With Chelsea’s third visit to Western Australia well under way, we’ve been looking at players who were involved in the State squad when the Blues last came over 44 years ago.
We conclude our series with a chat to a stalwart of the WA football scene, John O’Connell …
John O’Connell has been on the local football scene in almost every capacity since arriving from the UK via Melbourne over 50 years ago. Player, State captain, coach, board member, TV and radio host, there’s little he doesn’t know about the game in WA.
So he speaks with authority when recalling the golden days of the 1960s and 70s when some of the biggest names in world football came to Perth.
“Look who came over – Manchester United, Chelsea, Stoke City, Tottenham Hotspur … and it wasn’t just English teams. There was AC Milan, Roma, Red Star Belgrade, Moscow Dynamo who brought over Lev Yashin,” said O’Connell, who can still be heard on Saturday mornings on The World Football Programme on 107.9FM.
“In 1973 Stoke came over and they had Geoff Hurst, who of course scored a hat-trick in the 1966 World Cup Final. I took him for a haircut in London Court. My mate from Cornwall was the barber and I said to him, ‘can you help this fella out’ …
“There was a smorgasbord of football coming to Perth and the fans loved it.”
Manchester United thrashed WA in 1967 but had a much tougher time when they returned in the mid 1970s.
O’Connell said the turning point for football in WA was the decision to send teams to play in Asia.
“The important move was in 1967, definitely. We went to Asia and started to play in the important tournaments there. We played in Singapore in a tournament to celebrate their independence from Britain and we regularly played against national teams such as South Korea, Japan and Burma. They weren’t the greatest teams on the international stage but they were still national sides.”
Playing regularly against strong opposition had the desired effect.
In 1964 Everton had come to Perth and, fired up by criticism in the local media that they were getting above themselves in criticising the facilities, smashed WA 14-1. Three years later Manchester United stuck seven past Western Australia and reports say they could easily have matched Everton’s tally.
But by the mid-1970s things had changed.
O’Connell added: “I remember us playing Manchester United and they had just signed (future England winger) Steve Coppell, who was from Liverpool. I shouted out to the lads, ‘these are rubbish’ and he came running over and said ‘are you a Scouser? Great!’ But they only beat us 2-1.
“Then soon after that we played Glasgow Rangers who were champions of Scotland. Every player in the team had played for Scotland and we beat them 2-1. That really was the high point. The week before they had beaten the Socceroos 4-0 in Sydney.”
WA’s win over Rangers was a high point for the State side, according to John O’Connell
O’Connell said the emergence of Perth Glory in the 1990s meant it was natural that the State side should take a back seat when the big clubs came over.
But he is insistent that the efforts of him and his colleagues should not be overlooked.
“I don’t think we got the recognition we deserved,” he said.