There is no denying it, Football New South Wales is up for the Westfield FFA Cup.
For some clubs, playing on the national stage of the Westfield FFA Cup is the chance of a lifetime, for others, it’s just about putting the club back on the platform it was meant for.
Five Football NSW clubs remain in the cup as it enters the round of 32 and welcomes the entry of Hyundai A-League teams.
Current Football NSW National Premier Leagues Men’s 1 leaders Blacktown City are joined by former NSL outfits Sydney Olympic and Sydney United 58 FC, as well as fellow NPL Men’s 1 side Rockdale City Suns and last, but certainly not least, State League 1 mainstays Balmain Tigers FC.
The Tigers may be the lowest ranked of the teams in the national stage, but their story is the most compelling.
Currently sitting in fifth place in the third tier of NSW football, it was in a central Sydney pub that the Tigers learned their Westfield FFA Cup fate.
The Tigers’ opponent? Just the Hyundai A-League champions, Melbourne Victory.
Club captain Thomas Hyde recalled the moment with distinct clarity.
“It was weird. All the boys were watching the draw live on Fox Sports in a central Sydney pub and it was actually Michael Beauchamp who was drawing the teams,” Hyde said.
“We played him in the preliminary rounds when we played Bankstown City, so I might owe him a drink next time I see him, because when he pulled out Melbourne Victory, it was absolute euphoria.”
Were the players intimidated by the prospect of playing the best team in the country?
Not one bit, according to Balmain manager Tass Fiakos.
“That’s the draw they wanted,” Fiakos said.
“They wanted a big team, and they certainly got that. They’re ready to go, it’s massive for the club and for the whole district.
“Our Facebook has been going off. We’ve had people from Germany and England and all sorts of places wishing us well and a lot of clubs from the area have been in touch.
“Victory doesn’t know much about us, so we hope that works in our favour.
“We’re certainly not going to lie down.”
The significance of the draw has not been lost on the players, either, least of all Hyde who is in the middle of his sixth season with the Tigers and played his 100th game for the club on Saturday.
“I landed in Australia and the next day had a trial with Balmain and I’ve been here ever since,” Hyde said.
“We’ve got a couple of boys here who are in their fourth of fifth season, so in terms of player turnover we’ve got a core of 10 or 11 players that have stuck around for a few years and that’s helped to create a really good culture here.
“This draw has been massive for the club, though. The exposure we’ve gotten out of it is fantastic.
“We need to use it as a platform to push the club forward.”
While the Tigers are daring to dream, Hyde made no secret of the fact that their focus would be on defence first and foremost come their date with destiny on August 4 at Leichhardt Oval.
“We will be working hard on our defensive shape. Hopefully the rugby boys can tear up the pitch a bit for us, so it’s not so pretty for Victory” Hyde joked.
“I play right full-back, so I’ll be chasing (Kosta) Barbarouses or (Besart) Berisha depending on who they play, but I suppose it could have been worse – I could have been chasing (Fahid) Ben Khalfallah!”
Fellow Westfield FFA Cup new boys Rockdale City Suns who welcome Perth Soccer Club on August 5 will join the Tigers on the national stage.
While the Suns might be new to the national rounds of the competition, they have no shortage of know-how at the club.
Player/Manager Paul Reid will be playing his first national Westfield FFA Cup tie, but he knows full well the cut-throat nature of cup football already.
“I played in the FA Cup in England for Bradford and Brighton, and there’s obviously a lot of history there,” Reid said.
“The Westfield FFA Cup is quite new here and this is mine and Rockdale’s first involvement at this stage and we’re all looking forward to it. Hopefully it will have as good a history as the FA Cup one day.
“I remember with Brighton we played Tottenham at White Hart Lane in the fourth round and that was in front of a full house.
“We lost 2-1 but were a bit unlucky not to force at least a replay, and then there were other games I played in where we lost to lower division teams. That’s the magic of the cup.”
Reid admitted to not knowing a whole lot about Perth, but said he would not hesitate to use his West Australian contacts to build his knowledge.
“We will have people watching them to see how they like to play and where we can hurt them,” Reid said.
“We want to go as far as we can in this competition because it’s a great opportunity for the club and of course the players to show what they’re made of.
“I’ve said to the younger players that this is a great chance for them to measure where they’re at with their own personal development but also to put themselves on the map and try to win a contract in the A-League.”
Suns emerging star Idriss El Hafiane said excitement was the prevailing emotion from within the squad.
“It’s a great opportunity for the club to gain some good exposure on a national level and for the players as well,” El Hafiane said.
“We’re definitely confident. We’ve got three wins and a draw from our last four, we’ve got a home game, we’ll have a strong crowd, so we’re excited.
“We were definitely excited not to have to travel to Perth, that’s for sure!”