Football in the Illawarra will receive a huge boost this Saturday when Sydney FC brings professional competition back to Wollongong with a pre-season friendly against the Newcastle Jets at WIN Stadium.
The Sydney FC squad includes Italian World Cup winner Alessandro Del Piero, Socceroo Brett Emerton and former Wollongong juniors Corey Gameiro, Matt Jurman and Pedj Bojic.
The Jets also have an Illawarra flavour thanks to their captain, Bulli local Ruben Zadkovich, and boast their own international marquee star in former England representative Emile Heskey.
Del Piero is undoubtedly the best footballer to play in the A-League and one of the greatest of all-time, and it is fantastic local fans have the chance to see him in the flesh here in our own backyard.
His ability on the pitch is unmatched and to have him running onto WIN Stadium will be a treat for all sport lovers in the Illawarra.
Sydney FC is not new to Wollongong. During my time at the club we played A-League opposition three times at WIN Stadium, against Perth Glory and Adelaide United in 2006, and Wellington Phoenix in 2008.
Sydney FC has also played Westfield W-League and National Youth League fixtures at WIN Stadium in recent years and has strong ties to our region through the many Illawarra players that have worn the Sky Blue shirt, including Saso Petrovski, Alvin Ceccoli, Noel Spencer, Justin Pasfield, Brendon Santalab, Dez Giraldi, Aaron Calver and Zadkovich.
Following the success of A-League newcomers Western Sydney last season, Sydney FC will be hoping to win over the Illawarra fans.
Whether you are a Sydney supporter or not, this is a great opportunity for local fans to see a legend of the game and also another chance for Wollongong to demonstrate to Football Federation Australia why we should have an A-League team of our own one day.
With local products representing Sydney and Newcastle on Saturday, it would be great in the future if these players had the chance to play for a Wollongong A-League team and not have to go elsewhere to compete at the highest level.