Sport

A-League striker Mark Bridge on success with the Western Sydney Wanderers, lost opportunities with the Socceroos and his favourite goal. By Richard Cooke.
Credit: TONY FEDER / GETTY IMAGES

Bridge building: Mark Bridge, 32, soccer player

I don’t think I was always a standout. I remember scoring 13 goals in one game when I was seven or eight. I remember my parents were saying it was a big thing, but I didn’t really think anything of it. I went through a period where I was neither here nor there with football. I didn’t know if it was something I wanted to go on with. It wasn’t until maybe 15, 16, I started to think, “Okay, this is something that I want as a career.”

I think we keep forgetting that the A-League is still relatively young in the grand scheme of things. Compared to all the other competitions in the world – we’re still learning as we’re going. I think sooner or later the salary cap will change dramatically, or it will be scrapped altogether.

The ups and downs in interest are part of football. Sport – any sport – in Australia, is such a hard landscape because we are a country that loves pretty much every single sport. Women’s sport is taking off too – it’s huge – especially women’s cricket, women’s AFL and women’s football. The Matildas are killing it. I think it’s just going to be more difficult, not only for football, for the A-League, but for all sports to keep the stakeholders interested.

Asian clubs are a bigger threat to the A-League than European clubs. The Asian countries, the money they’re throwing around – I think a lot of players are enticed by the big contract. You see the money that they offer, and you’re never going to earn it in the A-League.

I definitely feel lucky being a Wanderer. I knew that from day one. When we had our first trial game and we only had six players signed, 5000 people turned up. I knew this club was going to be special and different from the rest. They’re amazing. The best in the league by far, in my opinion.

I had my opportunity with the Socceroos. I wasn’t professional enough at that stage, so I deserve to only have two caps. If I’d pulled my finger out and was disciplined and professional back then, I would have had more caps, but I didn’t. I didn’t deserve it. I don’t feel it’s unfinished business. I feel that’s a fair enough punishment for not being disciplined at that stage in my life.

“Naive” is the word that comes to mind. A lot of it did come easy to me growing up. I was lucky. I always had a team that wanted me. Being naive and arrogant thinking it was always going to be there. Then all of a sudden, you stop getting called up to camps and things like that. You wake up to yourself.

It still took me a long time, to be honest. It wasn’t till I had Popper [Tony Popovic] at Western Sydney, where he showed me how it needed to be and how it needed to be every single day, every single season. Took a long time for the penny to drop for me. Basically if I didn’t do what he wanted and I wasn’t where he wanted me to be, I wouldn’t play. No one had really ever said that to me before. That was one where I was like, “Shit, I need to do what he wants, otherwise I’m not going to play. I want to play. I don’t want to just sit in the stands or be a squad player. I want to play as much as I can.” I did what he asked.

Favourite goal? I love every single goal I’ve scored against Danny Vukovic. He’s probably my best mate – I grew up with him, went to primary school with him, high school with him. The grand final one is probably the most important against him. That was good.

That goal against the Central Coast… I remember that season when we were doing shooting training at Newcastle with Dutchy [Gary van Egmond]. When I was shooting the ball to the far post I really didn’t have the guts to start the ball outside the post to curl back in. I was basically aiming for the far post and it was curling pretty much in the goalkeeper’s range or straight to the goalkeeper. I remember him hammering me, absolutely abusing me about it, and saying, “You need to have some balls. You need to aim outside the post. Have some balls, blah, blah, blah.” And that’s what I did. I’ve never really told anyone that.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say I want to win a grand final with Western Sydney before I retire. I’ve got the remainder of this season and next year. At my age, now, you don’t know how your body is going to go week to week, let alone a year ahead. At the moment, I feel good, I feel strong, I feel fit, but who knows how I’m going to be feeling this time next year. I’m hoping that we’re in a bit of a better position than we are at this stage.

 

This week’s highlights…

• 2018 Commonwealth Games

Until April 15, Gold Coast, Queensland

• Horseracing: The Championships, Day 1

Saturday, 1st race 11.30am (AEST), Royal Randwick, Sydney

• Soccer: A-League – Western Sydney Wanderers v Brisbane Roar

Saturday, 5.35pm (AEST), ANZ Stadium, Sydney

AFL: Sydney Swans v GWS Giants

Saturday, 7.25pm (AEST), Sydney Cricket Ground

• Soccer: AFC Women’s Asian Cup – Australia v Republic of Korea

Sunday, 3am (AEST), King Abdullah Stadium, Amman, Jordan

Motorsport: Tasmania SuperSprint – Supercars Championship, Race 8

Sunday, 2.05pm (AEST), Symmons Plains Raceway, Tasmania

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 7, 2018 as "Bridge building". Subscribe here.

Richard Cooke
is a journalist and writer for television. He is The Saturday Paper's sports editor.