Yesterday the Western Knights made history in Western Australian football by becoming the first team outside the top division to win the State League cup in its many guises.
It was the third time that the Western Knights and Sorrento had met in the State Cup final and once again the Knights came out on top thanks to a superb finish by Adriano Jelenovic. In previous meetings in 2000 and 2008 the score was 2-1.
The Knights and Sorrento had also previously played out three Grand Finals over the years, with the Knights winning in 1998 and 2004 and losing in 1999.
Yet despite that form the Western Knights went into yesterday’s finals the underdogs, after all they are a State League division one side while Sorrento currently sit fourth in the NPL-WA.
There are many who believe the old National Soccer League was better than the current A-League competition, and that is a debate for another day. However there are also many who believe the standard in the NPL is a far cry from the old State Premier League. This should not come as a great shock as the NPL has become a development league, while the State League remains a far more robust and competitive league. The ideal attributes required when playing a one-off do-or-die cup game.
It therefore should not come as a surprise that the Western Knights knocked off three NPL sides in Perth SC, Bayswater City and Sorrento to claim their prize.
When you consider that Gwelup Croatia from Division two also claimed the NPL scalps of Balcatta and Mandurah City, Wembley Downs defeated Stirling Lions, UWA-Nedlands defeated Subiaco, Dianella White Eagles beat ECU Joondalup and Cockburn City. Nine of the fourteen NPL sides were knocked out of the Cup by teams from lower divisions. Wembley Downs are not even in the State League competition!
Not surprisingly conversation at the Final was centred around whether the benefits which were sold to the clubs as to why they should be in the National Premier League actually have any merit after four years of competition.
Some claim that the gap in the standard of football that used to exist has closed, but others felt that simply the premise of making the state’s top division a development league has seen the quality of that competition diminish drastically. While the State League division one has clearly improved.
Debate will continue to rage for a long time, but the achievements of all those sides that knocked off NPL sides should not be dismissed. Neither should the Western Knights history-making season which not only saw them lift the State League Cup, but also become the first side in Australia outside of the NPL competition to qualify for the round of 32 in the FFA Cup.
One has to feel for Sorrento, as the favourite going into a final you always have everything to lose and nothing to gain. Added to that, yesterday they also no doubt had one eye on their upcoming FFA Cup game on Wednesday night. The team would like to be the first from Western Australia to progress to the round of 16, but with that tie against Canberra Olympic coming four days after the State Cup final one can’t help feeling that they had one eye on that game, and were maybe not as focussed on the Final.
It was great to see throughout the day of finals that fans were allowed to run on the pitch and celebrate with their teams. There were no officious security guards to stop them and that added to the mood of the whole day. No one was there to do any harm, they simply wanted to celebrate with their teams and were allowed to do so.
Credit must also be given to Steven Gregory who was the man in the middle for the final. He kept control throughout the game, a game that had its physical moments, and between two sides with a history. So good was his performance that few even noticed his presence. It was a first class display, and played a huge part in making the final what it was.
The only downer on the day was the fact that there was no match day program. If part time administrators at clubs in the state can produce one every fortnight, why couldn’t the game’s administrators, who have full time staff working in their communications department? The semi finals were played six weeks ago, so time cannot have been an issue! It is disappointing that a chance to promote the game and those sponsors who support the game was also missed. It is sad for all those players from the under 18’s teams, reserves and first team who do not have a record of their being a part of such a day. Some may never play in a final again in their lives and this is a moment they would want a record of; If not them, then their parents, aunts and uncles too. As many will vouch sadly medals often get lost, but a program will be around for years to come. Quite simply for Football West to have failed to produce a program is unacceptable.
As disappointing as the failure to produce a match day program was, nothing can detract from an enjoyable day of finals football in front of an enthusiastic crowd. Congratulations to all teams and their supporters for making it the day it was.
(The author would like to declare that he has played and had an association with the Western Knights)