have dampened some of the optimism for the home team before this Monday match against Wellington, however in yet another performance indicating the depth and talent of his squad Kevin Muscat got the win against his old boss Ernie Merrick and the visiting Wellington Phoenix. Gui Finkler, who is possibly the best performed Brazilian to have played in the A-League so far started the scoring with another goal from a free kick. It must be said that Khalfallah also looks to be a great acquisition for the Victory, and both he and another overseas player, the Kiwi Kosta Barbarouses are extremely valuable members of the Victory team. Wellington have good players too, and foremost among their leading lights are Nathan Burns, Roly Bonevacia and Michael McGlinchey. Burns had an excellent chance to level things up just before half time however his shot was too direct at a charging Nathan Coe, and from thereon the full blooded and well targeted shots from the Phoenix front third was not as threatening as it should’ve been. Connor Pain, a somewhat forgotten young gun player for the home team was subbed on the 66th minute mark, then almost instantaneously he added to the visitors’ woes, scoring the second goal with some fine one-on-one running and shooting in the box. The remainder of the game produced no more goals for either side, leaving Phoenix yet again without points on a visit to Melbourne.

Best Team of the Round: The same three teams that are dominating the top of the table so far this season (i.e. Reds, Sydney FC and Victory) were very good and deserve to be up there for this specific honour. Adelaide did let a goal in, whereas both Sydney and Victory scored two goals each with no reply. Considering the standard of the opposition I would just shade Victory over FC, plus it must be said that without Berisha and others Melbourne Victory were nominally weaker than Sydney were against the Mariners.

Worst Team of the Round: No team was calamitously bad this round, however the Mariners must be given some brickbats in not scoring against Sydney FC. City were a little disjointed and Newcastle were hard done to lose but neither they nor Wellington had as much an uninspiring result from what should have been a fiercely contested match against a club that they have owned for many a season.

Best Goal of the Road: Finkler’s dead ball goal scored for the Victory was excellent, however the honour this round must go to Terry Antonis for Sydney FC

Note: As the Western Sydney Wanderers vs Brisbane Roar game was postponed their match report will be included in the entry for the closest regular round