FFA Cup clash excites Italian community in Perth

There was a time, some years ago, when a match between the Italian communities of Perth and Fremantle was eagerly anticipated and hotly contested.

In the days before a merger brought together Perth Azzurri and East Fremantle Tricolore as Perth Italia in 1988, the suburban grounds of the rival clubs buzzed on derby day.
But, thanks to the Westfield FFA Cup, fans around the port city are again excited about that rivalry after Fremantle City were drawn at home to the old Italia, now known as Perth SC, in WA’s preliminary fifth round at Hilton Reserve on Monday.
City is a new club with a complex history that is rooted in the Italian fabric of both Tricolore and Fremantle United. Needless to say, those attached to the club have been unable to resist the thrill of nostalgia evoked by the draw.
Fremantle City president Maurice Oteri said the club had ordered Italian bread, sausage and arancini to cater for an anticipated bumper crowd on a day that was not just about the on-field action.
“We’ve had sponsors, who haven’t been at the club for 20 years, come forward and ask us what we need,” Oteri said of the excitement the match has generated. “And really the best way is for them to spread the message and to help get as many people as possible down to the game to support either team.”
There will be no shortage of former Tricolore players, fans and officials at the ground with a reunion also planned for July 5. Those with Azzurri connections will be just as eager to swap old tales at Monday’s match.
John O’Connell, who for many years has been the voice of football on Perth radio, is a former player with particularly fond memories of Tricolore-Azzurri derbies.
“It was a great rivalry and there was nothing to match the atmosphere and the passion of the players and the fans,” O’Connell said.
He joined Tricolore from Morley Windmills in 1972 and in his first season was a key figure in one of WA soccer’s most famous matches in front of 6000 people at Wauhop Park.
With coach John Adshead – long before he took New Zealand to the 1982 World Cup – in charge, Tricolore were 4-1 down at half-time and staring down the barrel of an embarrassing defeat.
“We came out in the second half and scored one, then it was 4-3, 4-4 and it was electric,” said O’Connell, who scored the last goal to make it 5-4 to Tricolore.
“After the game, just about every Italian from Fremantle was in the changing room.”
It might not mean quite so much if City can pull off a fairy tale victory on Monday, but there will be no shortage of passion from the old guard on the sidelines.
On the field, the odds are stacked in favour of Perth, who compete in WA’s top-flight PS4 National Premier Leagues competition, while City are unbeaten in their two matches in the State’s third-tier this season.
The anticipated outcome should not deter coach Steve Plucknett’s Fremantle, who might benefit from a brief history lesson to boost their spirits. There will be no shortage of story tellers capable of providing a detailed narrative.
“The FFA Cup is bringing those magic moments back to local football,” O’Connell said. “And it’s bringing Perth back into Fremantle, which is fantastic for the game.”