West Adelaide back from the dead
Former champions want their own home.
For a club which has been re-incarnated, it's a delicious irony that West Adelaide are now playing next to a cemetery. Not that the players and officials of this once-proud club are laughing.
Believe it or not, Bone Timber Park is the name of the venue which has housed West Adelaide for the past three years. It's a public park, on the western edge of the Adelaide CBD, and the football club shares it with cricket.
A hard-as-flint wicket square encroaches on the field, which is surrounded by temporary fencing. The amenities block is quintessential 1960s. There is no seating, and unless you're lucky enough to grab a spot under the pine trees, no shade. Rudimentary is an understatement.
How the mighty have fallen. Mighty? You bet.
West Adelaide were champions of Australia in 1978. A last-gasp goal from Vic Bozanic in the final match against local rivals Adelaide City secured the title. The emotional scenes at the full-time whistle at Hindmarsh Stadium that day remain etched in NSL folklore.
Top scorer in the championship-winning side was John Kosmina, one of two Qantas Socceroos captains to have played for the club. Charlie Yankos is the other. Indeed West Adelaide have fielded a host of Socceroos over the years, among them Martyn Crook, Paul Agostino, Robbie Hooker, Stan Lazaridis and Joel Porter.
Liverpool legend Graeme Souness also had a guest spell at the club, while Anthony La Paglia wore the goalkeeper's jersey before heading to Hollywood.
West Adelaide were founding members of the NSL in 1977, and apart from two stints back in the state league, spent the best part of two decades dining at football's top table. Sadly, it all went pear-shaped on the back of massive financial problems in 1999, and since then it's been a life-and-death struggle to stay afloat.
For seven years, from 2000, West Adelaide effectively disappeared from view as part of a marriage of convenience with Adelaide Olympic, which, in truth, suited neither party. Down, but not out.
West Adelaide continued to field junior sides, and from within those ranks Osama Malik and Evan Kostopoulos have emerged to win Hyundai A-League contracts with Adelaide United.
But without a senior team wearing the famous blue and white stripes, precious few knew the club still existed.
The long road back began when West Adelaide re-entered the state league pyramid in 2008, and now they've worked their way back to the second-tier.
For a club that has claimed 10 South Australian titles that may seem humiliating, but no one's complaining. The groundswell behind the club's second coming is building.
Ross Aloisi, another former player, is the head coach. His assistant is Joel Porter. West Adelaide alumni such as Jimmy Tsekenis, Neil McGachey and Dave Pillans show their support by turning up to watch a team which is led by stalwart Paul Pezos, and includes Matthew Kemp, who was playing for Melbourne Victory a year ago.
The matchday experience is homely and honest. There's no corporate suites, but plenty of warm-hearted hospitality.
But that sense of camaraderie can only go so far. What's pre-occupying club officials most of all these days is a sense of purpose.
For the first time since their formation 51 years ago, West Adelaide want a home ground to call their own. It's critical to their hopes of re-emerging as one of Adelaide's major clubs, and perhaps one day sitting at the top of the NPL tree. With a bit of luck they just might get their wish.
In the next few weeks, the South Australian government is expected to decide whether to support the club's $5million proposal to convert the site of a disused primary school six kilometres from the CBD into a state-of-the-art "stadium".
The club has drawn up plans which include a 500-seat grandstand, terracing around the remaining three sides of the main (synthetic) pitch, a second training (synthetic) pitch, and floodlighting.
To get the project going the club is offering a substantial donation, but it won't proceed unless there's state and federal government support. The school site is in the electorate of former Federal Sports Minister Kate Ellis, so here's hoping her prominent role in the 2022 World Cup bid might sway her to give football a helping hand.
The club are pushing their cause by offering to open the facility to local community groups. Football-wise, registrations in Adelaide have grown 75 per cent in just eight years, so the need to open up public space is pressing.
For West Adelaide, the single star above their crest is a constant reminder of what used to be. Proud as they are, though, they don't want to live in the past. They're much more interested in a new beginning.