Canberra City are a club that will forever be ingrained in Australian sporting folklore, having hosted the first National Soccer League game back on April 4, 1977.
Canberra City are a club that will forever be ingrained in Australian sporting folklore, having hosted the first National Soccer League (NSL) game back on April 4, 1977. The match against West Adelaide at Manuka Oval was the first national league match of any sport to be played in this country.
City were also coached by club patriarch Johnny Warren, who holds a special place in our football history.
In goals that day for Canberra City was Ron Tilsed, who lays claim to being the club-s first ever signing. The England youth international arrived in Australia having played for Arsenal and Portsmouth and recalls Johnny Warren, who would go on to be his best man at his wedding, picking him up from the airport.
“Johnny was a great man and charged with helping to start up Canberra City,” said Tilsed. “I can remember him picking me up at the airport and saying if you-re half as good as your resume we won-t need any more players.”
The result that day was a 3-1 win to the Mike Johnson managed West Adelaide side, with John Kosmina also getting his name in the history books by scoring the league-s first ever goal in front of approximately 1550 fans.
Tilsed, who is now in his fifth year of coaching at the Sutherland Sharks, said football in the area was thriving and by their second season Canberra City were enjoying home crowds of nearly 10,000 fans at Bruce Stadium from a population of around 200,000. The club would go on to spend ten seasons in the NSL before returning to state league football in 1987.
Today Canberra City, like all the teams in Capital Football-s Premier League, are about to complete season one in the National Premier Leagues competition, which is the new second-tier of football in Australia.
The Johnny Warren All Stars of 1977 - Canberra City's inaugural squad in the NSL
Arthur Huggins, who has a long standing association with Canberra City, feels the club is on its way back to being the premier side in the ACT. Huggins, who was President of the Canberra City Supporters Group before a ball was kicked in the NSL and recently concluded a 17 year tenure as Club President said their new development program would strengthen the club in years to come.
"We have entered into a partnership with the Gungahlin United Football Club in recent years and both Clubs are starting to see the benefits as Gungahlin junior footballers flow through to the National Premier League," said Huggins. "The combination of Canberra City's history and presence in the NPL and Gungahlin's location, being one of the fastest growing urban areas in Australia, is exciting."
Huggins identified young talents Jay Kelly and Pat Ross-Magee as being a big part of this future. Kelly, 18, played in this year-s Premier League side and was recently selected in a strong ACT schoolboys squad. Ross-Magee has played at the top state level for a few seasons now and has represented the Futsalroos.
Huggins also said while the Club continues to play an important role in the local community, he would like to see more support from local government and Football Federation Australia going forward.
“The local government has provided huge financial support to other codes recently but very little to football,” said Huggins “I would also like to see more support from the FFA trickle down to Canberra.”
Current Club President Geoff Perry said while the club is disappointed to be among the bottom sides in the NPL this year, it was not that long ago they were consistently playing in the finals. Perry pointed to a tough draw and an injury ravaged side as being contributing factors to their below par season.
“We regard our future as strong,” said Perry. “We-ll be moving our training base over to Harrison next season and have good fundraising and promotional plans in place.”
“We had a nightmare draw to accommodate our local playing base, which directly impacted on our early season lack of success but our best eleven are as competitive as sides in the top-four.”
While they won-t be playing in the finals this year it seems likely that it won-t be long before Canberra City, having made the finals in three of the past four seasons are back competing with the top teams in the ACT.
The club that helped trail blaze league football in this country was there when it all began and looks set to continue to cultivate some of the stars of the future.