History of Gippsland Falcons

History of Gippsland Falcons

by Andrew Howe

The Gippsland Falcons soccer club is a classic example of how sheer hard work and determination can lead a community to national recognition, no matter what their size. Like Parma of Italy, Blackburn of England and La Coruna of Spain, Gippsland - with their headquarters in the Victorian town of Morwell - have shown that strength in the national sporting arena does not necessarily derive from a voluminous and rich population base.

In 1961 the IASCO club was developed with the intention of representing the local Italian sporting fraternity in the La Trobe soccer league. In an attempt to gain a more cosmopolitan feel to the club, and in recognition of their then major sponsor (Ford - the manufacturers of the Falcon motor car), IASCO changed their name in 1964 to Morwell Falcons. After thirteen years of existence the club bid farewell to the local competition and headed for the comparatively dizzy heights of the Victorian Provisional League. In 1977 the local council recognised what the Falcons had to offer to the people of the region by offering the club an allotment of land - North Crinigan Reserve. They moved there in 1981 and opened their impressive social club the year after.

Morwell reached the pinnacle of Victorian state league soccer in 1984 when they were Victorian champions. The club however then rejected an invitation to join the national league. With most national league clubs of this era averaging less than 2000 spectators per game, and indeed several games being watched by a mere one or two hundred people, the Falcons considered the national league was not worthy enough to risk the expense involved in national representation. All too often have soccer clubs entered the national league in Australia underprepared, only to soon fall from national league grace in financial tatters. The Falcons never rejected the idea of eventually playing in the national competition, but at this time they intelligently decided to press on with off-field commitments, concentrating on improving their home ground and social club.

In the late 1980s the Falcons decided that they were now ready to enter the national fray. All that was needed was an opportunity to join. In securing their second state league title in 1989, Morwell were pitted against South Australian state league winners West Adelaide. The winner of this two-legged duel gained promotion to the national league's first summer season. Morwell lost out 5-2 on aggregate.

Morwell's next opportunity arose after Melbourne club Preston was deemed not worthy to continue in the national competition in 1992. The then recently tabled Bradley Report had stressed that financial viability and off-field strength be a more relevant factor in determining whether a club deserved national league status. Morwell were accordingly thrust into the national league spotlight for the 1992/93 season. Their first game was a 2-0 victory against previous year's runners-up UTS Olympic. After missing out on the 1993/94 finals series courtesy of a bizarre final minute refereeing decision, the Falcons contested the 1994/95 finals, losing to rivals South Melbourne in the first elimination final.

In the 1996 off-season Gippsland made some big changes. Their name for more than 30 years - the Morwell Falcons - was changed to the Gippsland Falcons, in an attempt to associate themselves more with Victoria's La Trobe Valley region. The Gippsland board was streamlined, and the club appointed high profile and wily former Socceroo coach Frank Arok.

The high profile that the Falcons has attained throughout the past twenty five years would not have occurred without the influence of successful construction industry businessperson Don Di Fabrizio. In 1969 Di Fabrizio assumed presidency of the club. In his first year as president his club had finished third in the local country league. By the end of his presidential term (1994) Di Fabrizio had transformed the modest local sporting club into a true national league power. Now coached by the cunning Arok, the power is set to continue throughout the current Ericsson Cup season.

Statistical summary of Morwell in the national league

league season
Final ladder
National knock-
out cup placing
home crowd
1992-93 12th (14 teams) =9th (14 teams) 2900
1993-94 7th (14 teams) =5th (14 teams) 3000
1994-95 4nd (13 teams) =9th (14 teams) 2800
1995-96 10th (12 teams) =7th (12 teams) 2600