Mighty Marconi: The early days
(The text of this article appeared as a Blast from the Past in Goal Weekly on 16 March 2012, p. 19. All photos from the Laurie Schwab and Les Shorrock collections at Deakin University Library. Click or double click on the photos below to enlarge them.)
In the 1950s Italian migrants in the Sydney suburb of Fairfield used to gather in on the outskirts of the settlement on Sunday mornings to play bocce and to drink home-made wine. Their activities came to the notice of the authorities and resulted in police raids and penalties for infraction of local bye-laws. Fed-up with what they saw as unnecessary interference in their relaxation after a tough week at work, some participants decided to form a club where they could play and drink legally. So Club Marconi was born in a galvanised iron shed on land belonging to the Sartor brothers, who gave an interest free mortgage to the new body.
Named after the Italian scientist and pioneer of radio, Guglielmo Marconi, the club quickly provided a venue for youngsters who wanted to play football as well as the bocce aficionadas. It is a story which can be paralleled all over Australia in the 1950s but not all the foundations were to be as successful as Marconi, though it took time for that to be achieved.
Football began as a junior activity in the Marconi youth club with teams entered in the Southern Districts Soccer Association in 1960. With a mixture of senior and junior players the club joined the main Sydney competition.
By 1964 the club had worked its way into the second division of the New South Wales State League where migrant clubs had successfully challenged the district teams that had dominated the New South Wales Soccer Football Association. Marconi was one of teams which joined the New South Wales Federation of Soccer Clubs. Gradually Marconi clawed its way up the league and in 1969 it won promotion to the First Division and finished a creditable fifth in its first season in the top rank.
Rale Rasic took over as coach of Marconi in 1972 leading the club to second place behind St George Budapest in the First Division after the home and away matches. In the top four play-offs that followed Marconi defeated St George in the final to become the NSW champion. In 1973 Marconi again finished second in Division One but downed Hakoah in the play-offs to become State champion for the second time.
Marconi joined the National Soccer League when it began in 1977. The other Italian backed club in Sydney, APIA-Leichardt stood out for a couple of years and Marconi powered ahead. With Rasic at the helm, Marconi led the league for much of the first season but was caught in the final run-in by Sydney City which took the title on goal difference. Rasic was coach of the year and Jimmy Rooney, his midfield general, won the inaugural player of the year crown.
In 1978 Marconi aided by sponsorship from the makers of Rosso Antico signed Italian international Roberto Vieri from Bologna. Vieri had played with Roma and Juventus and was probably one of the most talented players ever to perform in Australia, even though he was in the late stages of his career. The midfield combination of Vieri, Rooney and Ray Richards, backed up by Gary Byrne had a blend of skill and steel rarely matched in the history of the game in this country. Roberto Vieri’s son Christian grew up idolising Alan Border, but went on to play football for Italy and a string of top clubs in Europe. Up front Marconi had Mark Jankovics, Berti Mariani and Peter Sharne. At the back Ivo Prskalo who played with Velez Mostar in what was then Yugoslavia was another supremely skilled reader of the game.
Les Scheinflug took over as coach in 1979 with a team which had added Edi Krncevic to its striking options and Marconi came out on top, four points ahead of Heidelberg United. Marconi was now champion of Australia and all the while it had been developing an extremely successful social club and sports facility at Bossley Park in Fairfield. The soccer club and the social club became separate entities in 1967 but the success of the soccer club continued to be underpinned by the members of the latter. Junior development went ahead rapidly as the Fairfield area ceased to be urban frontier of Sydney. Grandstands, training pitches and all weather facilities were added to the 12-hectare complex.
Marconi-Fairfield was one the most successful teams in the National Soccer League winning the league title four times—in 1979, 1989, 1989-90, and 1995-96. There were no finals in 1979, but in the subsequent play-offs Marconi became champion in 1988, 1989 and 1992–93. It is an impressive record.