In the context of other A-League teams, anyone writing an article on Perth Glory Football Club should really be employing Simon Schama to help in the task. For a while there though, you might have wanted to avoid bringing up the subject - it was simply something that one didn't do in the era of New Football. Glory was Old Soccer, never mind the fact they served as a (badly used) template for the new league's franchises. This year however there has been a bit of a turning point in the mindset of the club and the ruling body, and all of a sudden we're celebrating Fifteen Glorious Years. There'll be a competition for fans to nominate their best ever squad, a celebratory logo, functions and radio and TV advertisements to celebrate a decade and a half of this great WA sporting institution. We could have done with this five years ago, but better late then never eh?
First you had The Age of the Western Sunrise - no, it's not a tale the mystical east - this was the exploding supernova that was the entrance of WA into the National Soccer League. Gone were the days where a trip 'out west' was ending up at some West Adelaide paddock - no, this was the move that put the N in the NSL. Looking at the fossilised remains of the old Hill (and the living fossils that currently inhabit the Shed) it is possible to ascertain that this was a time of great excitement for the people of Perth. Big crowds flocked to the games, thanks to the novelty factor of a 'new' sport and the resulting media exposure.
This fun and excitement would reach a peak during the first half of The Golden Age, a period in which the club appointed its two most loved and successful coaches, and in which the club became the dominant species in the Australian footballing ecosystem. If it wasn't winning titles, it was pulling crowds in the tens of thousands. People still speak of names like Boutsi, Bobby, the Navens, Mori and Petkovic with an air of awed reverence; as if they were gods amongst other mere footballing men. Apparently, the lost tribes of Stange-ri-la still build monuments to their German god.
Then came The Dark Ages, where Glorious science was set back many a year. Nick Tana left, the FFA took over. Michelle Phillips came. Matt Carroll came. A perennially injured (though Aussie legend) marquee came. Fans were termed "a stumbling block". Seriously! More crocks, wannabes, impostors and fraudsters came through the doors of the change room and back offices in this period than at any other time in the club's history. Money was provided in the form of a moth-filled wallet from the national body; prior to the time of today's 'minimum spend', this period saw the Glory funded on an rumoured one to two thirds of the possible salary cap. Stars left, lumps of lifeless rock replaced them, and it was all rather grim. It is a time that would have killed just about any other club - and it is quite possible that the FFA would have preferred that. "Rebranded markets" and all that jazz.
But now, with the kerfuffle of the Hatt/Charlesworth report, the sacking of a vast amount of players, coaches, and administrative staff, the retirement of our last club legend from the NSL era, the moving on of Jamie Coyne, and the signing of nearly an entire new starting eleven, we enter what can be dubbed nothing else than The New Age. The club have exploded into a PR frenzy - linking themselves to Celtic by a friendly game and to clubs like Barcelona and Liverpool with nothing other than a few comments by the chairman. The Glory Facebook page, once admittedly an area for people like myself to sneakily post links to Facebook groups like "Perth Glory is run by a bunch of clueless muppets" years ago (I almost feel sorry for that now… almost) is now a thriving hub of communication between the club and its fans. The two-way street is very important - it helps to distinguish the club now from past incarnations of ignorant administrators.
The thing is though, it's incredibly hard as of yet define this New Age as good or bad, seeing how little of it we've actually experienced. Indeed, some historians would argue that Perth still are in their Dark Age, with nothing of note changing. Admittedly, they do have a point; so many 'reviews', 'cleanouts' and 'new leaves' were seen during the McMahon/Smith/Mitchell era that many fans who loved the club with a passion in its halcyon days have turned their backs on it, in some cases for good. They haven't left because the team's been losing - they've left because they were consistently lied to by successive administrations, told that they'd be engaged, that the club really cared for them, that this year would be different - but it never was. In my mind, a nadir was reached when a fan was put in a chokehold by an overzealous security guard whilst pinned to the floor, and something just seemed to snap in the surrounding crowd members as they jumped in to pull the guard off, completely tearing his shirt to strips in the process. It was, and remains, a massive low point for fan relations at the club.
Happily things have improved since then thanks to the work of many parties, including the club and the venue management company who contract out the security and crowd control staff. For some though, the suspicion still lingers that club management cares as little for the fans now - and I mean genuinely caring for the fans here, not just their bottom line - as it did in the dark and recent past. We've seen 'revolutions' before - and they always replace one set of puppets with another. This time though, I'm not so sure the change is just skin-deep.
