|National Soccer League|
|Champion:||Perth Glory FC|
|Most Champs:||Marconi Stallions |
South Melbourne FC
(4 times each)
The National Soccer League, or NSL, was the former national association football (soccer) competition in Australia, overseen by Soccer Australia and later the Australian Soccer Association. The NSL spanned 28 seasons from its inception in 1977, until its demise in 2004. In 2005, it was succeeded by the A-League competition, run by Football Federation Australia, the successor to the Australian Soccer Association. The competition was also known by various names including the Philips Soccer League, Coca-Cola Soccer League, Ericsson Cup and briefly during the mid-1990s the A-League.
Competition between club sides from different states existed in various forms prior to the formation of the NSL. The petroleum company Ampol sponsored cup competitions in the various states, starting with New South Wales in 1957, with other states following in their stead. Later a national Ampol Cup was conducted which continued throughout the 1960s. From 1962 until 1968 an Australia Cup was held, but its ambition of becoming an FA Cup style knockout competition went unfulfilled. In the 1970s the top sides from Melbourne and Sydney played off in an end of season series, but the tournament didn't seem to quite capture the legitimacy and popularity that was hoped for.
Plans for a national home and away league went back as far as 1965 for a 1967 start , and were followed up by variations on the theme throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, but faced opposition variously from clubs, who deemed the notion uneconomical, and state federations who feared losing their power. Australia's qualification for the 1974 World Cup led to various discussions in 1975 and 1976, with eventually 14 teams being chosen to participate in the inaugural season of the national league .
The transition from state-based leagues to a national competition was not all smooth. The Victorian Soccer Federation was reluctant for its big clubs to be involved and it appeared the dream of Alex Pongrass of St George and Frank Lowy of Hakoah Sydney for a nationwide club competition would not evolve. Little-known Mooroolbark from Melbourne's outer eastern suburbs broke the deadlock by joining the competition, bringing three other Victorian sides with it, making the national league a reality.
The first seven seasons of the league would be dominated by Sydney clubs, with Sydney City winning four titles, and only West Adelaide SC being able to wrest the title from New South Wales. The competition at this stage was a simple first past the post. A post season finals series was played during this era but was considered more of an exhibition series rather than a legitimate game to decide the national champion, although some confusion still exists on this matter particularly amongst some Heidelberg supporters who consider the 1980 'final' as a legitimate decider.
Falling crowds led to the radical move of introducing more teams (mainly from Victoria and New South Wales) and splitting the league into two conferences, with the winner of each division to play off in an end of year two legged final. For season 1984 this comprised of the 'Australian' Conference with competing teams from New South Wales and the ACT, whilst the 'National' Conference consisted of Victorian, South Australian and Queensland clubs. For 1985 and 1986 this reverted to 'Northern' and 'Southern' Conferences. Strangely, the competition's most geographically northern sides, Brisbane Lions and Brisbane City were in the latter grouping.
This period saw South Melbourne become the first Victorian team to win the league, followed by Brunswick Juventus, and Adelaide City, all Southern conference sides. At the end of the 1986 season, the system was scrapped, and about half the teams were dumped back to their respective state leagues. The criteria used to decide who stayed and who went was based 50% on the 1986 playing record, 40% on past playing record, and 10% on crowd support. . The result was that only one team from outside Sydney and Melbourne, reigning champions Adelaide City, was retained.
The revamped league suffered a major setback early on when Sydney City pulled out of the competition after just one round into the new season . Apart from returning to a single division, the league also dispensed with finals for the 1987 season, reverting back to first past the post. Many considered this an ill-considered move, as it robbed the league of its most high profile games. . Finals were re-introduced from 1988, and were to remain until the league's demise. The 1989 season would be the last to be played in winter. This period saw a re-emergence of New South Wales dominance with all titles, minor premierships and runners-up being from that state.
