Having graced the competition since inception, Mark Bridge knows a thing or two – or 200 – about developing in the Hyundai A-League.
The 29-year-old established early potential at Newcastle Jets, grew into a Grand Final hero, became an Australian international and is now on the cusp of his 200th Hyundai A-League appearance.
Should he appear on Saturday it will be fitting for Bridge’s major milestone – achieved by just eight others before him – to be adorned in Red & Black on Members’ Day.
The Wanderland wall of noise has been the soundtrack to the Blacktown-born attacker’s career resurgence since signing with the club as a foundation player.
“It’s amazing for a club that’s still in its infancy,” Bridge says of the ever swelling membership.
“It’s going to be crazy to see how big the Wanderers can take it in five years’ time. It’s just going to keep getting bigger and better.”
At certain stages it appeared as if Bridge wouldn’t enjoy the same trajectory in his career. A self-confessed slump at Sydney FC might have meant a premature end. Instead the attacker is now a rare 10-year veteran with a resume matched by few others.
Wherever the Hyundai A-League has been, Bridge has planted the flag.
The 2012/13 All-Star has amassed two premierships, two Grand Final wins – scoring in both – and was Wanderers’ maiden Player of the Year recipient.
Add in two Socceroos caps and a meeting with Lionel Messi’s Argentina at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the field is wide for choosing a most memorable moment.
“Scoring in the two Grand Finals is amazing – it’s something I’m proud of,” Bridge says.
“But that run we went on when nobody gave us a chance at the Wanderers is something you just can’t describe. Then to go on to win the ACL the following year, they’re definitely top of my list.
“An Australian team winning the Champions League was something I didn’t think I’d ever see but to be part of that special moment is definitely at the top for me.”
While admitting it’s an opportune time to consider aspirations beyond football – a life hard to picture after concentrating on the game since his teenage years – Bridge believes his post-career years can also be reserved for weighing on achievements like his upcoming milestone.
“Once I finish my career and I look back the 200th will be something that definitely stands out,” he says.
“It’s definitely incredible but I haven’t really stopped and thought about it yet. It’s one of those things where when I sit down and look back over my career it will be an achievement that I’m going to be very proud of.”
Be there and celebrate with Bridge as he plays his 200th Hyundai A-League match this Saturday against Adelaide United. Kick-off is 5pm and tickets can be purchased here.