Urunga Raiders exemplify Cup spirit with fairytale win
Hidden well beneath the euphoria surrounding the recent visits of Manchester United and Liverpool was my favourite result of the week. Urunga Raiders winning the Northern NSW State Cup after a marathon penalty shoot-out at Coffs Harbour.
Hidden well beneath the euphoria surrounding the recent visits of Manchester United and Liverpool was my favourite result of the week. Urunga Raiders winning the Northern NSW State Cup after a marathon penalty shoot-out at Coffs Harbour. In all, 26 penalties were taken as the shadows lengthened across the stadium before the locals emerged victorious 9-8 in the final against Newcastle semi-pro side Edgeworth Eagles. If the much-awaited FFA Cup was up and running, both teams would now go into the draw for the last 32 as the qualifiers from Northern NSW. That's what Cup football is all about. Fairytales.
First, a confession. I know, or know of, half the squad from Urunga Raiders. They're from nearby Bellingen, where I'm a ratepayer, and some of them are good friends of my son. I've seen them grow from boys to men, and one constant has remained. They love football. They love playing it, they love talking about it, they love the Hyundai A-League, they love the Socceroos, and some of them (Josh McGovern and Jai Waddick) love Liverpool FC enough to have made a flying visit to the MCG just a few days after their epic win in their own Cup final, which came with a $4,000 winner's cheque.
So on many levels, their achievement in becoming the first regional team to win the Northern NSW State Cup was richly deserved. They're two-nights-a-week amateurs, but in that context they're as professional and devoted as they can be.
Football passion, football culture, pops up in strange places across Australia, and the Bellinger Valley is one of those outposts. The fact that two members of the beaten Edgeworth squad were former Urunga Raiders players tells you how deep the well is. Credit people like former Sydney City player Phil Lynch, a local schoolteacher, and George and Kirsty Negus, for spreading and nurturing the love. This was a victory celebrated by many, and ultimately saluted by the rugby league-obsessed local media. NBN carried a news report, while the 'Bellingen Courier-Sun' splashed the story across the front page. Local councillor Steve Klipin reckons it's the first time football has made headline news in the local rag, so credit the Raiders for breaking through a glass ceiling. But let's be honest, how could an achievement of this magnitude be ignored?
I could indulge myself further by mentioning a record 80 teams entered the Northern NSW State Cup this year, or that Northern NSW clubs have been competing on-and-off in various Cup competitions since 1884 and never before had a team from outside Newcastle claimed any form of silverware. But I'll resist. What really counts is that by making history, Urunga Raiders have re-inforced the need for an FFA Cup.
They've proven with impeccable timing that we're as ready for a nationwide knock-out competition as we'll ever be. The greatest strength of our game is at the base of the pyramid. Engage it, and there's no looking back.
Across Australia, clubs from the second, third and fourth-tier and right down to amateurs wonder how they can share in the reflected glory of the Hyundai A-League. They need encouragement, and they need inspiration. The FFA Cup provides the former, while Urunga Raiders have given us the latter. Dream on.