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Thompson and Victory, a match made in football heaven

by Tunna on Feb 26, 2015

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Archibald Gerald Thompson, do you take Melbourne Victory to be your lawfully wedded wife?

The relationship between the A-League’s greatest club - in this writer's humble opinion - and the A-League’s greatest player - same again - is very similar to a marriage, where both parties need the other in equal measure.

Back in 2004, Archie Thompson was an amazing acquisition as marquee player for Melbourne Victory, exceeding the popular expectation for the calibre of player the A-League could attract. In so doing, Archie acted as a lightning rod for other players struggling overseas (not just for game time but for conditions, pay and family reasons). “If the A-League is good enough for Archie, then it’s good enough for us” was the thinking.

Getting Archie back from Europe and playing regularly in a competitive domestic competition was also good for his Socceroo career. Remember, Archie famously led the attack as sole striker in the crucial away-leg in Uruguay in the FIFA 2006 World Cup qualifier. Again, Archie was the trailblazing pioneer who showed that a player needn’t operate in Europe to gain national team selection.

Of course Sydney overshadowed Melbourne’s marquee signing with Dwight Yorke, but while Dwight’s star shone brightly for a season, Archie’s force has remained as constant and powerful as gravity itself. He is not only the greatest marquee player the league has ever seen, but he’s the greatest player this league has ever seen.

But it has been a uniquely two-way relationship. Victory took Archie from relative obscurity in the broader sporting landscape to superstardom. Many claim Archie is a cult-figure, but these days his fame transcends football. As much as Archie has helped define Melbourne Victory, it is Melbourne Victory which has elevated Archie to a recognisable Australian sports superstar.

Never before has a local pro playing in the local competition commanded such respect and hero-worship. There are more Victory shirts emblazoned with “Thompson 10” than any other in circulation. He stands alongside Buddy Franklin, Michael Clarke and Billy Slater as local gods in their respective sports. Victory has provided Archie with a career which supersedes his achievements in an Australian shirt – and we are talking about the World Record Holder for goals scored in a World Cup Qualifier.

And as with any marriage, the relationship has had its ups and downs. Archie and the club were also at loggerheads in season one as the diminutive striker sought to strengthen his World Cup credentials with a stint with Guus Hiddink’s PSV Eindhoven. But a pillar of any good marriage is forgiveness and Archie was soon welcomed back with open arms, leading his side to a 6-0 Grand Final triumph over Adelaide United with an astonishing personal tally of five.

As defining as his 200 A-League games have been, they don’t tell the full picture of a player who has straddled both sides of the mythical “old-soccer/new football” divide. With Archie approaching his 200th game, it’s worth noting too that he is as much a product of the NSL as he is a poster boy for the A-League. Bursting onto the scene as a precocious talent for Gippsland Falcons he was soon snapped up by high-flying Carlton. After that club’s extinction he adorned the sky blue of Marconi before embarking on his European adventure with Lierse.

Part of the charm of Archie is his unique approach to the game and life. He’s not your standard cookie-cutter sports star who only says what he’s told. He has always been a vocal advocate for supporter rights in the face of restrictive officialdom. He once famously conducted an interview with SEN Radio while on the toilet. He balances the most charming line between big-headed egotism and self-deprecation in equal measure.

Ed's note - I can attest to Archie's love for the fans. In the old Olympic Park days when faced with a throng of literally hundreds of waiting fans post-game, as a match-day media officer for the Victory, I offered many of the players the side door to avoid the crush. It might seem poor form, but it was late, they were tired from the game and still had rehab to do next door at the VIS/Glasshouse (now Westpac Centre). Almost to a man they took the easy option. Archie on the other hand gave me a stern Gary Coleman 'whatchya talking about Willis' look and opened the main door to his adoring fans. And this wasn't about ego, I promise, he genuinely loves interacting with the fans, especially the kids. Mark van Aken

The ‘bloke’ is a legend, but above all else he is also a genuinely great ‘bloke’. Anyone who has ever crossed paths with him would no doubt say the same. So, Arch, mate, thank you. Thanks for the endless list of fantastic memories you’ve provided us and thanks for always taking time out for your adoring fans. Your truly unique character combined with your feats on the football field will always hold a special place in our hearts. Congrats on 200 and hope there are many more games in navy blue to come.

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Thanks Pope !