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Marconi Stallions' situation poses the question the FFA must answer

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Marconi Stallions. Remember them? Still one of the most successful clubs in history. A club that has produced, or developed, half a dozen Socceroos captains. The club that nurtured Christian Vieri, who would have won a World Cup with Italy but for an untimely knee injury.

In their heyday, Marconi's headquarters at Bossley Park was nicknamed the "Palace". A sprawling social club, a compact 12,000-seat stadium, a manicured playing surface. For the best part of two decades, this was where many of the most ambitious players and coaches in the country wanted to be.

The roll call remains impressive. Paul Okon, Tony Henderson, Frank Farina, Ian Gray, Steve Corica, Alex Brosque, Nick Carle, Zlatko Nastevski, Gary Byrne, Alan Maher, Les Scheinflug, Ray Richards, Mark Schwarzer, Eddie Krncevic, Harry Kewell. And many more. It's an alumni that takes some beating.

Four national championships, equalled only by Sydney City and South Melbourne, means the Stallions still share the record for the most titles. It's an achievement they're rightly proud of. Trouble is, they won't be adding any more.

On Sunday, Marconi kick off the new season when they host Mt Druitt Town Rangers. In the second tier of NSW state league football. That's the third tier of the game. How the mighty have fallen.

The Stallions haven't played at this level since 1969, when they were a young club fired by the enthusiasm of the Italian community, a club on the way up. Now, if you listen to the murmurings, they're a club on the way to oblivion. I hope not. At the very least, we're about to find out who really cares.


Four years after they were crowned NSW champions, Marconi find themselves preparing to travel to places like North Ryde, Sydenham, Mount Druitt and Asquith. It's a schedule they'll share with the reserve teams of three A-League clubs - Sydney FC, Central Coast Mariners and Western Sydney Wanderers. But it's humbling all the same.

"I'm devastated with where we're at," admits Stallions chairman Vince Foti. "The history we have, we're synonymous with football in Australia. Sometimes it's such a big weight, you feel like crying. But the good times will return, I'm sure of that."

When the A-League was being established in 2004, a consortium of Marconi investors tried to secure a licence. When the Wanderers were looking for private investors two years ago, Marconi offered to buy a controlling interest. It's not that they were knocked back, it's that they were ignored. A club with an ethnic heritage - even one as assimilated as Marconi - no longer deserves a seat at the big table. That's the unspoken message from the head office.

If there is to be a third Sydney A-League team, and it ends up at Liverpool, maybe the Stallions will try to get involved again. Whether it's pride, or ego, doesn't matter. What matters is that Marconi haven't given up. At least not yet.

Fifteen years ago, after expanding their licensed club, Marconi fell into heavy debt. At one stage, the marker to the banks was almost $30 million. These days it's down to less than $10 million. For the last four years, the club has traded at a profit. Last year that profit was a cool $2.2 million.

When things were especially tight, rumours began swirling that the Marconi board was ready to dump football and enter into a partnership with the Mounties to focus on rugby league. Not so, says Foti. "There's no way we won't continue to put resources into football. In the long term, we want to enhance our history, not destroy it."

So now comes the test. One more win by their first-grade side would have kept the Stallions up in the top division on NSW football last season. Instead they slipped through the trapdoor. It's been confronting.

It's now up to coach Jeff Suzor to restore morale and achieve a swift return to the top flight with a squad that includes three former A-League players (Sean Rooney, Mirjan Pavlovic and Marko Jesic) and only one survivor from last season. Foti maintains any player who doesn't have enough passion for the fight "is not welcome here".

Immediate promotion, clearly, is the priority. But in the long term, Marconi's dilemma is one they share with every ambitious former NSL club. Without a pathway back into the A-League, why bother?

If Marconi do give up, be sure the foundation of the game will collapse. Much as the FFA prefers to ignore that stark reality, eventually it's an issue it will have to address.