Attempts to shift the league towards a summer season went back into the early 1980s, but only came to pass for the 1989/90 season. The rationale for this change was simple. The league would avoid being marginalised in the media during the peak of the Australian Football League and Australian Rugby League seasons, as well as providing better playing surfaces and spectator comfort owing to the better weather.
The impetus given to the league from the switch was not enough for some clubs to remain in the league, with many clubs being relegated or being demoted back to the state leagues, including former champions Brunswick Juventus, St George and APIA Leichhardt, as well as once upon a time contenders in Heidelberg and Preston. This coincided with a renewed push by soccer authorities to force clubs to market themselves to mainstream Australia, as opposed to their own mostly migrant fan bases. This included name and logo changes, as well as the banning of ethnic flags, changes which were begrudgingly agreed to by the clubs, though in the terraces the fans generally continued to chant the old names. Marconi, South Melbourne FC, Adelaide City and the Melbourne Knights were the dominant sides of this era, withnumerous titles and grand final appearances between them.
From 1996 onwards the league attempted to revitalise the competition and attempt to hook into the mainstream support by finally introducing a team from Western Australia, in the form of Perth Glory, as well as other new entities which promised to deliver mainstream support, as well as being fully professional outfits as opposed to the majority of clubs and players who were only semi-professional. Among the new clubs at this time were the Collingwood Warriors, Carlton, Northern Spirit and Parramatta Power.
These clubs would have varying degrees of success on and off the field. Collingwood Warriors barely managed to last a season, while Carlton reached the grand final in its debut year, but was unable to attract a substantial fan base. Northern Spirit FC started off with record crowds, and a good debut season reaching the finals, but gradually crowds declined, and financial difficulties along with a controversial takeover by Rangers, didn't help matters. They would survive until the end of the NSL, but fold thereafter. Parramatta Power failed to gather much support, placed as it was in the midst of the already crowded western Sydney soccer market, and it too would not last beyond the end of the NSL. Perth Glory became the most successful of the new mainstream entrants. High crowds and good performances throughout the NSL's last decade contributed to make the Perth Glory for many observers the benchmark and role model for all future entrants to the Australian top-flight.
A record grand final crowd of 40,000 people saw the Brisbane Strikers become the first Queensland side to win the title in season 1996/97, but it never resulted in Brisbane gaining much bigger crowds in the following seasons than they were accustomed to. South Melbourne FC won back to back titles in the late 1990s, and by also winning the 1999 Oceania Club Championship, earning the right to play in the 2000 FIFA Club World Championship, where it put in some respectable performances, and a tidy sum in prize money. Wollongong Wolves became the only side from regional Australia to win the league, with their back to back titles in 1999/2000 and 2000/01. The cancellation of the 2001 FIFA Club World Championship however was a major blow to the league, as clubs which had seen a way of making a substantial amount of much needed cash, now had to resort the old practice of selling players overseas to make ends meet.
With the exodus of Australian players to overseas leagues continuing, a disastrous television deal with the Seven Network seeing next to zero coverage of the league on television, and with the consequent lack of sponsorship, the league fell into even further decline leading to its eventual demise. Sydney Olympic re-emerged as a genuine leading club for the first time in a decade, winning its second title, and Perth Glory went on to win the last two titles of the NSL, after previously having lost two grand finals. The birth of Adelaide United, as a quickly formed replacement of Adelaide City who withdrew just before the start of the final NSL season, was perhaps the sole highlight of this era, as they put in good performances, but most importantly, registered crowds which had not been seen in Adelaide since the heyday of Adelaide City and West Adelaide. With the league's demise, national competition went into recess until the A-League began in the second half of 2005, with five NSL clubs taking part, those being Perth Glory, Adelaide United, New Zealand Knights (who had played in the NSL primarily under the name Football Kingz), Newcastle United Jets and Queensland Roar who had participated in the NSL under the name Brisbane Lions.
