From humble beginnings, the West Adelaide Soccer Club can reflect on an extraordinary history, rightfully claiming to be one of the glamour clubs instrumental in helping put Australian Soccer on the International map.
The club was born when a handful of Greek Migrants – 15 or 20 of them, decided to create The Hellenic Soccer Club in 1936. The team played mainly in Division 2 or 3 primarily on Sundays at any ground they could find, often at Adelaide High School, and each player provided their own clothes and boots. They paid the referee out of their own pockets. In those days a “big crowd” would have been around 100 people, but then the Greek community as a whole barely exceeded a couple of thousand.
The club was officially formed in 1945 under the name of Olympic by members of the Greek community and played mainly in Division 2 or 3 in the late 1940s and the decade of the 1950s. In 1960, Olympic was suspended from competition due to crowd disturbances and in 1961 it was reconstituted as the Hellenic Athletic and Soccer Club. The emblem that is used to this day was created to use the blue and white of the Greek National flag and the Olympic torch was representative of the old Olympic club. In 1962, the club re-entered the South Australian State League as West Adelaide Hellas through the amalgamation with West Adelaide Soccer Club, (founded in 1910 and Division one champions of 1930) due to the work of principle founder Mr A Hatzi-Stathi and others. Hellas used Hindmarsh Stadium as its home ground. From 1963, when it was promoted from Division 2, the club achieved enormous success in the State League winning many honours, including winning the Ampol Cup and the South Australian Federation Cup in 1964. From that point on, the club was a dominant force in South Australian soccer and was invited to be a founding member of the National Soccer League (NSL) in 1977.
West Adelaide had the honour of scoring the first goal in the NSL in Australia. The date was the 2nd of April 1977, the scorer was John Kosmina, and the venue was Manuka Oval in Canberra.
How ironic it was then that the national league’s first goalscorer ended up being the national league’s top goal scorer – amassing a record 133 goals in his national league career. Not to mention top scorer in full international games for the Socceroos (25 goals).
It did not take too long at all for the ambitious and progressive club to gain national success. In only the year after the inception of the national league, West Adelaide were national champions. In these non-finals years, the ‘minor’ premier was crowned the champion team. West Adelaide won the 1978 title in a scenario only dreamed about – at its home ground, with an 85th-minute goal, on the last day of the league, in front of 16,251 fans – and against longtime cross-city rivals Adelaide City. This was a fitting way to celebrate the club’s 33rd anniversary!
A long challenging period followed West Adelaide’s early successful national stint. The club was to finish at the wrong end of the national league ladder for most of its following national league seasons and were lucky to avoid relegation twice in the early 1980s. West was finally relegated after the last dual-conference national league in 1986. The club spent four of the next five seasons in the relative limbo of the South Australian state league, interrupted by a brief return to the national flight in 1989-90.
A major report commissioned by the national league executive in 1990 implied that it was in the national league’s interests to have a strong club like West Adelaide back in its ranks. Thus West Adelaide was virtually invited back to the national league for the 1991-92 season.
Since 1991-92, on and off the field success has seen West Adelaide needing no more favours to continue its national league survival. After another slow return (finishing second last in 1991-92), the club then made the astute decision to appoint Raul Blanco as their new coach. Dividends were returned immediately with finals’ placings in 1992-93 and 1994-95. On 9 June 1998, the Club, which had been renamed to Adelaide Sharks for broader appeal, suffered a major setback as a fire destroyed change rooms and some administrative offices at their new Thebarton Oval base. The damage bill was estimated at $150,000.
On 6 September 1998, a general meeting of Adelaide Sharks members supported the privatisation of the Club, endorsing prominent Adelaide Greek Australian businessman Con Makris as its new owner with a 51 per cent share of the Sharks. However, the Sharks lasted just one more year in the National Soccer League. Its final hurrah was a 1-0 derby win over Adelaide City – the last time the two clubs would face off in the competition. The Sharks withdrew from the league just before the 1999-2000 season was due to kick-off, debts having mounted.
The club lived on through its junior arm, which was legally separated from the senior club during the messy bankruptcy. The juniors joined with state league club Adelaide Olympic and competed in the South Australian competition from 2000 to 2007. In 2008, West Adelaide and once again fielded its own senior sides in the state league, beginning in the third tier. Its juniors had returned to their original name as West Adelaide a year earlier. The club won promotion to the second tier in 2012 and a year later secured a berth in the top tier, where it had not played since 1999.
Friday 21 February 2014 was a proud day for the club, as it returned to the top tier of South Australian soccer after nine seasons. The derby match against Adelaide City, which finished in a 1–1 draw, attracted one of the largest attendances (2900 people) in South Australian soccer for many years.
