The 1997 NSL Grand Final: Memories Of Football’s Watershed Day

May 16, 2017 by

The late, and many would say great, Dr Dave Marshall was one of the more ardent Brisbane Strikers fans you could wish to meet back in the club’s National Soccer League days. He was also a habitual reporter of our home games, recording events in his own quirky and colourful style for football fans around Australia in the days when the internet and bloggers were still relatively new in our corner of the world.

On Ericsson Cup Grand Final day in 1997 Dave, the owner of the iconic “Thanks Frank” banner that encapsulated the fans’ emotions and their regard for player-coach Frank Farina, was on hand to witness the day the Brisbane Strikers stunned the nation by drawing 40,446 people to Lang Park. At a time when that sort of turnout was virtually unheard of for football in Australia, Dave’s idiosyncratic “fan’s-eye-view” of the game now provides a valuable and humorous reminder of how it felt to be there on day when Farina and Rod Brown scored the goals that beat Sydney United 2-0 to win the Strikers the Ericsson Cup:

“It dawned a cracking Brisbane May day. All crisp air and bright sunshine from the blue, blue sky, This weather is one of the many reasons I live here. As soon as I woke, my mind said “2 nil” and so I felt surprisingly relaxed at once. Just to prove my mind can be wrong, it also said a little later “Cranney and Frank”! A couple of phone calls to make sure all our mob had the arrangements clear, and down to the garage to check on my big “Thanks Frank” sign which needed a little work on it. Then to check all the gear to go to the game – balloons, streamers, confetti, cup replica and first check on tickets.

Friend who was driving (poor sod) arrived at noon and stuff loaded in his and car second (and third) check on tickets. Away to pick up Jon and Chris, my sons, and their girlfriends and mates (all of whom, BTW, have attended some games this season) and off to the ground. No problem parking and into the queue and quickly to the turnstile. Problem – the dear lady at ticket world, despite all the care I had put in, had sold us seats on the far side, facing into the sun. I recalled her name was Mrs Wacker!

Since we were to meet a couple of mates inside I volunteered to hang around while the others took off round the ground. An hour later and anxiety levels rising as the numbers swelled and no sign of them. Then, a piece of luck.

Turned out the police inspector I/C security was a friend of mine (he’s usually the inspector who handles major incedents!), and we had a yarn (he told me they had already ejected some guy with a Croatian flag and the no national flag rule was to be strictly enforced – although I did see an Irish one later!). He said they even had the bomb squad present – such is the image of soccer crowds! He kindly let me into the area where we had arranged to meet, but neither friend was there. Upside was it enabled me to buy a cap against the sun (horrible looking thing it is, except for the STRIKER’s logo) and to be at the entrance when the lads got off the bus – full police bike siren escort too! They looked very relaxed. I knocked back the inspector’s offer for a short cut across the ground and walked the couple of hundred metres round to the Hale St side where my good lads were waiting, as were the buggers I’d been sweating on for an hour!

They had secured top seats – in the shade, long aluminium benches with a crash bar behind to sit on. By now I was parched and so the first of many Fourexes was consumed. Then the sign was installed and we sat back just soaking up the scene and having a few preliminary songs – a bit hard to compete against Janglegang (?) [My Pom-come-Bananabending friend is referring to Gangajang – TE], but we did manage to modify their one and only hit to suit the STRIKERS and they obligingly played it repeatedly at the end. Soon Thor had parachuted in after that bizarre animal [It’s a Puma! – TE] that attends Sydney United games and all around us the chant of “Thor, kill the rabbit!” was up and running.

Another was “We’ve got the best AUSSIE team in the land!” and. of course, the unimaginative “If you love the B S, clap your hands”. Even it sounded OK with 20 or 30 thousand at it. Before you knew what happened some nice men in red coats had marched around playing instruments and everyone was singing Advance Australia Fair.

