Losing My Favourite Game: ‘Mourning Glory’ with Neil Sherwin

One of the most enduring factors about football fandom – the thing that keeps us coming back time and time again – is that there’s always another chance. Lost at the weekend? There’s always next week. Relegated in May? At least you’ll win a few games when it all starts again in August. Failed to qualify for a major tournament again? Unfortunately you support Scotland.

With that in mind, we’re tipping our cap to the impending kick-off of the 2019/20 A-League season by revisiting one of the most dramatic Grand Finals in the competition’s history, courtesy of freelance football writer and editor of the always excellent Back Page Football, Neil Sherwin.  Born in Western Australia and raised in Ireland, Neil returned Down Under in 2007 and has been covering the goings-on in the burgeoning A-League ever since. A match-going supporter of both Manchester City and Shelbourne in the northern hemisphere, Neil’s attentions have turned to the fortunes of Perth Glory since his return to Oz.

Founding members of the A-League having lifted the Australian National Soccer League title in its final two seasons, Glory struggled to live up to their name in the first six seasons of the new league structure, with fifth-placed finishes in 2006 and 2011 the best they had to show. All that changed in the 11/12 season thanks largely to the arrival of New Zealand striker Shane Smeltz, who rounded off the league season with a four-goal haul against Melbourne Victory, before hitting a hat-trick in the opening game of the Finals Series against Melbourne Heart to put Glory on their way to the Grand Final.  An extra-time victory over Wellington Phoenix set up a preliminary final with Central Coast Mariners, and despite falling behind to an Adam Kwasnik goal, Smeltz arrived on the scene again to take the tie to a penalty shootout. Danny Vukovic’s save from Michael McGlinchey was enough to give Jacob Burns the opportunity to put Glory in the final, and the former Leeds United midfielder gleefully snapped it up.

It was onto Brisbane, where Glory had already been brushed aside by their opponents earlier in the season. This time, it would be a far tighter match, and Neil Sherwin was there to watch it unfold…

 

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Brisbane Roar 2-1 Perth Glory
A-League Grand Final
22nd April 2012

 

It’s been more than seven years since Perth Glory went down 2-1 to Brisbane Roar in the A-League Grand Final but mentioning the name Besart Berisha in front of the club’s supporters still gets the same reaction. The Albanian striker scored the winning goal in the closing stages of the contest from the penalty spot after Liam Miller was adjudged to have brought him down inside the box. West Australians will tell you it was a blatant dive, Queenslanders will say it was a clear foul, and everyone else just marvels at the fact that it’s still a bone of contention after so long.

For those who aren’t aware, the A-League operates a finals system which sees the top six sides from the regular season battle it out for a trophy that is affectionately known as “The Toilet Seat”.

For the 2011/12 campaign, it was the Central Coast Mariners who came out on top during the 27-game regular season, but they were beaten by the Roar over two legs in the first round of the finals. That loss set up a clash with the Glory who had finished in third place before beating Melbourne Heart 3-1 in their first finals game thanks to a hat-trick from New Zealand striker Shane Smeltz. With Brisbane assured of a spot in the showpiece event and home field advantage, it was Glory who joined them following a nail-biting penalty shootout win over the Mariners in Gosford.

And so began the scramble for fans in Perth – flights, accommodation and match tickets needed to be organised with less than a week’s notice.

With the game on Sunday night, I booked Friday off work and planned to catch a red eye flight from Perth on Thursday night. The return flight was just three hours after the full time whistle was due to be blown at Suncorp Stadium. Others made a week of it as it was Glory’s first Grand Final appearance since the last season of the National Soccer League (NSL) in 2004. It’s estimated that around 1000 people travelled across the country for the game.

Having spent Friday and Saturday doing a bit of sightseeing around the city and catching up with friends downtown, it was all systems go on game day. Caxton Street is a hub of hotels, bars and restaurants located within walking distance of Suncorp Stadium and it was the perfect place to set up camp ahead of the 4pm kick off.

It was a carnival atmosphere as Glory supporters mingled with their rivals from Brisbane, engaging in good natured chanting from one side of the street to the other, and as game time approached, fans marched the 500 metres from The Lord Alfred on Caxton Street to the stadium. The game was a sell out as 50,334 spectators packed into one of Australia’s best sporting venues, the majority decked out in the orange of the Roar.

However, there was a notable contrast at one end of the ground with two sections full of the hundreds of purple clad West Australians who were hoping that their side could cause an upset.

There was very little to write home about in the first half in terms of chances, although an accidental collision left Glory striker Smeltz with a bloodied face that would later require plastic surgery and 50 stitches. He played on though and six minutes into the second half his side found the opening goal of the game in rather fortuitous circumstances as Ivan Franjic turned a Travis Dodd cross into his own net. That goal sent the travelling fans into raptures as they edged closer to claiming their first silverware of the A-League era.

The game turned on its head in the 82nd minute though as Berisha connected with a Thomas Broich delivery to score past Danny Vukovic to make it 1-1. Extra time loomed, which would have been a disaster for those of us with a flight to catch, but there was a twist in the tail as Glory’s Dean Heffernan was sent off for a second bookable offence in the 90th minute.

Brisbane poured forward and in the fourth minute of injury time, the now sadly deceased Liam Miller attempted a desperate tackle on Berisha, and referee Jared Gillett awarded a penalty. Berisha stepped up to send Vukovic the wrong way and settle the contest right in front of the heartbroken Glory supporters.

At the full time whistle there was little time to ponder what had happened as people dashed to the airport, and barely a word was spoken on the flight back to Perth. Those who stuck around were treated to a night on the beers with the Glory players and staff who showed their appreciation for the effort put in by the fans.

Despite the loss, it was an amazing experience for those who showed their dedication by flying 3600 kilometres at such short notice to support their side in a final.

Australia is such a vast country and Perth is one of the most isolated cities in the world so it’s no mean feat to make a journey that is greater than going from one side of Europe to the other.

Having moved back to my birthplace of Perth from Dublin, Ireland in 2007, I picked up the A-League bug around 2009, but it was the run to the 2012 Grand Final that got me embedded in the Glory culture. Since then, I’ve experienced all the highs and lows while working closely with the club in a media capacity as well as being a fan in the stands.

Glory also reached the 2019 A-League Grand Final which was played on home soil at Optus Stadium, but the outcome was the same as they lost out to Sydney FC on penalties.

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Thanks to Neil for sharing his memories of the dramatic 2012 A-League Grand Final. As well as reading Neil’s work on Back Page Football, you can also follow him on Twitter

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