The radical changes that shaped the Glory ‘phenomenon’
The move that resulted in Perth Glory in 1996 began at least nine years earlier25 August 2017 | Chris Egan
This story begins in October 1987 with a favourite son of the game, Johnny Warren, pronouncing that soccer in Australia should move from ethnic-based clubs, and ends with constitutional reform in July 1990 which enshrines that future national soccer league bids from Perth would be corporate and broad based.
As guests sat back for the meal in early October 1987 to celebrate WA’s best Gold Medal awards dinner, Johnny Warren had reform of the game firmly in his sights.
“Social and sporting conditions had changed radically over the years to demand a different approach to life in this country,” he said.
“It is time to turn our backs on ethnic soccer as the staple of the code in this country. It is time to bury the image of soccer as a foreigners game that fails to attract the bulk of the Australian people.”
Around the same time, Perth Azzurri, East Fremantle Tricolore and Balcatta Etna announced their merger in October 1987 to form Perth Italia. It signalled radical change for the world game in Western Australia. They were clubs that represented different areas of Perth and different regions of Italy, but were united in an urge to deliver a Western Australian side into the National Soccer League.
Nick Geronimos the CEO of Super Soccer League which started in 1988, said Warren was an invaluable asset for the code in Western Australia.
The Super Soccer League began after a 1986 state government inquiry known as the Stanley Report recommended that steps be taken to better market the game.
The Stanley Report identified “that, in marketing terms, soccer’s potential is untapped. This is largely due to the inability of soccer to develop a high profile image related to conservative management.”
However, conservative management was a hallmark of the battles that shaped Western Australian ethnic clubs. It was the traditionalists versus those wishing to broaden the clubs out.
“Johnny, he supported the game heading to a broader base and turning it into the number one game in Australia. A genius, a great ambassador for football internationally,” says Geronimos today.
One club at the centre of those battles was Stirling Macedonia, now the Lions. Their president was Lew Temov from 1987 to 1990.
As well as battling with Geronimos, Temov was battling two different worlds: those who saw change as vital and those who wanted to ensure tradition was paramount to their club’s and the game’s future in Western Australia.
“Some of the people I was butting heads with was my family. My brother was putting a lot of money into it. He wanted it to continue with its traditions and his influence was very strong,” Temov said.
At this time, soccer was suffering as it became seen as a code of the ‘past’ not relevant to the new generations who became enamoured with the West Coast Eagles and the Perth Wildcats and absorbed into the West Australian mainstream.
“The traditional communities they were breaking down, they were inter-marrying. You can’t keep it pure,” Temov said.
He says the Macedonian community saw soccer as one last bastion where ‘cultural purity’ could be kept for the community. Eventually, with a more progressive sentiment than the club, he moved on and worked with the WA Soccer Federation.
“If you have got a view, no point continuing to butt a head against a brick wall,” he said.
He says the push for change and recognition of what was happening in Western Australia was limited within the Australian Soccer Federation.
“I would go over with Joe Lacerenza (President of WA Soccer Federation) and it was like we didn’t exist.”
For Geronimos, he had plenty of battles with Stirling Macedonia, but today he sees the humour in it.
He laughs about his introduction to the game and a survey he sent out to all the clubs asking how they chracterised what they saw their club. It was at this stage he saw that there was a wide difference in perspectives. For example, Perth Italia saw themselves as a community club, while Stirling Macedonia saw themselves as a political outfit.
Geronimos, a successful businessman and musician, was undeterred.
“We wanted to promote football as they saw they were going to die. They were getting 200 people to the games with not much hope for the future. I put together all sorts of marketing ideas.”
At near death, Super Soccer nonetheless delivered a number of reforms over three years to change the game and ensure survival of the game in the west.
The Emu Export Super Soccer League in 1989 broke with football tradition by having a Grand Final system to decide the premiership and sponsorship revenues doubled.
Ennio Tavani, Chairman of Super Soccer, and Allan Drake-Brockman a commissioner, would set out to design a new constitution that would guide Perth’s NSL bids into the future. It was the last act that enshrined fundamental reform for the game in Western Australia. The constitution would outline that any future NSL bids from Western Australia would be broad-based and a corporate entity, outside the influence of individual members.
For this vision of a broad-based and more inclusive game to become reality, it required significant governance and commercial change.
As part of this change being accepted, would be the resignation of Geronimos, who had already planned on stepping down, and had been approached to work elsewhere.
“At that stage I was burned out, I had been beaten to death for three years,” says Geronimos (pictured below).
In the last month of his reign, Geronimos pushed through final reforms. On July 1st 1990 the match between Perth Italia and Kingsway Olympic at Dorrien Gardens was broadcast on radio 6PR. According to the West Australian this was the first time a soccer match had been broadcast on commercial radio in Australia.
Discussions were also held with Channel 7 to telecast the Super Soccer League finals.
Geronimos, who now lives in Athens, mentioned that former Stirling Macedonia president, Jim Christou, apologised to him recently when he bumped into him on his last journey back to WA.
The battles of Australian football are rarely looked at from a Western Australian angle, but the response from the state government’s Stanley Report, the Italian triumvirate merger and the Super Soccer League are critical in understanding how Perth Glory eventually went on to help change Australian football. Soccer would move to a more corporate base with the blessing of the ethnic soccer clubs of Perth.
perth italia, super soccer, stirling lions, football history, nick geronimos