The FFA Cup rarely fails to deliver a Cinderella story and in its inaugural season it was a plucky bunch of part-timers that epitomised the ‘Magic of the Cup’.
At the start of the 2014 season even the most ardent of Australian football fans could have been forgiven for knowing little about South Springvale FC.
Based in Melbourne’s south-east, the club had been firmly entrenched in the lower tiers of Victorian football since its founding by Greek Australians as Sandown Dynamo in 1968.
But come year’s end, the club nicknamed Aris after the classical Greek God of War and Courage, had proved the FFA Cup was whole new ball game where any side could create its own epic on the national stage.
And demonstrate how the Fates conspire to create new legends.
South Springvale's path to the FFA Cup national spotlight
In 2014, the path for Victorian clubs to the national rounds of the FFA Cup was through the historic Dockerty Cup knock-out tournament – first held in 1909 – with the four Semi-Finalists joining the state’s then two A-League clubs in the Round of 32.
In March, South Springvale opened their campaign with a 2-1 away win on the road to fellow Victorian State League 1 South-East side Doncaster Rovers,
It was promptly followed by their first big upset just weeks later as they eliminated NPL Victoria’s Pascoe Vale 1-0 in the next round.
In May, the team was at their Warner Reserve home ground for the first time in the campaign as they easily accounted for fourth-tier Craiglea FC 3-1 and followed it with another win on their home pitch against Fawkner Blues - Dean Panagopoulos netting the winner in the 1-0 result.
Another NPL scalp would follow as they stunned high-flying Hume City 3-0 in the Dockerty Cup Quarter Finals on the back of a Ali Hameed brace.
And with that the little-club-that-could stepped on the national stage for the very first time.
The Gunners come to town in the Round of 32
The draw for the inaugural Round of 32 was as a mixed blessing for the club as the hopes of glamourous tie against an A-League opponent faded with confirmation they would face NPL Northern New South Wales outfit South Cardiff FC.
But South Springvale, who warmed up for the tie with a Dockerty Cup Semi Final win over St Albans Saints, were buoyed by having home ground advantage; although they would need to forego their Warner Reserve home for Kingston Heath to meet the FFA Cup’s hosting requirements.
The home-away-from-home didn’t phase the over 1,400 exuberant fans cheered on as the teams took the pitch, although they were soon silenced as the Gunners took a fourth minute lead as Lee Ashton capitalised on a long throw.
But the fans regained their voice midway through the half as Alexandru Florea levelled against the run of play in the 25th minute with headed finish from a corner.
Minutes later fullback Luke Burgess struck the crossbar, but another set-back befell the hosts prior to half-time as the Gunners, who had dominated large swathes of the first half, edged ahead again through Mitchell Wallace.
The balance was changed in the second stanza as South Springvale went their bench and with just 12 minutes remaining found a deserved equaliser through Sotirios Dimitrakopoulos on the overlap down the left flank.
With both sides tiring, it proved the final goal from open play, as extra-time failed to break the 2-2 deadlock and the contest went to penalties.
Dowisha proves the hero in the shoot-out
The Gunners went first in the penalty shoot-out and, having netted their first, were on the back foot as Chris Gazzard missed the target with his side’s second attempt.
There were no such issues for the hosts, however, as Ricky Diaco, Aristidis Drakos, Keiran Fitzgerald and Darragh Ryan converted to put their side on the cusp of history.
With it all on the line South Springvale goalkeeper Rani Dowisha stared down Gunners skipper Jarryd Johnson for the what proved the final attempt of the night – the gloveman diving smartly to his right to push away a firm strike.
Soon buried under a dog pile of ecstatic teammates, Dowisha emerged in time to share the accolades in his post-match interview.
“It’s a fairytale run for the boys,” he said, “It’s unbelievable and it’s a team effort (and) you couldn’t ask for much more from the boys – they dug deep.”
What happened next?
South Springvale again avoided A-League opposition in the Round of 16 Draw, as they were pitted against NPL Queensland’s Palm Beach Sharks in a tricky away clash on the Gold Coast.
Playing at Cbus Stadium, the former home of A-League club Gold Coast United, an arm-wrestle ensured before their time on the national stage came to an end - conceding in the 81st minute to Jack Boxell’s left-footed strike for the hosts.
That result followed on from a Dockerty Cup campaign that also ended in bitter-sweet fashion – falling to Melbourne Knights in the Final 1-0 after conceding in the 120th minute of an epic extra time battle.
They may not have won the title, but South Springvale certainly won the hearts of the nation’s football fans and, ultimately, that really is the ‘Magic of the Cup’.