Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game
Towards the south-western tip of Western Australia, the dynamic state capital of Perth contains the third-largest sports stadium in the country – one mainly dedicated to Aussie rules football.
The Rectangular Stadium, shared between A-League team Perth Glory and Super Rugby Pacific outfit Western Force, is a third of the size of Perth Stadium but conveniently located close to the city’s Central Business District. If you’ve just travelled 4,000km from Sydney to get here, you’d appreciate the easy hop to from hotel to stadium.
This was Loton’s Paddock, land once owned by the mayor and sold to the City to use for recreation in 1904. This became Perth Oval, soccer one of several sports it staged in those early days. When Czech side Bohemians visited in 1927 to play a Western Australia XI, this is where the 11-3 thrashing took place. The giant figure of a kangaroo you see today, gracing a tall tower at Bohemka’s ground back in Prague, marks the occasion of the club’s Australian tour.
This wasn’t an isolated scoreline. Europeans wouldn’t spare the rod when taking on the inexperienced Western Australians in Perth, the Croats of Hajduk Split registering wins of 14-1 and 13-1, Rapid Vienna 10-0 and Ferencváros of Budapest 9-0.
They were not the only visitors from Central and Eastern Europe in the wake of World War II. In the 1950s, the significant Macedonian community formed East Perth Macedonia, today Stirling Macedonia of the regional National Premier Leagues, Australia’s second tier.
Their ground of Macedonia Park is now the permanent home of Perth Glory women’s team, three times Grand Finalists. Italian, Greek and Macedonian communities still make up much of the surrounding northern suburb of Balcatta, echoing the patchwork composition of soccer in Perth during the post-war era.
Based at Grindleford Reserve near Macedonia Park, Balcatta Etna display their Italian heritage on their badge, topped by the Tricolore flag – original members came from Ucria, near Messina in Sicily, hence the club name.
While the men contest the City of Stirling derby with their Macedonian neighbours in the NPL Western Australia, the women’s team has joined the equivalent regional division in their game, this second tier now involving seven member federations across Australia.
In 1987, Etna briefly merged with their other Italian counterparts, Perth Azzurri and East Fremantle Tricolore, to form Perth Italia. After Etna’s return to independence, they became trophy-laden Perth SC, based at Dorrien Gardens north of central Perth. The women’s team competes with Balcatta in the NPL WA.
The Macedonians’ men’s team, meanwhile, reserve particular rancour for clashes with their Greek counterparts, Floreat Athena, one of the biggest rivalries in Australian soccer, the Hellenes based at E & D Litis Stadium in Leederville beside Lake Monger, closer to central Perth.
In 2023, both teams were joined in the NPL Western Australia by Olympic Kingsway, Greeks and Macedonians who broke away from the Perth’s Balkan emigré fold in the early 1950s to settle in Madeley, some 5km north of Balcatta. Football hath no fury like the clash between Stirling Macedonia and Olympic Kingsway, whose promotion from the third tier in 2022 revived the occasion as a league fixture after 24 years. Life is never dull at this level of soccer in Perth.
One player who can attest to this is former West Ham left-back and Australia international Stan Lazaridis, who cut his teeth in the cut and thrust of the Balkan football scene in his home town of Perth. After a decade in English football, the combative flank player returned to the City of Light soon after Perth Glory had started up in the newly formed A-League.
Initially founded in 1996, The Glory are a rare case of a club carrying over from the National Soccer League to the new franchise. The city had originally wished to have representation in the NSL when it started up in 1977, but the travel logistic proved too onerous. At one point, a local entrepreneur created the Perth Kangaroos, to compete in the Singapore FAS Premier League, an extravagant yet short-lived venture.
It was takeaway chicken mogul Nick Tana who changed the game in Perth. Making Perth Glory a viable proposition as an NSL operation, he steered the club through its first decade, right up to the inaugural A-League in 2005.
Under Bernd Stange – the only man to have coached the national teams of his native East Germany, Iraq and Syria – the team in purple established itself as a major player on the national scene. Equally importantly, they attracted a major fan base, who rallied round the beleaguered Saxon after last-gasp defeats to Wollongong Wolves, games still talked about today in the sports bars of Perth.
Despite this popular support, Stange opted for Baghdad on the eve of the 2003 invasion, and Perth put its trust in South African Mich d’Avray. A 1981 UEFA Cup winner with Ipswich, the incoming coach led Glory to the last two titles of the NSL era, in 2003 and 2004.
The arrival of the A-League not only shook things up at Perth Glory, but at Perth Oval, too. Having been incongruously adapted for NSL soccer in the 1990s, temporary stands brought closer to the pitch to counteract the stadium’s circular form, the arena had become problematic as a venue for The Glory, who duly began to seek alternative arrangements in Leederville. As has been the case in other Australian cities, the authorities then squared the circle, and in 2004, made the Oval the Perth Rectangular Stadium.
