Matt Thompson: Hyundai A-League origins

While watching the inaugural Hyundai A-League grand final, an observation by his father made Matt Thompson realise what the new national competition had achieved in Australia.

Over 40,000 people packed into the Sydney Football Stadium on March 5, 2006 to see Sydney FC defeat Central Coast Mariners 1-0 to claim the Hyundai A-League’s maiden championship and Thompson was thrilled to see football take centre stage.

Having played some part in the last few seasons of the National Soccer League (NSL), Thompson had already made his own comparisons with the fledgling new competition but a complimentary comment by his father gave the then-Newcastle Jets midfielder another perspective.

“I don’t watch much football and I still don’t but that season, I watched [the grand final],” reveals Thompson to Goal from his current home in Thailand.

“It was massive, Dwight Yorke was there and I remember my old man saying ‘this is how it should be’.

“He grew up with a football background himself, so for him to say that, that was a good feeling.”

The 2005-06 Hyundai A-League campaign was a landmark moment in Thompson’s career as the then-23-year-old joined the Jets as a key player in their inaugural squad.

The energetic midfielder played every match for Newcastle, including their two finals versus the Mariners, scoring four goals.

“[I thought] ‘this is my season, this is where I start’. I was a little bit older [than during the NSL era], I was there as a starting player. It was my spot to lose,” he says.

“So to me, that was the exciting part, knowing that I had to keep that spot, I had to train every day as hard as I possibly could to keep that spot…that’s when [football] became a job to me.”

Now in Thailand with PTT Rayong alongside fellow Australians Michael Beauchamp and Trent McClenahan, the veteran midfielder would still prefer to be involved in the Australian top tier even though he is enjoying a “breath of fresh air” in south-east Asia.

Thompson remembers that the Hyundai A-League did not convince everyone to begin with, claiming some elements of the media took a while to get on board.

“I’m not sure about immediately but now…with all the social media things, it’s impossible not to get up to date with everything,” he says.

Thompson adds: “Ten years ago that wasn’t happening.

“You know, the season went for five months, six months and then for the other five or six, you didn’t hear about it.”

In that first season, the Jets finished fourth in the standings, two points ahead of Perth Glory and one behind Central Coast.

It set up an F3 Derby minor semi-final and after the Mariners won 1-0 in Newcastle in the first leg, the Jets headed to Gosford knowing anything less than a win would see them eliminated.

Richard Money’s Newcastle needed a goal and in the 28th minute it was Thompson who silenced the home crowd.

The ball dropped to Thompson in the right-hand channel and he turned before unleashing a looping volley over Central Coast goalkeeper Danny Vukovic to level the two-legged semi-final.

While Dean Heffernan’s second-half goal saw Central Coast advance, the stunning strike ensured Thompson will go down in Newcastle’s record books as their first goal-scorer in the Hyundai A-League finals.

“That was awesome, that was a nice goal, to be honest,” Thompson says.

“I was pretty happy with it…but we ended up getting done, so it didn’t end up getting us through. But that was definitely an awesome feeling.”