In the space of a few short weeks, Adelaide United Football Club was founded on 12 September, 2003.
And in the lead up to the 15th anniversary we chatted to several Reds legends to hear their accounts of how the Club was established, that unforgettable game against Brisbane Strikers, and the 2003/04 season as a whole.
Sit back, make yourself comfy, and read a copy of the transcript below.
How the club was formed
John Kosmina: Well, from a personal level, I got an invite from what was then the South Australian soccer federation back in August 2003 to come down for their inaugural Hall of Fame. And, at about the same time, Adelaide City had pulled out of the NSL (National Soccer League), which was due to start in late September, I think. I was talking to Tony Farrugia who was the CEO of the SASF (South Australia Soccer Federation). We talked about the dinner, but then we got onto the subject about what was happening with the football in this state and he said we’re looking to put a united team together. He asked about coaching because I wasn’t coaching in Brisbane anymore and he said they’d be interested and it all just happened from there. So, for me, it was a fairly exciting time. Within two weeks it was all finalised and I remember coming down here (Coopers Stadium), I think on the 14th of September, which was around the first training session. I stayed with a mate of mine down at Woodville Park and off we went. It was a rush, but it was fun and we met with the ex-Adelaide City players deciding who was going to stay on and what we wanted to do with them. So we took the bulk of Adelaide City’s team and plugged in a few locals as well and that was Adelaide United mark one.
Aurelio Vidmar: We were all playing at Adelaide City in the 2002/03 season and at the end of that season Adelaide City decided not to participate in the NSL anymore. No one knew exactly what was going on and then, within a couple of months through the federation here in South Australia and a few other people, the Club sort of formed overnight. Suddenly the 15 players or so that were with Adelaide City came across to start training with Adelaide United. There were a lot of meetings, people like Tony Farrugia, Basil Scarsella, and John Perin were involved, Tony Henshaw was at the federation.
Carl Veart: It was a difficult time with the old NSL coming towards the end and Adelaide City were finding it financially hard to support a team. They didn’t really get the backing of the football public in South Australia at that time and they sort of fell over just before the season started. The SASF and Gordon Pickard decided to take it on and I think it surprised everyone how everyone just got behind the team and we had to start a little bit later in the season. I think we missed the first five games and had to catch those games up as the season went. And the support just drew from night one, it was just unbelievable to have that many people here for a new team because that’s what we were, we were a team. Sure we were playing under the state colours, but I think it just shocked and surprised everyone that so many people came out and supported the club.
Richie Alagich: I think we were slightly isolated from how it all came together. We were just a group of players who would just go and train and prepare for a season very, very quickly because it came about very, very quickly from memory. So we were not involved in what was actually happening and it wasn’t until the very first game where we got an understanding of what was happening. We just didn’t know, as a player you just get on and train and prepare.
How the team came together
John Kosmina: Well there was a ready-made team there, Adelaide City were a good side and I coached against them. I had five years in Brisbane, I had three years in Newcastle coaching against Adelaide City. So I knew most of the players, some on a personal level, some not, but they were good footballers and we had experience in Aurelio Vidmar and Carl Veart. There was also Richie Alagich who played in that first season, who also played the two previous seasons in Brisbane so I knew what Richie was capable of. We just had to work a few other things out. Ross Aloisi wanted to come back from Europe and he’d been away a long time. I’d seen Ross play before he went to Europe, I knew what he was capable of as a footballer. So with that kind of experience and you plug in some good younger players with some good local players around them – you’ve got yourself a good football team.
Aurelio Vidmar: Once Kossie was announced as the coach he was set upon about bringing a squad together. I reckon there was about 14 or 15 players from Adelaide City that had moved across to Adelaide United and then Kossie finished off the rest of the squad. As a captain you do the normal things that captains do. You try to lead the team, you try to bring them all together and that was part of my role. And Kossie’s was to coach the team, get them fit, and again we had a short space of time to get ourselves ready for the competition.