Perth’s subsequent path to glory was not as smooth, however. Poor recruitment, mainly from the UK, on the part of new Glory coach, Steve McMahon of Liverpool fame, almost led to the club’s collapse in its first A-League season. Nick Tana was forced to hand over the reins to Brit mining investor Tony Sage and, backed by fervent Glory fans now closer to the action at the north end of the stadium, Perth picked up the pace.
Partly Balkan in their make-up, these supporters known as The Shed had already clashed with the Croats of Melbourne in the NSL days, coach Bernd Stange assaulted when boarding the team bus. With no local opponents and few ethnic rivalries in the more sanitised A-League, Perth fans have since been involved in semi-engineered rivalries with Gold Coast United – the so-called Iron Ore Cup alluding to each team’s owner’s business activities – and the Distance Derby with Wellington Phoenix.
There’s no denying the passion at the Shed End, however, a rare example of a standing terrace in the A-League. On the pitch, successful stints by former Rangers midfielder Ian Ferguson and ex-Gateshead and Barrow manager Kenny Lowe secured Glory’s future as major A-League contenders, qualifying for the 2020 AFC Asian Champions League.
Perth Rectangular Stadium, meanwhile, has been rebranded HBF Park after its sponsors, local health insurers. Despite a relatively modest capacity of 20,000, the venue has managed to woo the Socceroos and Matildas to Perth, men after a long absence. Australia attracted a near full house for two qualifying games for the 2018 World Cup, against Bangladesh and Iraq respectively, while the women took on Thailand here in 2018.
The five fixtures scheduled here for the Women’s World Cup involve Ireland, China, Denmark and Jamaica, among others. The Perth Fan Festival is at Forrest Place, right outside Perth station in the centre of town.
Arriving in town, local transport and timings
Perth Airport is 12km (seven miles) east of central Perth, connected by the Airport Line (A$5.10/A$4.59 with a SmartRider card) every 12-15mins, journey time 20mins) to Perth main station and Claisebrook two stops before it, a short walk from the stadium. From Terminals 1 or 2, walk over the skybridge to platform 1 – from Terminals 3 and 4, take the transfer bus (every 20mins, journey time 15mins).
Local transport of buses, ferries and local trains, including the Airport Line, is run by
Transperth and operates on top-up SmartRider cards (initial upload A$10) available from Transperth InfoCentres and outlets around town. At the airport, they’re sold at Smart Carte on the ground floor of Terminal 1 International. Ticket machines at stop and stations accept cash and cards, bus drivers accept cash but don’t give change. A single journey in Zone 1 is A$3.40 or A$3.06 with a SmartRider card.
There are also short hops (‘2 Sections’) at A$2.30/A$2.07 and DayRiders at A$10.30 across the board.
Five colour-coded CAT buses serving the Central Business District (CBD) are free to use. Public transport is also free for SmartRider cardholders on the first Sunday of the month.
On match days for the Women’s World Cup, transport is included in your match ticket – the stadium is pretty much walkable from the city centre in any case.
A taxi from the airport terminal to town incurs a levy of A$4. Swan Taxis (+61 13 13 30) should charge around A$50-A$60 into town.
Where to Drink
The best pubs and bars for soccer fans
Overlooking Perth’s waterfront, the Lucky Shag is lucky in many more ways than one, with live music, TVs for sport inside and out, and a rooftop terrace for a sunset to go with your sundowner. And the name? Don’t get your hopes up – it turns out that they were just putting the finishing touches to the new, as yet nameless bar 25 years ago, when a shag emerged with two fat fish flapping in its bill.
Another rooftop favourite sits atop the Print Hall, on St George’s Terrace where venerable organ The West Australian was printed from 1933 to the 1980s – its Gothic masthead runs along one side of neon-lit Bob’s Bar, a popular DJ haunt and central rendezvous spot where a pitcher of Pimm’s may turn into another.
Of Perth’s sports bars, 22-screen Patriots on William Street in Northbridge, halfway between town and the stadium, is usually lively, although you can also avail yourself of yet another rooftop bar, here atop the Brass Monkey Hotel. Close by on Lake Street, the Mustang Bar keeps the party going without forgetting to screen that day’s main Scottish Premier League game, among many others taking place in the UK and Europe.
Also in the same vicinity on Aberdeen Street, the Aberdeen Hotel hosts The Deen Saturdays but Friday nights are no less frenzied at this party spot and sports bar.
As for Irish pubs, Fenians on Adelaide Terrace has been serving Guinness, Kilkenny and pub grub favourites since 1986, Durty Nelly’s on Murray Street since 1998, its building constructed in Ireland and shipped 15,000km to Perth. Both offer big-screen sport.