In 1990, leading club Perth Italia prepared a more substantial report attempting to clear the ground for entry into the NSL, but by the early 1990s it appeared that the league was likely to reduce rather than increase the number of participants. In those circumstances the resourceful Western Australians looked to Asia, accepting an invitation to field a team in the Singapore Premier League. So the Perth Kangaroos were formed as a new team and it picked up a number of excellent players including Michael Petkovic, Gareth and Craig Naven, Scott Miller and Vince Matassa with Gary Marocchi as coach.
The birth of the new club was not smooth as taking players away from the existing ones caused friction, while attracting crowds, financing the new entity and paying the players proved difficult. Nevertheless on the field the Kangaroos were a success, winning the league undefeated.
It must have embarrassed the leadership of the Australian Soccer Federation that Western Australia was prepared to go it alone into Asia. Before the season was completed the president, John Constantine, CEO Ian Holmes and Peter Russell of the NSL met the representatives of the Soccer Administration of Western Australia (SAWA) but the the green light for the entry to the league may have been a byproduct of the election campaign of David Hill, who became chair of the ASF in 1995. Some of those involved have certainly claimed as much. The prime mover in this new venture was Nick Tana, who assisted the Kangaroos to complete their commitments, but kept his focus on the domestic goal.
Though Tana had a long-standing interest in the game, he approached the setting up and development of the new club as a commercial proposition from the start. As he said on the ABC’s Sports Factor in 2005, ‘I remember as a six-year-old lad going to see soccer matches in those days, held back by just a rope, where there’d be 10,000, 15,000 people watching local games. And it’s always been something that’s very close to my heart, to the extent where I’ve always believed it can be commercialised, then one day that day would come where the game would be truly commercialised, no different to what other codes are.’ So it was Tana’s company Arena Investments which obtained the coveted NSL Licence and Perth Glory was launched in December 1995.
The new club’s first NSL game was at Perth Oval, converted from a cricket and football ground into a rectangular arena by the insertion of a temporary stand, but retaining the curved shed behind the goal at one end where the fans congregated. UTS Olympic proved too strong for the newcomers, with Geelong’s Kris Trajanovski scoring twice in a four-one win. Bobby Despotovski missed a penalty and Doug Ithier conceded an own goal, but Alan Mackenzie got the Glory’s first goal with a minute left to play.
Perth Glory team for its first match in the National Soccer League at Perth Oval on 13 October 1996.
Tom Maras, Doug Ithier, Gareth Naven, Gavin Wilkinson (Dale Wingell 67), Vinko Buljubasic, Paul McVittie, Paul Strudwick (Vladimir Beretovac 70), Slobodan Despotovski, Alan MacKenzie, Scott Miller, Craig Naven.
Perth settled into the league and finished seventh in a 14-team competition. Despotovski was the club’s top scorer with 14 goals and third overall in the League. Attendances, boosted by some innovative marketing and promotion, were excellent in that first season, averaging 11,871, while 17,582 packed into the ground for the clash with Marconi in January 1997. Along the way Glory beat South Melbourne four-nil and Canberra Cosmos six-nil.
The recruitment of German coach Bernd Stange and his assistant Mitch D’Avray, South African-born and former Ipswich Town player in 1998, saw the Glory begin the rise that would take it to a grand final in 2000 and in 2003–04 to back-to-back championships.
The full story is told in fine detail in Richard Kreider’s superb history of the game in the west, entitled Paddocks to Pitches Richard’s book can be obtained through the website at: http://www.paddockstopitches.com/home.html <http://www.paddockstopitches.com/home.html>
The composition of the big Glory crowd has attracted attention from academics some of whom have concentrated on the ‘active’ supporters who consciously modeled themselves on their English peers. But Chris Egan is broadening the focus to encompass the multi-cultural element that was there at the start of the Glory and has stuck with it into the A-League. Glory in many ways pioneered ‘new football’ and is intensely proud of its history. It has successfully resisted attempts to restrict its story to the period since 2005.