West did not have to wait long to taste glory again. Coached by former Sharks NSL defender Paul Pezos, the club won the 2015 South Australian premiership and championship. Its title was sealed with a 4–2 grand final win over Adelaide Blue Eagles.
There is no other player which embodied the spirit of West Adelaide Hellas better than Nick Pantelis. Since migrating to Australia in 1964 from Cos, Greece, Nick made a magnificent contribution to the game as a player and coach which saw him become a Life Member of the South Australian Soccer Federation.
Nick represented South Australia on 25 occasions between 1966 and 1971 and was the States leading goal scorer on three occasions in 1966, 1971 and 1973. Crowds adored the number seven of West Adelaide Hellas, and fondly remember him tearing the right wing apart for Hellas, which contributed to him winning Championship, Federation Cup, Ampol Cup and Coca Cola Cup medals.
Nick was an inaugural inductee of the FFSA Hall of Fame, receiving the Award of Distinction for meritorious performance.
Vic Bozanic played 90 times for West Adelaide in the National League where with 4 minutes to go he scored the winning goal for the 1978 championship.
Robbie Dunn played mainly at the centre of the defence but on occasions was used up front as a striker. His long striding runs forward put fear into many opponents, as he was very hard to knock off the ball. Robbie played between 1982 and 1986 and during that period played 77 NSL games.
Of the 172 players used by West Adelaide in the NSL, it is that some players for whatever reason will be remembered before others. Some of those that readily come to mind are the likes of John Kosmina who was a great striker, excellent in the air and had an exceptionally powerful shot. He could turn extremely quickly and be very fast over a short distance. John left South Australia to play for Arsenal in the U.K. and later returned. Although John only played 67 games for the club, he scored 24 goals which were an extremely impressive strike rate. John went on to play in Sydney and later went into coaching.
Crook was a master craftsman in his role as goalkeeper between 1977 and 1986. Many times when players thought they had him beat he would pull off some amazing save and have the crowd left in bewilderment. Martyn controlled the players around him in the penalty area and was responsible for keeping many clean sheets. Martyn played 192 NSL games for the club, the third highest for a West Adelaide player.
Neil McGachey is another icon of the game in South Australia, was captain and sweeper at the club for some time and was a legend before the NSL commenced. Neil had the ability to control games whether attacking or defending and had a tremendous influence with his passing and prompting of the players all around the ground. Neil had a few injury problems over the years but still managed to play 138 games for the club in the NSL. Neil took on a coaching role at the club and led them to their 1st and only NSL championship in 1978.
Ian McGregor was a tireless worker in every respect who had the speed and skill to break up attacks and to worry any defender when he made his runs down the wings. Ian was consistent in his performances for the club over the years and played 201 NSL games for the club which was the 2nd highest number of games played by a West Adelaide player in the NSL.
Graham Honeyman was a great player and stalwart of the club over a 10 year period, who had many outstanding performances. Graham played 238 NSL games for the club between 1977 and 1986 which was the highest number of games by a West Adelaide player in the NSL. He also managed to score 36 goals, which was the 2nd highest number of goals scored by a West Adelaide player in the NSL.
Stan Lazaridis who could play equally well at left back as he could midfield, was absolutely adored by the Adelaide Hellas supporters. ‘Stan the man’, as he was and still is known, was brilliant at breaking through defences with his speed and strength and crossing balls into the opponent’s penalty area. He was also an expert at taking free kicks, particularly with his left foot. After dominating in the NSL for West Adelaide, English club West Ham came knocking on our door enquiring about Stan the Man, for a record fee of $700,000 transfer fee Stan signed with West Ham and played there for 4 years until his move to Birmingham City, and is now currently playing for Perth Glory in the A league. Stan Played 73 NSL games for West Adelaide.
Robbie Slager another very reliable defender, good in the air and solid in the tackle. Robbie played 144 NSL games for the club.
Peter Blanzincic in goal gave many outstanding performances using his goalkeeping skills to help keep his team in the game. Peter played 121 NSL games for the club.
Robbie Hooker was an extremely reliable defender and would continually make attacking runs from the back. Robbie was quick at closing down opponents and had very good vision and positional sense. Robbie played 133 NSL games for the club.
Con Kokkinoplitis was another defender who initially played for the club in the NSL in 1991. Con was quick, skilful and a favourite with supporters, he played 137 NSL for West Adelaide.
Pablo Cardozo, goal scorer extraordinaire, was capable of scoring some spectacular goals, Pablo had the skill to bend and move balls on the way to goal. Pablo played 111 NSL games for West Adelaide and scored 40 goals, the highest number of goals scored by a West Adelaide player in the NSL.
Jimmy Tsekinis, another crowd favourite, who with his skill could turn a game around in seconds. He had the ability to take players on and create openings and he was more than capable of scoring his fair share of goals. Jim played 112 NSL games for the club and scored 27 goals.