Updated: Aug 6, 2022
The 2019/20 season saw City revolutionised by French manager Erick Mombaerts and his coaching team. After a weird few seasons with Bruno being frozen out, defenders playing up front, and a Scotsman slotting free kicks for fun, the club knuckled down and brought in players who made a real impact in this season like Glover, Luna, Noone, Susaeta, Brillante and Galloway.
The regular season wrapped up with the club finishing second in the league for the very first time. In the Cup, we were also consigned to runners-up in a heartbreaking capitulation at Coopers Stadium. A loss in the Grand Final would give us the unflattering ‘bridesmaids treble’, whilst a win, though historic, would be a bittersweet one for City fans in Victoria who were unable to attend the fixture or even celebrate a win outside their homes due to the impact of COVID-19 lockdowns.
I watched the Final chromecasting to a small TV from my unheated sharehouse in suburban Melbourne. It wasn’t exactly what I had in mind for the club's first Grand Final but you had to do what you had to do.
The build-up and the experience of the Final was very different to how we’ve experienced since, and it was done almost exclusively online. It can be hard to remember how bad things were in 2020 but in my non-football supporting house, I had to celebrate our Semi-Final win over Western United with a beer on a video call with my City mates. Following football became an unhealthy diet of group chats, Twitter, phone calls and City LIVE.
The other hot issue leading into the final was not about our starting XI. It wasn’t about how we’d shut down ‘Mr Sydney FC’ Milos Ninkovic. It was about what we would be wearing on the big day. Being the away team playing the 'Sky Blue' Sydney FC meant our ‘City Blue’ home kit (#6CABDD) was out the window. It was between our away kit of white/grey and our third kit, a bold red-and-white striped shirt. In the eyes of City fans, there was only one option for our club's first Grand Final and in credit to the club, they listened to the fans.
In the Final itself, City played a fantastic game, dominating the play early on and (in my mind) winning the game through Harrison Delbridge after 17 minutes as ‘The Boy’ slotted a goal that was ultimately chalked off by VAR.
Nathaniel Atkinson played some of the most passionate, hard-fought football I’ve ever seen somebody play in City colours (perhaps spurred on by the fact that it was his last game before moving to the Glory for approximately six minutes).
I tried calling friends at different points of the game but after realising how far behind my stream was, I resigned myself to having Brenton Speed and his commentary as my only company.
Tom Glover kept us in the game, denying Ninkovic an opener in the 61st. Glover had to bear Sydney's 10 shots on target, including a great save to deny Le Fondre in the closing minutes of the tie. Ultimately, however, out of those 10 efforts it would be just one fateful 'shot' from Rhyan ‘how is he a Socceroo?’ Grant and his nipple in extra-time that would go on to haunt us as we couldn’t get an equaliser to send the game to penalties - though not for a lack of trying.
The loss hurt. It hurt a lot, and was only compounded when Erick announced his departure soon after.
I wasn’t sure if we could back up our efforts in 2020/21. I wasn’t sure if this was our golden chance missed, but in hindsight, we can look back on this match and be proud of it and proud of what our club had to endure in 2019/20 to even complete the season. We had hubs, grounded flights, dashes to the border, and school camp facilities, and we overcame it all as a club and we played our hearts out.
I suppose it also helps that we got them back the next year in a game where we could actually attend, where I wasn't kneeling on a wooden floor watching a delayed stream with my fingers crossed. It all worked out ok and this game on the 30th of August 2020 became a pivotal part of our history as a club that I’ll always remember.