Sydney FC fans had long made their minds up about James Troisi. Then, in their epic A-League semi-final defeat to Melbourne Victory nearly three years ago, he made sure of it.
Troisi swept home the goal that put Victory in front at the Sydney Football Stadium and then stood right in front of The Cove. As they hurled insults and abuse his way, he closed his eyes and put his fingers in his ears.
James Troisi says his infamous goal celebration in the 2018 A-League semi-final wasn’t a dig at Sydney FC fans.Credit:Getty
Short of delivering his own verbal response or sticking his middle finger up at them, it was about as provocative as a goal celebration could get.
The Sky Blues would go on to lose 3-2 in extra time, after a miraculous late strike from Terry Antonis. Victory won the grand final against Newcastle the following weekend, but the image of Troisi blocking out the haters has endured in A-League folklore.
The truth can now be revealed, two days out from Troisi's first Sydney derby since signing for the Western Sydney Wanderers: he wasn't having a dig at them at all.
"I won't go into it because it's just not the right thing to do or the right time, but it wasn't even about the Sydney supporters actually," he said.
"There was a bit going on, I guess, behind the scenes [at Victory]. Funnily enough I scored on the side where the Sydney supporters were. It created a good storyline but it actually wasn't even about them, there were a few other bits and pieces that were going on at the time.
"They took it pretty personal but it was just a celebration I had in mind. Even though I've said it now they still won't believe me."
Is Troisi trying to butter up The Cove ahead of the derby? Hardly. The 32-year-old knows exactly what he's in for. He might even be looking forward to it.
Just under six years ago, Troisi slotted home one of the most important goals in Socceroos history – the winner in the 2015 Asian Cup final at Stadium Australia, the very same venue where he'll be donning red and black on Saturday.
James Troisi is gearing up for his first derby since joining the Western Sydney Wanderers.Credit:Getty
That goal would be enough to endear any other player to the general public, forever. But Troisi has always had a strangely complicated relationship with Australian football supporters of every creed.
Victory fans never truly warmed to him for whatever reason, Melbourne City and Sydney FC fans always hated him because he played for Victory, and now fans of Adelaide United – his hometown club – hate him too because of the way he left the club to join the Wanderers.
Troisi recognises that in the theatre of football, someone has to fill the role of pantomime villain. By now, he's used to it.
"For me, it's just part and parcel of football," he said. "You're going to get that everywhere. Look what just happened at Adelaide, I did nothing wrong on my behalf and I'm still copping it.
"Ultimately, I know who I am and the kind of person I am. The kind of clubs I've moved to, there's already that mini-derby environment – they all hate each other, and you're a traitor if you leave. But ultimately I'm a footballer and I've got to ply my trade somewhere.
"That's just how it is. People are still bagging Messi and Ronaldo. You can be the best player in the world … it really, really doesn't matter. People can make their own minds up, and that's fine. It creates atmosphere.
"I've played in Europe in front of 80,000 people that don't like you, so it doesn't affect me, and if anything, it encourages you to prove them a little bit wrong."
There will only be a maximum of 20,000 fans at the derby on Saturday because of COVID-19 restrictions, but Troisi wants them to be as vocal as they possibly can be, even if it's at his own expense.
"That's what we play for – we play for fans and I hope things ease up as soon as possible and we can get our own fans back and be successful," he said.
"The RBB, they deserve it as well because it's been a tough two, three, four years … I remember playing them for the first time, at the old [Parramatta] stadium, and it was literally frightening. They had the flares going and all sorts of stuff.
"I love it. I love these games. To have some supporters booing you or whatever they want to say, it doesn't matter. It's completely fine."
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