By Ben De Buen.
On a beautiful warm and sunny day in Melbourne— oh who are we kidding, it’s Melbourne. On a wet, wintry, and miserable spring day in Melbourne, the FFA invited us out to AAMI Park to meet some of the players who will be participating with their clubs in the FFA Cup quarterfinals, and to see the trophy which is still up for grabs.
“It’s turned into the biggest game in the club’s history,” said Nick Hegarty of Hume City, a team that is facing, “broken bodies, numbers are down.” Even the current school holiday period could impact player availabilities.
While A-League teams are in the final stages of preparation for the coming season, the NPL clubs that remain in this competition are at the end of a season that has lasted almost an entire calendar year.
“Most of the lads work nine to five. Some have concreting jobs,” stated Hegarty, a 29 year old from West Yorkshire, England. When asked about his own day job he said he worked at the club with the juniors and “washing kits,” adding that he had already washed the kits ahead of tomorrow’s clash against Oakleigh.
Oakleigh Cannons finished the NPL season on the bottom half of the ladder. “A few of us have an aspiration of getting into the A-League,” said Matthew Foschini, a former Melbourne Victory player, currently at Oakleigh. Foschini has recently returned from a long stint overseas, where he played in India, Thailand and Canada, before taking time off to re-kindle his love for the game.
Meanwhile, of the three NPL Clubs, Heidelberg United Warriors have the toughest fixture against Melbourne City. “It’s a one-off game. Nothing to lose,” said captain and midfielder, Luke Byle. The club has worked hard in preparation for hosting City, making sure “the ground is perfect, the club rooms are up to scratch.” They’ve also signed former Greece captain, Kostas Katsouranis, for the match, and “some of the juniors are going to pick him up in a bus.”
“He’ll probably come in, I’ll give him the captain’s armband… he’ll play wherever he wants to and for however long.” Katsouranis will train two or three times with the Bergers before their match against Melbourne City.
Also present were Leigh Broxham of Melbourne Victory and Michael Zullo of Melbourne City.
As A-League clubs enter the FFA Cup finals with the new season in mind, stakes are much higher for NPL sides and players. Cup tournaments around the world have offered conditions for semi-professional sides to stand up to powerhouses and invert alleged hierarchies. Every league has legendary giant-killers. In contemporary football in Australia, that chapter could begin with Oakleigh, Heidelberg or Hume City.