If you’re looking for a long-read Friday flashback, you’re in luck!
To celebrate Glory’s 20th anniversary in 2016/17, we caught up with the club’s inaugural General Manager, Roger LeFort to get a key insider’s take on exactly how an idea was turned into reality.
The article below first appeared in the magazine that was produced to commemorate the anniversary, but in case you missed it first time around, here it is in full:
No club name, no club colours, no players, no ground and no sponsors.
These were just some of the daunting challenges that faced Roger LeFort when he was appointed General Manager of what would ultimately become Perth Glory back in 1995.
But in the following year, nearly 10,000 people flocked to see the newly-formed club play its first ever National Soccer League game at Perth Oval.
LeFort, who turned 70 earlier this month, modestly insists that he played only a ‘small part’ in that dramatic transformation, but he was in fact a key player in laying the foundation blocks of the club that we know and love today.
So who better to take us back in time and shed some light upon how Glory grew, quite literally, from the ground up?
Glory Magazine: Thanks very much for your time, Roger.
Before we start on the Glory story, what was your own football background?
Roger Lefort: I was born and bred in the UK and we came out to Australia 34 years ago.
I started with Wembley Downs and Scarborough and was the president of the committee of the Junior Soccer Association of WA for six or seven years.
At the time, I was also the CEO of the Soccer Administration of WA (SAWA).
GM: So how did the football landscape in WA look during the early 1990s?
RL: Well, going back over a number of years, I know that there had been several bids launched from WA to get a team into the National League as it was called then.
But because of our distance from the eastern states and the huge costs involved, Soccer Australia didn’t seem to want to have us included.
We struggled to get any kind of momentum going, even when we went as far as suggesting that we pay our own air fares and would also pay for opposing teams’ flights from Adelaide to Perth if they were willing to pay to get themselves to Adelaide.
But we still didn’t get any joy.
The semi-professional Perth Kangaroos were then formed and ended up entering the Singapore Premier League and winning it, but it was financially unsustainable.
When the Kangaroos got into financial strife, two people who would eventually go on to launch Glory, Paul Afkos and Nick Tana, got involved.
They had a company called Arena Investments and they agreed to take over the running of the Kangaroos and pay for their expenses on several conditions, one of which was that the players and coaches provided their services for free.
I managed the process as CEO, also without being paid.
Hats off to the players, they all had jobs but were willing to give up their Fridays or weekends to play for the pride of representing the Kangaroos.
They finished the season, won the competition and received some financial reward for doing so.
Once that was finished we were even keener to get a team into the NSL.
GM: What was the turning point that enabled those dreams of a WA team in the NSL to be fulfilled?
RL: Fortunately there was a presidential election within Soccer Australia and one of the candidates was David Hill, the ex-ABC chairman.
He was very keen to see a truly National Soccer League which included a team from WA.
He maintained that if he was elected, he would ensure that a WA team came in to the competition.
The contest was very close and it was the five votes from WA that played a key role in getting Hill elected; we held the balance of power, if you like.
He immediately confirmed that he wanted us in the following season.
That was really before any of us were ready for it, so SAWA put out a request for expressions of interest to anyone who wanted to run or own the NSL club as an independent entity, not associated with any of the local teams.
Tana and Afkos, having funded the Kangaroos, were very keen and they put in a submission which was ultimately successful.
Then they advertised for a General Manager and I was fortunate enough to get the job.
The pay was minimal, but it was the job of a lifetime.
GM: How big a challenge was it to take on?
RL: Well, Afkos and Tana worked really well together, but there were no players, no ground and no name.
There was absolutely nothing.
We looked absolutely everywhere for a ground and none of the local grounds, or Macedonia Park where the Kangaroos had played, were really suitable.
We really wanted something totally independent so that we could appeal to the broader general public.
This was a great opportunity to make it non-ethnic and something that appealed to everyone.
After a lot of searching, we settled on Perth Oval which was run by East Perth Aussie Rules Football Club.
The ground was in pretty poor shape and we had to work very hard on it.
Afkos built two or three thousand new seats on the east side to enclose it as a rectangular football ground.
We never thought it was going to be up to scratch and to be honest, even a couple of weeks before the first game, you could still look out from the pitch and see the ducks on the pond in the oval!
But luckily the timing was good, we had some rain and sun and with a huge team effort, got it up to scratch.
GM: Where did the club’s unique name and colours come from?
RL: We had a guy on the committee called Jim Davis from 303 Advertising and he started to work on the name and the colours.
He suggested Perth Glory and purple and orange and when he first mentioned it, there was a bit of a stunned silence!
But the idea behind the name was something totally new that represented the state and winning.
The board chose the name and the colours because we really wanted to make a statement and to stand out, so we went for everything new.
The colours looked stunning and the name was great.
GM: So that was the name, colours and ground all in place.
But what about players and sponsors?
RL: The bulk of the players were local and that was deliberately done.
Gary Marocchi was appointed as the coach and he had obviously played for Australia and enjoyed great coaching success locally.
He built up his team and the only inter-state player that Gary brought in was Vinko Buljubasic who arrived from Melbourne Knights.
He took the plunge and was there painting the seats and so on with the rest of us.
He mucked in and was brilliant.
On the commercial side, I had to ‘phone up potential sponsors and straight away we got Western QBE and Chicken Treat as the major sponsors and we really built from there.
GM: Having seen so much work go in, how did you feel on the day of the club’s first ever game against UTS Sydney Olympic?
RL: For a few weeks beforehand, I’d been having sleepless nights about not getting things done in time, so it was a relief to get to that first game.
By the time it kicked off, everything was in place.
The pitch looked immaculate, the signage was done.
Everyone had been down there until all hours sweeping or painting; it was a real team effort and it made us all very proud.
We budgeted for 6000 people to come, but we got way more than that and although we lost the game, it could easily have gone either way on the day.
GM: And Nick Tana, in particular, was keen to lay on more than just a football match for those fans.
RL: He certainly was.
We had half-time entertainment and all sorts of spectacular stuff going on and people started to come along for the atmosphere, not just to watch the soccer.
It was a party day out.
Things just went from there and soon we had people asking us if they could call a flower ‘Bobby Dazzler’ after Bobby Despotovski and guys wanting the rights to make Glory curtains and Glory wall paper.
We also had a great relationship with The West Australian and, of course, we had the Glory Days show on Channel 7.
The media played a huge part in our success, as did The Shed and the supporters in general.
They created the atmosphere and the team responded.
GM: How would you sum up your memories of that period?
RL: The whole thing was brilliant and a real highlight of my life.
I’m still proud that I was a small part of it.
It was a real buzz and just a great time.