ONE OF the great success stories in Western Australian football since the introduction of the play-for-pay structure in 1960 has been the evolution of ECU Joondalup.
Inititally known as Joondalup City, the club moved from playing amateur-only Sunday social football in the early 1990s to operating with the “big boys” in the Saturday semi-professional leagues.
And within a few years they had won the senior State League title and twice emerged triumphant in the premier knockout competition, the Boral Challenge Cup.
The club was formed in 1992 as Joondalup City Soccer Club and played at Gumblossom Park in Quinns Rocks. They moved to the Arena Joondalup in 1995 and in their first season in the semi-pro league finished third in division two, gaining promotion to the Soccer West Coast division one, then going on to win that league.
Their elevation to the Premier League in 1997 saw them finish mid-table, but the following season they finished third – and capped a successful campaign by winning the 1998 Boral Cup, which had replaced the D’Orsogna Cup as the State’s top knockout event.
The rookie club overcame a young but determined Kingsway Olympic side (the average age of the team was barely 20) 1-0 after extra time – with the winner coming from the head of veteran striker Carl McDarby, who expertly put away a cross from substitute Darren Yates.
McDarby and Joondalup team-mates Scott Clissold and Jason Smith had initially been picked to play for WA in a challenge game against NSL side Northern Spirit the day before the Boral Cup final – but City withdrew them from the representative side stating that the trio couldn’t be expected to play two important games in 24 hours.
“They are key players for us in our first big final and we can’t take the chance of them getting injured,” explained Joondalup coach Paul Simmons. It proved a wise decision.
In 1999 the club changed its name to ECU Joondalup – eventually moving to play on the ECU campus – and a successful season saw Simmons side win the club’s first major trophy by taking out the Premier League title.
The last few rounds of the competition saw the lead see-saw between Joondalup, Fremantle City and Sorrento. But ECU went into the final game of the season with a two-point lead over Sorrento, and a three-point advantage over Freo City.
Ironically, Joondalup’s title-deciding fixture was at Percy Doyle Reserve against Sorrento, who needed a win to take the championship – and the Seagulls looked well placed to overtake the leaders when Kevin Murphy gave them the lead after 21 minutes.
But Carl McDarby pounced just before the interval to put Joondalup on level terms – and then Scott Halpin’s viciously bending corner kick was deflected into the net off Andrew Chapman, who had only come on at half-time for Sorrento, in the 63rd minute to seal a 2-1 victory.
McDarby, who had been substituted early in the second half, joined in the celebrations despite limping around on what was later confirmed to be a broken right ankle.
“I did it early in the game and it certainly hurt but I didn’t think it was so serious,” he said. “But I was in excruciating pain at half-time and, although I had it iced, I only lasted another few minutes.”
The injury, however, couldn’t put a damper on what McDarby considered to be his best season as a goalscorer, finishing as the league’s top marksman with 21 goals.
ECU, nicknamed the Joondalup Jacks, were celebrating again in 2002 when they won the Boral Challenge Cup for the second time, beating Future Glory 2-1 in the final. They are one of only two clubs (Swan IC are the others) to have twice won the Boral Cup.
The Joondalup club have also developed several Australian internationals, including Chris Herd, Shane Lowry, Brandon O’Neill, Adam Taggart, Rhys Williams and Ryan Williams.
PIC ONE: Joondalup’s winning Boral Cup squad in 1998. PIC TWO: Scott Clissold, Jason Smith, Carl McDarby. PIC THREE: Joondalup celebrate their first league championship.