The Football Hall of Fame Western Australia continues our celebration of 25 years of Perth Glory. Here’s part two of the adventure that changed the face of the game in the West and, ultimately, the look of football all around Australia…
The race was on for Perth Glory to find a suitable home ground when, in early June 1996, Soccer Australia announced the Ericsson Cup fixtures for the 1996/97 season. First up for the National Soccer League new boys was a home contest with Sydney heavyweights UTS Olympic on 13 October.
With no local ground fitting Glory’s requirements – a minimum 6,000 covered seats – the ‘Aussie Rules’ hubs of Subiaco Oval and Leederville Oval were considered before a deal was secured to share Perth Oval with the East Perth Football Club. Unsuitable floodlighting meant that the Glory’s games would have to be staged with 5pm kick-offs for the summer season.
Initially the ground-share deal was for three years. But 25 years later Glory are still there and the stadium, which has undergone multi-million dollar facelifts and is now one of the best boutique grounds in Australia with a capacity of 20,500, is currently known as HBF Park for sponsorship purposes.
Glory began training at Perth Oval on 8 August with a limited squad which included Gareth and Craig Naven, Paul McVittie, Paul Strudwick, Tommy Maras, Scott Miller, Vladimir Beretovac and Alan Armstrong, who later withdrew because the part-time position clashed with his full-time duties as a police dog handler.
A week later, the club revealed their first major eastern states signing – former Melbourne Knights champion defender Vinko Buljubsic, who would go on to become a favourite with Perth fans. And just a few days later New Zealand international Gavin Wilkinson was recruited after turning his back on several European offers.
Glory then snared what was to be their best signing when Slobodan “Bobby” Despotovski, who had started his senior career with Floreat Athena, returned to Perth after a stint with Heidelberg United in Melbourne. Despotovski, who would go on to become the Glory’s record goalscorer, gave a glimpse of what was to come when he bagged six goals in a 12-0 trial win against Morley Windmills. A few weeks later he snared a hat-trick in a 7-0 training victory over Sorrento.
Former Scottish league striker Alan MacKenzie was signed from Bayswater Panthers a few weeks before the Glory’s NSL debut against UTS Olympic – and the powerful forward made a big impression by scoring Glory’s solitary goal in a 4-1 loss watched by an enthusiastic crowd of 9,639. Glory’s starting line-up that day was Maras, Craig Naven, Wilkinson, Buljubasic, Gareth Naven (capt), Miller, McVittie, Strudwick, Doug Ithier, Despotovski, MacKenzie with substitutes Dale Wingell, Peter Vukmirovic and Vince Matassa.
Coach Gary Marocchi said: “The scoreline didn’t reflect the chances we had. We hit the crossbar, had one shot cleared off the line and missed a penalty. Sydney scored three from set-pieces and one from a deflection, so overall we didn’t do too badly. And I know we can improve.”
That improvement had to wait a few weeks, however. Glory lost their next game – 3-1 away to West Adelaide – before notching their historic first national league win by overcoming Newcastle Breakers 3-1 at Breakers Stadium on 26 October. Despotovski scored twice while Strudwick snared the other goal.
Despotovski helped himself to two more goals in Glory’s stunning first home victory – a 6-0 thrashing of Canberra Cosmos in front of 8,053 on 3 November. The other goals that afternoon came from McVittie, Wingell, Miller and Gareth Naven. And they did it with ten-men after Buljubasic was sent off after a second yellow card offence in 78 minutes.
Glory pulled of something of a coup in adding the exciting Vas Kalogeracos to the player list. The fleet-footed 21-year old went on to get 12 goals in his first season (two fewer than top scorer Despotovski), and his sensational long-range strike in the 4-0 home win over South Melbourne was rewarded with the SBS Goal of the Season. In fact, he got a hat-trick that day!
That triumph – in the second last home-and-away fixture of the season – put Glory within reach of the NSL finals in their first season. A draw away at Melbourne Knights was enough to achieve that feat but, with an intimidating home crowd roaring them on, the Knights won 3-1 to take the last play-off spot. Glory finished with ten-men after Strudwick was harshly red-carded after a clash with Andrew Marth when the score was 1-1.
But it was still a season to celebrate… Glory had set the league alight with their attacking style which had delighted Perth fans, who turned out in droves to experience the phenomenon. The attendance of 17,582 for the home game against Marconi was the second-highest ever for an NSL league fixture. The 13 home games attracted a total of 154,318 – 58,000 more than the next best, South Melbourne – and the Perth Oval average of 11,870 was an NSL record.
Glory had established a party and family atmosphere with singing and dancing as pre-match entertainment. Soccer Australia boss David Hill said Glory was a “terrific bonus” for the code in Australia, while SBS analyst Les Murray said that “Glory are a breath of fresh air. Everything about them is new and exciting.”
Much was expected in Glory’s second season with new recruits including former Socceroos Ernie Tapai and Tony Franken, Nigerian star Samson Siasia (rumoured to be the highest-paid player in the NSL) and Kiwi international Danny Hay adding great experience and extra class to the squad. But the 1997/98 campaign would end in disappointment… and with coach Marocchi axed.
Siasia, who had played at the 1994 World Cup, scored on debut against Adelaide City, but it was the visitors who came up trumps with a 4-1 win in front of a ground record 17,673. The Nigerian scored again two weeks later in a 3-2 home win over the Knights and a fortnight later he got the winner in a 1-0 triumph over UTS Olympic. But he failed to hit the target again for the rest of the season.
Glory won away at Marconi and moved to second on the ladder with a 2-2 home draw against Adelaide Sharks in front of another huge crowd (17,030) with new signing Peter Anosike, another Nigerian, scoring on his debut. But that was as good as it got for the Glory – and Anosike – as a run of so-so efforts saw the side slip to seventh place within six weeks.
The dynamic Kalogeracos, who had rejoined the club a month earlier after a stint in England with Stockport County, scored a breath-taking hat-trick in the away 3-3 draw with South Melbourne in March but they were now ninth and not in the running for the play-offs.
A crowd 15,725 watched Glory’s home season peter out with a 1-1 draw with Marconi. It brought the Perth Oval tally for the 1997/98 campaign to a record 194,630 compared to 154,318 the previous season. The average of 14,971 was another NSL record. But home fans witnessed only four Perth victories, a poor return which ultimately proved costly by missing the play-offs.
Glory beat Canberra Cosmos 2-1 away in their final league fixture to finish eighth on the table. Marocchi’s future had looked bleak in late February after a fiery exchange with Ernie Tapai, who walked out on the club at half-time in the 4-3 home loss to Newcastle Breakers. And there was further concern when Troy Halpin had disagreements with the coach a few weeks later.
Marocchi, who had initially signed a three-year contract as a part-time coach, was sacked on 24 April. The club announced it wanted to appoint a full-time coach, preferably from overseas. Marocchi indicated that he was willing to go full-time, but instead he was offered another part-time role, as development officer and part-time assistant to the full-time coach. He declined the offer.
Glory chairman Nick Tana got the coach with international links that he wanted when he met former East German national team coach Bernd Stange in a stop-over in Dubai en-route to Europe. Stange had just finished a stint with his home-town German side Carl Zeiss Jena and was anxious to coach abroad.
So a new and exciting chapter was about to unfold for Perth Glory – one that brought some glorious touches that included the clubs’ maiden national league Premiers Plate, many pulsating play-off experiences and a few more controversies…