FFA Cup a new old tradition
There's a sudden sense of excitement throughout the football community with the launch of the FFA Cup.
And with the A-League approaching its tenth season, it's high time clubs in the lower levels of Australia's football pyramid get their chance to not only mix it with the elite, but to even emerge victorious against them in formal competition.
The FFA Cup is a long-awaited tournament and while in one sense it’s a new competition, in another it is carrying on a tradition that started in Australia more than fifty years ago.
Before national league days, the country's top clubs played in the state federations, in league and knock-out cup competitions. The state-based federation cups were quite prestigious events for their time.
In 1960 Australia's first major interstate club challenge took place, where the cup winners from the big states played in a round-robin tournament to become the country's club challenge champion. Footscray JUST took the honours, over Brisbane Hellenic. Melbourne-based JUST - which stood for Jugoslav United Soccer Team - was typical of the big clubs of the time, created or strengthened in the post WW2 period by football-loving immigrants from war-torn Europe. JUST in particular played an important role in developing some of Australia's best players and coaches in the 1960s and 1970s.
Australia Cup - 1962 to 1968
In 1962 a more traditional knock-out national cup competition was initiated. With the biggest teams from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Newcastle, the inaugural Australia Cup was won by NSW side Yugal - another club formed by immigrants from the former Yugoslavia - who defeated Budapest in the final. The 3rd place playoff, between Juventus and Juventus (from Melbourne and Adelaide), was won by the South Australian team on penalty kicks, back in the day when only one player from each side took penalties in the shoot-out.
The Australia Cup grew in 1963 to take in teams from throughout Tasmania. From 1964 Perth and Canberra clubs were represented, giving the competition a truly national feel.
Played throughout football's first real boom period, the Australia Cup was a refreshing competition providing many highlights during the 1960s. Some decent-sized crowds took in the action, while the new national stage fuelled an expansionist desire across the big state league clubs ultimately leading to the creation of Australia's first national football league in the 1970s.
Australia Cup passion rode high with fans of the big clubs, but sometimes went over the top. The 1966 semi-final between Hellas (Melbourne) and Hakoah (Sydney) ended prematurely when an assistant referee was bashed during a pitch invasion, Hakoah leading 3-1 at the time. An all-South Australian first round match in 1968 saw more trouble with the referee felled by a rock, the Hellas-Lions match abandoned as players, spectators and officials fought in frenzied scenes at Hindmarsh Stadium.
Off the field, tension between the national and state governing bodies took a public turn with an impasse on who was to pay for North Perth's trip to Sydney for their 1968 semi-final against Hakoah. Ultimately North Perth lost the match on forfeit as neither they, the WA federation nor the Australian Soccer Federation was prepared to pay the cross-country travel expenses for the WA champions.
Things were getting complicated and the easy way out was to simply scrap the Australia Cup.
NSL Cup - 1977 to 1996
When the National Soccer League kicked off in 1977, there was no finals series. Instead, immediately following the home and away season, all 14 national league teams took part in the first NSL Cup, won by unfashionable Brisbane City.
The 1978 edition expanded to take in teams from the various state leagues around the country, including Annerley (Brisbane), West Woden Juventus (Canberra) and Ascot (Perth).
It didn't take long for the first giant-killing to take place, state league side Sydney Croatia defeating neighbouring national league club Marconi in the first round of the 1978 Cup; while at the quarter-final stage, only a late Adelaide City goal denied Essendon (Melbourne) Croatia inflicting another national league casualty in 1978.
From its early days the NSL Cup successfully gave the two largest Australian Croatian-backed teams - neither who were part of the national league set-up at the time - a platform to show they were a footballing force to be reckoned with.
Over the following years there were plenty more examples of state league teams doing over big-name national league opposition including Parramatta Melita Eagles defeating Marconi in the 1979 Cup, Brisbane team Mt Gravatt beating Brisbane City in 1980, and Croydon City knocking South Melbourne out of the Cup in 1986.
Perhaps the most impressive NSL Cup run by a minnow was by Perth's Spearwood Dalmatinac in 1980, who was only knocked out by an extra-time goal in their 1-0 quarter-final loss to Adelaide City that year.
The NSL Cup also provided well-earned silverware to some NSL clubs who didn't quite manage a league Championship in their time, including Brisbane City (twice), Brisbane Lions, Newcastle Rosebud and Parramatta Eagles (twice) who all won NSL Cup finals despite never finishing in the top three of any NSL ladder.
The last NSL Cup winner in 1996 was probably the most intriguing, brand new entity Collingwood Warriors taking out the honours in the pre-season final, only to then barely finish their one-and-only national league season under financial and legal stormclouds.
The NSL Cup however never really hit the heights it should have, and despite the old national league having a few more years left of its life, the governing body cut its losses with the NSL Cup in 1996.
FFA Cup - 2014 and beyond
National cup-type competitions are certainly not a new concept. With the old Australia Cup and NSL Cup, and other national knock-out tournaments like the A-League Pre-Season Cup (2005 to 2008) there is national cup tradition in Australia that goes back a long time. But it's an unsettled and tumultuous history.
Now with a decent financial investment, firmer bonds among the national and member federation clubs, and the appointment of official broadcaster Fox Sports, the 2014 FFA Cup has all the signs of the start of a long and fabulous new tradition.
National Cup winners 1962 to 2008
1962 Yugal (NSW)
1963 Slavia (Vic)
1964 George Cross (Vic)
1965 Hakoah (NSW)
1966 APIA Leichhardt (NSW)
1967 Hungaria (Vic)
1968 Hakoah (NSW)
1977 Brisbane City
1978 Brisbane City
1979 Adelaide City
1981 Brisbane Lions
1982 APIA Leichhardt
1983 Sydney Olympic
1984 Newcastle Rosebud
1985 Sydney Olympic
1986 Sydney City Hakoah
1987 Sydney Croatia
1988 APIA Leichhardt
1989 Adelaide City
1989/90 South Melbourne
1990/91 Parramatta Eagles
1991/92 Adelaide City
1993/94 Parramatta Eagles
1994/95 Melbourne Knights
1995/96 South Melbourne
1996/97 Collingwood Warriors
A-LEAGUE PRE-SEASON CUP
2005 Central Coast Mariners
2006 Adelaide United
2007 Adelaide United
2008 Melbourne Victory