The A-League shows how far Australian soccer has come
It was such a thrill to be at Sydney Airport early on Saturday morning and be amongst the crowd waiting for friends, families and others to arrive. In the type of environment I live in, you tend to forget what the atmosphere is like just doing something simple like this – full of anticipation and excitement.
For me, it was no different.
I was there, of course, waiting for my team mates and manager from Everton to help give them an Aussie welcome after their 24 hour journey. It was great to be joined by some loyal (and hardy, considering the cold Sydney weather at the moment) ‘Evertonians’ who were dressed up in all their gear to cheer the lads and me also.
I also had the opportunity to speak with an older gentleman waiting for his sister to arrive on her first trip to Australia. They had not seen one another in ten years and he was very excited about seeing her – and also incredulous when he realised Everton players and coaching staff were on the same flight. It turns out he is a lifelong Liverpool fan (Everton’s big cross-town rival) but he was so taken with the moment that he was belting out the Everton chant as soon as he saw the players.
I think that says much about Australia and Australians; as well as the fact that football is a common language for so many people around the world.
It is massive for Everton to be here in Australia.
Everton was formed in 1878 and was one of the foundation clubs of the English Football League ten years later. All-up, the club has won nine domestic league titles, the FA Cup five times and the European Cup Winner’s Cup once and we have been in the highest division of English competition for 56 years unbroken and have qualified for European competition in four of the past six years.
Ever since I joined Everton in 2004, it has been one of my dreams to lure them home to Australia for the pre-season. Partly, it’s because I want to show off my country and it’s also to show what passionate football fans Australia has and great facilities we have, especially as we’re bidding to host the World Cup in 2022.
But with Everton here to play three A-League teams – Sydney FC, Melbourne Heart and Brisbane Roar – it’s also a sign of how far Australian football has come.
Only 11 years ago, the Socceroos were still playing English club sides. But today, English Premier League (and other overseas league) sides want to come to Australia for their pre-season competition and meet A-League teams.
While the cynics might say this is more about marketing than football, I think that’s rubbish because, obviously, there are many more marketing dollars to make in the USA or Asia for teams such as Everton.
What it shows is that, gradually, the A-League is gaining credibility, recognition and respect for its competitiveness and quality.
There was no better example of this than at the World Cup when our Kiwi cousins performed above most (but not their own) expectations. Coach Ricki Herbert took a mostly A-League based side whom most commentators considered to be ‘easy beats’, but they did themselves, New Zealand and the A-League proud.
So we’re here to get a solid pre-season against three quality sides in Sydney FC, Melbourne Heart and Brisbane Roar - as well as for me to show off a bit of Australia!
I’m really looking forward to playing in the Sydney and Melbourne games.
Sydney FC includes my old friend, Nicky Carle, who is a special player as well as some exciting younger guys such as Scott Jamieson and Mark Bridge. Melbourne Heart has a really strong squad which including Michael Beauchamp, John Aloisi, Jo Skoko and Simon Colosimo.
Unfortunately, I cannot play in the Brisbane game as I’m going to be groomsman for my Everton team mate, Mikel Arteta – his wedding date was set by his missus-to-be ages ago – but it will still be a great match.
Brisbane Roar is building a strong squad which includes players such as Michael Theoklitos, Shane Steffanuto, Young Socceroos captain Luke De Vere as well as Mattie McKay and Massimo Murdocca.
Up against an Everton team which, in addition to Mikel and me, includes former England international Phil Neville, Phil Jagielka, Leighton Baines, Louis Saha, Victor Anichebe, Marouane Fellaini and exciting new recruits such as Jermaine Beckford, the three matches will be a good test for all teams.
The Everton Down Under 2010 tour is a great opportunity to see an EPL team ‘live’.
I hope you get a chance to go to one of the games and experience some of the excitement of quality, competitive, live football for yourself.
Trust me – there’s nothing like it!
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