It will be a homecoming of sorts for clubs in the National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s competition when the Grand Final is played out of Bankwest Stadium for the first time on Saturday, 31st August, and our commentator Tony Tannous charts the history of grand finals in Parramatta linked to our clubs and the aspirations of this year’s finalists.
When the grand finalists walk out onto Bankwest Stadium to the FIFA anthem just before kick off at 6pm in a fortnight’s time, they will do so not only behind what’s expected to be a bumper crowd for the National Premier League’s NSW Men’s first decider at the showcase venue, but with a huge sense of history behind them.
While Bankwest might be the new name on the shiny new stadium, there is a great history of grand finals at the same Parramatta precinct among a number of the competing clubs in the 2019 NPL NSW Men’s finals series, going back over 30 years to the mid 1980s.
The precursor to Bankwest, Parramatta Stadium, played host to seven National Soccer League (NSL) grand finals, dating back to 1986, the year the Stadium was opened, and that year Sydney Olympic lost to Adelaide City over two legs, the second of which was at Parramatta. The parallel with this year’s NPL NSW decider, which will be played in the new stadium’s first year, can’t be lost.
The 2019 Premiers Wollongong Wolves, fourth placed Sydney United 58 and fifth placed the Marconi Stallions have all been part of big championship deciders at Parramatta, Marconi on four occasions, three of which were in consecutive years in 1988, 1989 and 1990.
The Stallions won their first two grand finals at Parramatta. In the 1988 decider they beat their opponent in Saturday’s Elimination final, Sydney United (then Sydney Croatia) in an epic that went all the way to penalties and featured such greats as Frank Farina, Zlatko Nastevski, Peter Katholos, Manis Lamond, Alan Hunter and Robbie Slater, who the ‘man of the match’ medal in the NPL NSW Men’s grand final is named after.
My first Parramatta grand final of five was the following year, in 1989, when Marconi again lifted the NSL championship thanks to a dramatic late Nastevski winner at the southern end that had the Marconi faithful in raptures on Parramatta’s southern hill, so much so that the fence couldn’t withstand the force as the fans ran down the hill in euphoric scenes.
Sydney Olympic was the team on the end of Marconi’s second consecutive championship, but they were able to bounce back the following season, 1989-1990 (the first of summer NSL), with a 2-0 victory in front of a bumper crowd of over 26,000 at Parramatta. It was standing room only on both hills, a tight squeeze indeed.
While Abbas Saad’s defending champions Olympic missed out on this year’s finals by the tightest of margins (goal difference) in last week’s final round of the regular season, he was crowed man of the match for Olympic in that 1990 grand final success, their first national crown, and the fans were certainly in the mood to party as they spilled from the northern hill onto to Parramatta surface after referee John Santa Isabel’s final whistle.
As a teenager and guest of my Greek friend’s family, I had no choice but to stay on the hill and watch the Olympic fans celebrate, and upon reflection it was probably for my own good.
Irrespective, to see and feel the passion the fans had for their club was formative, and I’ll certainly be tipping a hat to the history at Parramatta come grand final day this season.
The Stallions were able to come back to Parramatta three years later, in 1993, against the might of the Zoran Matic’s Adelaide City and pick up their fourth national title courtesy of a solitary goal from Andy Harper, with a number of his teammates now involved in A-League coaching, including Steve Corica, Ufuk Talay and Jean-Paul De Marigny.
Another of the Stallions players that season was Matthew Bingley, who is today an assistant to Mark Crittenden at Blacktown City, who finished third this season and have genuine ambition of being at Bankwest on the final Saturday of the month.
All up there were five Parramatta Stadium grand finals in eight years between 1986 and 1993; certainly halcyon days for football in Sydney’s west.
In between that, APIA Leichhardt Tigers, second in this year’s Premiership behind the Wolves, won the NSL title in 1987, a year where the champion was decided by the traditional first past the post method. Had there been a grand final that year, who knows, APIA could well have added their name to an illustrious list of grand finalists and champions at Parramatta.
After getting to the past two deciders at Leichhardt Oval and missing out to Manly United and Olympic respectively, John Calleja’s men will be keen to go one step further this time.
After Marconi’s success in 1993, we had to wait a further eight years before the NSL grand final came back to Parramatta Stadium, as part of the Wollongong Wolves’ championship sequence in 2000 and 2001.
While their first was famously won away in Perth thanks to a miracle come from behind victory at Subiaco Oval over Perth Glory where Les Pogliacomi was eventually the hero in a penalty shootout, the following year, in 2001, the Wolves won hosting rights, and Parramatta was the venue as the team led by Matt Horsley lifted the trophy in a 2-1 win over South Melbourne, with strikers Sash Petrovski and Stuart Young scoring.
Eighteen years later Luke Wilkshire and his team, fresh off their Premiership celebrations and a nine point wining margin which saw them lead from start to finish, may have the chance to emulate the feats of Ron Corry’s men.
The Wolves certainly head into the finals series as the favourites with Golden boot Thomas James and his striking partner Lachlan Scott in great form, and the team playing a high-octane, eye-catching style. But as we know, the post season often springs a surprise or two, and there is a history of Premiers struggling to go on and complete the Premiership-Championship double.
APIA, Sydney United 58 and Blacktown City have all experienced that in recent years.
In fact, last year Sydney Olympic became only the third team in 12 years to complete the Premiership-Championship double, the first since 2011 (when again it was Olympic, with current Marconi coach Peter Tsekenis and his assistant Peter Papoythis at the helm) who did it.
APIA and Blacktown City have gone about their business efficiently and consistently this season, and like Wollongong won’t have to juggle any FFA Cup commitments during the finals, while in-form Marconi and Sydney United 58 will have to do it the long way, not only coming from fourth or fifth, as Manly last did in 2017, but dealing with a schedule that includes an FFA Cup round of 16 game.
Whoever gets to Bankwest and goes on to lift the championship there might be doing it at a plush new stadium, but they will join some of the great Australian football clubs and names to have showcased themselves on the big day at Parramatta.
It truly will be a homecoming to remember.