Making the impossible, possible
John Kosmina: It’s about belief and it’s about people believing in each other but having a common goal. Basil Scarsella, who was Chairman of the Federation at the time, was going to head up the club. They said Gordon Pickard, who’d been a long-term sponsor of Adelaide City, was going to be involved. I hadn’t met Gordon at that stage but I’d played with Basil back in the 70s. He played for Campbelltown, I played for Polonia – we played against each other. So there were people that I knew and I figured it’s worth a try. The thing is, people had faith in each other. All the cards were on the table and we had to get a job done and we had to get it done quickly and everybody was pulling in one direction. That’s why it was successful and also because it galvanised the football community. Not just pockets of it. Not just the Greeks, or the Italians, or the Poles, or the Serbs, or the Croats, or anyone else. It brought the whole football community together. It was fantastic; you could feel the vibe. Adelaide is a very strong Aussie Rules town and even the Aussie Rules people were jumping on the bandwagon.
Aurelio Vidmar: It was impossible, I thought, at that stage. I was in quite a few of the meetings in the early part of the set up and I just thought it was definitely impossible. From memory I think it was five weeks it all happened, so it happened pretty quickly and I thought there was no chance. And we were all players at that stage and we just wanted to play. And to have that opportunity to play again was fantastic and the way it turned out was beyond our wildest dreams.
Hours before kick-off against Brisbane Strikers
John Kosmina: It’s really weird how you get these little synchronicities in life and it was bizarre because I had left that club and their player-coach at the time was a guy called Stuart McLaren, who I’d brought back from Scotland and Hong Kong to play. And Stewy was my captain in Brisbane and it was exciting, it was sort of fitting that I’d coach against my old club. But the buzz leading up to the game, we knew it was sort of going to work, we knew there was a vibe around town about it. But I don’t think anyone expected the turn up and the feeling that we got on that first night the 17th of October. It was unbelievable, the place was packed they squeezed an extra two or three thousand people in. They were sitting in the aisles of the grand stand on the far side – there were no seats. And they turned probably another two or three thousand away. It was phenomenal.
Aurelio Vidmar: Generally, matchdays you should be able to sense that it’s matchday. You drive down Manton Street or Holden Street and there’s people spilling out everywhere and you could smell the fresh cut grass from outside and you could sense there was something special happening that day. I remember walking out and there was still probably a couple of thousand people still waiting to get inside into the stadium and I think the game was delayed that night for 10 or 15 minutes. But you could really sense something special was about to happen and fortunately for us we got off to a great start, we had a full stadium and it was a magnificent feeling that night.
Richie Alagich: It was probably the first time in the changerooms where they came in and said we’re going to delay the kick-off time. Leading up to the kick-off, you turn up here, you prepare and we still didn’t know just how many people there’d be. I mean you’re inside the changerooms, you still don’t get a feeling. There was a curtain raiser before and even then, you had no real idea. There was a couple of thousand people there but for NSL games that was probably the norm back then. But then when we first walked out and we warmed up on the back pitch, we walked past all the bars and all the people and that’s when you got a real understanding.
Memories of the game itself
John Kosmina: There was this massive vibe around the place and I have to give Gordon Pickard a lot of credit because he put a lot of the marketing side of it together. He brought the different parts of the football community together because obviously he had fingers in a lot of pies and got a lot of people to come on-board. He also put together a season launch at the Entertainment Centre, where a thousand people turned up – it was phenomenal. It was something really unique and it was like, at last, football has finally gotten its act together. I think there was almost a collective sigh of relief around town that there wasn’t all this petty in-fighting.
Aurelio Vidmar: It was a long time ago, but I remember walking out as a captain. You lead the team out of the changerooms, out into the race and onto the pitch and we had our little mascots by our sides and the whole place just erupted. And in a stadium like this (Coopers Stadium), it’s a small stadium but it’s close to the supporters and it’s probably one of the best stadiums in the country for football. The atmosphere was just electric and, as a player, that’s all you want.
Carl Veart: We weren’t really expected to do well that year, coming together late, Kossie came in late as the coach. We hadn’t had that much success in those previous years with Adelaide City and he brought in a few new players. No one expected us to get a result that first night and we managed to come away with a 1-0 win. But the support we got that night galvanised the squad and from there the team was so strong and together for the whole year. It was fantastic.
Richie Alagich: I guess it was probably the closest thing to winning a Grand Final or a Final of some sort – the euphoria of the crowd. There were a lot of people on the pitch wanting to be involved as well – which is normal and that’s par for the course. It was very euphoric and I think a relief for many people.