It's good to be nervous: Paul Reid's Grand Final advice 21 years in the making

21 years on from one of the most iconic games in Australian football history, the memories of that remarkable occasion in Perth still replay as clear as day in the mind of Paul Reid.

The Sydney FC assistant coach is currently helping prepare the Sky Blues for a crack at a third-straight A-League Championship on Saturday night.But in June, 2000 Reid was, as he describes himself, a "scrawny 19-year-old" preparing for his first Grand Final, plying his trade for the Wollongong Wolves in the National Soccer League (NSL).

The opponents: the fearsome Perth Glory. The venue: Subiaco Oval, filled with 42,242 fans creating a wave of noise flowing from a sea of purple and orange.

Travelling out West were a team of part-timers, who worked through the day to train three times a week to prepare for a game on the weekend. Reid, the youngest member of the Grand Final squad, says the Wolves were galvanised by this shared identity as they travelled to face the might of the Glory.

But 42 minutes into the the title decider, a Jamie Harnwell strike put the favoured Glory up three goals to nil, and the Wolves stared down the barrel of a humiliating defeat. 

BELOW: Gallery - Glory get on top in dominant first half at Subiaco Oval

Wollongong head coach Nick Theodorakopoulos was caught by the cameras with his head in his hands after the third goal rippled the net. Reid says the seemingly defeated Wolves boss dusted himself off to go on and play the most important part in his side's remarkable comeback.

"It was a bit of a shock for everyone," Reid said.

"I was only 19 at the time, and being youngest in the team I was in a bit of shock.

"It was a disappointing first half, and I remember going into the change room being a bit shocked. But in the back of my mind I was thinking ‘you know what? We’ve got nothing to lose’.

"Then our coach reinforced that into all the players, he didn’t scream at us, he didn’t shout, he was very calm.

"I just remember him saying ‘you know what guys? If they can score three goals, we can definitely score three goals’.

"He said ‘break it up into three thirds in that second half. Aim to score a goal every 15 minutes during that second half’. 

“It’s when coaches can either make or break a team, the half-time team talk.

"All your preparation before the game, and before the players go out onto the pitch for the first half but it’s one of those where the coach has to be very composed in a situation like that.

"Thinking back now, it seems pretty basic but it definitely sticks in mind what was said at half-time.”

Scott Chipperfield - part soccer player, part bus driver at the time - scored Wollongong's first to make it 3-1 in the 57th minute.

The sun had beamed brightly down on Subiaco Oval as the home side cut Wollongong apart in the first half, but the mood had changed by the time Matt Horsley made it 3-2. The afternoon light dimmed, shadow crept over the ground and the home crowd watched on with shaking nerves as the travelling fans came to the fore.

Matt Horsley ignites the small group of travelling fans after scoring Wollongong's second in the 2000 NSL Grand Final
Matt Horsley ignites the small group of travelling fans after scoring Wollongong's second in the 2000 NSL Grand Final

Tucked away in a pocket of the stands were the group of no more than 500-1000 fans draped in the red and white of the Wolves. Their presence grew more notable as the incredible plot points of that unforgettable day played out in Perth.

"They definitely got louder," Reid noticed, as Wollongong pushed for an unlikely third. 88 minutes ticked by with the score at 3-2, before Reid elected to make a darting run from midfield down the right side of Perth's defensive penalty box.

The resulting strike was measured. "Get it on target", Reid told himself as he controlled the ball before driving a stake into the heart of the home side.

"I still get people mentioning it to me about the celebration," Reid said.

"I probably should have scored more goals throughout my career, then when you score a goal you really don’t know what to do.

"It’s just one of those spur of the moment things where you think ‘take your shirt off’. I wasn’t on a yellow card, so I knew if I was on a yellow card I wouldn’t have done that.

"I look back on it now and I think I was a scrawny 19-year-old, very pale skin, you look back on it and think ‘why did you take your shirt off when you’re in that condition?’ But it was just one of those moments where you played a small part in getting the team back into a Grand Final.”

A goalless period of extra time followed before five players on each side found the back of the net to take the resulting penalty shootout score to 5-5. 

You blink first, you lose - that should have been the case when Wollongong twice missed from the spot - only for goalkeeper Les Pogliacomi to come up large with two blocks from the spot to keep his team alive.

Pogliacomi twice kept his team alive in a tense penalty shootout
Pogliacomi twice kept his team alive in a tense penalty shootout

Reid was the last penalty taker to score on that day in June 2000. James Afkos, the son of then-Glory owner Paul Akfos, stepped forward after Reid. Akfos shot left and Pogliacomi dived to his right to make the save which ended the drama at Subiaco Oval.

21 years on from playing a key role in one of the memorable Grand Final occasions, Reid remembers it all like it were yesterday. 

On the eve of the 2020/21 A-League Grand Final, the Sky Blues assistant coach will look to give his players the advice he wished he'd received as a bright-eyed teenager about to experience it all for the very first time.

"You train, you play your whole career, you train all season in preparation for this moment and if you weren’t good enough, you wouldn’t be there," he said.

"That’s why I say don’t put too much pressure on yourself, just go out and enjoy it because these moments, a lot of players go through their career without playing in a Grand Final or playing in big games like this.

"You’ve got to go out and enjoy it, because you tend to play your best when you’re actually enjoying it. Everyone’s going to be nervous, and I was told by numerous coaches throughout my career that it’s actually good to be nervous. It shows that you’re focussed on the job at hand.

"I try and say that to young players that I coach now, and even my son and daughter, I say ‘look, when you go into a game and you’re not nervous then you haven’t got your mind set on what you have to do today’.

"Be nervous, relish in those moments where the adrenaline’s pumping.

"You get out there and take a deep breath think ‘I’ve prepared for this moment, so I’ve put myself in the best position possible to go out and show everyone what I’m capable of’."

Match Details - A-League Grand Final 2020/21

Melbourne City v Sydney FC
Saturday, June 26 2021
Venue, Kick-off, Tickets: TBC
Match Centre

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