|Full name||Sydney United
|Nickname(s)||United, Croatija, Croacija|
|Ground||Sydney United Sports Centre
(also known as 'King Tom')
|League||NSW Premier League|
Sydney United Football Club are an Australian association football club from Sydney, established in 1957 by Croatian Australians in the area. The club was formed as "Sydney Croatia", but in 1993 was renamed "Sydney United" after having the name "Sydney CSC" for a season.
The club plays in the New South Wales Premier League, hosting matches at the Sydney United Sports Centre in Edensor Park, New South Wales. United are a sister club to Melbourne Knights, a Croatian club in the Victorian Premier League.
In 1981 Sydney Croatia Football Club moved from the city to the United Sports Centre in Edensor Park (known to fans as "King Tom"), which has a capacity of 12,000. The main stand is known as the Boka stand (Boka was the main sponsor of the project). In the Boka stand is the Senator's Club, for lifetime members of the club. Inside the Senator's Club is the Kalac Bar, in recognition of Željko Kalac's transfer to Leicester City in the English Premier League (which helped pay for the Boka stand).
Previous home grounds include:
- Wentworth Park, Glebe
- E.S. Marks Field (Sydney Athletic Field), Moore Park
- Sydney Sports Ground (demolished, replaced with Sydney Football Stadium), Moore Park
- Parramatta Stadium (1997–98 season)
Formed in 1957 as a sports club, the Sydney Croatia Football Club played its first season in 1958 (undefeated) in the old NSW Soccer Football Association (NSWSFA). After transferring to the NSW Soccer Federation (a breakaway league established in 1959), they competed in the third division. In 1961 they were promoted to second division and in 1963 to first, where they were amongst the elite teams nationwide. Teams like St. George Budapest, Pan-Hellenic (who later become Sydney Olympic), APIA-Leichhardt, Yugal and Hakoah were United's major rivals.
For the seasons of 1964 and 1965 a part of the name changed (from Croatia to Metropolitan Adriatic), reverting to Croatia in 1966. However, this was not the last name change; the NSWSF ordered Croatia and Yugal in 1968 to anglicise their names after several incidents of crowd violence. Croatia changed their name again to South Sydney Croatia, since they resided in the South Sydney area with the local Croatian club at Surry Hills.
After a few lean seasons during the late 1960s and early 1970s, Croatia won their first NSW Premiership in 1977 with Luka Fabijinic as coach and Atti Aboyni as the team's striker. The team beat Auburn 2–0 in front of a crowd of more than 6,500 at the Sydney Sports Ground. In 1978, Aboyni took over as captain and coach of the team. Croatia amassed 62 regular-season goals (Aboyni scoring 21 of them) and winning the minor premiership for the first time; they lost 2–1 to Sutherland in the Grand Final Replay (the first game was a 1–1 draw) in front of 9,700 fans. Aboyni then coached again in 1979 to another minor premiership, before quitting after Croatia lost 0–2 to Sutherland in the preliminary final.
In 1980, the club purchased a block of land in West Sydney to call their new home, now known as the Sydney United Sports Centre at Edensor Park. Sydney Croatia won minor premierships in 1981 and 1982 the Premiership in 1982 and 1983.
During the early 1980s, Croatia were often drawing home attendances of 10,000 in the NSW State League; however, National League clubs averaged crowds of only 3,000. The national league needed a heavily-supported club to enter national competition; however, the national league executive deemed it inappropriate for clubs with nationalistic names to enter the league and Croatia did not wish to change their name. However after a National League shake-up in 1984, Sydney Croatia (and its sister club, Melbourne Croatia) were accepted into the national league under those names.
The new NSL club established a record in 1984. Over the season, the club had six coaches: after Aboyni quit and Harry Noon and Mick Jones were sacked, Bill Bicanacic and Bruno Vidaic took caretaker roles before Vedran Rozic took over. Rozic was brought from Croatian football club Hajduk Split as a sweeper, but accepted the role of player-coach as the club stumbled to sixth place in the standings. Large home crowds in these early national-league days made Croatia the most popular club in Sydney.
1985 and 1986 saw better success, with Croatia winning the Northern NSL Division crown over powerhouse clubs such as Sydney Olympic, Marconi, and Sydney City. However, in the preliminary final they lost to Sydney Olympic. 1987 saw a lean season in the league, but a successful cup season which brought them another trophy: the Beach Fashions Cup, with a 2–0 aggregate victory over South Melbourne (with Croatia strikers Robbie Slater and Graham Arnold scoring).
