W-League: Glory women setting the pace in WA

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Perth Glory’s success in the Westfield W-League this season has provided a huge boost to not only the women’s game but to all levels of football in Western Australia.

The women’s team claimed the W-League premiership last weekend to secure the Glory franchise’s first piece of silverware in a decade, dating back to when coach Jamie Harnwell was at the height of his playing career in the now-defunct National Soccer League.

As it stands, all three Perth Glory teams – men, women and youth – are top of their respective leagues and the game is finally gaining some much-needed momentum in WA after a number of years being left in the wake of the success of other sporting codes.

How football is now viewed by the local sporting community contrasts starkly with the last few years of the NSL when Glory was the one and only powerhouse in Australian football, both on and off the field.

The men’s team was making grand finals and winning championships in the early 2000s, but it was the bumper crowds which packed into Perth Oval (now nib Stadium) to watch the likes of Harnwell and Bobby Despotovski strut their stuff that showed the rest of the country how successful the game could be in Australia.

A whopping 43,242 people – a then-record crowd for a domestic football match in Australia – packed into Subiaco Oval in June 2000 to watch Perth’s heartbreaking grand final loss to Wollongong.

But when the NSL folded after Glory’s second title in 2004 and the A-League formed less than two years later, Perth was seemingly left behind and aside from a grand final appearance by the men’s team in 2011-12, local football fans have had very little to get excited about and crowd figures are a fraction of what they used to be.

However, the Glory women have finally given success-starved local football supporters something to cheer about by conquering all before them in one of the most dominant seasons in recent memory – and it’s still not over.

Harnwell’s side has two regular season matches to play before they host a semi-final at nib Stadium on December 13 or 14 and potentially a grand final the following weekend.

The Glory girls’ success comes less than two years ago after ruthless Perth Glory owner Tony Sage cut all funding for the women’s team as the side languished near the bottom of the W-League.

Now the ladies in purple have set a pace for their male counterparts to follow.

The significance of what the women’s team has achieved this season is certainly not lost on Harnwell, who also works as a development officer for local sporting body Football West, which now oversees the women’s programme.

“The whole season has really been a huge boost for women’s and girls’ football in this state,” Harnwell said.

“These girls have taken the league by storm and really opened up people’s eyes to women’s football, in particular, and it’s only going to be of benefit to us in future years when we get more and more girls playing and aspiring to be Perth Glory women players.”

Harnwell, who played a record 256 games for Perth Glory in the NSL and A-League and is one of WA’s most respected football identities, hoped the success of the women’s side would rub off on both the men’s and youth teams.

“It’s been a great start to the season for the men and for the youth league as well, but I don’t think they’re under any illusion about to how difficult their task is to stay on top of the table,” Harnwell said.

“It’s a nice thing for all three teams to be doing well right now, but it’s more important for all three teams to be doing well at the business end of the season when it comes around to the big games in finals.”

If Harnwell’s all-conquering women’s team can add the W-League championship to the club’s newly reopened trophy cabinet next month, it will provide yet another huge – and timely – boost to the game in WA.

And then, perhaps most importantly, Perth football fans can start thinking about a possible return to the “glory days” of football in the west.

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