Windmilled - The 1997 WA Premier League Season by Searlais Mullin
The 1997 Western Australian season continued the tumultuous trend of football in this state with a vengeance. Some cosmetic changes were made to the league, with Division 1 renamed the Premier League and expanded to fourteen teams. Also the Top Four Cup, the end-of-season consolation prize for clubs who don't win the championship proper (in WA the team that finishes top of the league is crowned champion), was scrapped.
But more notable was the triumph of Floreat Athena, who won the treble - the league, the cup and the pre-season night series. Coached by the highly experienced Jim Pyrgolios they were the outstanding team over the course of the year. But it was a turbulent ride for the club, and ultimately it was events off the field that proved decisive in them lifting the championship.
Morley Windmills, a club with a proud history in local football, earned promotion to the top flight in 1997 for the first time in fifteen years. Their return, however, proved to be anything but glorious. >From the outset they shaped up as relegation candidates, but it was at reserve and youth level where they really suffered. The youth team were losing by margins more appropriate to cricket. In desperation the Windmills fielded overage and ineligible players and collected a bevy of fines. Unable to pay them Windmills withdrew from the league before Soccer West Coast threw tham out. All the Windmills' fixtures were awarded as a 3-0 victory to the opponent. Athena's 3-2 loss to them was cancelled out. As it eventuated Athena won the league by three points, with second placed Fremantle City boasting a superior goal difference. Had it not been for the Windmills, Fremantle would have been champions.
On the football field the season was just as eventful The first half of the season was dominated by the Western Knights, who won all but one of the first round of fixtures. At one stage the team averaged over five goals a match, with strikers Trim Morgan and Eugene Singeorzan averaging a brace each. Athena kept pace with the Knights for a time, until four Perth Glory players, Bobby Despotovski, Vas Kalogeracos, Doug Ithier and Marc Wingell, came into the side The sudded influx of players severely disrupted Athena's momentum and they lost form. When they met the Knights at the Velodrome they were hammered 5-2, Morgan grabbing four goals. At the midway point of the season the knights had an eleven point lead and looked invincible.
But the loss of a single player saw the Knights throw it all away. Morgan was signed by a Malaysian club and the goals dried up. The Knights lost their final match to Fremantle City and scarcely won another over the second half of the season. They eventually finished fifth Athena rediscovered their balance and surged past the Knights and the chasing pack. Their three-way striking formation of Despotovski, Kalogeracos and Michael Roki proved too much for most defences to handle.
As with the Knights, Athena built up a formidable margin between themselves and the chasers. And like the Knights they collapsed in a heap after losing players. Kalogeracos left for trials in Europe, not to return, and Despotovski began pre-season training with Penh Glory. A few players, unhappy with having lost their places in the team, had left the club, including Marc Wingell, who signed to Bayswater City Panthers. Injuries to veterans Roki and Alan Armstrong suddenly revealed a team with no depth.
Chasing Athena were Fremantle City and Sorrento, two clubs not expected to feature in the title race. Coached by the successful Stuart Kamasz, Fremantle City started the season slowly with several drawn matches, but gradually their counter-attacking style found form and rhythm. From May onwards they did not lose a match, and going into the final rounds scored goals with merry abandon. In attack Scott Halpin was a revelation, eventually picking up the league top scorer's award and landing a contract with Perth Glory. Also prominent in Freo's success were veterans such as Peter Murphy, Steve Bourne and Lou Collova. Their late run for the championship saw them demolish Athena 5-1 at the Velodrome, Halpin scoring a hat-trick.
Unfashionable Sorrento, led by player-coach Trev Morgan, featured in the championship race the whole season long. Their football was gritty, grafting, ball-to-head stuff, not pretty on the eye but certainly effective. Of their squad only goalkeeper Mike Harkness was a big name, and Tony Carbone when they had his services for a few months. Cohesive, tenacious and hard to beat, they chased Athena and Fremantle all the way and only lost out on the last day of the season.
Athena, who looked certain champions for so long, only just managed to fall over the line. They showed enormous character in recovering from the thumping dished out to them by Fremantle, and got the results they needed. On the last day of the season they only needed a draw to secure the championshp. Although their opponents were their hated rivals Stirling Macedonia, they comfortably won the match 3-1, and lifted their first league trophy in nine years.
For other clubs it was a disappointing season. The champions, Inglewood Falcons, only came to life at the season's end and their fourth place finish somewhat flattered them. Perennial giants Spearwood Dalmatinac and Perth SC both finished mid-table, although Spearwood were in the top four before losing Robert Zabica overseas. Stirling Macedonia, one of the most successful clubs of recent times, fared poorly and only just managed to avoid relegation. Bayswater City Panthers, who came within seconds of winning the championship in 1996, never rose out of the bottom half of the table.
