IN THE continuation of our celebration of 60 years of professional football in Western Australia, we keep the focus on the ground-breaking exploits of Perth Kangaroos. Here’s PART TWO of the bold adventure that changed the face of the game in the West – at a cost to some – but paved the way for an even bigger NSL adventure…
THERE WAS much excitement when the newly-formed IFC (International Football Club) Perth Kangaroos was officially launched by WA Premier Richard Court at a $50-a-head function at Joe’s Oriental Diner in the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Perth on February 21, 1994.
Court said of the Roos up-coming venture into Asia to participate in the Singapore National League: “It’s a sporting coup for WA. It’s not only a big day for WA, but for Australia as well.”
However, there was no State Government financial-backing promised, so it was up to the new syndicate Global Football Australia (of which local solicitor Joe Claudio was chairman) to find sponsorship to fund the trail-blazing venture, which was estimated would cost $750,000 a year.
Australian Soccer Federation chief executive Ian Holmes flew from Sydney to be at the launch. He said that WA businesses had the potential to piggy-back into Asia on soccer and that the ASF had taken giant steps to gain a foothold. “It’s vital that we establish a greater relationship with the region,” he added.
The 10-team league was the first weekly competition to cross international borders and comprised eight Singapore sides and two from Australia – the Kangaroos and a team from Darwin (the Cubs). The competition was scheduled to run from March 27 until July 23.
It was revealed that it was decided to name the team the Perth Kangaroos because Australia’s native animal is the best-known symbol in Asia. The corporate logo was shown to be a kangaroo in an Aboriginal painting design. The teams colours were announced as a yellow shirt with black shorts.
AFTER much wrangling (and a threat of legal action by one club), WA’s local league clubs agreed to release up to three contracted players per club to make up the new team. After several weeks of trials, Roos coach Gary Marocchi was able to name a squad of 14 for the opening Singapore League game against Gibraltar Crescent at Macedonia Park (the Roos new headquarters) on March 27.
The squad was: Vince Matassa, Taki Nicolaidis, Vladimir Beretovac, Craig Naven (captain), Alex Cummings, Sean Lynch, Gareth Naven, Paul McVittie, Steve Bourne, Ray Marinovic, Dale Wingell, Paul Strudwick, Gary Lees, Michael Petkovic. Apart from Marocchi as Head Coach, ex-Manchester City player Mickey Brennan was named assistant coach. Barry Tate was the trainer, and Peter Dimopoulos was team manager.
A crowd of more than 5,000 saw the Roos get off to a flyer, thanks to two sensational diving headers by teenage striker Gary Lees, with a 2-0 win over the visitors. The margin could have been greater, but for a disallowed goal and some poor finishing by the Perth side. Lees was denied a hat-trick when he hit the crossbar from close range.
But Lees did achieve a hat-trick a week later when his treble was the highlight in the 4-1 win over Singapore champions Geylang International at Macedonia Park. Gareth Naven got the other goal. Only 2,500 turned up to applaud Lees’ achievement.
Despite disappointing home support, the Roos exploits had caught the fancy of international television, and the British programme Futball Mundial dispatched a crew to track the Perth side in its first away game – against Tyrwhitt in the Jalan Besar Stadium in Singapore on April 9.
A crowd of around 1,500 witnessed the Roos win 3-0. Paul McVittie got the team’s first away goal, while the others came from Lees and Steve Bourne.
Back at Maceys Park the following week, McVittie and Paul Strudwick each got a hat-trick in a stunning 11-0 win over Jurong Town. It was becoming obvious that the Roos were dominating what was being labelled by many as a sub-standard competition – and the fans were beginning to lose interest.
The Kangaroos next home game against Balestier United was called off when the Singapore side failed to secure tickets to fly to Perth – and rumours were rife the venture was going to fold when Global Football Australia chairman Joe Claudio resigned, citing work pressure.
GFA eventually collapsed and, on May 5, the State’s ruling body, the Soccer Administration of WA, took over the day-to-day running of the club at the request of GFA. The players had not been paid for several weeks but the majority of them made a commitment to see out the season without pay. It was estimated the players would forfeit nearly $80,000 in wages.
SAWA succeeded in negotiating a deal with another syndicate, Arena Investments, to cover the travel and hotel expenses of the Roos. Arena, whose directors were local businessmen Nick Tana, Paul Afkos and Anthony Di Francesco, would eventually win the licence for WA’s first team in the National Soccer League in 1996.
The off-field dramas had little impact on the Roos’ players determination to win the Singapore League – and eight of them would go on to be recruited by Arena to play for the new NSL side, the Perth Glory.
The Kangaroos went on to win 17 of their 18 games with one draw completing a season that saw them win the competition by 11 points from second-placed Darwin Cubs. They scored 75 goals and conceded only eight.
Paul Strudwick finished as top scorer with 16 goals, two more than Gary Lees, who had missed several of the Roos games through injury. Dale Wingell got 10 goals and Steve Bourne claimed nine.
Strudwick got all four goals in the Roos final game, a 4-0 win over Balestier United, which was a home fixture that the Kangaroos agreed to play in Singapore.
The Roos had originally committed to the Singapore League for three years, but pulled out after the crisis-filled debut season. It was estimated that the club lost over $100,000. Average crowds of 3,000 were required to stay solvent, but this had dipped to around 600 for their last six home games.
Coach Marocchi, while disappointed with all the off-field dramas, praised his players to the hilt. “They were dedicated, committed and worked tirelessly to achieve their goals,” he said. “The venture also provided us with the basis of a squad for the NSL, with eight of the side going on to play for Perth Glory.”
Apart from the 14 players who were involved in the Roos opening game, the club later called on the services of Scott Miller, Steve Willey, Paul Dimmock, Peter Schoolkate, Joe Marrapodi, Brendon McIntyre, Tasso Notaris, Vince Tana and Jason Van Rooy to see them through the season. Because of a shortage of fit players, both Marocchi and assistant coach Brennan were required to turn out at one stage.
Gareth Naven, who took over the captain’s armband from his brother Craig towards the end of the season, won The West Australian-sponsored Player of the Year award. Gareth would go on to become the Glory’s first skipper.
The Roos also played the Australian Olyroos in a friendly at the WACA Ground in July, 1994. The national team included such exceptional talents as Mark Viduka, Kevin Muscat, Frank Juric, Brad Hassell, Ross Aloisi and Gabriel Mendez, who got one of the two goals in the Olyroos 2-0 victory. Viduka got the other.
**Perth Kangaroos SFL results: PK 2 Gibraltar Crescent 0; PK 4 Geylang 1; Tyrwhitt 0 PK 3; PK 11 Jurong 0; Darwin 1 PK 5; Police SA 0 PK 3; PK 4 Tiong Bahru 0; PK 10 SAFSA 1; Gibraltar 0 PK 3; Geylang 1 PK 2; PK 4 Tyrwhitt 0; Jurong 0 PK 3; PK 2 Darwin 1; Balestier 0 PK 5; PK 5 Police SA 0; Tiong Bahru 2 PK 4; SAFSA 1 PK 1; Balestier 0 PK 4.
FOOTNOTE: Seven of the Kangaroos debut line-up have been inducted into the Hall of Fame: Petkovic, Bourne, G and C Naven, McVittie, Cummings, Strudwick. Gary Marocchi and Mickey Brennan are also inductees. Scott Miller, who joined the Roos on loan from Perth Italia after the start of the season, is also in the Hall of Fame.