IT’S 25 years since local heroes Stan Lazaridis and Bobby Despotovski powerfully announced their arrival on the big stage by helping the WA State team achieve two astonishing victories over top class English visitors West Ham United and Nottingham Forest.
Lazaridis (who was on the books of NSL side West Adelaide at the time) caught the eye of the West Ham hierarchy when he returned briefly to WA and starred in the triumph over the Hammers at the WACA Ground on May 19, 1995.
And within a few weeks he was on his way to London to begin a golden spell in England (88 games with West Ham) that also saw him play for Birmingham City (222 times for the Brummies). Stan also played 72 games for the Socceroos, 60 of them in A internationals.
Lazaridis began his senior career as a loping teenager with Kingsway Olympic before having spells with Stirling Macedonia and Floreat Athena. He returned to WA from Birmingham in 2006 and had a spell with Perth Glory.
Despotovski, who had started his local career with Floreat Athena, went east to play with the likes of Morwell Falcons before returning the following year to begin an iconic career with NSL newcomers Perth Glory in 1996.
He went on to score 113 goals in 241 games with the Glory and also amassed an impressive strike rate with the State team – eight goals in eight games. He also represented Australia four times, scoring five goals, in 2002.
Bobby, in a man of the match performance, scored one of the goals (Michael Roki got the other with a classic strike as he, too, turned on the style) as the battle with West Ham ended in a 2-2 draw after 90 thrilling minutes.
But WA deservedly grabbed the victors’ bragging rights by winning 5-3 in a penalty shoot-out, Gareth Naven getting the crucial last spot kick.
During normal time, Lazaridis, who had run rings round the West Ham defence (despite getting rough treatment at times), was unlucky not to score. He had a shot cleared off the line and was denied what look a certain penalty when brought down by full back Tim Breacker.
The squad that faced the Hammers was: Robbie Zabica (capt), Alex Cummings, Shaun Murphy, Gavin Tait, Gareth Naven, Scott Miller, Michael Roki, Paul McVittie, Jason Ainsley, Bobby Despotovski, Stan Lazaridis; Rene de Koning, Craig Deans, Norrie Sutton, Alan McTurk, Paul Donnelly, Terry Worsfold, Michael Petkovic. Eric Williams was the coach.
PERTH, AUSTRALIA – SEPTEMBER 17: Bobby Despotovski #10 for the Glory celebrates a goal during the round four A-League match between Perth Glory and Adelaide United held at Members Equity Stadium on September 17, 2005 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)
The West Ham squad was: Les Sealey, Tim Breacker, Steve Potts (capt), Adrian Whitbread, Martin Allen, Simon Webster, John Moncur, Matthew Rush, Kenny Brown, Danny Williamson, Don Hutchison, Mark Watson, Julian Dicks, Tony Cottee, Darren Currie.
The Hammers had drawn 1-1 with Manchester United in their final Premier League fixture the previous week. Coach Frank Lampard was in charge of the team in Perth, although manager Harry Redknapp flew into Australia a few days later to take control of further games Down Under.
Just over a week after the clash with West Ham (on May 27, 1995), WA didn’t need a penalty decider to grab a 2-1 win over Nottingham Forest, also at the WACA Ground. Forest had only recently finished third in the English Premier League.
WA had to come from a goal behind to secure victory. Lazaridis got the equaliser after his sudden change of pace, and a slick one-two with Gareth Naven, caught the Forest defence on the hop as he slid the ball under the body of keeper Mark Crossley.
Despotovski continued his heroics for the State side when he grabbed the winner late on with a powerful header following a cross from Roki.
Former Perth SC youngster Tony Carbone, who had been transferred to Forest in a record $200,000 deal in 1993, came on as a sub for the English side and did well in what was his first-team debut.
The squad that took on Forest was: Robbie Zabica (capt), Gareth Naven, Alex Cummings, Shaun Murphy, Gavin Tait, Scott Miller, Paul McVittie, Jason Ainsley, Bobby Despotovski, Michael Roki, Stan Lazaridis; Rene de Koning, Paul Donnelly, Craig Deans, Norrie Sutton, Alan McTurk, Terry Worsfold, Michael Petkovic. Eric Williams was again the coach.
The Forest squad was: Mark Crossley, Des Lyttle, Craig Armstrong, Steve Chettle, Carl Tiler, Steve Stone, Ian Woan, Tony Carbone, Neil Webb, Kingsley Black, Gary Bull, Jason Lee, Paul McGregor, Lance Warner. Manager: Frank Clark.
Clark later admitted to having an interest in Lazaridis, but West Ham swooped to tie up the flying left flanker (appropriately nicknamed Skippy when he got to London) before Forest could put together a deal.
FOOTNOTE: Both Lazaridis and Despotovski have been inducted into the Football Hall of Fame WA.
PIC ONE: The 1995 WA squad. PIC TWO: Stan Lazaridis prepares to nutmeg Forest’s Des Lyttle. PIC THREE: Lazaridis in action for West Ham. PIC FOUR: Bobby Despotovski celebrates with Perth Glory. PIC FIVE: West Ham programme. PIC SIX: Nottingham Forest programme.