PFA Executive Member Shane Stefanutto remembers an inspirational moment when he was developing as a footballer. This weekend, more aspiring professionals will be inspired by the efforts of today’s players.
The following is an article from the Brisbane Times written by Phil Lutton.

On May 25, 1997, a number of miracles were performed in and around Suncorp Stadium. They are yet to be ratified by the Holy See but one can only assume an announcement is due any day.

The first was the crowd. Almost out of nowhere, like the undead finding new life and surging forth from the cold Earth, 40,446 football fans squeezed into the old Lang Park to watch a game of semi-professional soccer.

In Brisbane. In the middle of the rugby league season.

Prior to that, an average crowd for the Brisbane Strikers was about 5000 true believers, who would wander down to Suncorp Stadium, or Perry Park in previous seasons, to watch a code still very much on the lonely fringes of the national sporting consciousness.

The second was the result. Full of veterans nearing the end of their careers and strung together on the tightest of budgets, the Strikers would slam home a pair of goals to eclipse Sydney United 2-0 and become national champions.
Frank Farina’s goal in the 47th minute and Rod Brown’s 69th minute finish get better every time they are retold.

And the third? The parking. Want a real miracle? Ask Brisbane Roar left back Shane Stefanutto how close he parked to the ground after driving down to Milton with a few of his mates.

These days, with the parking around Suncorp enforced like a NATO no-fly zone, his wheels would have been impounded before he could say “Kresimir Marusic”.

“I was in the QAS team. I was in the third row I was with a few of my QAS mates. I remember driving my Mazda 323 and parking just down the back. I remember specifically when Rod Brown scored that second goal thinking the boys had done it,” Stefanutto says.

“That year was amazing. It was amazing to be a part of that youth team and just seeing them. I was at every game that year and it was fantastic.”

With the Roar aiming to finish their stunning season on a similar high in the A-League grand final against the Central Coast Mariners on Sunday, the glory days of 1997 are being toasted once again.

Stefanutto was in the crowd that day and the occasion remains one of the great football memories of his youth. Even if it was for one day, he was able to watch the code he loved in a screaming stadium in his own town.

Almost overnight, it seemed as if Brisbane had suddenly been converted to what the rest of the world had been preaching for centuries. It wasn’t to last but it didn’t make the moment any less magical.

“I remember everything about that day,” Stefanutto, who went on to play 124 matches for the Strikers, says.

“I don’t know what the secret was but why its been so important is because it’s the biggest day in Brisbane football history.

“There was 40,000 people. No one thought we even had that many fans. Everyone just wanted to be part of it, everyone wanted to come and have a look.

“Unfortunately after that those people didn’t stick around. But we are slowly getting the fans back and I hope this Sunday is going to be an even bigger celebration, with even more people.

“Hopefully there are a couple of youth boys in that third row and get the opportunity through their careers. But hopefully not wait as long as I have had to.”

If that afternoon was one of the starting points for Stefanutto’s career, which took him to Europe and the Socceroos before he returned to Ange Postecoglou’s all-conquering Roar, it was one of the finishing notes for Alan Hunter, who captained the Strikers that day and was the best player on the park.

Now a coach at Brisbane club side Easts, Hunter had no idea such a massive crowd would descend on the ground. Some of the players were so dumbfounded they were late into the sheds, staying out to warm up and staring at the stands like wide-eyed kids.

As he lead his side onto the pitch, Hunter could scarcely believe what he was seeing. It was a long way from Perry Park. In the major semi-final at the same venue between the same teams earlier that month, the crowd was just 14,666.
And when it was all over, he can still picture the freezeframe of his children scurrying through the fans, over the fence and on the the field – all without being hounded by security guards.

“The image I’ll never forget is just looking up at the end and seeing my kids coming over the fence. Just knowing we’d won it. It was a relief,” Hunters says.
“That day, when we got the game, I told Frank [Farina] – I think we’re going to win the game. I’d played it out in my head.

“And the more we realised there was so many people watching, we felt we owed it to them.

“When we walked out it was the only time I looked up. The roar of the crowd was just phenomenal. I tried to stay cool and as it turns out I was just so focused.

“Just looking up when the boys lined up, we understood then. You couldn’t find any empty seat. We thought ‘this is it. We can’t let the boys down now’.”
For the victors, the spoils. The kegs were being emptied at a rapid rate at the Breakfast Creek Hotel and it took Hunter and his teammates a few days to realise the historical significance the final was beginning to take on.

“We didn’t think about it until a couple of kegs later at the Breaky Creek. A few days later, people kept wanting to ring and talk to us. Then we realised. I think it goes down as one of the top five or 10 moments in Australian sport,” Hunter says.

“It’s still a very proud moment. Frank said at the time it was the proudest moment in his career. For me, that was the proudest because I was a Brisbane boy.

“I played for my state and my country. But to captain a side that won a national title, that was something we hadn’t achieved. And it was our last opportunity.”
It’s been 14 years until football has once again caught the imagination of Brisbane. With just a few thousand seats left in the 52,000-seat venue, the Roar are trying to give a new generation of fans a moment to cherish.

One day in May…

NSL Grand Final 1997 – Brisbane Strikers v Sydney United.
Crowd: 40,446

Brisbane Strikers: Clint Bolton, Glen Gwynne (Matt Bell 88), Alan Hunter, Frank Farina (Reece Tollenaere 80), Sean Cranney, Rod Brown, Danny Wright, Troy Cranney, Chay Hews (Jeremy Harris 79), Kasey Wehrman, Craig Williams.
Goals: Farina 47, Brown 69

Sydney United: Zeljko Kalac, Robert Trajkovski (Jason Culina 63), Velimir Kupresak, Mark Babic, Richard Plesa, Kresimir Marusic, Ante Moric, Ante Milicic, Aytek Genc, David Zdrilic, Paul Bilokapic (Mark Rudan 81).