Football Federation Australia bosses are confident of a record A-League grand final crowd in Perth, with extra seating options being considered to expand the capacity 60,000 Optus Stadium ahead of Sunday’s showdown between Perth Glory and Sydney FC.
It’s the first time the former-NSL powerhouses will host a home final in the West since 2003, eyeing their first championship of the A-League era.
FFA Head of Leagues Greg O’Rourke announced on Thursday an ambitious line up of pre-game entertainment, headed by international electronic dance outfit Ministry of Sound, with recently retired A-League greats to be acknowledged pre-game.
“The Hyundai A-League Grand Final is the biggest day in the competition’s calendar and we have worked hard to give the fans an event that will be entertaining and memorable,” said O’Rourke.
“Current sales suggest we can potentially expect a full house on Sunday afternoon and we are confident that this will be remembered as an amazing event in the history of Australian Football.”
The previous biggest A-League grand final attendance was set in 2007 when an Archie Thompson-led Melbourne Victory defeated Adelaide United 6-0 in front of 55,436 fans at Docklands Stadium, while the record at Optus Stadium from any sport is 59,608 for last year’s AFL preliminary final between West Coast and Melbourne.
It’s understood more than 46,000 tickets had already been sold by Thursday morning.
Meanwhile, fresh from missing out on a second Johnny Warren medal, veteran Spaniard Diego Castro is eager to lead his side to a first championship win for coach Tony Popovic, who lost three grand finals as head coach of Western Sydney Wanderers.
At 36 years of age, Castro should be on the decline, instead, the man dubbed “El Maestro” has produced arguably his best season yet, with the seven rounds he missed through injury earlier in the season seeing Wellington Phoenix’s Roy Krishna pip the Glory playmaker for the A-League’s top individual honour.
Glory goalkeeper Liam Reddy however has no doubt Castro is the A-League’s greatest ever player.
“Diego is the best player in the competition and has been for a number of years,” Reddy said.
“He’s a tremendous footballer, he’s a tremendous leader of us. He leads with actions, and the way he plays and trains … you feel very confident going into a game with a player like that.”
Glory defender Shane Lowry also rated Castro as the league’s best.
“He seems to get better with age,” Lowry said.
“He’s such a hard working player as well. It’s not just the skills and the tricks. People don’t see the movement off the ball, the running, the defending. He keeps his body in tip-top shape.”
Castro will need to get past former Perth Glory player Brandon O’Neill, in a star-studded Sydney FC midfield including former Johnny Warren medalist Milos Ninkovic, Ajax legend Siem De Jong and former Socceroos Alex Brosque and Josh Brillante.
One player who won’t be overwhelmed by the big occasion is veteran Glory defender Dino Djulbic, who fled war-torn Bosnia as a child, before settling in Perth aged 15.
“As a kid you don’t know exactly what’s happening,” Djulbic said.
“But when there’s bullets and stuff flying around, you know there’s something not right.
“We left our home town and we were travelling around Bosnia for about three months while the war was on. Then we moved to Croatia, and then Slovenia, and then eventually we moved to Germany as refugees.”
Now 36, Djulbic wants to reward his adopted home town for the faith it and Popovic have shown him after a journeyman career that seemed to be heading towards retirement a few years ago.
“The fans see that I love the club and that I would do anything for [its] success.”
“All I can think of is 50 to 60 thousand people being there.”
Perth Glory and Sydney FC players dominated the PFA team of the season, with Perth’s Jason Davidson, Shane Lowry, Neil Kilkenny, Castro and Chris Ikonomidis all selected in the league’s Best XI, with Popovic named as coach and Reddy the reserve goalkeeper.
Sydney’s Rhyan Grant and O’Neill also earned starting berths, with Ninkovic and English sharpshooter Adam Le Fondre selected on the bench.
Both sides go into Sunday afternoon’s final with near full squads to choose from, with Alex Grant the only player unavailable, due to illness.