Retro Corner: Starting in style

Given that Perth’s geographical isolation presents a unique set of challenges when it comes to organising Glory’s pre-season program, the club has managed to feature in some impressively high-profile friendly fixtures over the years.

West Ham United did, of course. provide the most recent pre-season challenge for the men in purple on WA soil and they joined a list that is as impressive as it is varied.

Manchester United, Celtic, Chelsea, Fulham, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Malaga and the Iraq national team have all paid Perth a visit, but it could be argued that it was Glory’s first ever friendly opponent who made the biggest impact.

To explore further, we need to head back to May 1996.

The Wiggles have just released their sixth album, the experimental and angst-ridden, “Wake Up, Geoff”, Channel Seven is preparing to reverse its controversial decision to axe “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jumanji” (the non-“Rock” version) is filling cinemas around the country.

And then the newly-formed Perth Glory FC announce that as part of the club’s determined effort to give the Australian football apple cart an almighty shake-up, they will be not be playing their first ever game against the WA State Team or a leading NSL or State League side.

Instead, the new kids on the block will pit their wits against a team which had spent the previous five years oozing flamboyance and class in what was then world football’s premier domestic competition.

Italian heavyweights Sampdoria were coming to town.

While the Genoa-based club may have slipped out of Serie A last season following a wretched campaign to forget, in the early and mid-90s, they were a very, very different animal.

After two Coppa Italia triumphs during the late 80s and a European Cup Winners’ Cup victory in 1990, they swaggered to the Serie A title in 1991, inspired by the likes of Gianluca Vialli, Roberto Mancini and Attilio Lombardo.

An appearance in the 1992 European Cup Final followed and another Coppa Italia was claimed in 1994.

This was the Samp of Ruud Gullit terrorising defences, Juan Sebastian Veron and Clarence Seedorf effortlessly dominating in midfield and Sinisa Mihajlovic crashing in free-kicks with a level of ferocity that raised concerns regarding the physical welfare of opposition goalkeepers.

By 1996, they were not quite at the very peak of their powers, but with future England coach Sven Goran Eriksson in charge, their squad still contained an impressive array of stars, including Mancini, Veron, Mihajlovic, Vincenzo Montella and Christian Karemebu.

And in late May, they swapped the early summer warmth of the Ligurian coast for a wet winter’s night at the WACA where they faced a pumped-up Glory side whose outfield players were resplendent in the now-iconic sun-burst kit and ready to make history.

Goalkeeper Tommy Maras was also ready to make history, but he would do it while wearing, bizarrely, an England goalkeeping top.

Gary Marocchi, meanwhile, was directing operations from the bench, Gareth Naven donned the captain’s armband and more than 10,000 fans turned up to see who would claim the Centenary Cup which had been created as part of the celebrations marking 100 years of football in WA.

Ultimately, it was the visitors who were to secure the newly-minted trophy, but the 3-0 scoreline was harsh on a Glory side which included Socceroos duo Kimon Taliadoros and Ante Milicic as guest players.

Alan MacKenzie and Vas Kalogeracos were both denied by fine saves from Samp ‘keeper Matteo Sereni and the woodwork was also struck on two occasions as Marocchi’s men provided clear evidence that they were more than ready to take their place in the National Soccer League later that year.

The new kids on the NSL block had more than held their own against one of world football’s finest.

Perth Glory had arrived.