Classic Finals | Wolves victorious

The 2000 NSL Grand Final lives long in the memory, as the Wollongong Wolves' remarkable recovery left Perth Glory heartbroken.

The Wollongong Wolves celebrate their dramatic victory.

Leading into Sunday's Hyundai A-League title-decider, associate editor Michael Cockerill reminds us of some of the great grand finals of the past.

Nick Theodorakopoulos has never been a particularly emotive coach. But there he is, captured by the cameras, rushing down the sideline at Subiaco Oval, fists pumping, arms flailing. It was a defining image of the 2000 NSL grand final, the greatest grand final of them all.

Just the other day, as he was passing through customs at Sydney airport, an official pulled him aside: "I remember you. What a grand final, eh!".

I was lucky enough to call it, and it still gives me goosebumps. For every single player, and every member of both coaching staffs, it left an indelible mark. Good, or bad.

You didn't have to be a fan of the victorious Wollongong Wolves, or the vanquished Perth Glory, to appreciate the drama of the occasion.

A grand final played in front of a then-record crowd of 42,242 fans - 95 per cent of them in purple and orange. A grand final that handsomely exceeded all expectations. The perfect argument for why titles should always be decided on the final day of the season.

Perth Glory were the minor premiers, and warm favourites going into the championship-decider on home turf. They'd edged the Wolves in the major semi-final played over two legs, and enjoyed the fortnight off as Wollongong worked their way back to the grand final via a grinding win over Carlton in the preliminary final.

It may have only been Perth Glory's third season in the competition, but under founding owners Nick Tana and Paul Afkos, they were a club in a hurry.

Jamie Harnwell gives Glory a seemingly unassailable lead.

That the Glory had a playing budget of around $3 million - one which surpasses some Hyundai A-League clubs today - says a lot about the extent of their ambitions.

Thus the 2000 grand final was meant to be a coronation of sorts. A statement of intent. The Glory would go on to play in four of the last five grand finals of the NSL, winning two of them. But there was to be pain before the gain. And hurt of the 2000 grand final lives to this day.

Just ask Alistair Edwards, the current Glory coach, or his assistant Gareth Naven, or Fox Sports commentator Jamie Harnwell. They all fell disconsolately to the ground at the final whistle.

Why did it hurt so much? Because the game should have been in the bag.

The Glory raced to a 3-0 lead at half-time with goals from Bobby Despotovski, Ljubo Milicevic and Harnwell. On the sidelines, German coach Bernd Stange wore the look of a contented man.

Theodorakopoulos, on the other bench, had his heads in his hands.

But changes were afoot as the Wolves retreated to the dressing room, the singing of the Glory fans ringing in their ears. Off came Cervinski, the club's player of the year, and on came George Souris in an attempt to shore up a leaky defence.

"Let's score a goal in each of the next 15 minutes, get it to 3-2, and see how they react," were the prophetic words from Theodorakopoulos.

"What we've got to do is make sure we don't concede."

There was method in the madness. The Wolves, under Theodorakopoulos, were a purist's delight. Attack, always, was the best form of defence.

They'd scored 72 goals during the 34-game regular season. In the likes of Scott Chipperfield, classy Englishman Stuart Young, bullocking Fijian international Esala Masi, an emerging Saso Petrovski, and skiful winger Dino Menillo, they had the players to blitz any opposition. Which, when it counted the most, is exactly what they did.

Bang went Chipperfield. Bang went Horsley. And bang went Reid, with just a minute of normal time remaining. That's when the crowd went quiet.

The Wolves can't hide the emotion at the final whistle.

That's when Theodorakopoulos went mad, running right through the technical area of his Glory counterpart Stange, who didn't look amused. The Wolves had come back from the dead.

Thirty minutes of extra time came and went, and neither side could fashion a winner. The championship would have to be decided by the dreaded penalty shoot-out.

The first six penalty-takers from each side found the target. Horsley cracked first, putting the seventh penalty wide. Edgar Junior could have won it, but Pogliacomi produced a wonder save.

The Wolves keeper would prove to be the hero of the hour, saving the next two penalties. In a supreme irony James Afkos, the son of the Glory's co-owner, was to be the player who squandered the decisive spot kick.

At the end, Andy Harper tried to grab a few words from Theodorakopoulos in his role as sideline commentator.

"I think I gave Harps one question and then I cut him short," he says. "I had to get to my players. It was a once-in-a-lifetime moment."

Nick Theodorakopoulos celebrates in memorable style.

There would be ticker-tape receptions on Crown Street, and a hero's welcome at the Fraternity Club. Wollongong Wolves would go on to defend their championship the following season, scoring 80 goals during the premiership rounds.

But just as the club was due to fly out to Spain to represent Oceania at the 2001 FIFA World Cup, the rug was pulled from beneath the tournament, taking the prizemoney with it.

The team broke apart, and the club has struggled ever since - although the first green shoots of a recovery have started to appear over the last few seasons in the top tier of NSW football, where they are now known as South Coast Wolves.

TEAMS: PERTH GLORY (4-4-2): Jason Petkovic; Robert Trajkovski, Jamie Harnwell, Ljubo Milicevic, Scott Miller; Kasey Wehrman, Ivan Ergic, Troy Halpin, Edgar Junior; Bobby Despotovski, Alistair Edwards. WOLLONGONG WOLVES (4-4-2): Les Pogliacomi; Matt Horsley, David Cervinski, Robbie Stanton, Alvin Ceccoli; Dino Menillo, Noel Spencer, Paul Reid, Scott Chipperfield; Esala Masi, Stuart Young.