The competition structure changed many times throughout the NSL's history. From its inception in 1977 until 1983, it was simply a matter of first past the post. However a compromise format was devised between the traditional European first past the post and the Australian system of finals. In 1978, 1979 (two-legged Grand Final), 1980 and 1982 a finals series was conducted but the winner of the Grand Final didn't determine who won the title. From 1984 until 1986, the league introduced more teams split into two conferences (1984 - Australian Conference, NSW/ACT clubs and National Conference, VIC, SA, QLD; 1985 and 1986 - Northern Conference, NSW/ACT clubs and Southern Conference for the rest) with 12 teams in each. The top five in each division would qualify for the playoffs, with the winner of each of the divisional playoffs playing off in a two-legged Grand Final. In 1987, the league dumped 11 teams, scrapped the split divisions, and the championship system reverted to first past the post.
In 1988 the league re-introduced a finals system, with the top five sides qualifying for the playoffs. In season 1992/93, the league increased the finalists to six. This system was used for the rest of the league's duration, except for season 2002/03 when the top six sides played a further series of home and away games against each other, with the top two playing off in the Grand Final.
The NSL also used a variety of point systems throughout its history. From 1977 until season 1991/92, teams were awarded two points for a win, one point for draw, and none for a loss. The exceptions to this were 1979, in which wins by four goals or more were awarded a bonus point, and 1983, in which three points were awarded for a win. From season 1992/93 onwards three points were awarded for a win, except for season 1994/95. In that season, four points were awarded for a win, with games ending in draws, being decided by penalty shootouts at the end of the game. The winner of the shootout received two points, the loser one point.
|Team||Also known as||Years Participating||Current Status|
|Adelaide City||Adelaide Juventus|
Adelaide City Zebras
Adelaide City Giants
Adelaide (City) Force
|1977-2002/03||South Australian Super League|
|A.P.I.A. Leichhardt||Leichhardt Strikers||1979-1991/1992||New South Wales Premier League|
|New South Wales Premier League|
Brisbane City Gladiators
|1977-1986||Brisbane Premier League|
|A-League as Queensland Roar|
|Brisbane Strikers||Brisbane United||1991/92-2003/04||Brisbane Premier League|
|Brunswick Juventus||Brunswick Pumas|
|Victorian Premier League as Whittlesea Zebras|
|Canberra City||Canberra City Arrows|
Canberra City Olympians
|1977-1986||ACT Premier League|
|Canterbury-Marrickville||Canterbury-Marrickville Olympic||1986||New South Wales Premier League as West Sydney Berries|
|Football Kingz||Auckland Kingz||1999/01-2003/04||Defunct; A-League 2005-07 as New Zealand Knights|
|Footscray JUST||Footscray Eagles|
Melbourne City JUST
|Green Gully||Green Gully Ajax||1984-1986||Victorian Premier League|
|Heidelberg United||Fitzroy United|
|Victorian Premier League|
|Marconi Stallions||Marconi Fairfield|
|1977-2003/04||New South Wales Premier League|
|Melbourne Knights||Essendon Lions|
|1984-2003/04||Victorian Premier League|
|Mooroolbark||Mooroolbark United||1977||Victorian Provisional League One South-East|
|Morwell Falcons||Gippsland Falcons|
|Newcastle Breakers||Newcastle BHP Breakers||1991/92-1999/00||Defunct|
|Newcastle KB United||Newcastle United|
Newcastle KB Raiders