I didn’t hear any naughty Sydney United fans attempting to disrupt – in fact I didn’t hear them all day. They were in a wedge in the sun and pretty unobtrusive. About five minutes before kick off, I had a look into the street and, although the ground looked bursting, there were still hundreds of fans milling round. Was it a lock out? [Sure was, gates were closed – TE..again]

To the game – Chay Hughes was a revelation and an inspired choice. I rate him now, previously thinking him to be a bit player. His shot after about 15 seconds had the house on its feet and they barely sat down after that. You saw the game on TV and the first half was very defensive with the STRIKERS’ Big Al (we will miss him), Gwynnie, Willow and Danny Wright giving the “deadly” United strikers nothing. (BTW, they haven’t scored against us up here this season). An occasional high ball was handled perfectly by Bolton, who hasn’t put a foot wrong the whole final series. In the midfield Kasey Wehrman and the Cranneys (I love them and the Courier Mail!)) and often Frank, were generally first to the ball and simply clogged it up.

Brownie, I have to say, was beaten in the air repeatedly and the STRIKERS didn’t seem to pick up on that until the second half. The first half was over in a trice and I confidently told the doubter next to me in the pisoire that I KNEW we would win 2 nil. Then came THE goal. Talk about pandemonium! I was already hoarse and could hardly contribute to the noise. We then started to take hold of the game and no-one was amazed (let alone I, who knew the score anyway) when Brownie stuck the knife in the Croatian ribs.

Now I felt safe to take off my coat and reveal the legend on the back of my T-shirt – “STRIKERS Australian Champions 1997” – I could have sold it 20 times by the time the game was over, but it will make a nice souvenir of the day. Cue for party time on the terraces. All the old chants, Mexican waves, dancing and more Fourex. A chance to pull out one from earlier in the season – “You may be tall, you may be thin, but, Vladko [Too bad his name is Zeljko – TE], you let two in!”. “We’ve won the cup”, “WE love you Frankie” and “We’ve got the best team in the land” predominated and when the final whistle blew I was down on the rails with my “Thanks Frank” banner and letting rip – actual tears of joy! Some craphead from Ericsson made a long and pre-written speech – quite out of order at that point, and we let him know – then Big Al lifted it up and up we went again! During the circuit of the ground Frank looked up and pointed to and clapped THE banner and all was well in the world!

We hung around until there was no further point, then off to the car amongst amazing scenes in the streets. Singing, dancing gold and blue everywhere. Cars being stopped. Car horns blaring, mad intoxication and Aussie blokes hugging in the crowds. Off to Perry Park, poor, shabby little stadium it now looks, and a quiet beer sitting in the empty grand stand just letting it all sink in. Memories of old Brisbane City day mingling with the reality of today.

Suddenly eruption in the club house – the TV news is on and Frank and Brownie have scored again!!! A lull before the players arrive and a chance to talk to Pedro Tokesi for the first time this season. The big man is crying and I’m not far off. A bit of a blur from then on – singing and chanting, TV camaras and lights reflecting off Big Al’s cranium, Kasey Wehrman much bigger than he looks on the park and so like Matt Hayden in appearance, and a word with the bandaged Wayne Knipe without whom all this could not have happened.

Finally, in rolls ajm [Also known as Tony Moran – TE] and more embracing and smiles and exultation. We decide to head home to watch the SBS replay at 9.30 PM. I sit alone and how flat it all seems – the usual crap commentary, the almost silent crowd (why don’t they use an effects microphone) and JYCTJW droning on about how Sydney United are superior and how pleased he is for Brisbane and I don’t think he really gives a toss. I had to switch it off after the goals went in – too close to the real world of Oz football.

However, yesterday did give me hope, if the just some of the 35 000 glory hunters come back and the media (a lot of yesterday is down to them) continue to give us a fair go, there may be a bright future. One thing is for sure, if we host the Grand Final next year, the STRIKERS are going to need a bigger home ground!”

Thanks Dave!

Now, do YOU remember that day? If you were on the playing, coaching or back-up staff for either team, or a supporter who witnessed the events, you have a story to tell. As we count down to the 20-year anniversary of the game on 25 May we’d love to hear your recollections. Feel free to email them to smpitman@otusnet.com.au and we’ll have a look at them, give them an editorial polish if need be, and publish them on our website and/or social media accounts under your name.

Finally, if you’d like to attend our 20-Year Anniversary Dinner just go here and follow the instructions.

Club News

About the author

Media Liaison, Brisbane Strikers Mob: 0432 085 222