There is no denying that the FFA Cup is a truly extraordinary and special competition, with memories that have lasted a lifetime for state league clubs across Australia.
Thousands of teams from all across Australia, playing at all levels from amateur to professional competing for one single prize is truly an incredible and unbelievable concept.
With such a wide array of teams, in the journey of an FFA Cup campaign there are some incredible scenes to be seen, some incredible mismatches and on very rare and special occasions we see an upset..
While throughout the years of the FFA Cup there have been occasions where an NPL side has fallen to a smaller side, in the whole history of the competition an A-League side falling to a lower level team is one of the rarest occasions you will see, with the number of occasions it happened being able to be counted on one hand.
Central Coast Mariners however, have fallen twice.
A year after a result which sent shockwaves across Australian football when the Mariners fell to NPL side Green Gully in what was one of the lowest ebbs in the clubs history, the Central Coast Mariners came in to their 2017 FFA Cup Round of 32 clash against Blacktown City with a huge point to prove.
1100 passionate fans made their way to Blacktown City’s home ground Lily Holmes Stadium for the Cup clash. While the fans were probably hoping to see some great football, they were treated to a match that had all the hallmarks of a classic cup match that would go down in FFA Cup history.
“I just remember a great belief and desire within our whole squad to prove we could compete at a higher level. We got off to a good start as well which helped a lot and gave us momentum throughout the game” said Joey Gibbs, current Keflavík striker and former Blacktown City player.
That desire translated into results, as Joey Gibbs opened the scoring with an impressive free kick, illustrating precision and class, catching the Mariners players and fans off guard with an early goal.
While the Mariners tried to put up a fight and wrestle the game back, the wind was certainly in Blacktown’s sails as it was Joey Gibbs again causing havoc for the visiting sides defence. In this instance he turned provider as he played a delightful ball to the onrushing Speranza, who sets himself up well beating goalkeeper Pearce from a tight angle.
Blacktown fans could be forgiven for thinking the game had started to slip away from them, after the Mariners brought the scores level scoring two great goals through Kwabena Appiah-Kubi.
However, the stage was set for a goal that would bring everyone in the stadium to their feet with thunderous applause.
Joey Gibbs, who had been playing an incredible match so far with a goal and an assist, capped off his performance in style with a goal that sunk the hearts of Mariners fans all across the country.
Despite throwing everything at Blacktown City to try and force their way back in the match, the Mariners were unable to break through the strong defence of the home side and the safe hands of Blacktown City.
As the full time whistle blew, the Mariners players sunk to the floor as for two years in a row they became the sacrificial lambs of the FFA Cup.
“That was massive for our confidence and gave us something to build on for the rest of the game” said Tristan Prendergast, current Blacktown City goalkeeper and former Sydney FC and Western Sydney Wanderers player.
Blacktown City vs Central Coast Mariners, the rematch
Now four seasons on Blacktown City players and fans are confident that they can repeat their heroic giant killing over the A-League Mens side, with the Mariners coming off an historic finals appearance last season under former manager Alen Stajcic.
Despite an incredible season last year for the Visitors, Blacktown players are confident that the Mariners are right for the taking in the Cup.
“I think for us it’ll be important to be disciplined, stick to our game plan and structure and take our chances” said Pendegrast
“It’s been great! Everyone’s come in with a great mind set to get the most out the time we have”.
For Blacktown President Mark Crittenden, this clash presents an intriguing contest despite the odds being stacked against the NPL NSW side.
With a lack of training, lingering COVID restrictions and more, the focus is on ensuring that the best performance possible can be on display in Mudgee.
“We’ve tried to cram eight weeks pre-season into three weeks, but the boys have come back to training in really good shape” said Crittenden.
“Obviously the Mariners have been in training a little longer, but we look forward to heading to Mudgee and putting on a good show and we will see what happens.
“Any win is a good win but to be able to progress to the round of 16 would be great and hopefully we can show case some of the talented players that are in the NPL.
What the fans said:
One thing that is truly magical about the FFA Cup is the fan support. Local passion, deep connections with players and the community.
Despite being a home game for Blacktown, this game has moved to Mudgee’s Glen Willow Sports Complex, yet there are plenty of Blacktown faithful making the trip down to cheer on their squad as they look to repeat the impossible.
Chris Want, the head of the Blacktown Demons Den perceives the FFA Cup Round of 32 as an incredible opportunity for fans across the NPL with the possibility of slaying a professional side possessing an inconceivable level of importance and significance.
“For me as a fan the greatest thing is qualifying for the round of 32 is the one thing I look forward to each season. It’s huge for an NPL club to draw an AL (A-League) club” said Want.
“To play them and then beat them the most incredible feeling as a fan of a semi-pro team. It made me so proud of the team that they lifted to and level to defeat a full time professional club. I was so happy for all the boys to show exactly what they are capable of and to show that it’s not just A-League clubs that can compete on a national stage and win.
“It filled me with immense pride to support the club on one of the biggest nights in its long history.
“I know this club is capable of big things and this squad has what it takes to defeat the Mariners again.
Longtime Blacktown supporter Samuel Tu’ipulotu deems this contest as a cathartic moment for the Blacktown faithful as disappointing results and struggles in the initial phases of the National Premier Leagues led the club into a difficult position.
“With struggle builds the foundations for success. During the NPL reboot, Blacktown City underwent a period of results which strangely led to the missing out on the finals. Critto (Crittenden) was happy though, as he told me he was building the foundation for tomorrow. City’s form last season before postponement and the shrewd acquisitions this season give us a real chance I believe!” Tu’ipulotu said.
“It’s where my kids grew up as I used to take them with me to work. I’m very proud to be associated with this club, they have given my family some great memories.”
Will more memories be provided when Blacktown take on the Mariners this evening? Those questions may be answered, and plenty more.
Regardless of the result, it is the magic of the cup in every sense of the word.
Image Source: Blacktown City