21 fans who grew up to play for the A-Leagues clubs they supported

Throughout the history of the A-Leagues, a host of players have played for clubs they grew up supporting. KEEPUP looks at a few examples of players who got the chance to live out a childhood dream by donning their team’s colours.

Every football fan dreams of the opportunity to pull on the colours of the team they supported growing up.

For some throughout A-Leagues history, they’ve had the opportunity to do exactly that in the Isuzu UTE A-League or Liberty A-League.

Western United’s Oli Lavale was the latest player to do so last week, when he scored on club debut in the Australia Cup Round of 16 win over Gold Coast Knights, only 15 months after having a front row seat to watching the club win their first A-Leagues Championship.

In light of Lavale’s memorable debut, KEEPUP looks at some of the players who have had the opportunity to play for the A-Leagues clubs they supported.

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Adelaide United – Jordan Elsey, Ben Warland, Jay Barnett, Craig Goodwin

Experienced centre-back Jordan Elsey started his career at the club he grew up supporting in Adelaide United.

The former Red – who now plays for Indian side East Bengal – spoke candidly about what it meant to represent the club after many years watching on as a fan in the terraces of Coopers Stadium.

“I have so many fond memories of going to home games as a kid. Being a fan, first and foremost, makes it all so much more unique and I still consider myself lucky to wear red,” he said.


“I remember the first game at Hindmarsh, this really electric aura in the air at the stadium and it was like nothing I’d experienced before – especially only being nine-years-old. There was a guy that parachuted onto the pitch with a flare too, which was pretty awesome to see as a kid.

“I’m very proud to be South Australian and when I see young South Aussies coming through our youth team and playing their first professional game, that is something really special.”

Current Reds defender Ben Warland also grew up as an Adelaide fan, before eventually playing for the club in two seperate stints – either side of a four-year stay at Sydney FC.

“On the weekend, being the first home game and it being a long time since I last played at Coopers Stadium, the nerves were definitely there,” Warland told the club website in November last year, after playing his first game back for the club.

“I was especially quiet leading up to the game thinking about all my family that was going to be there, and the fans.

“My wife, Olivia, was asking during the day of the game: ‘What’s wrong? What’s wrong?’, because, looking back, I think I was really just a bit in my own world thinking about the game and not wanting to let anyone down.

“But as soon as I went out and got the warm-up done and took Ruby onto the pitch, the nerves went away.”

Warland’s teammate Jay Barnett is another who grew up a Reds supporter.

“This is the reason I came back to Adelaide…for nights like this and hopefully to be involved in a Championship winning side,” Barnett told KEEPUP after Adelaide’s Elimination Final victory over Wellington Phoenix.

“First step tonight, which was pleasing, but there’s a long way to go for us yet.”

He continued: “Having friends and family here tonight to watch it too; it is everything I dreamed of as a kid, and hopefully a few more nights to come this season.”

Socceroo Craig Goodwin also supported the club as a junior.

Brisbane Roar – Jesse Daley, Quinn MacNicol

Former Brisbane Roar midfielder Jesse Daley has been a fan of the club since day one.

“I was at the first game in 2005 against New Zealand Knights, so I’ve been supporting the club since day one. My happiest memories are the team winning championships in my early teenage years. They’re the moments that stick out,” he said prior to leaving the club at the end of the 2021-22 season.

Jesse Daley (left)

“I was a big Matty McKay fan. But we had so many good players in that era. I was kind of in love with the team and the brand of football we played. Now I want to inspire the next generation. I was in their position once upon a time.

“Hopefully, in 10-15 years’ time, they’re the ones pulling on the jersey and looking back and remembering the good times that this team gave them.”

Meanwhile, 15-year-old Quinn MacNicol – who recently became the club’s youngest ever goalscorer in their Australia Cup victory over Sydney United 58 – was once walking out with former captain Matt Smith as a Miniroos mascot.

Canberra United – Grace Maher

On A-Leagues All Access: No Simple Path, Grace Maher spoke about her surreal journey from being a ballkid to playing for Canberra United within a couple of years.

“It was Caitlin Muñoz’s shot, left foot, went way above, missed the goal,” remembers Maher, who will play for Western United next season.

“I stuck my hand up to stop it – and snapped my wrist.”

Naturally, Maher opted for a bright green cast.

“Lo and behold, a few weeks later I was at Canberra United training, getting my cast signed by Michelle Heyman, Caitlin Muñoz, Ellie Brush, Grace Gill,” she said.

