More than 800 athletes representing 35 nations came together 60 years ago this week to compete at the 1962 British Empire and Commonwealth Games. Perry Lakes Stadium was the Games’ centrepiece, a purpose-built venue in Floreat featuring a 5,000 seat grandstand and open air perimeter seating for a further 25,000 spectators.
On November 22, 1962, Perry Lakes Stadium was full – despite scorching 40 degree Celsius heat – for the Games’ Opening Ceremony. Over the nine days that followed it’s estimated a combined total of 210,000 spectators viewed the Games’ athletics, bowls, boxing, cycling, fencing, rowing, swimming, weightlifting and wrestling programs.
Post-Games, Perry Lakes Stadium became part of the fabric of West Australian football. The venue hosted some of the biggest clubs in the world and was the scene of one of the State teams’ greatest ever victories. Countless regular season fixtures and numerous cup finals were fought out at the venue, which also served as the codes’ administrative home for over a decade.
Football first graced the emerald green turf in Floreat just 10 months after the Games’ concluded. On the afternoon of Saturday October 12, 1963, a 3,000 strong crowd watched on in awe as Azzurri – inspired by a Nino Segon hat-trick – came from behind to defeat arch-rivals Tricolore 5-2 in the final of the Top Four Cup.
A few months later Julius Re, President of the Western Australian Soccer Federation, had further positive news for the game. “The main match of the day will be played in picturesque Perry Lakes Stadium, one of the finest sporting arenas in Australia with the most modern facilities for players and spectators alike,” commented Re, who had negotiated with the Perth City Council, in the 1964 federation yearbook.
Azzurri defeated Olympic 2-0 in the first league game at the venue on April 18, 1964. That seasons D’Orsogna Cup decider had North Perth defeat Swan Valley 4-2. And the State team’s first outing at Perry Lakes Stadium arrived on October 10 when 2,500 spectators saw Western Australia held to a 3-3 draw by Queensland in the final match of the national championship.
In 1965, West-Perth Athena became the first club to base themselves at Perry Lakes Stadium. They were followed by Cracovia (1966-1974, 1979-1981), Perth City (1966-1977), Azzurri (1975-1976), Floreat Athena (1977-1981), Subiaco (1978), North Perth Croatia (1982-1984, 1988-1993) and Balcatta Etna (1982-1984). The last club to make use of the facility were Western Knights in 2000.
Former Belgium international Ivan Pikl was awarded the first D’Orsogna Medal after leading Azzurri to victory by 4-3 over Cracovia in the 1965 D’Orsogna Cup Final. The following year Azzurri held their nerve to out-shoot Slavia Port Melbourne on penalties in the Australia Cup. With the game tied up at 1-1, Rod Reid, Neil Morson, Segon and Gil Nobbs converted from the spot in succession for a 4-3 win.
AS Roma scored three times in the final 20 minutes to overcome Western Australia 4-2 on July 3, 1966, in front of 18,242 spectators, the largest football crowd to attend Perry Lakes Stadium. And in the years that followed the State team came face-to-face with Cardiff City (1968), Manchester City (1970), the England FA (1971), Wolverhampton Wanderers (1972), Stoke City and Bournemouth (1973).
“All the big games were played at Perry Lakes,” former State team captain John O’Connell remembers. “To walk out with a crowd of 12-15,000 cheering from the stands was a reminder that you were playing one of the biggest teams in the world with some of the best players in the world… it was a very special place for any player to play.”
The State team’s growing maturity produced strong showings against Aberdeen and Chelsea in May 1974. The Scots were made to work hard for their 5-3 success, likewise the Londoners who scrapped through 1-0 in front of 15,000 spectators. The local season closed out with Azzurri lifting the Top Four Cup after downing Ascot 7-6 on penalties.
1975 was a true coming of age for West Australian football and Perry Lakes Stadium was front and centre. The State team surrendered 4-2 to Polish side Legia Warsaw in early February and three months later carved out a 1-1 draw with top-flight English club Middlesbrough. In between, State coach Alan Vest guided the side to victory at the Marah Halim Cup in Indonesia.
