The magic of the Cup? We'd all grown up on stories of the FA Cup in England and we knew what it meant and how it felt. But before we’d kicked off this year's inaugural Westfield FFA Cup in Australia, who knew how it'd be received? Would it have the same magic? Would the public 'get' the romance of the Cup as the unknown minnows mixed it with the full-time professionals?
But on the evening of July 29, 2014 we got our answer. Emphatically. Beautifully. Brilliantly.
Football with a dash of drama, a splash of theatre and the so-called park footballers did the rest as the ‘burbs lit up from Kingston Heath to Edensor Park; Magic Park to Marden, Tuggeranong to Tassie and all in-between.
We soon dubbed these midweek Cup nights as “Super Tuesday” - and they didn’t disappoint.
And for the punters, a midweek menu of football wasn’t complete without a serving of souvlaki, cevapi or whatever else those hard-working club volunteers cooked up.
How could you not love that?
The Cup had arrived Aussie style, and fans loved it. It was 'our' Cup.
More than 600 clubs from all levels of the game around the country started off, all with the same dream of making the last 32.
Broadmeadow Magic and Brisbane Strikers were two of those lucky sides and it was their clash at Wanderers Oval in Newcastle that kicked things off on a huge opening night live on Fox Sports around the country.
Who could forget the Fox Sports coverage as the commentary team reported on the opening night “another goal has been scored” as games across the country lit up with names we’d never heard of?
Local players became stars overnight; football united, celebrating the breadth of our game at grassroots in a way I can’t ever remember.
As journos we could barely keep up; four games, four wonderful stories on that opening night with more to come.
NSW PS4 NPL clubs Manly United and Sydney Olympic faced off, while Olympic FC took on Melbourne Knights and South Springvale travelled to South Cardiff.
It was thrilling to be able to switch between the grounds whenever a goal was scored, something we had never seen before in this country but quickly became a hit.
From that point on the Australian sporting public were hooked and the Westfield FFA Cup had arrived.
It was breathtaking. It was beautiful. Football’s grassroots were on the big stage and we loved it.
For me, it was more than football. It was about regular guys who worked for a living getting a taste of something special. Taking their chance and revelling in it.
This wasn’t a sporting tournament that needed gimmicks. It was real sporting theatre.
I’ll always remember catching up with South Springvale’s Rani Dowisha and Alex Florea in Melbourne. Two players integral to the state league 1 south-east club’s fairytale Cup run, the pair were a joy to interview as they spoke from the heart about what it meant to get a chance on the big stage.
What the Westfield FFA Cup had done for them was reinvigorate not only their club, but their lives.
To hear them talk about loving the more professional approach to training, the love they had for their fans and club volunteers. Well, let’s just say it was emotional hearing them speak with such passionate
But that’s just one story.
Jack Boxall’s stunning goal for the Grae Piddock-coached Palm Beach Sharks in the round of 16; Thomas Love’s incredible solo effort against the Wanderers to knock them out of the Cup: just two of many memorable moments I have.
One of the journos who covered every round was John Greco. Here are some of his highlights of the Cup…
The Magic of the Minnows
The beauty of the Westfield FFA Cup is the opportunity for the smaller clubs to go up against the big boys in a true David v Goliath battle.
Self-proclaimed “pub side” South Springvale – the battlers from Victoria’s third tier – did a great job just to work their way through their domestic Cup competition to make the round of 32.
But coach Bill Lambropoulos’ team wasn’t done there, coming from behind to beat South Cardiff on penalties and reach the last 16.
A fairytale story from this collection of carpenters, computer analysts and labourers.
They weren’t the only Victorian side to defy the odds, with Bentleigh Greens taking the scalps of Blacktown City, Sydney Olympic and Adelaide City on their way to the semi-finals.
Only Hyundai A-League leaders Perth Glory stopped John Anastasiadis and his bunch of giant-killers one game short of the final.
But the sight – and smell – of the souvlaki cooking and wafting across the field at Kingston Heath will live long in the memory for all involved in the inaugural Westfield FFA Cup.
Adelaide City also deserve a mention for being the only state member federation club to eliminate an Hyundai A-League side with their 1-0 win over Western Sydney Wanderers FC, while Queensland’s Palm Beach Sharks also did well to make the last eight of the competition.
