June 11, 2000 is a date which will live in infamy for Perth Glory fans.
More than 43,000 fans streamed into Subiaco Oval on a picture-perfect afternoon in Australia’s westernmost capital city, but they weren’t there to see a game of Aussie Rules.
Instead the capacity crowd piled in to watch the Glory take on the Wollongong Wolves in the National Soccer League grand final and they would have been forgiven for popping the champagne corks at half-time.
A 3-0 lead to Bernd Stange’s Glory seemed unassailable, until the Wolves launched one of the most remarkable comebacks in Australian sports history.
Most fans remember Wollongong midfielder Paul Reid’s dramatic 89th-minute equaliser to level the scores at 3-3, but what really broke Perth hearts was the way they lost the shoot-out.
Twice Glory players stepped up to win the championship following Wollongong misses and both times Wolves goalkeeper Les Pogliacomi dived to his team’s rescue.
Then – after the reliable Reid stroked home from eleven metres – Glory midfielder Jason Afkos saw his spot-kick saved by the inspired Pogliacomi, who secured the Wolves a win so improbable it took more than a decade for Brisbane Roar to match it.
Perhaps it was ten years of despair which caused the Glory to become the forgotten men of the Hyundai A-League.
Like a surly older brother resenting the rise of younger siblings, Perth have knocked about in the competition without ever really looking capable of success.
They’ve made the finals only once and finished last season second from bottom in the standings, but that could all be about to change if their current eight-game unbeaten streak is anything to go by.
Perth are marching towards the finals on the back of some no-nonsense football and they’ve got the playing personnel to cause some damage.
Shane Smeltz may have missed a hatful of chances against former club Gold Coast United last Monday but the New Zealand international remains one of the best goal poachers in the business.
Throw in the pace and penetration of Travis Dodd, the resurgence of Steven McGarry and the form of one of the most under-rated midfielders in the league in Liam Miller and Perth are not the type of side opponents relish meeting – particularly in the west.
In fact, it’s Perth’s home form which could make them a real bogey side for the rest of the league, especially if fans once again start to turn out in numbers at NIB Stadium.
There has always been a perception in Perth that the Glory are ignored by the east coast media, and for the most part that’s true.
But one of the real advantages the A-League has over the southern-dominated Aussie Rules and the predominantly east coast-based National Rugby League is that it’s a truly national competition.
When the Glory are doing well, football is prospering and if Perth can turn their home ground into the fortress it was during the NSL days, they should wrap up a finals place with ease.
That’s a good thing for the league and a good thing for coach Ian Ferguson, who was pilloried at the start of the season for employing an unimaginative brand of football.
The criticism has quietened down now that Ferguson is getting results and although there’s little doubt Perth are a no-frills outfit, it’s a style which has launched them towards their current eight-game unbeaten run.
And with the Glory now just two points behind second-placed Wellington Phoenix, it’s not inconceivable they could snag second spot and secure a double chance in the finals.
There’s plenty of football still to play before that happens and the experienced Ferguson is unlikely to get ahead of himself.
But as old hat as clichés are about sleeping giants, it appears one has finally awoken in the west and could be about to wreak havoc on the A-League.