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Dec 14, 2006

Massive crowd shows A-League has arrived

Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC have helped lift the A-League into the stratosphere of Australian football attendances after drawing a 50,000-plus crowd for the first time in domestic soccer history.

The 50,333 who packed Telstra Dome to breaking point for a tense 0-0 draw on Friday night was a record crowd for an Australian club soccer match - smashing the previous 43,242 from the 2000 NSL grand final in Perth.

It was also a bigger crowd than any AFL match held at Telstra Dome in the past two years, though the code pulls far larger attendances for home-and-away matches at the 100,000-capacity MCG.

But now with a 50,000-plus crowd for a club match, the fledgling A-League - after just one and three-quarter seasons - can rightfully command a place at Australian football's table for grown-ups.

The biggest football attendance ever recorded at Telstra Dome remains the 56,605 who watched the Wallabies play the British Lions in a 2001 rugby Test.

AFL's record Telstra Dome crowd is 53,312 for the Kangaroos-Collingwood match in 2003.

And rugby league's State of Origin showpiece in July this year drew 54,833 for the decider between Queensland and New South Wales.

Those who played in the Victory-Sydney FC match said the crowd number sent a powerful message about the status of the A-League among Australian football codes, and also in world soccer.

"You'd do well to find an Australian abroad this weekend who'll play in front of a bigger crowd than that," Victory skipper Kevin Muscat said.

Sydney FC skipper Mark Rudan, who played in the dying days of the old NSL, remembers playing in front of a handful of fans in matches few outside the ethnic catchment of those clubs participating cared about.

On Friday night, he made a point of walking slowly to the bench as he was substituted late in the game - just to take in the atmosphere and how far Australian soccer had come.

"We should rejoice about (the crowd for the Victory-Sydney FC match) - all the football lovers in this country," Rudan said.

"We've waited a long, long time. I've been playing for a long time, playing in front of 500 sometimes, in front 5,000 sometimes.

"Now we've got 50,000.

"It goes down in history - and I don't think it will be beaten for a long, long time."