|Newcastle Rosebud United||Adamstown Rosebuds||1984-1986||NBN State Football League as Adamstown Rosebuds|
|Newcastle United Jets||Newcastle United||2000/01-2003/04||A-League|
|Parramatta Eagles||Melita||1984, |
|New South Wales Winter Super League|
|Penrith City SC||1984-1985||Defunct|
|Preston Lions FC||Preston Rams|
|1981-1992/93||Victorian Premier League|
|South Melbourne||South Melbourne Hellas|
South Melbourne Gunners
South Melbourne Lakers
|1977-2003/04||Victorian Premier League|
|St George Saints||St George Budapest||1977-1980, |
|New South Wales Winter Super League|
|Sunshine George Cross||1984-1990/91||Victorian State League Division 1 as Sunshine Georgies|
|Sydney City||Eastern Suburbs Hakoah|
Sydney City Slickers
|1977-1987||NSW Conference League South|
|New South Wales Premier League|
|Sydney United||Sydney Croatia|
Sydney United Pumas
|1984-2003/04||New South Wales Premier League|
|West Adelaide||West Adelaide Hellas|
West Adelaide Hawks
(West) Adelaide Sharks
|South Australian State League|
|Western Suburbs||1977-78||amalgamated in 1978 with APIA Leichhardt|
|Wollongong Macedonia||Wollongong United|
|1990/91||Illawarra Premier League|
|Wollongong Wolves||Wollongong City||1981-1986|
|New South Wales Premier League|
|1977||Sydney City||Marconi Stallions||No Grand Final held|
|1978||West Adelaide||Sydney City||No Grand Final held|
|1979||Marconi Stallions||Heidelberg United||No Grand Final held|
|1980||Sydney City||Heidelberg United||No Grand Final held|
|1981||Sydney City||South Melbourne||No Grand Final held|
|1982||Sydney City||St George||No Grand Final held|
|1983||St George||Sydney City||No Grand Final held|
|1984||South Melbourne||Sydney Olympic||4-2 agg. over two legs||Olympic Park|
St. George Stadium
|1985||Brunswick Juventus||Sydney City||2-0 agg. over two legs||St. George Stadium|
|1986||Adelaide City||Sydney Olympic||3-2 agg. over two legs||Hindmarsh Stadium|
|1987||APIA Leichardt||Preston Lions||No Grand Final held|
|1988||Marconi Stallions||Sydney United||2-2 (5-4 on penalties)||Parramatta Stadium||17,064|
|1989||Marconi Stallions||Sydney Olympic||1-0||Parramatta Stadium||23,387|
|1989/1990||Sydney Olympic||Marconi Stallions||2-0||Parramatta Stadium||26,353|
|1990/1991||South Melbourne||Melbourne Knights||1-1 (5-4 on penalties)||Olympic Park||21,338|
|1991/1992||Adelaide City||Melbourne Knights||0-0 (4-2 on penalties)||Olympic Park||15,463|
|1992/1993||Marconi Stallions||Adelaide City||1-0||Parramatta Stadium||13,376|
|1993/1994||Adelaide City||Melbourne Knights||1-0||Olympic Park||13,790|
|1994/1995||Melbourne Knights||Adelaide City||2-0||Hindmarsh Stadium||16,000|
|1995/1996||Melbourne Knights||Marconi Stallions||2-1||Olympic Park||14,258|
|1996/1997||Brisbane Strikers||Sydney United||2-0||Lang Park||40,446|
|1997/1998||South Melbourne||Carlton S.C.||2-1||Olympic Park||16,000|
|1998/1999||South Melbourne||Sydney United||3-2||Olympic Park||15,194|
|1999/2000||Wollongong Wolves||Perth Glory||3-3 (7-6 on penalties)||Subiaco Oval||43,242|
|2000/2001||Wollongong Wolves||South Melbourne||2-1||Parramatta Stadium||13,402|
|2001/2002||Sydney Olympic||Perth Glory||1-0||Subiaco Oval||42,735|
|2002/2003||Perth Glory||Sydney Olympic||2-0||Subiaco Oval||38,111|
|2003/2004||Perth Glory||Parramatta Power||1-0||Parramatta Stadium||9,630|
|Marconi Stallions||1979, 1988, 1989, 1992-93|
|Sydney City||1977, 1980, 1981, 1982|
|South Melbourne FC||1984, 1990-91, 1997-98, 1998-99|
|Adelaide City||1986, 1991-92, 1993-94|
|Sydney Olympic||1989-90, 2001-02|
|Melbourne Knights||1994-95, 1995-96|
|Perth Glory||2002-03, 2003-04|
|Wollongong Wolves||1999-00, 2000-01|