“Two years later, I was signed for the team.”

Retelling the story of her debut, Maher can’t help but recall the afternoon at McKellar Park when Munoz’s wayward put her in that fluorescent green cast.

“Right before I was about to make my debut as a 15-year-old, they said: ‘Do you remember that ball girl that broke her hand?’” says Maher.

She was met with blank faces around the change room.

“I was just sitting there going: ‘They’ve got to be joking, right? They know it’s me’ – and I told them.

“I had to bring in the cast for proof as well!”

Central Coast Mariners – Harrison Steele, Jacob Farrell, Matt Hatch

Harrison Steele and Jacob Farrell lived out of the ultimate dream by going from fans to Championship winners in a matter of only years.

Steele watched on as the Mariners won their first ever Isuzu UTE A-League Championship against Western Sydney Wanderers in 2013, before being part of the second Central Coast side to take home the A-League Men’s ultimate prize.

Meanwhile, Farrell – who grew up on the Coast – said it was always “a dream” of his to play for the club.

“I’m just a local boy on the Coast, so I grew up watching the Mariners,” Farrell told Front Page Football.

“It has always been a dream of mine to play for them. I used to go to almost every game.

“I looked up to players like Josh Rose and Patrick Zwaanswijk and others who played in the era in which the Mariners won the Grand Final (in 2013). I looked up to all the players that were on that team.”

Former Mariners winger Matt Hatch was also a ball boy in an Asian Champions League contest, during the peak of his Central Coast fandom.

“Playing for the Mariners has always been a dream of mine. Sitting with the Yellow Army and seeing how much support the team was getting, I knew I wanted to play in front of a home crowd like that. I can’t really put it into words,” he said.

“I have a few really vivid memories being a fan for the Mariners, one would have to be being at the 2012/13 Grand Final against the Wanderers in Sydney where we ended up winning, the atmosphere was incredible. Another would be ballboying an Asian Champions League game at Central Coast Stadium where it was pretty much sold out, the fans were crazy.”

Melbourne City – Stefan Colakovski

Former Melbourne City winger Stefan Colakovski was a fan of the club since their inception as Melbourne Heart in 2010. Colakovski said the first Melbourne Derby – which Heart famously won 2-1 at AAMI Park – is a memory which sticks with him forever.

“It is hard to put into words how I feel to play for City. I have supported the club since it since I was 10 years old and always dreamed of playing at AAMI Park in front of the fans. Now I get to live that dream,” he said prior to his move to Perth Glory.

“At the first ever Melbourne Derby, John Aloisi celebrated right in front of where me and my family were sitting when he scored. To win the first ever derby was massive for the fans and I still remember that game almost 11 years on.

“All the young boys and girls who support us should reach for the stars and believe that one day they can be lining up for City.”

Colakovski would go on to score in a Derby himself, firing home late in their 6-0 drubbing of Victory at Marvel Stadium in 2021 and won two Premierships and a Championship with City too.

Melbourne Victory – Jake Brimmer, Maja Markovski, Alana Murphy

2022 Johnny Warren Medallist Jake Brimmer has lived the dream of thousands of young Melbourne Victory fans who grew up supporting the club during their early years.

“Growing up as a Victory member, it was always my dream to play for club. I feel extremely proud to pull on the club shirt and I get goosebumps every time I walk out in front of our loyal members and fans. It really is a dream come true,” he said.

“I was at the 2007 Grand Final, watching Archie Thompson just dominate Adelaide with five goals. So having grown up idolising the Victory players, I want to help inspire young boys and girls who follow the club and who want to play football. It’s part of the responsibility of being a professional footballer and I hope I can inspire the next generation of Victory players.”

Meanwhile, Maja Markovski grew up idolising Lisa De Vanna, before eventually sharing the pitch with her in the 2020-21 Liberty A-League season for Victory.

“[De Vanna] was the first player to get her name on my back,” Markovski told ESPN in 2021.

“There’s a photo of us from about 2013 when she was first at Victory and we’re standing back-to-back with each other.

“And now I’m playing with her. That’s unreal.”

Alana Murphy also grew up a supporter of the club and spoke about how she idolised one of her future teammates, Amy Jackson, who she had a signed piece of memorabilia from.

“We were at training one day, and Murph said: ‘AJ, I’ve got a signed poster of you at home that I got from a game years ago when I was little’,” Jackson told KEEPUP. 

