In the twenty first year of the national league, we finally have a truly national competition. Perth Glory is Western Australia's first representation in Australia's premier soccer league.
It is interesting to note how 'national' the league has been over the years. When the national league started, in 1977, there were teams from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Canberra. The next year Newcastle joined in. This was quite a large geographical spread - and a revolutionary concept in Australian sport. The other two biggest football codes were firmly entrenched in their respective strongholds. In 1977 the major rugby league competition had 100 per cent of its teams from the Sydney region. And Aussie rules had 100 percent within Melbourne/Geelong.
Ten years later however, was a different story. In 1987 the national soccer league had contracted to a mere three cities - with five teams from Sydney, seven from Melbourne and one from Adelaide.
Nowadays the spread of the national league is as wide as it has ever been - with Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra, Perth, Newcastle, Wollongong and Gippsland all represented. A vast improvement from just ten years previous.
Soccer in Western Australia is 116 years old this year. Way back in 1909 a combined WA team made their first big trip to the east, and took on several other state teams. The current state federation was formed in 1960, after eight of the biggest Perth clubs of the time defected from the old WA Soccer Association.
Perhaps WA's best result against a touring team was when they beat then European Cup Winners' Cup holders Werder Bremen in 1992. Another outstanding result was a win against Glasgow Rangers in 1975.
The state has had a closer relationship with south-east Asia than the rest of the Australia. For instance, WA competed in the Merdeka Cup held in Malaysia between 1967 and 1970, with its best performance being third place in 1968. In 1994 the Perth Kangaroos, along with the Darwin Cubs, entered the Singapore Premier League - a competition that hoped to be a forerunner to a wider south-east Asian league. But this league turned out to a farce, because Perth won every game that season!
While it was always envisaged that a Perth team be included in Australia's national league, financial realities meant that it could only have been considered in more recent years. In the late 1980s individual WA state league clubs were making noises to join the national league. One such club was Perth Italia, who went so far as registering a new name - Perth United - for its proposed national league team. But Perth needed a real united effort - with combined support from all WA state league clubs - to make the big bold step. Unfortunately at this time there was a wide split between the major WA league teams and the WA federation itself, which detracted from any national league bids from the west.
A consortium of businesspeople, clubs and the federation itself made an official bid to join the 1993-94 national league season. This Perth bid was strengthened by the then recent restoration of ties between the clubs and the federation. And a feasibility study had shown that around 100,000 people were involved in the game in the west now. Good results against touring teams at that time also did not harm the bid. Perth's case was then considered on a year-by-year basis until they were finally accepted into the 1996-97 season.
The newly formed Perth Glory declined to compete in the 1996-97 national knock-out cup (Johnnie Walker Cup). But WA state league teams have entered this competition in the previously, from 1978 to 1981, and again in 1986. Of all these teams, the best performance was by Spearwood Dalmatinac in the 1980 cup. Spearwood defeated 1978 national league champions West Adelaide on their way to a quater final berth with Adelaide City. Spearwood lost the quarter final 0-1, but only after Sergio Melta had scored for AdCity in extra time.
Several strong players have emerged from WA. The only Australian player to play regularly in the 1996-97 English Premier League season, West Ham's Stan Lazaridis, hails from the state. Robert Zabica, the 1990s Socceroo goalkeeping legend also learned his trade in the west. Now with a national league outlet of their own, Western Australia will no doubt soon be churning out many more talented players that the whole of Australia can be proud of.