Campbelltown coach Joe Mullen played for Adelaide City and Australia before his coaching career. (Supplied: Ken Carter)
He has won three national league titles and played for the Socceroos, but Joe Mullen would take just as much satisfaction from leading a bunch of part-timers to glory over the cash-rich Melbourne City in the FFA Cup.
- Joe Mullen believes his part-time team could challenge an A-League side
- Campbelltown City, from Adelaide’s north-east, will take on Melbourne City in the FFA Cup
- The game will be more than about the result, with players hoping to impress
For the last seven years, Mullen has moulded Adelaide club Campbelltown City into a feared outfit at state level, winning numerous titles.
Last year the Red Devils’ reputation stepped up a notch when they won the final of the National Premier Leagues, the secondary level of soccer in Australia.
Now the 55-year-old wants to lead the side to glory in the FFA Cup, Australia’s answer to England’s FA Cup, that pits suburban sides against A-League giants.
“I want to do well for my players,” he said.
“I’ll be feeling for them and I’ll put pressure on myself to do everything that I’ve got in my means to win this game so that they can enjoy the moment.”
Campbelltown’s players juggle training and games with work and study, and the semi-professional team plays for little more than ‘pocket money’ and pride.
“We’ve got a couple of accountants, a couple of good thinkers, academics, we’ve got some students, teachers as well, we’ve got people that have their own little business, couriers,” Mullen said.
Next Wednesday night, the Red Devils will take on Melbourne City at their ground at Newton in Adelaide’s north-east. It is the crowning moment of an ambitious plan years in the making.
“Absolutely proud, it’s been a dream of ours as a group since 2012-13 when they introduced the FFA Cup,” Red Devils chairman Don Leombruno said.
“We always wanted to get to this point, to this game.”
After state and territory qualifying, 22 clubs will contest the final stage of the FFA Cup, alongside 10 A-League clubs — but beating Melbourne City would be a herculean task.
The side is owned by huge English Premier League team Manchester City and spends millions on its players and operations every year.
That is in stark contrast with the part-time players at Campbelltown, whose moniker the ‘Red Devils’ is also the nickname for Manchester City’s cross-town rivals Manchester United.
While some might think a respectable loss against Melbourne City would be enough, Mullen disagrees.
“There’s no doubt that we can win the game and I think how is just by doing the things that we’ve done well, those ordinary things extraordinarily well,” he said.
Tears to be shed — win or lose
Much of the team’s hopes will rest on inspirational captain and former A-League defensive stalwart Iain Fyfe.
“Although he’s getting a little bit older now, he’s got that speed of anticipation, rather than speed of legs. He reads the game well, communicates well and he’s a terrific captain for us,” Mullen said.
The 37-year-old, who keeps saying each state league season will be his last, said the Red Devils could progress to the next round.
“Hopefully we can jag a result or something like that, I know the boys will be up for it … we’re going to be really pumped up to see what we can do,” Fyfe said.
The game is not just about the result, with many of Campbelltown’s young guns desperate for a chance to win an A-League contract.
Marc Marino, 23, had brief stints with Melbourne City and Adelaide United, but injury and falling out of favour saw him leave the A-League.
After scoring heavily in South Australia, he is desperate for another chance.
“It is a massive opportunity to showcase finally to the whole of Australia what we can all do and I think it’s a big opportunity for myself,” he said.
Creative Japanese forward Yohei Matsumoto can “electrify crowds” and was “somebody to watch out for as well”, Mullen said.
Campbelltown City has brought its ground lighting up to television broadcast standards, worked with the local council to ensure a top-class soccer pitch and expects up to 4,000 spectators to flock to the game.
“I’ve been known to shed a few tears, probably will that night, after it’s done and dusted, win or lose,” Leombruno said.
The round of 32 in the FFA Cup kicked off last night, with fellow South Australian state league side Adelaide Olympic overcame Western Australian team Floreat Athena FC in a thriller 4-3.
Titleholder Adelaide United begins its Cup defence in early August away to Melbourne Knights.