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Fanatic, glory hunter or neutral? Deciding to change A-League teams




When did you officially know you were an A-League supporter? I’m assuming it took time and wasn’t overnight.

For the National Soccer League generation, the transitional period after 2004 would have been a hard pill to swallow considering that most major cities were streamlined into one team. Suddenly, opposing NSL sides were under the same umbrella.

Now, 18 years later, we’re about to embark on another professional football season as our code matures with age. The men’s round kicks off on 7 October with Melbourne City and Western United.

This is phase two of the A-League, long after inception, when our beloved offspring are now enjoying the sport. For some adolescents, their club of choice was not a personal decision but a jersey passed down from parent to child.

Having grown up in Sydney, as if by natural progression, I found myself reluctantly barracking for the Sky Blues. I wasn’t a keen advocate of the competition, more of a curious spectator who caught Dwight Yorke fever.

Strangely, after Sydney FC beat the Mariners in the first grand final, I felt unsatisfied. At the time, extended family members echoed my thoughts. We were happily sharing a meal, overlooking Avoca Beach, located one and a half hours north of the harbour bridge.

In the past these same conversations used to be about Marconi Fairfield, South Melbourne or Adelaide City. Not any more. I was still suspicious about fully committing to Frank Lowy’s new tournament.

A few years later I was heading to the Central Coast again, but this time as a promotional assistant. Working at Blutongue Stadium, my job was to help race an inflatable zorb ball across the field at half-time.

Central Coast Mariners A-League fans

(Photo by Tony Feder/Getty Images)

While the rest of the event management crew eventually disappeared, I stayed and watched the Mariners game, occasionally feeling like an intruder on Gosford’s turf. The image of gorgeous palm trees, swaying on a balmy evening, fatefully became imprinted in my head.

You know, even when I was buying Sydney FC jerseys online I was still thinking about Brisbane Waters. I wanted to be part of soccer, something big, but my thoughts also lingered on the fossilised NSL. Maybe, others told me, I wasn’t following the correct A-League club.

That changed in 2016 when Green Gully beat Central Coast in Round 32 of the FFA Cup. Call it morbid curiosity, but this was a low point in Mariners history, and bizarrely I was hooked.

After discovering their tarnished, match-worn FFA Cup jerseys for sale on eBay, I made a personal pact to root for the underdog. The connection was made.

As I explained to my wife many years later, it was the struggle for ascendency by a regional alliance that really sparked my interest in the national competition.

Sydney FC, I reasoned, had it easy. Their wins were impressive but mostly void of drama. They were a neatly gift-wrapped club hailing from Emerald City, Australia’s wealthiest metropolis. Too polished. No battle scars.

The Japanese author Haruki Murakami is a baseball enthusiast. He sporadically writes poems about Yakult Swallows. In them he alludes to a sporting fan’s dedication being strengthened by turmoil. Unrest, it appears, eventually leads to deep sleep and a better understanding of one’s inner self. The fun is in the fight.

It’s one of the reasons I find myself at a crossroads. With the Mariners looking like a champion team again, my attention softens, eyes darting to Western United or Macarthur instead. In conversation with others, I regularly defend our newest franchises, arguing about the sustainability of the A-League, which correlates with the growth of our two fledgling clubs.

As previously mentioned, I once flip-flopped teams, and the process took more than a decade. I’m pleased Central Coast can openly challenge for silverware once again. Yet when I look south, I see two other establishments needing reinforcements. Which leads me to my last question: can an A-League devotee adopt a second-favourite team?





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