How to prepare for the biggest match in your 63-year history: ‘That’s the ideal scenario’

NPL2 Victoria side Northcote City are preparing for one of the biggest night’s in the history of their proud club, when they welcome Adelaide United to town for their Australia Cup Round of 32 clash on Monday night. Their President Michael Skliros spoke to KEEPUP ahead of the contest.

David vs Goliath is a tale as old as time and one which has underpinned the Australia Cup since its inception.

However, one of Victoria’s proudest clubs Northcote City may have to channel another ancient figure, their namesake – Hercules – if they are to cause one of the great ‘Cupsets’ in the competition’s history.

Northcote welcome Isuzu UTE A-League giants Adelaide United – a side two tiers above them in the Australian pyramid – to John Cain Memorial Park on Monday night, where a win would require nothing short of a Herculean effort.


The NPL2 Victoria side – a team littered with part-time athletes – will come up against some of the best the country has to offer, including Socceroos, savvy veterans and some of the most talented Aussie youngsters.

In fact, it’s probably the biggest game in Northcote’s 63 year history and those involved in the club understand its magnitude.

However, ‘Iraklis’ and the local community are embracing the occasion, as they get ready to host one of the country’s finest in front of a bumper crowd at their spiritual home.

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Featured image: Kou Media

“There’s a really good buzz around the club, around the community,” Northcote President Michael Skliros told KEEPUP.

“(There’s) been a lot of promotional work going on as well too. A lot of preparations at the ground, and there’s a fair bit involved from an infrastructure point of view when you’re hosting an A-League team.

“Even though we’re pretty lucky to have a great facility out here, it doesn’t quite cut the mustard when you’re talking about broadcasting on Channel 10 and all that sort of thing.

“Talking about lights and other bits and pieces that you need to get in broadcast requirements and the like, so yeah, it’s been fun. It’s been an experience.”

Zeljko Kuzman’s side currently sit seventh in the ultra competitive second tier of NPL Victoria heading into the final week of their 2023 campaign. Northcote’s recent form, however, has been much improved, only losing twice in their last eight, and are fresh off a 1-1 draw with first placed Western United Youth – which denied them promotion for at least another week.

Their run started after qualifying for the Round of 32 when they defeated Victorian State League Two side and local rival Clifton Hill on penalties in June.

The win ensured they would join NPL Victoria Champions Oakleigh Cannons, Heidelberg United, Melbourne Knights and NPL3 side Goulburn Valley Suns in the national stages as the five Victorian representatives from outside the A-Leagues.

However, after the Suns were eliminated by APIA Leichhardt last week, Northcote became the equal lowest ranked side remaining in the competition alongside New South Wales outfit Inter Lions, who secured their place in the Round of 16 with a 6-0 win over Hellenic Athletic.

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It’s only the second time Northcote – who were Victorian champions only 10 years ago – have competed on the national stage, with the last of those coming in 2018 where they fell to a 3-1 defeat to Devonport City.


Unlike the disappointing evening five years ago – which coincided with their relegation from the top tier – they will host the game at their spiritual home in Thornbury, having played the NPL Tasmania outfit at the Veneto Club (the home of FC Bulleen Lions) due to Northcote’s facilities not meeting requirements.

“Our facility has gone undergone a bit of transformation since the time we were last in the Round of 32,” Skliros said.

“You always want to try to play at home, that’s the ideal scenario… Having not played at home last time and having played away.

“From a volunteer perspective there’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes to make it happen and a lot of cost as well too. We’re under no illusion that it was going to be a simple task.

“However, we see it as a great opportunity to showcase what we’re about on the national stage and we’re hoping now that community can get behind a local club taking on an A-League giant.

“It’s something that we’re relishing and looking forward to.”

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When the draw rolled around in late June, Northcote were faced with the question of ‘who would you rather face’ given the benefits and drawbacks of facing either an A-Leagues team or club from outside the top tier.

On one hand, a fellow NPL or state league side would considerably improve Northcote’s chances of progression, but the opportunity to test yourself against the best on national television and in a competitive fixture doesn’t roll around everyday.

Northcote are taking the match in their stride, understanding the benefits the club will reap for hosting a side of Adelaide’s calibre – who are set to roll out some of the A-League Men’s top players including reigning Johnny Warren medallist Craig Goodwin and wunderkind Nestory Irankunda.

“It was quite interesting,” Skliros said regarding the draw.

