Opinion

Perth’s day of Glory, 25 years in the making

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The most important day in the history of football in Western Australia has arrived. It’s been some wait.

It’s not the first grand final Perth Glory have hosted, played in, or won. But it is the first time they have held the deciding match in their state in the A-League era.

They will do so in front of more than 55,000 fans, at a brand-new stadium, against one of the competition’s true powers.

Winning this championship would complete the circle of the club that gave birth to the A-League.

It's hard to believe it began in the form of the Perth Kangaroos in 1994; a franchise formed so WA could have a professional club.

 

They played in Singapore until the NSL permitted their entry in 1995. Ironically, the Glory finally returns Asia next season, too.

When they did join the NSL, Perth Glory were the first club to prove that non-ethnic franchises could be wildly popular in football. There was a time when it seemed such a thing was impossible.

Watching this Purple Haze in the mid-to-late-1990s was a dazzling vision of what football could be in this country.

Fast, exciting, flashy, unaligned to any group, glamorous and goals, goals, goals. They were intoxicating.

At home, Perth Oval was a party – on the road, it was a travelling circus.

Perth redefined the sport at a time when we needed it most. In the closing darkness of the NSL’s dying days, the Glory stood out like a beacon, offering a way forward.

If only we could have a league full of teams like them, we all thought. It seemed like a dream.

But soon, we did. And anyone who has derived any satisfaction from the A-League over the past 15 years owes a debt of gratitude to Perth Glory. They lit the torch; the rest of us followed.

Sadly, when that new league came to pass, the Glory’s role as a leader was hollowed. They changed owners, missed the finals and crowds seemed to go from 14,000 and 15,000 in the NSL-era to half of that.

The football community in WA pulled away, disenfranchised. This great sporting power had become a shadow of their former selves.

The Glory carried on, never really threatening to get even close to the heights they once occupied.

They had effectively created the competition that was now leaving them behind. Occasionally, there was a glimmer of hope but seldom was it sustained.

They made the 2012 Grand Final and went incredibly close to winning it, undone only by a late one-two punch from Besart Berisha.

 

That Glory outfit were big on heart and toughness though never inspiring enough to get the turnstiles clicking again.

Owner Tony Sage has invested plenty over the journey, but never quite in the right area. Good players were bought but never was a great team assembled.

What was missing, more than anything, was a truly great coach. We haven’t had many in the A-League era, yet Perth got their hands on one of the best we have ever seen.

Tony Popovic would still be at Western Sydney if he hadn’t left to go to Turkey. But that ill-fated decision would prove the defining factor in the future of not one but two clubs.

The Wanderers have never truly recovered from losing their mentor. That club was grafted in his image, a fact proven by the fact that he’s proven so hard to replace. What they wouldn’t give for his safe return.

But swings and roundabouts make for incredible opportunities. It seemed fanciful that Perth could nab a coach of Popovic’s stature, no matter how much they paid him. But the man loves a challenge. Lives for it. And they didn’t get much bigger than this.

When it was announced, I declared it the biggest signing in the history of the club. I stand by that claim. It will take years, perhaps even decades to bring in somebody who can have an impact on a club quite like Popovic.

He has been to three domestic finals as a coach and lost all three, so he’s due to lift this trophy.

And Perth is due, too. Western Australia also. For anyone who's been watching on all this time, it might just be the day we've all been waiting for.

Source SBS The World Game