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Sydney United’s Australia Cup victory the blueprint for what Australian football can become

As the referee’s whistle sang to signal the conclusion of a gruelling 120 minutes of Australia Cup semi-final action, fans stormed onto the synthetic turf of Sydney United Sports Centre.

They possessed varying ages and led vastly different lives, but the one commonality between them all was their unison in support for the first non-A-League side to qualify for the competitions final.

It may go down as the second-biggest game in the club’s history – behind only the looming final – and wasn’t it a glorious occasion.

Quarter-final hero Danijel Nizic kept the side from Edensor Park in Sydney’s west in the match with an early penalty save before a sublime goal volleyed home by Glen Trifiro after some tricky and technical one-touch passing – including a beautiful flick from Chris Payne – found the former Wanderer in space.

Trifiro, who was exceptional from his inclusion just after the hour mark, inviting his side into flowing style of attacking football and dictating their tempo, produced a volley that sealed the affair and the cup fate of his side, propelling them into the final in a momentous occasion for Australian football.

The match represents not only the strength of the National Premier League, as evidenced by Oakleigh Cannons’ run to their semi-final against Macarthur this week, which included defeating the once insurmountable Sydney FC, but it also paints a picture of what football in this country should and could be.

It may have been a Sydney United match that played a cataclysmic role in the conclusion of the old National Soccer League and all its associated ethnic and community clubs that were pillars of their related migrant communities, a segue upon which the Italian, Greek, Serbian, Croatian or whichever nationality incorporated themselves into Australian life.

Patrick Antelmi of Sydney United 58 FC celebrates scoring a goal.

Patrick Antelmi of Sydney United 58 FC celebrates scoring a goal. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Of course, it would be remiss to mention such strong ethnic identities as a positive for football in this country without outlining that they are also a negative. Such strong ethnic identities bring with them a raft of geopolitical disagreements that cannot be overlooked by those on the outside or inside of these communities.

The infamous brawl between Sydney United and Bonnyrigg fans in 2004-05 exemplifies the truly nasty nature of these differing cultures.

But to look at the game on Sunday and disagree that football in Australia should be anything but that, small historical clubs that represent a sub-section of the wider Australian multi-cultural community – a factor that national identity is centred around – competing against some of the game’s top dogs.

Football, and sport in general, is about attachment and feeling. On the pitch teams are a representation of the people off it who support them. All around the world clubs are a statue in their community, and often they represent the community around them and their beliefs unique to their region.

Take FC Barcelona and the pro-Catalonian stance they represent as a primary example of this.

Hatred is a given not just in sport, but in life. Rather than avoid it all together, management of it in a way that is safe for the community is paramount.

Football in Australia should take a leaf out of the global game, and indeed from Sydney United’s historic Australia Cup triumph, as to how to best maximise the game in this country.

Should talk of a National Second Division be put into action, then I truly hope it is these clubs – Marconi, Sydney United, and South Melbourne among others – that have something other sporting codes would die for – undying passion deeply rooted in a community spirit that has been planted and festered for decades – are included in the plans.

The game cannot continue to overlook its past, whether that be the good and the bad.

There are a magnitude of considerations that will go into such a decision – stadiums and services will need drastic upgrading and perhaps a ban on away fans for tricky games must happen – but one thing the administrators of football in this country can’t keep doing is overlooking the past and overlooking these communities that represent where the game has come from and the communities that have been there since the beginning.

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