After finishing second in the normal season in 1988 Sydney Croatia made its first NSL Grand Final, playing neighbours Marconi-Fairfield at Parramatta Stadium in front of a 17,000-strong crowd. Alan Hunter and Manis Lamond scored for Croatia, with Frank Farina and Zlatko Nastevski scoring for Marconi. With the score 2–2 after extra time, the game went to a penalty shootout. At 4–4, Croatia's young midfielder Shane Clinch hit the post with his spot kick followed by Marconi veteran Tony Henderson scoring against Croatia's Tony Franken, winning the game for Marconi.
Two more name changes, first to Sydney C.S.C. (Croatian Soccer Club) in 1992 and then to Sydney United, and the move from a winter league in Australia to a summer league saw a few lean seasons for the club during the early 1990s. The 1992–93 season saw the appointment of ex-Sydney Olympic coach Mick Hickman; however, he resigned during the pre-season. Ex-Socceroo defender Manfred Schaefer was appointed coach, and United finished seventh. United's youth policy, training players such as Tony Popovic, Zeljko Kalac, Ante Milicic and Ante Moric, was coming to fruition; these players later represented Australia at a number of levels. During the 1993–94 season, Zeljko Kalac keep an NSL-record 12 shutouts in 26 games. The club finished third, after leading the league.
Branko Culina replaced Schaefer as coach during the 1994–95 season; with a squad consisting of 75 percent locally produced players, United finished third. During the 1996–97 season, under Culina's the guidance United won another minor premiership and made its second Grand Final (this time in Brisbane). In front of an Australian Football record crowd of 44,000, United lost 2–0 to Farina's Brisbane Strikers. Kresimir Maursic was voted the Prestigious NSL Player of the Year award, and David Zdrillic was the NSL's leading scorer with 21 goals (Ante Milicic finished second, with 19). However, the club lost players to overseas clubs: Popovic, Kalac, Milicic, Zdrilic and Robert Enes.
Former Socceroo striker David Mitchell took over as coach for the 1997–98 season. The club, while struggling, finished fourth with Abbas Saad its top scorer for the season. With Paul Bilokapic and Mark Rudan off to Northern Spirit, United won its third NSL minor premiership during the 1998–1999 season. Led by former St. Albans Dinamo defender Velimir Kupresak and talent from the youth league (such as Jacob Burns, Joel Griffiths and Mile Sterjovski), United reached the NSL Grand Final for the second time. However, in Melbourne against South Melbourne, United lost 3–2 (with goals by Mile Sterjovski and Danny Townsend) in front of 15,000 fans.
During a dark period in the club's history, in 1999–2000 Sydney United lost all their players (except Velimir Kupresak) and their coach to a new professional football club called Parramatta Power; however, the new team only lasted fiveseasons. Ex-Socceroo defender David Ratcliffe was appointed coach for that season. Although finishing last in the standings, United defeated Parramatta Power 1–0 at home to end the latter's final aspirations. Ex-Sibenik and United midfielder Ivan Petkovic took over as coach after Ratcliffe was sacked in January 2000.
Former defender Alan Hunter returned to Edensor Park as United's new coach for the 2000–01 season; however, he only lasted until February 2001 when captain Velimir Kupresak took over as coach. Croatia 1998 World Cup midfielder Alojsa Asanovic came out for a two-game stint with United, scoring a goal against the Auckland Kingz. United finished tenth, after winning their first three games of the season.
Branko Culina came back for a second stint as coach for the 2001–02 season, finishing 11th. For the 2002–2003 season, the club imported three Croatian players: goalkeeper Vanja Ivesa and defenders Bozidar Cacic and Boris Pavic. However, the club finished 10th and Culina was replaced in January by former United striker Tony Krslovic.
Ex-Olympic defender Grant Lee was appointed coach in the 2003–04 season, when the club again finished 10th. Highlight of the year was the last away game with United's sister club, the Melbourne Knights (Croatia). In front of a 8,423-strong crowd, the game on 29 February 2004 (which ended 0–0) saw flares, celebrations and a mass pitch invasion; this would be the final NSL game.
With the demise of the NSL, the club once again played in the New South Wales Premier League. With new coach Zlatko Arambasic at the helm in 2005 United started off well, only to finish fourth. However, United enjoyed success with a 3–1 victory over the Belconnen Blue Devils in the Continental Tyres Cup Final at Parramatta Stadium in front of 1,500 fans.
In 2006 Arambasic was dismissed as coach, replaced by Jean-Paul de Marigny. United started slowly, but finished third. During the top-four Vodafone NSW Premier League final series, United defeated Blacktown City Demons 4–0 in the 2006 Grand Final; Luka Glavas scored all four goals. Jean-Paul de Marigny left the club in 2007 to pursue a coaching job with FootballNSW, and United appointed Bankstown City Lions assistant coach Peter Papoythis as head coach. On 8 May United, in eighth place, dismissed Papoythis; this saw another ex-United player, Ante Rumora, appointed coach. United finished the season in sixth place, four points from the top four.