New stars emerge
A highlight of the Cup was always going to be the opportunity for little-known and emerging players to announce themselves to the football community – and a few certainly too their chance.
Adelaide City teenager Thomas Love was one of those, his sublime individual goal helped pull off the shock of the competition as the South Australian NPL side bundled out Western Sydney Wanderers FC.
He left four defenders in his wake before showing composure and maturity beyond his years to slot under Ante Covic.
“It’s one of the happiest moments of my life. I was stoked, absolutely stoked. It’s just an unbelievable feeling,” Love told www.theffacup.com.au at the time.
“Basically I just saw the space and ran for it. I was planning to pass it off for (Anthony) Costa but I saw the opportunity so I thought I might as well take it.”
Love wasn’t the only youngster to make an impact.
Olympic FC’s Jacob McLean scored three goals in two matches for the Queensland NPL club, while Palm Beach’s Chris Lucas also caught the eye.
Ryan De Vries – who was part of Auckland City’s incredible run at the FIFA Club World Cup – helped Bentleigh Greens get to the semi-finals before heading over to New Zealand.
Brisbane Strikers attacker Matt Thurtell and Melbourne Knights teenager Jordan O’Doherty were others who impressed and it might not be long before we see them in a Hyundai A-League squad.
Back on the big stage for some famous clubs
Ever since the old NSL finished up a decade ago, clubs like Adelaide United, Brisbane Strikers, Sydney Olympic, Sydney United and Melbourne Knights have been looking for a chance to get back on the big stage.
And a few of them certainly made their mark on the inaugural Westfield FFA Cup, reliving some of their former glories along the way.
One of the resounding successes of the competition was the resurgence of some of these proud old clubs.
Like Adelaide City, an ex-champions of the NSL who sent the now Asian Champions Western Sydney Wanderers FC packing in the opening round.
Led by favourite son Damien Mori, City made it through to the quarter-finals beating another former national champion in Brisbane Strikers along the way.
Grant Lee’s Sydney Olympic got through to the last 16, as did Sydney United whose clash with Sydney FC at Edensor Park was one of the memorable ties of the competition.
More than 8000 fans crammed into the old suburban ground dreaming of an upset as ex-Sydney FC skipper Mark Rudan’s United hosted former player of the PS4 NPL club Graham Arnold’s Sky Blues.
They competed for more than an hour at 1-1 before the Hyundai A-League club scored twice late in a 3-1 win.
But it was what the cup competition is all about and will only inspire these proud old clubs to improve and come back for more in coming years.
Stunning goals light up the competition
There were 95 goals scored across the 31 matches in the inaugural Westfield FFA Cup and fans were treated to some absolute howitzers along the way.
Love’s solo effort against the Wanderers was arguably the pick of the goals from the round of 32 although Barry Devlin’s scorcher against Parramatta FC that gave his side a 1-0 win on the road was also a highlight.
But the Hyundai A-League clubs weren’t to be outdone when it came to providing goals for the highlight reel.
Sydney FC youngster Chris Naumoff had a night to remember in the round of 16 clash against local rivals Sydney United.
The Young Socceroos international unleashed a 30-year rocket into the top corner in the first half, only to do even better after the break with a Marco van Basten-like volley from a narrow angle.
The six-goal thriller in the quarter-final clash between Perth Glory and Melbourne Victory was highlighted by Gui Finkler’s late pin-point free-kick which sent the contest into extra-time.
Glory’s Nebojsa Marinkovic also had a couple of contenders for goals of the competition including his clever chip in the big win over St Albans as well as an incredible curling free-kick in the semi-final win over Bentleigh Greens.
Central Coast Mariners utility Matt Sim deserves a mention for his four-goal haul off the bench against Palm Beach Sharks in the quarter-finals.
But it was fitting that Spaniard Sergio Cirio scored the last – and most important – goal of the competition.
Cirio scored in every round of the Westfield FFA Cup to finish with six goals as Adelaide United became the first name engraved on the trophy.
As a journo, I’ve never felt such passion as I have from the inaugural Westfield FFA Cup. It was unique.
And I’ve a feeling this is only going to get bigger and better. I for one cannot wait for the Cup in 2015.
How about you?