Originals back to revive Jets

LABINOT Haliti remembers the fans filing into EnergyAustralia Stadium in gold, the buzz around the ground, coming off the bench on the right side of midfield and Adelaide United striker Carl Veart spoiling the party.
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The rest is a blur.

Wednesday is 10 years to the day – August 26, 2005 – since the Jets kicked off the A-League, the bold new frontier in Australian football.

A glancing header from Carl Veart in the 19th minute was enough for the visitors to secure three points and enter the history books.

Haliti, then an unheralded 19-year-old, and assistant coach Jean-Paul de Marigny are the only current Jets who were involved on the opening night.

‘‘The stadium was packed and there was a real buzz,’’ Haliti recalled. ‘‘It had been such a long pre-season. Noone knew what to expect.

‘‘The details of the game … I played on the right side of attack and Carl Veart scored.

‘‘Ten years, it doesn’t seem that long ago. It has gone quick.

‘‘The league has come a long way forward on and off the field.’’

A Kosovo refugee, Haliti was among a group of emerging players drawn up the freeway from Sydney and joined home-grown young guns Jobe Wheelhouse and Stuart Musialik.

Former Socceroos captain Ned Zelic and other internationals Richard Johnson, Ante Milicic and Vaughan Coveny provided the spine for the maiden season under Englishman Richard Money.

They finished fourth and were knocked out over two legs by Central Coast in the qualifying final.

‘‘I remember we had the first meeting at Glendale,’’ Haliti said. ‘‘Looking around there were players who had represented their country and played in Europe.

‘‘Coming from NSL days where it was part-time into a full-time set-up, we didn’t know where we were going. The league didn’t know where it was going.

‘‘I learned a lot being around great players. Some of them have gone on to coaching careers and other things.’’

The A-League replaced the National Soccer League, which had been killed off 18 months earlier.

The desire was to attract a new breed of football fan.

Knights great Andrew Johns, the king of Newcastle at the time, was recruited by then owner Con Constantine to launch the season with a ceremonial kick-off.

‘‘The league needed it back then,’’ de Marigny said.

‘‘Straight away there was a link-up between rugby league and football. We wanted everyone on board.

‘‘Football people going to follow the colours. There was no [ethnic] community behind each team.

‘‘It was what football people were craving at the time.

‘‘We knew the game was going forward from here on.’’

Haliti, now 29, has returned to the Jets for a third time, between a stint in Poland and three success-laden seasons at Western Sydney Wanderers.

‘‘I have always held the Jets close to the heart,’’ he said.

‘‘This place gave me a chance. That stays with you forever. Whoever gives you a chance in the beginning, you never forget that.’’

The attacker has arrived at a club again in transition.

Football Federation Australia is in the process of transferring the club to a consortium of investors headed by Dundee United chairman Stephen Thompson.

On the pitch, the Jets are coming off their worst season.

‘‘It is definitely a challenge but one myself and the other boys are looking forward to,’’ Haliti said. ‘‘I know first-hand what people expect here, how passionate they are and how much they love the club.

‘‘We have been making little steps moving forward.

‘‘We have a lot of work in front of us, but we are working hard every day.’’