The club is a regular participant in the Australian-Croatian Soccer Tournament.
Note: Flags indicate national team as has been defined under FIFA eligibility rules. Players may hold more than one non-FIFA nationality.
Youth and development
When the club arrived in Edensor Park, they organised the formation of a junior and youth football club for the children of United supporters who wanted to wear the club's colours. The club is a professional sporting organisation employing coaches, administrators and groundsmen. Apart from the first grade and under-20s team, the club has juniors (who have 26 teams playing in the Southern Districts Soccer Football Association. The youth league (under-13s to under-18s) consists of five teams in NSW Soccer Premier Youth League competition.
Sydney United FC has produced a number of players who have played professionally overseas and represented Australia at the youth and international levels. During the 1990s, when they dominated the National Soccer League, the majority of first-grade players had come through the club's junior ranks. Many of these players compete in some of the best football leagues around the world and are an integral part of the Australian national squad. The club has produced 34 international representatives for Australia, a dozen Olympians and a number of Youth Internationals. The first Australian to captain an English Premier League club, Tony Popovic of Crystal Palace, is a Sydney United product. Another United product, Zeljko Kalac, is the first Australian to play for A.C. Milan.
Sydney and Croatia have experienced a number of rivalries with other clubs.
A short distance (1 km) north of Edensor Park in the neighbouring suburb of Bossley Park is the prosperous Marconi-Fairfield club. The Italian-backed club has been a rival of United's since 1970, when Marconi was promoted to the NSW State League. The clubs have had some close games: a 1998 Grand Final between the clubs saw the game go onto a penalty shoot-out (which Marconi won), and a semifinal game during the 1997–1998 season saw United's Kupresak sent off for headbutting Marconi's Sean Babic in the nose.
"Nomads" of the NSL and backed by a heavy Greek following, the club formerly known as Pan Hellenic have had a rich history with United since 1963 when they first met at Lambert Park. Both clubs have seen more activity off the field than on, especially with transfers of players between the clubs. Players such as Ante Milicic, Ned Zelic, Emil Dragicevic, Labinot Haliti, Jim Patikas, Graham Jennings, Ante Moric, Eric Hristodoulou and David Barrett have switched between the clubs over the years.
Northern Spirit/Parramatta Power
Both Northern Spirit and Parramatta Power were clubs admitted into the NSL to promote non-ethnic clubs. Northern Spirit (based in North Sydney) became a United rival when it signed former United players Graham Arnold, Robbie Slater, Kresimir Marusic, Paul Bilokapic and Mark Rudan. United, underdogs during the 2000–2001 with a depleted team, won 2–1 at North Sydney in wet conditions.
Parramatta Power, backed by the prosperous Parramatta Eels Rugby League Club, entered competition during the 1999–2000 season after luring 16 United players and staff. United, however, defeated Parramatta 1–0 to end their aspirations for a finals berth.
- NSL Premiers: 1986 (Northern Division), 1996–97, 1998–99
- NSL Grand Final Runner-Up: 1988, 1996–97, 1998–99
- NSL Regular Season Runner-Up (Northern Conference): 1985
- NSL Cup Winners: 1987
- NSL Cup Runner-Up: 1994
- NSL Finalists: 1985, 1986, 1988, 1993–94, 1994–95, 1995–96, 1996–97, 1997–98, 1998–99
- National Youth League Champions: 1991–92, 1994–95
- National Youth League Runner-Up: 1993–1994, 1996–97
- National Youth League (Northern Division) Champions: 1991–92, 1993–94, 1994–95, 1996–97
- NSW State League Champions: 1977, 1982, 1983, 2006
- NSW State League Runner-Up: 1978, 1981, 2011
- NSW State League Premiers: 1977, 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, 2009
- NSW State League Regular Season Runner-Up: 1983
- NSW State League Finalists: 1967, 1970, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1983, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011
- NSW Division 1 Champions: 1962
- NSW Division 2 Champions: 1960
- Continental Cup Winners: 2005
- Ampol Cup Winners: 1986, 1987
- Rothmans Cup Winners: 1974
- Rothmans Cup Runner-Up: 1971, 1976
- Ron Corry – Played with Croatia from 1966 to 1975; coach and goalkeeping coach with Croatia, teaching Mark Bosnich and Željko Kalac
- Steven Watson – "Watto" came to Croatia from the Granville Magpies in 1975. Watson left the club in 1987, after 12 years.
