Heroes of the heart: City's five greatest cult heroes
It's hard work being a cult hero. There are very few who are cut out for the strict prerequisites of such an esteemed title.
You can be good, but not too good; who do you think you are, a City superstar? You can be average, but not too average; you want the fans on your side, after all.
You can’t be too popular; that defeats the whole ‘cult' aspect, now doesn’t it? But you can’t be too forgettable either; in the hearts and minds of fans is where you want to live on forever.
Achieve too little and you’ll be forgotten. Achieve too much and you’re elevated beyond a cult hero by default.
Cult heroes are a special breed. They’re the type of players that you love emotionally, even if it doesn’t necessarily make sense logically. The type of players that you’d welcome back to the club without hesitation even now, regardless of their current or past ability. The type of player who fans of opposition clubs simply wouldn’t be able to understand our fascination with.
If the name that your mind first settles on when I say the words "cult hero" is, say, Bruno Fornaroli or Bart Schenkeveld, then I'm sorry, but this article might not be for you.
If the likes of Ross McCormack or Ritchie De Laet are where you went to, then you're certainly warmer. The sheer irony and meme factor of either player's time at City is absolutely edging towards cult hero territory. For Warren Joyce's replacement signing for a striker who was getting 'too fat' to be a striker who was too fat is priceless, and so too was his decision the following season to play a right-back as a striker - one who carried the team's offensive output on his back in doing so. Ultimately though, both players arrived with quite the fanfare, were playing in fairly strong squads, and didn't help their 'cult hero' cases by winning the team's Golden Boot in their respective campaigns with the club.
Rostyn Griffiths certainly endeared himself to fans with his character on and off the field, best demonstrated by his 'Roaming Rostyn' segments, and garnered plenty of online clout with his Asian Champions League antics earlier this year. However, given his longevity, reliability and success whilst at City, it could be said that Griffiths left the club as both a big-C Champion and a little-c one too.
Harry Novillo, with his genuine love for City and underappreciated role as the lesser light in that highly-entertaining 2015/16 strike force, would have been a prime candidate, but his reputation has been tarnished by an off-field incident that would prevent him from a return to the club.
Stef Colakovski? Too popular.
'Stepover' Steve Kuzmanovski? Too forgettable.
Harrison Delbridge? Too small a cult.
Amongst an abundance of players who are 'too hot' and 'too cold', there remains just a handful whom even Goldilocks would deem 'just right'. Here are City's five greatest cult heroes:
Quite possibly the blueprint for a cult hero. The much-loved Argentinian’s time on the treatment table is recalled just as quickly as his actual on-field performances, and the 'Jonatan Germano Rehabilitation Centre (noun)' would have been one of the first entries into the Melbourne Heart/City Fans' Dictionary, perhaps right after 'Hearting it (verb)'.
Germano gave us one of the A-League's all-time iconic photos when he scored against reigning-champions Brisbane Roar, rising to head home Mate Dugandzic’s well-weighted corner before retrieving a Santa hat from his shorts, plopping it on his head and celebrating with his teammates in what endures as an unforgettable moment for fans.
Beyond this, the midfielder also collects 'endearment points' as one of a unique group of players to have played for both Heart and City, thus making him an individual that fans who started following in either era of the club can remember fondly.
The embodiment of the 'doesn't quite make sense' factor of cult heroism.
Velaphi was a decent A-League keeper who played alright for a few months, but remains spoken about like a god on earth - the fact that his name has rung around the AAMI Park stands long after his final City game in 2015, even when not involved on the pitch, speaks to that.
It's ironic that I described cult heroes as "the type of players that you'd welcome back to the club without hesitation even now", as City could probably do worse than recruit the 35-year-old to its ranks given our current goalkeeping crisis.
Ok, so Engelaar is extremely borderline in regards to being too high-profile an arrival to qualify as a cult hero, but here's the case to include him in this list: he didn't play long enough to be a great, yet briefly turned the tide of our worst season ever in a run of games that will go down as some of the most memorable in our history.
His impact on fans' hearts wasn't just in the team's unbelievable turn of form, but also in the unforgettable goals he scored. Whilst our minds will instantly cast back to his absolute bomb from inside his own half against Central Coast Mariners (ranked by Talking City contributors as the club's Goal of the Decade), a strike that is almost as satisfying is his absolutely net-destroying thunderbastard scored away to Wellington Phoenix.
The emotional connection between the dark days of 2013/14 and those that were there is unfathomably strong. It's a season that fans of other teams just wouldn't be able to comprehend our nostalgia for. It's that emotional sway that sees Engelaar included here; a true hero of the heart.
Probably the most trivia-worthy answer on this list. Thinking about it, there's a chance that fans who have only recently started following City mightn't have any idea who Safuwan Baharudin even is.
A triallist-turned-three-month-loanee signed in the aftermath of the CFG takeover, the central defender demonstrated his aerial threat with two goals in just six appearances. Still the only Singaporean to have ever played in the A-League Men, things then got strange as Baharudin suffered a 'season-ending' spinal injury that saw him cut his time with City short and return to his home nation... only to immediately be recruited for the rest of the 2015 Singaporean campaign. Baharudin had been offered a contract by City after his thoroughly impressive spell, but rejected it in what would he would later describe as the biggest regret of his professional career.
Clearly, Baharudin ticks several cult hero boxes:
Goal-scoring defender (even better, a centre-back)? Check.
A memorable individual in a mediocre side*? Check.
Just a plain weird chapter in City history generally? Check.
*City won just one of the six games he was involved in.
He's the last to feature here, but for many, 'The Tip Rat' will have been the first player to come to mind.
Is he aided considerably in the 'cult hero' stakes by his mullet/mohawk/rattail abomination? Absolutely, but there's more to it than that.
If Brandan played for any other A-League team, we'd hate him for sure; the diving, the rolling around, the general shithousery - even the way that he would sprint off after EVERY goal as if he'd just scored the winner in a cup final.
But it's ok, because he was OUR Tip Rat. Our shithouser.
He may have been a practitioner of the dark arts, but it was absolutely worth it to see our 4-1 Demolition Derby win, our FFA Cup success and that absolute screamer against Sydney FC.
It may have been easy to forget his role in those big moments (with exception of the latter) with the likes of Fornaroli and Cahill stealing the limelight, but he was always there, always helping to make memories for us as City fans.