A Grand Tradition

The 2012 Hyundai A-League Grand Final marks the 30th grand final match since the Australian national league’s first Championship decider in 1984.

The 2012 Hyundai A-League Grand Final marks the 30th grand final match since the Australian national league-s first Championship decider in 1984.

Before 1984, it was the team that finished the season on top of the ladder that was declared Australian Champions – the ‘first-past-the-post- system
The first National League Grand Final (actually the first two grand final matches) featured the country-s two highest crowd-pulling teams of 1984 in South Melbourne Hellas and Sydney Olympic. The Melbourne side, which had teenage defender Ange Postecoglou in its ranks, won the two-legged tie 4-2.

After another Melbourne team, Brunswick Juventus took out the 1985 decider again over two legs, the 1986 trophy looked like it was heading Sydney Olympic-s way after winning the first Grand Final leg 1-0 in Adelaide.

But in the return fixture at a brand new Parramatta Stadium, Adelaide City came back spectacularly to win the tie 3-2 on aggregate.

In 1987 the NSL succumbed to the traditionalists and reverted the league to a first-past-the-post system to determine the Champions. Although no-one could begrudge table-topping Champions Apia Leichardt the league title, after the Sydney club finished the 1987 season several points ahead of runners-up Preston Makedonia, the experiment failed, and in 1988 the grand final was reinstated as the way to decide the Champion team. It has remained ever since, as a one-off fixture.

The 1988 decider was a classic, two passionate western Sydney sides Marconi Fairfield and Sydney Croatia drawing 1-1 after 90 minutes and 2-2 after extra time. Ultimately it was Marconi who won on penalties over an unlucky Sydney Croatia team that included Graham Arnold, Robbie Slater and 18-year-old Craig Foster.

The next two grand finals saw the same teams battle it out but for different results, Marconi winning in 1989 and then Sydney Olympic, in its third hrand final, finally taking out the big one in 1990.

Olympic-s 1990 Grand Final triumph was witnessed by a then-record NSL crowd at Parramatta Stadium, which was hosting its fourth consecutive national league Grand Final. With the continuing dominance of the big Sydney clubs Parramatta Stadium seemed to be becoming the home of
domestic football-s biggest matches at the time.

However the dominant teams for the rest of the 1990s were South Melbourne, Melbourne Croatia and Adelaide City.

South Melbourne and Croatia played out an unforgettable 1991 Grand Final at Olympic Park, where it was Souths- skipper Ange Postecoglou who eventually got to hold the trophy aloft after a marathon penalty shoot-out victory.

Grand Final victories to Adelaide City (1992 and 1994), Melbourne Croatia/Knights (1995 and 1996) and two more to South Melbourne (1998, 1999) – who were now under the coaching helm of Ange Postecoglou – confirmed the ascendancy of these three clubs.

And with another Championship for the evergreen Marconi in 1993, the nineties was certainly a successful era for clubs with long and proud traditions.

However it was a new club which stole the show in 1997 when a new all-time domestic league record crowd of over 40,000 turned up at Suncorp Stadium to see Brisbane Strikers win 2-0 over Sydney United.

The relatively new Wollongong took out back-to-back titles in 2000 and 2001, the Wolves- shoot-out win over Perth Glory in 2000 incredibly coming after being behind 3-0 at half time.

Despite playing its first match in 1996, by 2003 Perth Glory was hosting its third NSL Grand Final.

The Glory lost again in the 2002 decider to a young Sydney Olympic in front of almost 43,000 people at Subiaco Oval. However at its third attempt in 2003 Perth finally managed victory in the decider. The West Australian side repeated its effort the following year in the NSL-s last grand final – against Parramatta Power at Parramatta Stadium.

While many predicted the Glory would continue to reach grand finals when the A-League kicked off in 2005/06, it has taken seven years for the Perth side to make it all the way to the big day again. In the meantime grand finals were won by Sydney FC (2006 and 2010), Melbourne Victory (2007 and 2009), Newcastle Jets (2008) and Brisbane Roar (2011), while Central Coast Mariners (three) and Adelaide United (twice) have also taken part in A-League Grand Finals.

The 2011 decider between Brisbane Roar (playing its first grand final) and the Mariners (its third) was certainly the most dramatic of all A-League Grand Finals – and arguably the most dramatic grand final match at the top level in Australia of all-time.

While it will be hard to top the magnificence of that 2011 classic at Suncorp Stadium, where Postecoglou (there-s that name again) coached Brisbane Roar to victory despite being two goals down with three minutes remaining, the prevalence of spectacular grand finals over the past 28 years is a sure sign that there will be many more classic moments and matches to come in the future.

Who knows what-s in store when the rampaging Roar battles it out against the charging Glory in the 2012 decider.