HISTORY OF THE AZZURRI SPORTS CLUB
(Eastern Districts, Eastern Districts Napoli, Eastern Districts Azzurri, Adelaide Blue Eagles)
In and around 1957 onwards a group of Italian boys regularly met for some friendly street soccer (football) at Payneham Oval in Adelaide’s eastern suburbs. In late May 1958 it was decided to form a Club. On the 8thJune 1958, at the home of Mr G. Ferraro at 39 Lewis Road Glynde an official meeting was held in the presence of Cappuccin Priest, Father Nicola and there Napoli Sports Club was born. Angelo Rossi was elected President, Luigi Penna as Secretary, Nicola Parletta as Vice-President, Carmine Russo as Treasurer and Franco Clemente as the General Assistant to the Club. The first Chairman of the Club was Owen Atkinson, the then Mayor of Campbelltown.
The Napoli name was adopted as the majority of the initial members derived from the Campania region around Naples, Italy. Due to the decision, correct or otherwise, of the then governing body, the South Australian Soccer Football Association, at the beginning of 1958 that it was not in the interest of soccer to have more than one team of any one national group in the league, the Club adopted the name Eastern Districts after the area of Adelaide which the Club was based. The Club was Incorporated as Eastern Districts Napoli Sports Club and the Team played under the moniker of Eastern Districts. The Club wore sky blue shirts, white shorts and sky blue socks as per Napoli in Italy.
The Eastern Districts team was entered into the Metropolitan League (3rdDivision) and played it’s first competitive match on 18thApril 1959 against Edinburgh, losing 11-1. The team that played in the Clubs first season included Vincenzo Ferraro (Captain), Antonio Mazzeo (Vice-Captain), Luigi Penna, Angelo Rossi, Frank Clemente, Vince Boffa, Franco Cresci, Stefano Migliaccio, Antonio Giannini, Ciro Esposito, Gennaro Mazzeo, Domenico Di Maria, Carmine Scalzi, Nicola Perrotta and Emilio D’Andrea as Coach. The team won it’s first match, and only one for that year, against University 2-1. Initially matches were played at the Victoria Park Race course. Often the match would be played while horses were racing around the track. The team finished bottom of the table in it’s first year, while an improved squad finished seventh in 1960.
During 1960 there was a great deal of discord in Australia at all levels of the game. A league take-over in New South Wales and a split in Western Australia league started to heighten feelings in South Australia. In 1961 following growing anger amongst many of the stronger Clubs to have a greater say in the running of the league, a rival league under the guise SA Federation of Soccer Clubs was formed. The rival league included most of the top tier Clubs of the time. In response the SA Soccer Football Association was forced to restructure their leagues. Eastern Districts was put into a Third Division mostly made up of other Clubs Reserve teams which the team easily won after losing just one match and drawing one match. In 1961was also the year the Club began to play it’s matches in the South Parklands.
At the beginning of 1962 the separation of competitions continued. The Club was had actually switched to the SA Federation of Soccer Clubs State League (2ndDivision) where it began the season against an interesting assortment of teams hastily drawn together including Tailem Bend and Murray Bridge. The switch allowed the team to play under the moniker Eastern Districts Napoli for the first time. Eventually following much negotiation a compromise was reached in May 1962 to amalgamate the rival leagues. As part of the agreement new fixtures were drafted up for the 2ndand 3rdDivisions. This was not before several rounds of matches had been played in separate leagues. The Club was placed in the Second Division and allowed to continue using the Napoli name. Unfortunately against some tough opposition the team finished in last position with a solitary point. In October 1962 as part of the amalgamation the South Australian Soccer Federation was formed.
In 1963 Napoli played in the Division 3, no official record of the season was ever published but the team finished in third place behind Weapons Research and University. For virtue of the fact that University could not field an intermediate squad (also referred to as juniors and later Under 18 and Under 19’s) Napoli won the second promotion place to Division 2. The squad saw mid table finishes in both 1964 and again in 1965 in Division 2 despite the switch to the Clubs new home ground “Adey Reserve” Firle. The sixties saw a raft of players star for the Club all of whom were recent immigrants to Australia. Names such as Tatarelli, Giglio, Piccariello and Villani all stared in the early days. Other notable players of the time included Begnini and ex-professional who played for Vicenza in the Italian leagues and Mario Corti who played in Seria A for Catania and was even in the Italian B side with names such as Giovanni Trapattoni. Both these men went on to coach at the Club.
