JOEL Griffiths rates the Newcastle Jets 2007-08 championship “the pinnacle” of a career that took him to Switzerland, Japan and China.
The match itself – a tension filled 1-0 win over arch rivals Central Coast – is a blur.
Saturday is the 10-year anniversary of the Jets’ lone championship, a win that was generations in the making for a success-starved football community.
“That was number one for me,” Griffiths said. “Playing for Australia is up there as well but in terms of teams that is the top. The bond with your teammates is so strong, especially when you win things. Playing in Japan, China and Switzerland is a job. Playing in the A-League is a passion. That is the difference. When you play in Australia, your family and friends – the people you care about most – are watching. They share the moments with you.”
The grand final was intense from the first whistle. Jets supporters set the tone with a giant tifo which covered most of the southern end of the ground. Mark Bridge scored the decisive goal in the 64th minute before all hell broke lose in the dying seconds when referee Mark Shield missed a penalty for handball against Jets replacement James Holland.
The contentious finish was forgotten in a sea of euphoria by fans north of the Hawkesbury river as soon as full-time blew.
“The game itself is a bit of a blur,” Griffiths said. “I remember the first challenge and I remember James Holland’s hand ball, and I remember giving it to him for the handball. I was so absorbed in the game. You forget everything. You feel like you should be aware of it, but you just don’t.”
The Jets had finished the season equal first alongside the Central Coast, with the Mariners minor premiers on goal-difference.
Spurred on by a raucous home crowd of 22,960, the Jets beat the Mariners 2-0 in the first leg of the semi-final, with Joel, who scored 14 goals for the campaign, and twin brother Adam on the scoresheet.
Then the unthinkable happened. The Mariners, fuelled by a Sasho Petrovski double, won the return leg 3-0 in extra time to book a direct path into the decider. The Jets were left in a showdown with Brisbane Roar.
"The 3-0 loss to the Mariners took its toll on us,” Griffiths recalled. “The Monday afterwards, the leadership group - myself Jade North, Ante Covic and Adam - said lets go to the pub and talk this shit over. One thing led to another and we were ten beers deep. We called up all the boys and got them to come down and talk and shake it out of us. Next day at training we ripped in and were right.”
The Jets then pipped the Roar 3-2 courtesy of a Tarek Elrich pearler in extra time.
“Having the group come together, we weren’t going to lose that game,” Griffiths said. “There were a lot of one per centers in the lead up to the grand final. I was looking at old footage of us in the dressing shed. We were watching a one-day cricket game on TV before the game. Matt Thompson was commentating it. We were very laid back.”
Supporter David Keating has produced a podcast series "The Championship Chronicles" to commemorate the victory.
“You get so busy with your own life, you forget these moments,” Griffiths said. “To hear some of the stories David Keating put together. It was so good to get everyone’s perspective from that week.”
Griffiths, now the Jets operations manager, is adamant another title is not far away.
“I really enjoyed what we achieved, but I get annoyed with people referring to the ‘good old days’,” he said. “I honestly feel the ‘good old days’ are about to return. There are a lot of similarities between our 08 side and the team we have now. I honestly think the football they are playing this year is better than the football we played.”