Sydney FC fans don’t take kindly to former players who venture West, but Matt Jurman may be a rare exception.
When Sydney FC first signed Matt Jurman, he was a lanky teenager, intent on making a living out of the sport he loved. Nine years later, he would leave the club as one of Australia’s premier central defenders.
Two years, two Asian countries and nine Socceroos caps later, Jurman returned to Sydney with worldly knowledge he didn’t previously possess, only this time he would sign for Sydney FC’s sworn rivals - Western Sydney Wanderers.
Sydney fans couldn’t bear to see it, and even Jurman admitted the feeling of his first derby in red and black was a strange one.
“It did feel a bit weird, it’s always one of my favourite games but walking into the home change room at Parramatta felt a bit strange,” he admits.
“A lot of the boys that I played with at Sydney had moved on or retired, but it was good to see some old teammates and share the field with them again.
“But winning the game was my ultimate goal. Getting a result at any cost is always my mentality going into games – and in the derby, my passion often gets the better of me."
Former Sky Blues Brendon Santalab, Terry Antonis and Ruben Zadkovich all drew the ire of The Cove when they lined up against Sydney for rival clubs, but Jurman, who was victorious against his former side in the derby, did not receive the same treatment.
“I think the fans sort of realised that I still have a lot of respect for them,” he says. “I didn’t think I’d get booed before the derby and I was happy with the reception from the Sydney fans.
"I’ve still got a lot of respect for them and I’m always going to cherish that time that I had with them.
“I’ll always have good memories of my time at Sydney. I’ve got great friends in the playing squad, in the staff and even with some fans.
"It was a great feeling to win that game but I haven’t dwelt on it too much, it was just on to the next.”
Before returning to the A-League, Jurman spent what he described as the most challenging portion of his career playing for Al-Ittihad in Saudi Arabia.
The Wollongong born centre-back played in front of 60,000 fans, and saw multiple coaches come and go, before he was eventually frozen out of the starting team by a manager with plans of his own.
“Overall I enjoyed it, the passion they have for football in Jeddah was something I’d never experienced before," he says.
"You’d get goosebumps before games when the Ittihad fans sung their song. It felt like the roof was about to blow off the stadium.
“But culturally and from a football perspective, it was a completely different kettle of fish. I think I had four coaches in one season!
“The coach that brought me in had two games in the season - he lost both and he was gone.
“I probably won’t be involved in anything like that again, but it was just crazy to see how ruthless they can be - new coach comes in, new coach wants his own foreigners, that sort of thing is very common over there.”
Now with Wanderers and level on points with Melbourne City at the top of the A-League ladder, a mentally stronger Jurman is refusing to get carried away with his new club’s early success. Instead the 29-year-old is just grateful to be playing regularly again.
“For me it was a big thing to get back playing. I was sort of frozen out over there in Saudi,” he reveals.
“Mentally it wasn’t an easy period, but it definitely gave me life experience I never previously had and will make me a stronger person even for life after football.
“Life at the Wanderers is good, everything’s pretty rosy when you’re getting results, but we aren’t getting carried away - there’s a long way to go.
“Our performances haven’t been as good as we’ve liked them to be and I feel there’s lot of improvement still to be made in our squad.”