Ambitious Avondale's rise up the ranks

Ambitious Avondale FC have surged into the quarter-finals of the FFA Cup.
Ambitious Avondale FC have surged into the quarter-finals of the FFA Cup.

No Pirlo? No problem.

Avondale FC's audacious play for Andrea Pirlo is further proof the FFA Cup quarter-finalists are nothing if not hugely ambitious.

Retired Italian great Pirlo won't be dusting off his boots to make a one-off appearance against Sydney FC on Wednesday night, as Avondale's volunteer committee had dreamed.

But considering where they've come from, it's amazing they had a crack at him at all.

For most of their lifespan, Avondale have been just another amateur soccer club plodding around in Melbourne's north-west.

No rich history of success.

No famous juniors who went on to achieve professional stardom.

No real supporter base besides the friends and family of players.

These days, they're a Victorian NPL powerhouse and one of the most enterprising clubs in the country outside the A-League.

Everything changed in 2009, when consecutive relegations sent Avondale tumbling back to the suburban wasteland of Provisional League 2 - the state's sixth tier.

A club-wide cleanout and the injection of new players, coaches and officials dramatically reversed their fortunes.

Five promotions across the next six seasons vaulted Avondale into Victoria's elite bracket for the first time in 2015.

It's been a romantic rise, perhaps unparalleled in modern Australian sport. But it's no fairytale.

It's the result of a simple yet brutally effective plan supported by wealthy sponsors, wily administrators and aggressive recruitment.

Building magnate Dino Strano has been at the centre of it.

Strano's company Winslow Constructions began sponsoring the club when his son Anthony started playing. He's used his business contacts to attract wider corporate support.

Strano's first contribution was just $2000.

"I said to them at the start, if you get promoted I'll double the sponsorship," he told AAP.

"And I'll double it every time you get promoted.

"The buggers kept getting promoted."

This week is by far the biggest in Avondale's history.

First up is the FFA Cup.

Then on Sunday, they'll face Heidelberg at AAMI Park in their maiden Victorian NPL grand final.

The long-term goal for Avondale is much grander - financial sustainability, steady NPL success, and eventually, a spot in a national second division.

"We're going to work our way to the highest league we possibly can," Strano said.

"If there's a B-League, we want to be there.

"The thing is, everybody has always figured we were going to fail. After the promotions, everyone thought we'd get relegated the next year.

"I think people are starting to believe we might be around for a while."

Australian Associated Press