FFA Cup dreams start this weekend across Victoria

It may be thousands of kilometres away from the San Siro Stadium in Milan, but it will almost feel like a Champions League tie when Mildura City take to Kenny Park in Merbein this Saturday for the qualifying round of the FFA Cup.

Mildura, who don the red and black stripes made famous by European giants AC Milan, play in the Sunraysia League and will face another regional Victorian club in Shepparton South SC from the Goulburn Valley.

It’s hardly a coincidence that the boys from Shepparton wear the colours made famous by Juventus, so you’d be excused for thinking this could be a Serie A heavyweight bout.

The two teams have never met, as far as club officials on both sides can recall, but they do share a common thread in their storied histories.

Mildura City SC was founded by migrants in 1973 as 'Milan Soccer Club'. The Sunraysia town came to be a common destination for Italians who descended on the State’s Food Bowl post war to find a better life away from the country which was ravaged by the second World War.

Similarly, the population of Shepparton tripled during the 1960’s and 70's as Italians arrived looking for work, which was plentiful at the time growing peaches, pears, and apricots for Australia’s largest processor of canned fruits, SPC. 

Shepparton South SC
Shepparton South SC - Wearing their Black & White kit

This Saturday for the first time these teams with so much in common off the pitch will face each other on it, and the prize at the end is a spot in the main draw of the FFA Cup.

Mildura City Coach Simon Trembath - whose day job is the Principal of the nearby Cardross Primary School - says this will be one of the biggest days in the club’s proud history.

“Our players have to make a big sacrifice to participate in this tournament, given our location," he said. "We are looking at a six-hour one way trip for most games. Luckily we are at home this week, and given the lack of football in Mildura over the past year, we are expecting a big turnout.

"It gives our players the chance to test themselves against footballers from all over the state and gives our juniors something to aspire to as well. We have a great junior program and many of our team’s senior players is made of kids that have played here through the years."

Speaking of road trips, it will be the team from Shepparton who will hit the road this weekend. Shepparton South Life Member, Dan Nardella, says his team has decided to car pool for the five-hour one way trip, with wheels rolling at 7am on game day.

It’s probably not the ideal preparation, but such is the nature of part-time football, the team had little choice.

"I think the boys would love to have stayed in Mildura for the weekend, but the lockdown threw our plans into chaos, so it will be a massive day on the road, 10 hours of driving and hopefully a win to talk about on the way home," Nardella said. 

Nardella says generations of families have been through the club, which celebrates its 50th year anniversary this year, and he’s busy piecing together the club’s history for a special celebration.

"You hear so many great stories, some of the older generations say that the club was first called Roma before it was officially entered into official competitions, but I’m not sure how we ended up in Juventus colours!" he said. 

Shepparton are no strangers to the FFA Cup, with their best run coming in 2016 where they accounted for Monash, Dandenong Warriors, and Boroondara/Carey, before being knocked out in the fourth round by NPL heavyweights, North Geelong Warriors.

The stories of these two clubs from different corners of Victoria highlight why this competition is so special and both can dare to dream of progression into the next stage of the tournament.  

From there, who knows what else awaits. A night under the big lights in front of a national TV audience?

No wonder they call it "The Magic of the Cup"...

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Main image (L-R): Riley Aunger, Brandon Pollifrone, Simon Trembath, Nicolas Woods, Lukas Pedder
Photo credit: Trembath Sports Photography