NIGEL Boogaard says he still gets goosebumps when he remembers playing an A-League semi-final in Newcastle.
On that occasion, in season three of the A-League, the rookie defender was wearing Central Coast Mariners colours, and he will never forget the intimidating atmosphere and parochial support 22,960 Novocastrians provided as their team soared to a 2-0 victory.
Ten years on, Boogaard wears the captain’s armband for his home-town team, and his dream is to lead them back to the same stage, hopefully with a similar or even larger contingent of fans occupying the bandwagon.
“Although I was a Mariner at the time, for me to come back to Newcastle and see people supporting the local team like that was massive,” Boogaard told the Newcastle Herald.
“Probably 70 or 80 per cent of them were against us that day, but the atmosphere in that stadium was amazing.
“There’s a rich football history here. There’s a lot of people around town who are very knowledgeable about football.
“To have a packed stadium, with 24 or 25,000 people, it would be amazing to get to that level again. Hopefully we’re on our way to that.”
Newcastle have attracted average crowds of 10,229 to their eight home games this season, an increase of more than 18 per cent on last season (8645).
That includes several attendances that were affected by unfavourable weather.
Boogaard said the support this season has been “outstanding” but was hopeful it would continue to grow in the countdown to the play-offs.
Newcastle are second on the ladder, and aim to move eight points clear of third-placed Melbourne City, and within five points on leaders Sydney FC, with a win at home against Brisbane Roar on Friday night.
Boogaard said fanpower had played a “massive” role in Newcastle’s dramatic revival this season.
“Just that noise, knowing that they’re there, they’re vocal, they’ve got your back regardless, especially later in games, when the boys are fatigued and their minds are starting to wander a bit, to have that support really pushes us on,” he said.
“Especially with the way [coach] Ernie [Merrick] wants us to play, attacking with front-foot football, having that crowd support eggs you on to do that.
“They’re a key ingredient for us to be successful this year.”
After failing to reach the A-League finals in their past seven campaigns – and collecting the wooden spoon 12 months ago – Boogaard said the Jets were determined to make amends this season.
“We still have to stay focused and keep striving for that common goal, which is to make the top four,” he said.
“I think the difference this year is that we’ve got key individuals around the club who know how to be successful and make sure that people don’t get carried away and get ahead of themselves.
“There’s a good balance within the squad and the coaching staff.
“Hopefully we can keep it going and put ourselves in a position to challenge for a title. It would be great to bring that back to Newcastle, because this town deserves some success.”
After the 2-0 win against Central Coast midweek and Friday’s clash with Brisbane, Newcastle will host last-placed Wellington on Saturday week and coach Merrick said it was important to capitalise on their home-ground advantage.
"Three home games … there’s no doubt when times are tough on the field, that the crowd help to get you over the line,” Merrick said.
"Hopefully we get a bigger crowd on Friday and next week again.”
Merrick said after Tuesday night’s win that Argentine import Pato Rodriguez would “definitely” start against Brisbane, but after Thursday’s final ball-work session he said it would depend on how the 27-year-old “pulled up”.
Meanwhile, Jets defender Daniel Georgievski offered a forthright appraisal of struggling Brisbane, saying they were “in all sorts of strife” and Newcastle were confident of adding to it on Friday.
"It probably hasn't worked out for them,” Georgievski said. “That's why they've changed their formation so many times.
"For us, we just look for the next game ... history has shown we will overcome whatever they bring.”
Brisbane have won only three games all season.