Take for example the turnover of staff. Now in the past changes have been cosmetic - a CEO goes, another one comes in, the methods of working (or not, as it may be) stay the same. This time, things have cut a bit deeper. There was a massive exodus of staff at the end of last season. Community development, receptionists, conditioning coaches, administrators, technical directors - you name it, they were out the door. Brand new staff have since replaced them; there's the membership manager who also works the Facebook page on a daily basis, using it as a tool to garner feedback and advertise upcoming events. There's the relatively new media manager who in my opinion has improved the club's media image tenfold since coming in. New coaching staff have also walked in the door - although admittedly the club has perhaps taken a risk by keeping a largely unproven manager. The team on the pitch has also changed drastically - although this isn't too dissimilar to past false dawns, so we'll keep a lid on that for the moment.
Whether you view it as a media-generating distraction or a genuine attempt to right the club, it's hard to deny that the Hatt/Charlesworth review has had a big impact, if only on the people who are working daily at the club. Apparently now the club has a defined set of recruitment processes; including a set maximum salary and contract length that they'll give to new recruits (outside of the marquee position of course). The club can be well pleased with the fact that it is slowly turning around its uncaring, British retirement home, out-of-touch image in the eyes of the public, too. Community development, which was going on during the dark ages but largely overshadowed by other issues, is now a much bigger priority for the club - something which state league presidents, players, and club members are no doubt very happy about. So a big pat on the back for them in that respect. There's the promise of a youth academy as well; something else fans would love to see pushed through.
So why then are so many still distrustful of the club and its new moves? To put it simply - once bitten, twice shy. Five times bitten, and you're likely to be a member of Perth Bitters FC. Anyone in the offices of Perth Glory who thinks that their job is done may as well walk out the building right now - that includes those from the very top all the way down to the guys and girls answering the phones and sending the faxes. You cannot, simply cannot, expose customers to such a turbulent and troublesome period and then think that everything is fine and dandy once you say it is. It will require work to bring back those that have left - and along the way PGFC will have to deal with their bitterness, sarcasm, and outright resentment. They're almost spurned lovers - people who had a close relationship with something they loved only to be betrayed and abandoned. And to many it does seem like betrayal, as laughable as that may sound, because they grew up with a much different Perth Glory. Not just on the park, but off of it as well. Future Glory youth teams. Matchday entertainment. MCs who can actually pronounce names that are more complicated than 'Smith'. All things that only now the club is realising it needs to get back.
A past Glory CEO once said to me, "There's not much to it. All we need to do is win and people will come back". If he truly thought that - if anyone at the offices still truly thinks that - they are missing the point. Say we magically buy the title one year - what happens when the salary cap hits the next season and we struggle to retain stars? What happens when your marquees get injured and can't win games for you? What happens when the massive signings flop and the next season peters out? The Perth public might be fickle, and winning may increase your crowds thanks to valuable bandwagoners, but the point is unless you treat your members with respect and build links with your community, you won't have crowds for those bandwagoners to build on in the first place. It's my belief that now some people at least in the Glory offices realise this - but we'll have to wait for a year or so to see if this commitment remains.
An increase in the price of matchday tickets and a home end membership which is, at time of printing, the most expensive in the country at $300, will not impress either the general public or existing fans. This already puts the club behind the eight ball in some respects - whatever the economic justifications for the price rise may be. Thus they will need to work - and I mean work, not spin - their way back into the hearts of people who might be trying to decide between a season's worth of games or a few casual appearances. They will need to continue to make inroads into community and youth development programs. More than anything, they will need to have a vision for the future - not just the 'one season at a time' mantra that has been followed in the past.
A good start has been made to improve the club's image - I think most would recognise that. But the club will need to tread carefully, because some people are still waiting to pounce on mistakes as proof that nothing has really changed. Personally, I don't think it helps for the club to pull attention-seeking stunts like talking about moving locations or bringing out teams who would clearly never be interested - but I do understand why the chairman would want to drum up a bit of publicity. But more than anything Perth Glory will need to be humble and honest about past mistakes, and retain the commitment to build a better future with a vision that extends further than just twelve months of KPIs. In the meantime, doubters will remain - but a thick skin and a deal of patience may just see the club eventually bring them round, and maybe - just maybe - a new age of Glory might begin.