Western United's Festival of Football bringing the A-League to Tasmania

IT promises to be one small step for the A-League, but one giant leap for football in Tasmania.

For the first time in more than eight years, Western United’s Festival of Football will bring elite-level football to the island via two A-League games against the table-topping Mariners on Saturday and Wellington Phoenix the following Thursday.

Both vital games in the context of the title race and in the battle to make the finals, the fixtures should whet the appetite of the thousands of football-playing children across the island to dream of reaching the top themselves.

That’s the view of former NSL veteran David Clarkson, Tasmania’s highest-profile football export to date and who led an unsuccessful bid to site an A-League team on the island five years ago.

Clarkson, who played a season for Brighton and Hove Albion in England 30 years ago, believes the 15,000-plus registered players on Tasmania – as well as sports fans across the island – should understand how rare the opportunity has been to see top-level football without travelling to the mainland.

In 2012 and 2013 Melbourne Victory played two games in Tasmania, featuring established names such as Harry Kewell, Mark Milligan and Marcos Flores but also new faces such as Socceroos goalkeeper Mat Ryan, international teammate Andrew Nabbout and New Zealand star Marco Rojas.

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Clarkson said the fans who attend this year’s games will similarly get to see “established superstars” such as Alessandro Diamanti, goalscorer extraordinaire Besart Berisha and Mexican playmaker Ulises Davila – but also a new wave of talent including Alou Kuol, Dylan Pierias, Rene Piscopo and Josh Nisbet.

“This is such a wonderful opportunity, not just for football people but anyone who loves sport, to see some genuine superstars – players like Diamanti and Berisha are top quality,” he said.

“But when you see kids like Dylan Pierias, Seb Pasquali and Alou Kuol, they’re the next generation who could go on to achieve great things. Mat Ryan was here in 2013 and he’s played at two World Cups since.

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“We’ve got so many talented youngsters on the island but at the moment they don’t have a defined pathway to pursue their dreams – watching these games will give them a taste of what top-level football is about.

“They’re also games that really mean something, they’re not friendlies. The Mariners are top of the table and want to stay there, and Western United and Phoenix are in the middle of a red-hot battle for the finals.

“It would be wonderful to see the Tasmanian public get behind this, not just now but in the future as we’ll have two games here next year.

“Hopefully eventually we’ll end up with a team in Tasmania, but having Western United here in the meantime is so exciting.”