Joondalup City's first season in the top flight was a moderately successful one. They finished in a respectable mid-table position. Dianella White Eagles avoided relegation for the first time in their history, although they went through three coaches in achieving it. At one stage Perth Glory defender Peter Vukmirovic was their caretaker player-coach. Olympic Kingsway's young squad (nicknamed the "Kingsway Kids") failed to compete with their more experienced opponents and finished second last. Swan IC collected the wooden spoon and conceded an embarrassing number of goals.
With the absence of the Top Four Cup, the Divella Cup took on added significance. It was contested at Bayswater Oval betwen Athena and Macedonia, the latter having upset Fremantle City in a penalty shoot-out in the semi final. Athena won the match 2-1, Roki the star, but also of note was a great goalkeeping performance by Macies veteran Phil Trianedes.
What shape the league will have next season is a mystery. It seems likely that the Premier League will be reduced to twelve clubs, but will there be promotion and relegation? Southside United, winners of Divsion 1, have been told they will not be promoted due to inadequate facilities. Southside disagree and are considering legal action against Soccer West Coast. Olympic Kingsway, who finished in a relegation position, have had $200,000 invested in them by English club West Ham United, and now are only in 'danger' of relegation.
Added to that the WAIS has just begun a football program and expected to enter a team in the Premier League for the 1998 season. No one knows what next season's Premier League will look like. Soccer West Coast's long term plan is to have only two divisions of ten clubs each, and they have already begun to cull sides by axing four from division 1 All in all Soccer West Coast (whose president, Nick MacCallum, managed to resign twice within twelve months) do not seem any more competent than their numerous predecessors.
On a final note some of the Premier League clubs are looking to bigger things. The ambitious Fremantle City hope to enter the NSL sometime soon with current coach Kamasz at the helm. Perth Glory are not amused at the prospect. Athena are redeveloping the Velodrome and hope to keep Pyrgolios at the club for another season. Sorrento and Joondalup City both hope to follow Olympic King sway's lead and become "foster" clubs for top clubs in Britain. Additionally Joondalup City are serious in their bid to sign ex-England intemational Paul Parker for the 1988 season. The WA Premier League's future, while not assuredly successful, promises at least to be intriguing.
SOCCER WEST COAST 1997 PREMIER LEAGUE P W D L FOR AGST GD PTS 1 Floreat Athena 26 17 7 2 70 30 +40 58 2 Fremantle City 26 16 7 3 61 14 +47 55 3 Sorrento 26 17 4 5 55 26 +29 55 4 Inglewood Falcons 26 13 8 5 51 37 +14 47 5 Western Knights 26 13 6 7 72 49 +23 45 6 Spearwood Dalmatinac 26 12 4 10 65 47 +18 40 7 Perth 26 10 9 7 44 37 +7 39 8 Joondalup City 26 10 7 9 48 47 +1 37 9 Bayswater City Panthers 26 7 8 11 43 44 -1 29 10 Dianella White Eagles 26 7 7 12 31 48 -17 28 11 Stirling Macedonia 26 7 4 15 38 56 -18 25 12 Kingsway Olympic 26 6 6 14 35 67 -32 24 13 Swan I.C. 26 6 2 18 30 71 -41 20 14 Morley Windmills 26 1 1 24 9 79 -70 4 FIRST DIVISION P W D L FOR AGST GD PTS 1 Southside United 28 19 6 3 93 40 +53 63 2 Rockingham City 28 18 6 4 62 31 +31 60 3 Ashfield/Bunbury 28 17 5 6 95 46 +49 56 4 Cockburn United 28 16 6 6 61 25 +36 54 5 Bassendean Caledonian 28 15 8 5 68 36 +32 53 6 Wanneroo City 28 16 4 8 61 42 +19 52 7 Queens Park 28 13 7 8 61 55 +6 46 8 Perth City 28 11 4 13 59 66 -7 37 9 Balcatta 28 10 5 13 44 69 -25 35 10 Stirling Suns 28 8 3 17 41 62 -21 27 11 Armadale 28 7 5 16 52 80 -28 26 12 University 28 7 3 18 36 77 -41 24 13 Leeming Strikers 28 5 5 18 31 64 -33 20 14 Balga 28 4 7 17 33 59 -26 19 15 North Lake Espanol 28 5 4 19 48 93 -45 19