Too often, clubs in Australia that were built by one ethnic community or another have been accused of not adapting or changing. The mere showing of a flag from another country leads to assumptions by some administrators and fans that the club is incapable of changing – yet there is much more than ethnicity that helps shape their identity.

One such club is Western Knights, formerly known as North Perth Croatia, established in 1968.

A few years ago they elected their first woman president, Gordana Sliskovic. They were also the first club in Perth to have a footingball team, a specially-adapted form of the game for people with a disability.

Sliskovic has grown up with the club.

One of two daughters to her football-mad dad, there was no expectation that she would play football.

“I did the raffles and other things but didn’t play.”

But as attitudes changed in society, so have her dad’s. Unsurprisingly, he is one of her biggest fans in her new club role.

Sliskovic says the Western Knights still has the atmosphere of a ‘family club’, although it’s getting harder to find players.

“I can get men to play, and the little kids. The problem is the 12-17 year olds,” she says.

It is grassroots development that is the Knights’ biggest priority.

“Absolutely, it is the biggest goal of the club.”

At a recent FFA Cup match, Sliskovic and other club members wanted to take me around the entire ground and showcase their football home.

“We were so surprised to see an article that was on our side,” she said referring to my previous feature in Football Today.

In an environment where change was welcomed, Sliskovic expands on how she became president.

“Miso [Bunic, the former president] said he wanted to stand down. The committee said ‘it’s your turn as you are vice-president’. I said to the committee, I will only do it if I get 100% support.”

Bunic says she’s “a gorgeous person. It was my idea. I thought we needed fresh blood.”

I ask Sliskovic has she surprised herself in her role as president.

“I’ve learned to schedule my time better.”

Too modest to say more, she has grown into the role which sees her run an efficient club, but with a smile and grace that captivates the people who meet her.

I ask her what she would do if she ran the game.

“I don’t know what we are doing. Why is AFL getting so much media attention and not us? Why are our junior fees so much higher?”

The club has ambitions to be bigger and better. It is building a sustainable future, and aspires to be part of the WA NPL competition. One of the impediments is their home ground, Nash Field. The FFA Cup is one way of helping to realise a long-held dream of a better quality, secure home.

Sliskovic believes Nash Field was chosen because there were not many other options in Perth at the time.

“At the time, the club was scrambling to find a venue.”

The club finds the discrimination from the local council on issues such as surfaces and lighting investment for football compared with Aussie Rules hard to fathom. Sliskovic says the game is not given sufficient respect.

The stories of infrastructure problems holding-back the development and growth of clubs is common in grassroots football. Too often, local and state authorities are preventing clubs, such as the Western Knights, to rise to the level at which they want to operate.

Rather than being penalised for an inadequate facility as reason not to be selected to play in the WA NPL, I would like to see football governing bodies make it a priority to solve the problem. If there is intransigence from a local council towards the world game, work out what the game needs to tell the council to shift its attitudes.

The game suffers when clubs have no ability to grow, expand and become bigger clubs. It is even worse when they feel like nobody seems to care.

This is not an attack on the selection of WA NPL sides, but a comment on where priority should be given by football authorities such as Football West and FFA.

At the team dinner following the match, the strong camaraderie between the board and the team is evident.

Team captain, Paul Taylor, agrees.

“We were just saying that this is the best camaraderie we have had for three to four years between the board and the squad. It helped carry us through for the last 25 minutes.”

Western Knights defeated NPL side, Bayswater City, 2-1 – a huge win for the club.

Taylor said he was surprised at the extent to which clubs in lower leagues were ethnically-based, when he first arrived from the UK. He also says the love and acceptance are second to none. He says he is part of a tight-knit family that looks after each other.

“It’s definitely a great family feel here. They have given me career advice. When I broke my arm and couldn’t work, the club helped me out financially.”

I get the feeling that to really know more about the Western Knights, you need to be here for a while. Taylor agrees.

“You can’t just do one season and go home. You’ve got to be here for two-to-three seasons.”

The passion for the club runs deep. The little kids who are members want to play for the senior team.

Hopefully, the FFA Cup run will help achieve the club’s aim to find a quality, permanent home, that can deliver on the passions of a ‘family’ that wants to set its roots not in the past 50 years – but for the next 50.

Western Knights fundraising Fish Night BBQ last year: on again this year on 15 July!

Categories: People | Football Life | Local

ffa cup, grassroots football, western knights fc

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