Special Report by Matt Cleary
It was the 37th minute of the final game of the 1997/98 English Premier League season and the score was 0-0 between Aston Villa and Arsenal at Villa Park.
Win the game and Villa would secure a UEFA Cup spot. Lose and the capacity home crowd would know another boulevard of broken dreams.
They were down to 10 men against mighty Arsenal, already crowned League and FA Cup champions.
And then Villa won a penalty.
And up stepped Dwight Yorke.
With David Seaman (goalkeeper for England, mind) in front of him, Yorke ran in with purpose and then, just as he appeared set to unleash a thunderbolt, chipped the ball to Seaman’s right where it floated down and bounced softly into the back of the net as Seaman was left floundering and considering the wisdom of diving the other way (left).
And the crowd at Villa Park went nuts.
“David Seaman’s saved some big penalties in his time,” declared the commentator, “but he’s never been beaten by such a soft touch.”
On Villa’s website Yorke recalled that he was “high on confidence”.
“I just felt ‘even if I miss this, the crowd know I’m trying to entertain them.’
“You want to win football matches, of course. But the fans are paying their hard-earned money to come and be entertained.
“It should be like going to the theatre!” Yorke declared.
Fast forward 24 years and Yorke is in charge of the A-Leagues All Stars who will take on European football giants Barcelona FC on Wednesday 25 May at Accor Stadium.
And if the game ends in a draw after 90 minutes plus stoppage time, it can be revealed, there will be no extra time.
The match will be decided on penalties.
And Yorke is right up for it.
“I’ve been involved as a player in epic draws with Barcelona . . . if we get to the stage where we’ve taken on such a big club in world football and the result is in the balance, it’d be a shame to walk away wondering.
“I’m confident we’ll have the players to step up.”
A-Leagues Commissioner Greg O’Rourke says taking a drawn game to penalties makes sense.
“Australians love a result, as the whole concept of the finals shows, so it makes sense that we’ll have a winner on the night, especially with a trophy up for grabs. This stadium has produced some incredible moments and this could be another,” O’Rourke says.
Might it end in a draw? It’s not out of the question.
Barcelona will be coming off their final La Liga game for season 2021/22 before getting ready for the trip to Sydney for the first time.
They’ll come up against Australia’s best A-League players who are not in the Grand Final.
And those guys, mentored by an A-League champion and global football superstar in Yorke, will be hungry.
As Brett Emerton told Accor Stadium Media: “For the boys currently playing in the A-League who haven’t spent time playing in Europe, I think it’s a fantastic opportunity to test themselves against the best players in the world.
“And it’s a fantastic opportunity for them to see the level they need to get to if they want to take the next step in the right direction in their own footballing careers.”
Emerton did add that he believed Barcelona “will have too much quality and come out on top”. The reasoning being that their pride in themselves as professionals and in representing Barca’s famous crest would trump jetlag, lethargy or post-season apathy.
“I know they’re at the end of their season, but as professional footballers you always want to win so they will come here to play and play well and get the result,” Emerton said.
Tickets in most categories are still available for the FC Barcelona v A-Leagues All Stars blockbuster, which is on track for a full house at Accor Stadium.
Tickets from $29 (kids), $49 (adults) and $127 (family of 4) are available from Ticketek.
More information at www.barcainsydney.com