Australia's Grand Finals: our Grandest tradition

Our stats superstar @AndyHowe_statto tells the story of Australia's Grand Final history and heroes, including when Ange Postecoglou played in the first-ever season finale back in the 1980s.

The climax to the 2015 domestic season – the Hyundai A-League Grand Final – marks the 30th Grand Final since the Australian national league’s first Championship decider in 1984.

Before 1984, it was the team that finished the season on top of the ladder that was declared Australian Champions - the ‘first-past-the-post’ system.

The first championship Grand Final featured the country’s two highest crowd-pulling teams of 1984 in South Melbourne Hellas and Sydney Olympic. 

The Melbourne side, which had teenage defender Ange Postecoglou in its ranks, won the two-legged tie 4-2.

After another Melbourne team Brunswick Juventus took out the 1985 decider again over two legs, the 1986 trophy looked like it was heading Sydney Olympic’s way after winning the first Grand Final leg 1-0 in Adelaide. 

But in the return fixture at a brand new Pirtek Stadium, Adelaide City came back dramatically to win the tie 3-2 on aggregate.

In 1987 the NSL succumbed to the traditionalists and reverted the league to a first-past-the-post system to determine the Champions. 

Although no-one could begrudge table-topping Champions Apia Leichhardt the league title, after the Sydney club finished the 1987 season several points ahead of runners-up Preston Makedonia, the experiment failed with waned interest in the league season.

In 1988 the Grand Final was reinstated as the way to decide the Champion team. It has remained ever since, as a one-off fixture.

The 1988 decider was a true classic, two passionate western Sydney sides Marconi Fairfield and Sydney Croatia drawing 1-1 after 90 minutes and 2-2 after extra time. Ultimately it was Marconi who won on penalties over an unlucky Sydney Croatia team that included Graham Arnold, Robbie Slater and 18-year-old Craig Foster.

The next two Grand Finals saw the same two teams – Marconi and Sydney Olympic – battle it out but for different results, Marconi winning in 1989 and then Olympic, in its third Grand Final, finally taking out the big one in 1990. 

Sydney Olympic’s 1990 Grand Final triumph was witnessed by a then-record NSL crowd at Pirtek Stadium, which was hosting its fourth consecutive national league Grand Final. 

Sydney was certainly was the powerhouse of domestic football at the time.

However the dominant teams for the rest of the 1990s were South Melbourne, Melbourne Croatia and Adelaide City.

South Melbourne and Croatia played out an unforgettable 1991 Grand Final at Olympic Park, where it was Souths’ skipper Ange Postecoglou who eventually got to hold the trophy aloft after a marathon penalty shoot-out victory.

South Melbourne celebrate their title under Ange Postecoglou.

Grand Final victories to Adelaide City (1992 and 1994), Melbourne Croatia/Knights (1995 and 1996) and two more to South Melbourne (1998 and 1999) – who were now under the coaching helm of Postecoglou – confirmed the ascendancy of these three clubs. 

And with another Championship for the evergreen Marconi in 1993, the nineties was certainly a successful era for clubs with long and proud traditions.

However it was a much younger club which stole the show in 1997 when a new all-time domestic league record crowd of over 40,000 turned up at Suncorp Stadium to see the Brisbane Strikers win 2-0 over Sydney United.

The relatively new Wollongong Wolves took out back-to-back titles in 2000 and 2001, Wollongong’s shoot-out win over Perth Glory in 2000 spectacularly coming after being behind 3-0 at half time.

Wollongong celebrate their Grand Final win over Perth.

Despite only playing its first match in the mid-90s, by 2003 Perth Glory was hosting its third NSL Grand Final. The Glory had lost again in the 2002 decider to a young Sydney Olympic in front of almost 43,000 people at Subiaco Oval. 

However at its third attempt in 2003 Perth finally managed victory in the decider.

The Glory repeated its effort the following year in the NSL’s last Grand Final – against Parramatta Power in Parramatta.

With the launch of the Hyundai A-League in 2005, the Grand Final has further entrenched itself as the climax of the domestic football calendar.

Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory – who met in their very first Hyundai A-League regular season match in August 2005 (0-0) – became bitter rivals, and dominated Grand Finals in the A-League’s first five years.

Sydney FC took the honours in 2006 and 2010, and Melbourne Victory did the same in 2007 and 2009. Led by Kevin Muscat, the Victory put on the most one-sided Grand Final performance of all time in its 2007 shellacking of Adelaide United 6-0.

Archie Thompson

Sydney FC and the Victory met in a very tense 2010 decider at Etihad Stadium, the first A-League Grand Final to go to penalties, which Sydney eventually taking it out on penalties.

Newcastle Jets broke the Sydney-Melbourne dominance somewhat with a Grand Final victory in 2008.

The 2010/11 season signalled a new force in Brisbane Roar FC, who took out Grand Final honours in 2011, 2012 and 2014. T

he 2011 season climax, between Brisbane Roar and the Central Coast Mariners, was the most dramatic of all A-League Grand Finals – and arguably the most dramatic Grand Final match at the top level in Australia of all-time, with the Roar taking it out on penalties after being behind by two goals with just three minutes remaining in extra time.

In its fourth appearance on Grand Final day in 2013, the Graham Arnold-coached Mariners finally took home the trophy that year, with victory over A-League debutants Western Sydney Wanderers.

In the milestone tenth A-League Grand Final in 2015, it’s the league’s biggest interstate rivals who meet again in the big one. 

With a very even head-to-head record between the Victory and Sydney FC – including 17 draws in their previous 34 games – and a history of high scoring matches, the 2015 decider is shaping up to be another clash to remember.

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