- Željko Kalac – "Spider", a Luddenham Croatia (Bosna) junior who represents Australia on 2007 European Champions A.C. Milan in Italy, specializes in saving penalty kicks.
- Velimir Kuprešak – "Big Vel" came from St. Albans Dinamo Saints in Victoria and NK Borovo in Croatia. The 1998 Victorian Player of the year transferred to United for the 1988–1989 season. A hard-hitting defender during the 1990s, Kuprešak never shrank from a header challenge.
- Tony Popović – "Poppa" is a United junior who captained Crystal Palace in the England top flight. A tough defender from the 1990s, good at scoring from set pieces. Returned to play for Sydney FC.
- Bruno Vidaić – A strong tackler during the late 1970s and early 1980s, Vidaić (whose son Ben is a striker for Sydney United and the Australian U/17 squad) became a physiotherapist.
- David Rezo – Manager of the club, Rezo played over 100 games for the club and scored 11 goals during the 1980s.
Other notable defenders are Greg Smith, Vedran Rožić, Tom Basić and Mark Babić.
- Wally Savor – The lanky midfielder was first a striker during the late 1978 season. With more than 250 appearances for the club, Savor played for the Socceroos as a fullback but his skill in the number-8 jersey for Croatia during the early 1980s is remembered.
- Maurice Sullivan – Mauritius-born, "Frenchie" was a star midfielder in more than 200 games for Croatia over a 13-year period.
- Ivan Petković – "Petka" came from NK Dinamo Zagreb in Croatia for the 1986 season, and played over 120 games from the club. A midfield leader, Petka coached United as a caretaker during the 1999–2000 season and returned to the club as head coach for the 2007–2008 season.
- Manis Lamond – The Papua New Guinean International was playing for Canberra City when Croatia bought him for an NSL record transfer fee of $32,000. Lamond played for the club from 1986 until the 1994–1995 season (scoring 44 goals) before moving to Perth.
- Mate Goreta and Milan Bičanić – two of Croatia's best strikers from the late 1950s and 1960s, both men have guided the club behind the scenes for decades.
- Graham Arnold – "Arnie" joined Croatia from Canterbury-Marrickville in 1982 before leaving during the 1989–1990 season. An Australian International, he scored over 80 goals for the club and was voted NSW player of the year in 1985, NSL player of the year in 1986 and top scorer in the NSL in 1986. Arnold became a rugby kicking coach and is assistant football coach to Pim Veerbeek.
- Marijan Kovačić – "Curly" was a reliable scorer during the late 1970s and early 1980s. A star player from the Sydney Croatia junior ranks (with his fullback-brother Alex), Marijan scored 55 goals for the club.
- Ante Miličić – A Sydney Croatia junior and a speedy striker, Miličić is fully committed to the club. When asked to transfer to Sydney Olympic for a reported $110,000 to help his club out of financial difficulty, he duly complied. Miličić scored 51 goals for United and plays for Malaysian Premier League team Shahzan Muda FC.
- Atti Aboyni – The Hungarian-born, former Australian wing-striker played for St. George Budapest before joining Croatia. He helped them to achieve their first Premiership in 1977, scored 74 goals in 89 games (from 1977 till 1979) at Croatia at the rate of a goal every 1.20 games.
- Branko Čulina – A former United player, Čulina coached the club from 1994 to 1997 and again from 2001 to 2003. A noted tactician, he coached United to the NSL Grand Final in 1996.
- Vedran Rožić – A former HNK Hajduk Split player who joined Sydney Croatia in 1984 as a defender, Rožić was thrust into the coaching ranks in 1984 as Croatia's sixth coach that season. As player-coach for more than 100 games, he guided Croatia to a minor premiership in 1986 and runner-up to Marconi in 1988.
Other notable former players
- Best result: W 7–0 vs. Collingwood (h) 8 December 1996
- Worst result: L 0–5 v Olympic (h) 28 March 1993
- Best crowd: 16 614 v Marconi 23 February 1997
- Most games (coached): Branko Culina (133 games, W62-D32-L39)
- Most games (played): 250 (Velimir Kupresak, 1989–1990 to 2000–2001)
- Most goals scored: 67, Graham Arnold (178 games)
- Most goals in a season (individual): 21, David Zdrillic (1996–1997)
- Best games-to-goals ratio: 0.58, David Seal (18 goals in 31 games)
- Youngest player: 16 years, 90 days (Jason Culina, 3 November 1996)
- List of Croatian football clubs in Australia
- Australian-Croatian Soccer Tournament
- Croatian Australian
- Melbourne Knights (sister club to Sydney United)