In defeat, this may have been their most glorious hour


This has been a finals series which has already produced a couple of extraordinary games in Perth v Adelaide (decided in an extraordinary lengthy penalty shoot out) and Sydney’s 6-1 shellacking of defending champions Melbourne Victory.

But no matter how exciting it is, how many twists and turns it produces, it will have to be a match for the ages if it is to rival the first grand final played in Perth, the one between Glory and Wollongong Wolves in the dying days of the old NSL.

Wollongong Wolves coach Nick Theodorokopoulos and captain Matt Horsley with the winning trophy after defeating Perth Glory in the 2000 NSL grand final. Credit:Illawarra Mercury

That took place at Subiaco Oval in June 2000 in front of more than 43,000 fervent Glory fans, who were widely expecting a ritual slaughter to take place and a first-ever title to be delivered by German coach Bernd Stange.

Back in those days Glory, who had only entered the league a few seasons before, were the most professional outfit in the country, effectively an A-League side playing in the NSL.

They had more money, more resources and every off-season, whenever a top player came off contract in the east, threw enough cash at them to persuade them to move to WA.

So even though the Wolves had a really good side highlighted by Socceroo winger Scott Chipperfield, who would go on to be a regular in the 2006 World Cup ”Golden Generation” team, Glory had players such as Troy Halpin, Kasey Wehrman, Bobby Despotovski and two hugely promising youngsters in Ivan Ergic and Ljubo Milecevic in their ranks.

The ground was festooned in Glory colours: there was a tiny group of Wolves fans in one corner, it seemed like just a few hundred, and almost no red and white: it felt like this was a coronation which only required the pesky business of a 90-minute soccer match to be completed before the celebrations could begin.

And when Despotovski, Milecevic and Jamie Harnwell scored to put the hosts 3-0 up at half-time that’s exactly how it seemed. Even Stange was conducting half-time interviews (perhaps tempting fate) with the game seemingly in the bag.

But momentum and nerves can play havoc with players, especially in grand finals.

Chipperfield pulled one back for the Wolves just before the hour mark. Captain and Socceroo full-back Matt Horsley got a second with 21 minutes to go and a young Paul Reid equalised with just 60 seconds left on the clock to take the game to extra time.

Neither side could break the deadlock, and so it went to an epic penalty shootout in which both teams scored their first five spot kicks.

Both teams subsequently missed, both had chances to win it, but eventually Glory cracked and Reid stepped forward to win it, 7-6, for the unconsidered visitors.

To this day, I always believe this is the most exciting club game I have seen in my 30-plus years watching and covering the sport in Australia.

Glory fans left the stadium quickly: the Wolves players were presented with the trophy in front of their tiny band of travelling fans.

Wolves coach Nick Theodorakopoulos was seen to be dancing on the table of a Greek restaurant in Northbridge later that night, while the players were ecstatic.

Wolves went on to show that was no fluke by becoming champions the next season, beating South Melbourne in the final.

Glory were to lose at home to Sydney Olympic, again at Subiaco, in the 2002 title decider before eventually giving their fans the trophy  they craved in 2003, gaining revenge over Olympic the following season.

If Sunday is half as good it will be brilliant.

Michael Lynch is The Age’s chief soccer reporter and also reports on motor sport and horseracing

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