Bragging Rights

The F3 derby always promises to be a heated affair, but this match carries a little extra incentive for brothers Ahmad and Tarek Elrich

Newcastle Jets travel down the freeway on Friday to take on their closest rivals Central Coast Mariners in the F3 derby and will be looking to add another win to the ledger to square it off at five wins a piece between the two. But a win for the Jets would see someone else take home bragging rights, as well as giving them the edge in the winning stakes.

Central Coast hosting Newcastle also sees Ahmad and Tarek Elrich face each other on the professional football pitch, something that has happened just a handful of times. With one win each, this match will carry extra weight for both players.

The two have a close relationship and speak almost every day. When it comes to football the brothers want only success for each other, but this weekend they will be focused on getting the three points for their team.

“Growing up I never thought I-d get the chance to play against my brother,” Tarek says. “I look up to him heaps and this is a perfect opportunity. We-ve obviously played each other a few times now and I think we-re pretty even.

“Hopefully I can get the upper hand and he plays well and scores one goal, and I score two and we win.”

“We take the mickey out of each other all the time and it sort of divides the family a bit,” Ahmad explains, “but it-s fun and it-s always great to play against your brother, so I-m looking forward to it.

“But he-s a good player and they-re a good team so you never know (what could happen).”

Six years separate Ahmad and Tarek but not much separates their careers - both becoming successful footballers, albeit along different paths.

Ahmad signed with former NSL club Parramatta Power when he was 18 years old and after four years made the jump overseas, becoming the first player to sign a contract with the South Korean K-League with Busan I-cons. A year later he made the jump to the Premier League, joining Fulham in 2005. After a loan stint in Norway he returned to the A-League with Wellington Phoenix and then signed with the Mariners ahead of season four.

Ahmad played for the Young Socceroos and Olyroos and has 17 appearances for the Socceroos. Tarek also has caps for the Young Socceroos and Olyroos and earned his first Socceroos cap in an Asian Cup qualifier against Kuwait in March this year. But the bulk of Tarek-s career has been with Newcastle Jets - his only previous club being Sydney Olympic in the NSL - and it-s a place he-s been happy to stay. Before the 2007/08 season, Adelaide United made a bid for both players in a joint deal, but Tarek-s loyalty to Newcastle saw it fall through.

“They offered us a double deal that was great money too, but my heart was in Newcastle,” Tarek says. “Newcastle offered us a similar deal too, but the money on Ahmad-s half really wasn-t what he was looking for, so that made it a bit hard.

And then the Mariners came in and they were still close to home and Ahmad had to jump at it.”

For Ahmad, while playing with his brother was an attractive prospect, stability had a stronger pull.

“Tarek was trying to get me to play for Newcastle and at the time I spoke to Lawrie (McKinna). I-ve worked under Lawrie before so I thought it would be better to go somewhere that I-m familiar with, rather than go to a completely new place with a new coach and stuff like that. He (Tarek) was a bit disappointed, but I said, ‘you know, this way you can try to prove yourself to me-.”

And this Friday night is that chance. The rivalry between the two sides means all the players will be ready for a big match; the sibling rivalry is some extra incentive, something Tarek warned Ahmad of when he signed with the Coast.

“We talked about that and I let him know, ‘these games are the ones I look forward to and the ones I probably play my hardest in and you being there isn-t going to make me stop. You-re causing a lot of things in the family and mum-s never liked the team (Mariners), so good luck man-.”

Ahmad says his team “want to impress” in their first home game of the season, but he may need all the support he can get from the parochial Mariners fans.

According to Tarek, the Elrich family will stay loyal to their Newcastle following.

“My family has been following the A-League since day one and they-ve always followed the Jets -cause I was there, and they actually never liked the Mariners, neither did they like Sydney FC. So my family is pretty loyal.

"They-ll be there in their busloads and I can probably guarantee that 95 per cent of them will be supporting Newcastle.”

Ahmad and Tarek Elrich may take aim at each other verbally and in backyard football matches, but if it wasn-t for Ahmad, Tarek could have been lost to the professional game forever.

“In season two, when I wasn-t really playing much and Gary Van Egmond took over, I wasn-t in his future plans for the club, he didn-t think I quite had what it took to make it,” Tarek tells AFW.

“I went to Ahmad and my family and said, ‘look, honestly, I leave my family and leave everything behind and it-s not going anywhere, I-m ready to quit, ready to give up the game-. And of course Ahmad being the older brother that he is, he sat me down and said, ‘look man, just train hard… what you need to do the most is just work hard and work on your crossing and work on your finishing-.

“We actually went down to the park because that was when he first came back from his knee injury and we worked on a lot of that and when I came back for the pre-season Gary Van Egmond and Mark Jones said to me: “What did you do in the off season? Because you-ve come back a different person”.

“So having Ahmad there, without him I probably would have thrown the towel in, and he really kept me going.”

This article appeared in Issue 2 of Australian Football Weekly (AFW) for the Hyundai A-League 2009/10 season. Australian Football Weekly, on sale at every Hyundai A-League game for $5.