A crowd of 14,000 turned out on June 15 to watch Manchester United edge a thrilling 2-1 win over the State team, who seven days later scored a historic 2-1 win over Scottish giants Rangers through goals by Ray Illott and George McMillan. Goals from Tony Jackson, Roy Lace and Steve Stacey gave Floreat Athena a 3-1 victory in the Top Four Cup Final against Azzurri.
The first ‘A’ international fixture in Western Australia took place on Sunday November 16 when Australia and Russia contested a 0-0 draw at the stadium. Ray Illott featured across the 90 minutes for Australia while Gary Marocchi came on in the second half. Earlier in the day Dave O’Callaghan scored the solitary goal in the State teams 1-0 success over Australia B.
The State team squared off with English clubs Tottenham Hotspur and Sunderland in 1976 before making their final appearance at Perry Lakes Stadium the following year against Middlesbrough. A few months later Robert Earl’s hat-trick and a brace from Nick Macallum earned Inglewood Kiev the D’Orsogna Cup by way of a 5-1 mauling of Spearwood Dalmatinac.
Former referee Frank Green remembers all too well the challenge presented by the expansive playing arena. “There was a game that Barry Harwood refereed at Perry Lakes where he played something like 8 minutes overtime,” recalls Green. “There was only one ball, the pitch was surrounded by a running track and there were no ball boys so when the ball went out of play it just kept rolling and rolling.”
The centrepiece games of seasons 1978 and 1979 – the Top Four Cup and D’Orsogna Cup finals – took place at Perry Lakes Stadium. Kingsway Olympic claimed the play-off series on both occasions, twice defeating Dalmatinac in the decider, while East Fremantle Tricolore lifted back-to-back knock-out trophies by defeating Rockingham United and Dalmatinac.
The Soccer Administration of Western Australia, under the presidency of Tom Mackay, took up a lease option from the City of Perth council in March 1992 to base all administrative activities at Perry Lakes Stadium. Soccer Headquarters was officially opened ten months later, however, it had been a long-time coming with initial concept plans drawn up by former board member Denis Silver back in 1985.
All aspects of the local game – professional, semi-professional, amateurs, women’s and juniors – had a presence at Soccer Headquarters until 2004, when the games administration was transferred to Football West. Perry Lakes Stadium was closed in 2009 and the following year demolition of the stadium commenced. The site has since been redeveloped for residential purposes and houses the Western Australian Athletics Stadium.
Football made itself a second home at another British Empire and Commonwealth Games venue, Lake Monger Velodrome. Constructed in 1959 as a cycling track for the Games, the Velodrome has been associated with football for over half a century and is the long-time home of National Premier Leagues club Floreat Athena.
In 1969 the Perth City Council awarded the Soccer Federation of Western Australia a 20-year lease on the ground at a cost of just $250 per annum. A separate initial three-year lease was agreed to for the storerooms under the main stand; these would serve as the Federation offices for the next 22 years.
One of the Federation’s first activities was to spend $20,000 on floodlights, which were unveiled for the 1969 Night Series competition where Windmills triumphed 3-0 over Azzurri in the final. Seven years later Federation President John Venn successfully negotiated with the Perth City Council for additional lighting and two new stands to be installed.
In addition to the Night Series, the Velodrome has hosted numerous D’Orsogna/State Cup and Top Four/Five Cup finals plus a variety of juniors, women’s, amateurs and social tournaments. The State team have played Greece (1969), Australia (1970), Red Star Belgrade (1980, 2001), Queens Park Rangers (1983), Nottingham Forest (1984), Millwall (1989) and Iraklis (1993) at the ground.
Kingsway Olympic (1970-72), North Perth Croatia (1972-1981) and Floreat Athena (1975-1976) played out of the Velodrome before the latter made it their permanent home in 1982. The removal of the cycling track and original timber stands in 1998 were part of a redeveloped that lead to the venue being re-christened Litis Stadium.