History of Melbourne Knights

History of Melbourne Knights

by Andrew Howe

Melbourne Knights entered the 1996-97 Ericsson cup as league champions. In 1994-95 the club also took out the league title as well as the cup final. These two trophies, both won for the first time in 1994-95, were a long time coming for a club which has existed in one form or another for over 40 years, and who had come so close so many times in the previous five years.

Essendon Croatia, who later changed their name to Melbourne Croatia (1984) and then the Knights (1993), were formed in 1975. Until then a series of merges and takeovers transformed the club into what we know it today.

A club simply called Croatia entered the Victorian provisional league in 1953. Croatia merged with Preston Croat in 1965 and three years later took out their first Victorian state league title. After being expelled from the Victorian Soccer Federation in 1972, the club took over the Essendon Lions in 1975. The Lions themselves were developed from a combination of Victorian clubs - Hajduk and Ukrainian Lions, who merged in 1959. In 1978 and 1979 Essendon Croatia won the Victorian state league championship. The club were state league runners up in each of the following four years. Eddie Krncevic, Australia's first overseas success story of the modern era, came through the Essendon state league ranks.

With the drastic restructure of the national league in 1984, Melbourne Croatia as they were know known entered the country's major league. It was in this year the national league reverted from a one division, 16 team league, to a duel conference set-up. Each conference consisted of twelve teams. Melbourne Croatia was probably the strongest candidate for one of the extra national league positions. Their national career commenced stunningly as the club made it to the preliminary final of the southern conference at only their first attempt. Not to mention a narrow loss to Newcastle in the final of the national knock-out cup in the same year.

Croatia were final series' contenders in 1989 and 1989/90, but their first grand final appearance came at the climax of the 1990/91 season. In probably the most enthralling national league final ever played, Croatia in most people's eyes outplayed South Melbourne only to lose in a penalty shoot-out. The teams drew 1-1 in front of Victoria's biggest ever national league crowd - 23,318. The same scenario occurred the following year, the Knights losing on penalties to Adelaide City. Yet another grand final appearance in 1994 saw another loss, again to Adelaide City (0-1). It was the club's first grand final played outside of Melbourne, in May 1995, where the Knights were ultimate victors at last. The Knights gained deserved revenge in defeating Adelaide City 2-0 in the most one sided of national league grand finals ever played.

Season 1994-95 was no doubt the Knights' season. The team were champions, minor premiers and cup-winners - the first time ever that one club has ever taken out the 'treble'. The 6-0 cup final win was again the most one- sided final of this competition. Knight's teenage sensation Mark Viduka took out the player of the year, under 21 player of the year and top scorer of the year. Mirko Bazic was voted coach of the year. Amazingly, the same two people had won all four same awards the previous season. To say the Knights deserved their first championship in 1994-95 is a colossal understatement. Despite the loss of Viduka and fellow Socceroo defender Steve Horvat, the club won the league again in 1995-96. It seems nothing can stop the Knights.

Statistical summary of Melbourne Knights in the national league

league season
Final ladder
National knock-
out cup placing
home crowd
1984^ 3rd (12 teams) 2nd (24 teams) 2800
1985^ 4th (12 teams) =9th (32 teams) 2000
1986^ 10th (12 teams) =9th (32 teams) 2300
1987 9th (13 teams) =5th (13 teams) 1900
1988 9th (14 teams) =9th (24 teams) 1700
1989 4th (14 teams) =9th (14 teams) 4000
1989-90 3rd (14 teams) =5th (14 teams) 4200
1990-91 1st (14 teams) =9th (14 teams) 4100
1991-92 1st (14 teams) =3rd (14 teams) 3900
1992-93 10th (14 teams) =9th (14 teams) 2800
1993-94 1st (14 teams) =8th (14 teams) 3100
1994-95 1st* (13 teams) 1st (14 teams) 4800
1995-96 2nd* (12 teams) =7th (14 teams) 4400
* grand final winner/champion ^ national league divided into two conferences. Melbourne Knights in southern conference.