The situation out west remains tenuous although it has been somewhat overshadowed by the goings on surrounding the Jets, Roar, FIFA and the general silliness and upheaval that accompanies every football off-season. But as an integral part of a national competition, eyes should never wander far from the team who became the blueprint for all the participants in the A-League. It’s one of the most overused phrases but in this case it’s true, “a strong Glory is good for the league.”
Perth were late coming to the national league party when they kicked their first ball in anger against Sydney Olympic at Perth Oval on the 13th of October, 1996. Despite suffering a heavy loss that day in which might be put down to stage fright, the Glory – led by a Nick Tana consortium – would go on to show that they’d be a force to reckon with both on and off the pitch.
In their first National Soccer League season, they averaged attendances of almost 12,000 at home with a regular season high of 17,582 against Marconi. The crowds grew as the team continued to claim some big scalps such as a 5-1 away win against eventual champions Brisbane Strikers and a 3-1 home win over a Sydney United outfit that only lost four games in the regular season and finished 9 points clear on top with a plus 34 goal difference.
The dramatic final round of their first season possibly galvanised the Glory team and fans even more. Only needing a draw away to qualify for the finals they faced Melbourne Knights who themselves needed a win to take Glory’s spot in the final six. Things looked good when Anthony Carbone gave Glory the lead in the first half but Tom Pondeljak grabbed an equaliser before the break. An early red card in the second half for Glory’s Paul Strudwick turned the game in favour of the Knights with the home team grabbing another two goals through Pondeljak again and Adrian Cervinski from the spot. Although the fairytale run was over for Glory, the story was just beginning.
They would miss out again in the 1997/98 season despite having almost 15,000 home fans cheering them on every week. However, once they made it to the finals the following year they never looked back, making 6 straight appearances in the finals, winning the league 3 times, and the grand final twice. Their first ever home finals match was the 2nd leg of the Elimination Final against perennial powerhouse Adelaide City in front of 25,000 fans. The big crowd would leave happy too as their side triumphed 2-1 on the night and on aggregrate to progress to the next round.
The Glory represented everything that many people envisaged for football in Australia, they were a beacon of hope for the domestic league in a time that those at the top were wondering how to capitalise on the popularity of the Socceroos and stars such as Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka. Clubs such as Parramatta Power, Northern Spirit, and Carlton SC sprung up hoping to replicate the success of the West Australians but for one reason or another they were unable to put it all together on and off the pitch.
By the end of the NSL, Glory accounted for 32% of all NSL supporters. The Perth public had shown that football had a home in the traditional Australian Rules stronghold. Market research undertaken in 2002 actually found of the five key capital city markets that Perth was the only one where support for their local NSL side was higher than that of professional teams overseas. The research also noted the impressive nature of this given “Perth’s population having the highest proportion of migrants from the United Kingdom and Europe than all of Australia’s key markets, and a time zone more conducive to viewing overseas teams live on television.”
Not only did they support their team with gusto but the Glory fans also supported reform for the game in Australia. The same research showed that Glory fans above all others were supportive of reforming the competition with 77% supporting the model put forward by the PFA at the time. Despite the success of their own team, Perth fans were the most willing to change the status quo for the betterment of football, in fact NSL fans as a whole were around 20% more open to reform than general football fans.
Fast forward to the 2005/06 inaugural Aleague season and expectations for Glory to remain one of the leaders in Australian football were high. Perhaps it was the transistional period between the NSL and Aleague but Glory would not reach the highs on the field or off in the new competition. Nick Tana lasted one season before the FFA took back the licence and ran the club before a new ownership group led by Tony Sage would takeover in early 2007.
It would take until the 2009/10 season for the Glory to make another finals series and they have yet to average 10,000 or higher crowds in the Aleague. Discontent towards Sage’s ownership and running of the team have continued to build year on year and last season’s salary cap breach couldn’t have come at a worst time with a promising season seemingly regaining the support of the West Australian faithful. Now the relationship between ownership and supporters is at an all-time low and the current regime continue to show little respect for the club’s history and past players (but that’s a story in itself).
How this upcoming season is going to play out is anyone’s guess but it doesn’t appear that Tony Sage will be going anywhere soon. Billionaires don’t grow on trees and the FFA don’t have the best track record for finding replacement owners if Sage, Tinkler, and the Bakries are anything to go by. Solving the conundrum of how to bring NSL Glory in to the Aleague is one that needs to be worked out for everyone’s sake.
One thing is certain and that’s the Perth fans are knowledgable and have proven they will support their local team. It is time once again for them to have a team that not only represents them but they can also be proud of.