The return of key exiles from other clubs and a close-knit squad help the club go from the brink of extinction to champions.
On Saturday afternoon, a few hours before Perth Glory defeated Western Sydney Wanderers at Nib Stadium, the club’s women quietly and assuredly dismantled the Wanderers 5-0 to win the W-League premiership. It’s the first bit of glory seen by any team at the club since 2004.
There are still two rounds left to play before the W-League finals begin, but Glory have simply annihilated the competition this year. Perhaps the omens were there from the beginning when Perth beat Brisbane Roar – a powerhouse of the W-League – in Round 1. They’ve lost just one game all season, scored an incredible 33 goals in 10 games, and conceded just 8 goals. Their victory over the Wanderers was a rollcall of the stars of this season: Sam Kerr scored a brace, while Collette McCallum, Marianna Tabain and Katie Gill all scored one.
If the sweetest victories are forged out of hard times, this was a sugar hit of diabetic proportions. Three years ago, Perth Glory were on the receiving end of a 11-0 drubbing at the hands of Sydney FC. It remains the biggest ever domestic defeat in both the men’s or the women’s game. Barely a year later, Perth Glory owner Tony Sage had a highly publicised spat with Football Federation Australia, and held the W-League and National Youth League teams to ransom. The youth team was saved, the W-League team wasn’t so lucky. As is so often the case, the women were the collateral damage of a wealthy man’s dummy spit.
Facing the loss of a W-League team in Western Australia, Football West, led by chief executive Peter Hugg, stepped in to fill the breach. Hugg, a former chief executive of the now-defunct Australian Women’s Soccer Association, said a decision had to be made whether to keep the team in the W-League, whether to retain the Perth Glory brand, and how to find money to keep the team alive.
It’s a familiar story for W-League teams across the competition. When times get tough, the first group to face cuts are the women, and state and member federations are often called upon to fill the breach. For the past few seasons the team has been run under the Perth Glory brand but has been managed and funded by Football West. Hugg said that the decision to support the W-League team was “unanimous” at the Federation.
“The Perth Glory womens team acts as role models for our younger girls,” explained Hugg. “It was difficult, but we weren’t going to let them die. We had to rob Peter to pay Paul, shave a little bit here and there and beg borrow and steal. Unfortunately this is still the case in women’s football.”
This season, however, Perth Glory have provided some sponsorship for the operations for the W-League team, a figure Hugg says is a “significant” contribution to the $240,000 cost of the program. “I think the management see the value to the Perth Glory brand and our relationship has matured enough to work together on many things,” said Hugg. “I’ve often said that when Football West is strong, Perth Glory is strong, and when Perth Glory is strong Football West is strong.”
The spirit of cooperation is now at an all-time high between club and Football West, and this has been replicated within the playing group. Ann Odong, a Perth native and editor of The Women’s Game, believes a “perfect storm” of factors contributed to the incredible premiership run. Many of the players are close friends, and Odong believes the fact that Perth Glory are the tightest-knit squad of the W-League has been a key to success.
Kerr, one of the best players in the world, returned home to Perth from Sydney FC, bringing fellow Matilda Caitlin Foord with her. Mackenzie Arnold and Alanna Kennedy both joined Perth from Western Sydney Wanderers, whose W-League team is slowly falling apart, while a few seasons ago Matildas striker Katie Gill followed her parents to Perth. Many of the homegrown players, including Sarah Carroll, Carys Hawkins, Shannon May, Elisa D’Ovidio, Tabain and Kerr, played together at Football West’s National Training Centre.
Having names such as Harnwell and Kerr associated with the W-League side has helped lift the profile of the team. Samantha Kerr’s brother Daniel, of course, is a West Coast Eagles legend in the AFL, while coach Jamie Harnwell was part of the Perth Glory side that won the NSL in 2004. The Harnwell family are football royalty in Perth.
Still, there is not much room for women’s football in the newspapers, and it’s a constant battle for all W-League clubs to find some clear air. In this, Football West has again played an important role. Jonathan Cook, a former journalist with the West Australian now working as the media manager for Football West, has been proactive in pushing stories to his old newspaper.
The decisive moment, says Hugg, was the front-page spread for super-sub Gabe Marzano last week. Marzano is hardly the biggest name in women’s football, indeed I remember watching her put four goals (including a first half hat-trick) past Bankstown City in the second tier of women’s football in New South Wales just last year.
But as any journo knows, a savvy media manager can be the difference in finding good human interest stories. Cook presented the West with Marzano’s unique story as the first qualified female diver for the Australian Army performing brilliantly for the Glory. The reaction around the club to the front-page article was immense.
“It was probably a pinnacle of our history in the game,” said Hugg, “it was a one off and it was months in the making. Why do we do these things? It’s for the future of the game. Young girls need heroes too. It’s good to promote Ronaldo, or Messi, or Tim Cahill or Harry Kewell but young girls don’t necessarily equate to that. They need to look up to them and say ‘I can play for Perth Glory too.’”
Photograph: Shane AtkinsFootball dad Shane Atkins has seen this first hand. His young daughters Tiahna and Madeline both play in the skills acquisition programs run by Football West, and have fallen in love with the Glory players who visit them each week to help out with training. Tiahna now has a kit with Marzano’s name on the back, while Madeline has Shelina Zadorsky’s on the back of her’s. “Put it this way, I’ve gone from having Disney and Princess posters on my walls to having Perth Glory players,” said Shane. “Their love for the players is just amazing.”
With the finals looming, it’s time for the Perth Glory executives to put more into their W-League side. “Philosophically, the message has to be that these are real Perth Glory players, not just Football West women running around in a Perth Glory top” said Hugg. Commitment, as well as money, is the key, and this breakthrough season is surely the best incentive for Tony Sage to dig a little deeper.
In Football West, however, the women’s game has found a reliable ally. In a competition still woefully under-funded and under-resourced from FFA, there is still no actual trophy for the successful team to lift. So Football West went out and ordered their own, and in a moment of significant metaphor, handed it to their W-League side on Saturday. It is, quite literally, a premiership of their own making.