“I was like: ‘Whatever, make sure you bring it’. So the next time we were at AAMI Park, she actually brought it in and we had a really good laugh about it.”

Newcastle Jets – Blake Archbold

Former Jet Blake Archbold went from meeting his heroes as a kid to sharing the same training pitch as them only years later.

“Like any young player, your first dream is to play for the club you support. Seeing the players on TV and live at games, I always put myself in the position of being out on the field like them. As a 12 year old, I had the opportunity to attend a Newcastle Jets training session,” Archbold said.

“I was able to watch the team train, meet the players, have photos and autographs and look through the training facility. Now, seven years later, I am apart of the squad using those same facilities and training fields like the players I looked up to on that day.

“I would love for young players in our area to see that working hard and doing their best can lead to exciting opportunities. Setting yourself goals, along with having the right mindset and drive for the game can lead to rewarding opportunities.”

Perth Glory – Tando Velaphi

Tando Velaphi played for five A-Leagues clubs during his lengthy career, but his two stints at Perth Glory had a little bit of extra significance.

“When I first started at the club almost 15 years ago, it was a very surreal feeling to be on the other side of the fence so to speak and be playing alongside guys I was aspiring to be like as fan. Even now I feel very privileged to be able to represent a club that has such a rich history going back to the NSL days,” he said.


“It would be great to think I might inspire young fans to want to follow in my footsteps. There’s a lot of great young talent here in WA and I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before we see more of them take the next step and play for Glory.”

Sydney FC – Jaiden Kucharski

Upon signing a contract extension with the Sky Blues, Jaiden Kucharski shared a brilliant anecdote of how he fell in love with Sydney FC as a kid.

“When I was young, Dad was a big football fanatic and we went straight into The Cove,” he said.

“The Capos gave us some flags as young kids and really got us involved. It drove me to wanting to support the team.

“To get my first professional contract this year is great, after 14 years of supporting the club and I’m very excited.”

Wellington Phoenix – Clayton Lewis, Lukas Kelly-Heald

They say never meet your heroes, but there’s no famous saying about playing alongside them!

Clayton Lewis did exactly that, sharing the pitch with Kosta Barbarouses during his stint at Wellington Phoenix.

“My favourite players to meet as a young fan were Leo Bertos and Kosta Barbarouses as I played for Wellington Olympic growing up, so felt I had the Greek connection I guess. They always made the extra effort with me which is always greatly appreciated,” Lewis said.

“I had great people around me growing up when football wasn’t as big as it is now, but now we can do more, and I want to do what I can to help inspire the younger generations coming through. I hope we can get back to Wellington soon, and I can do my bit in the community to give back.”

Meanwhile, defender Lukas Kelly-Heald was also a season ticket holder prior to his playing days in the senior team.

Western Sydney Wanderers – Daniel Wilmering

In 2012, Daniel Wilmering was a ball boy at Western Sydney Wanderers’ first ever game in the A-Leagues against Central Coast Mariners.

Seven years later, he was debuting in their inaugural match at the new CommBank Stadium against the same opposition. In an added twist, Wilmering came on for Tarek Elrich – who at the time was the only surviving member of the team from their maiden match in the competition.

“Playing for this club feels amazing, it’s a dream come true. Going to the games at (the old) Parramatta Stadium, the fans were very into it and very passionate,” Wilmering said prior to joining Newcastle Jets this off-season.


“I try to replicate that passion on the field. I’ve got some great memories as a fan – the (5-4) semifinal win against Brisbane, the Asian Champions League final first leg at home, even just marching with the RBB to the stadium.

“Young players playing for the club they grew up supporting is great for football because they play with passion. We’re seeing it more and more around the league.”

Western United – Oli Lavale

Oli Lavale went from a fan with a front row seat to Western United’s coronation as 2022 Isuzu UTE A-League champions to scoring in an Australia Cup fixture for the same club.

The 18-year-old fired home a debut goal in his maiden start against Gold Coast Knights last week and spoke about how much it meant to represent the club he supported prior to joining their youth setup.

“I just feel like being a fan can contribute a lot to this club,” Lavale told KEEPUP after the game.

“Only joining a few years ago. We don’t have that many fans, but we’re trying to build on that.

“I just wanted to support as much as I could whether that be in the (Western) Service Crew or just helping out around the club, but yeah, it means a lot to the club. I know that and they appreciate everybody.

“Seeing (Josh) Risdon playing in the 2018 (FIFA) World Cup and then him heading it across goal and me getting the touch there is a bit surreal.”