“Up until that point in time, we’d been going through all the qualification rounds and to be honest, where we were at with the league and everything else happening within the club. It was a bit surreal at the time.

“We were just thinking: ‘ok, we’ve made the Round of 32. It was great’.

“But then with the build up around the actual draw itself, we were just waiting in anticipation, you’re glued to the screen. It was all starting to become quite real.

“When you’re seeing that, well, we’re about to host an A-Leagues club… We’ve hosted A-League clubs here before for friendlies and exhibitions and things like that, but on that particular stage with all the requirements behind it, we were just buzzing.

“A lot of the boys to be honest were keen on an interstate trip somewhere warm. They would have all welcomed that this time of year!

“But it’s always huge when you get to test yourself, you get to see where you’re at as a club. You get to come up against a professional outfit. It’s always an opportunity to gain a lot more out of it than what you would just on the football side of things.”

The significance of this match stretches well beyond coming away with an upset victory for Iraklis too.

It comes at almost the perfect time, when football is on the tip of everyone’s tongues throughout the country as a result of the smash hit that’s been the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

A solid crowd is expected to fill the grandstand and surrounding standing room areas, only hours before the semi finals get underway on Tuesday and the a Matildas do-or-die clash with England the following evening.


Image: Kou Media

“We were thinking at the time (of the fixture release): ‘is Monday the ideal fixture?’,” he said.

“It’s panned out where there’s not a lot on the Monday night there, so from a game’s perspective and I mean, the buzz around town, Matildas going as deep as what they have. Football is top of mind. It’s everywhere you look.

‘It’s phenomenal for the game and it’s opportunities like this that, we’ve got a great domestic cup as well that runs parallel.

“As long as the football interest piece keeps growing, it’s great for the code, it’s great for the clubs and it’s great for the spectators as well.

“It’s just a matter of leveraging these moments and trying to put on the best show that we can to make sure that our game is painted in the best light.”

Image: Behind the Lens

Northcote also boast a strong top-to-bottom, junior to senior program in both the men’s and women’s sectors, producing a host of talent who have gone on to the A-Leagues academies and beyond that into senior setups.

Western United A-League Men champion Ben Collins and Melbourne Victory’s Paige Zois are among the players who spent time at the club, with the former going right through the ranks from juniors to seniors before being snapped up.

Rashid Mahazi, Paulo Retre, and Jason and Glen Trifiro also played for Iraklis’ senior side prior to signing for A-Leagues clubs.

Members of their current senior squad have had a taste of A-Leagues environments too, including Nic Sette who was a scholarship player at Melbourne Victory in 2018, while Maceo Jones, Yug Gandhi and captain Leo Athanasiou were in the club’s youth set-up. Zac Bates also plied his trade in Melbourne City’s academy.

They were also the only NPL side represented when the Joeys went to the U17 Asian Cup earlier this year, with goalkeeper Daniel Graskoski selected in Brad Maloney’s 23 player squad.

Paige Zois (centre)

Skliros hopes not only more of Northcote’s youngsters can be buoyed by the occasion when they see some of their heroes in action, but also the entire local community.

“We’re working hard improving our facility, bringing the quality of teams that have been coming through here and young players see it, they aspire to it,” Skliros said.

“We’ve got a great junior football program. We’re very well connected with A-League clubs. We have a great number of kids that go into A-League academies every year.

“We’ve got a good football reputation and when you’re seeing clubs of a higher calibre come down and your own membership and your own playing group can see that… it gives them greater aspiration, gives your sponsors and the broader community who come past here great entertainment at a local ground level.

“You don’t have to go too far and you can see something really good and it propels our brand a lot further which is only good for the club. It’s tremendous, great exposure.

“We’re fortunate that we, that we play in a pretty good precinct, a nice part of the suburbs and we’ve become a pretty good draw card for people to come down and watch us.

“It’s not just the home and away team support that we’re looking forward to. It’s a celebration of football, the Australia Cup and we see a lot of clubs get behind it and football lovers and football followers,” he said.

“We’ve had people reaching out to us from other clubs in leagues that we compete against and they’re all showing an interest. So hopefully, the weather gods are kind and people can get out and have a good night of entertainment.”


Northcote City v Adelaide United
Kick-off: 7:30pm (AEST)
Venue: John Cain Memorial Park, Thornbury, Victoria
TV: 10 Play