In 1966 the Club again changed it’s name to broaden it’s appeal to the wider Italian community who were now becoming involved within the Club, and the name Eastern Districts Azzurri was adopted. The name Azzurri is the Italian word for blues and the nickname of the Italian national squad. Similarly the team’s colours changed from sky blue shirts and socks with white shorts to the more familiar “Azzurri” Blue shorts and socks with white shorts. In 1967 saw the Clubs first major success winning the “Jaxen Cup” (2ndDivision League Cup). Things got better in 1968 the Club won promotion to the First Division after finishing second in the 2nd Division. Initially the Clubs right to gain promotion was blocked by members of the SA Soccer Federation on the grounds that there should not be two Italian community based teams in the same league (Juventus already being in the top league). As a means of circumventing this situation E.D. Azzurri amalgamated with Seacliff Austria who were a Club on the decline and with few supporters. The amalgamation was little more than a take over with Azzurri taking Seacliff’s players and first division status while maintaining the Clubs colours and name.
It was also around this time that the Club was establishing a large social component attracting people in the Italian community initially and then from the broader community. The Club often held functions as a means of fundraising and over the years has brought to Adelaide a number of local and International artists. In 1973 the Club was the first to bring a young John Farnham to South Australia. From the mid 60’s to late 70’s the Club also held the Miss Azzurri Pagent which it self became a lead up to the very popular Miss Telethon Quest. The broaden scope of the Club also brought new sports including table tennis, basketball and bocce, although women’s basketball being the only time the Club has been entered into a structured competition other than soccer/football.
The Azzurri’s start in the top flight in was some what mediocre as it finished in sixth position in 1969, 70 and 71. 1970 saw the first success of an Azzurri Player as Terry Wetton was awarded the West End Medal for the leagues Best & Fairest Player. More mid table finishes followed with 5thin 72, 7thin 73, 8thin 74, 6thin 75. In 1974 the Club who had been in talks with Campbelltown Council to obtain consent to build its own facility at Paradise scrapped the idea after not being able to get consent from the Council and a new opportunity arose with the Black Lion Hotel. The Black Lion was located immediately adjacent Hindmarsh Stadium and was purchased by the Club for $240,000. The intention to build new Clubrooms at the Hotel and play home games at Hindmarsh stadium. The Intention never really took off when after a few matches at Hindmarsh in 1975 it was found that supporters were not prepared to travel to the other side of town for home matches. The investment served to help partly fund the investment at Marden Sports Complex a quarter of a century later.1974 saw the spark which ignited success which followed in the years to follow with the juniors (now referred to as the Under 18’s) winning the Clubs first championship in the top flight as well as the Cup competition which was backed up in 1975 by the Reserves squad who also won the championship. In 1975 was also the year a young Ted Iuliano, who was deeply involved in the development and promotion of the Marden Sports Complex in later years, joined the committee as Club Secretary. Ted later went on to serve on the board of the South Australian Soccer Federation of which he is a Life Member before returning to serve as Club President for a stint in the 2000’s. Ted is also a current member of the board of the Football Federation of South Australia and has been inducted in the South Australian Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
In 1976 it all went wrong with the senior squad finishing 10thin a 10 team league. Again however fortune was on the side of the Club as 1977 saw the launch of the Australian National Soccer League with West Adelaide Hellas and Adelaide Juventus being promoted to the national stage there was no relegation and the team were able to continue in the top flight in the 1977 season where they finished 6th. 1978 saw the Club just miss out on it’s maiden championship finishing 2nd6 points behind Cumberland United. Joe Serafini finished league top scorer for the year with 14 goals. Another interesting fact to come out of the 1978 season was when Italian singer super star Gianni Morandi who was on tour actually played half a match for the Azzurri. In 1979 the squad finished 3rdjust 4 points behind the eventual winners, while the juniors again won the championship. 1980 was another horror year for the team as they finished 9thin the 10 team league, fortunately only one squad was relegated that year.
In 1981 saw new blood in the committee, coaching staff and players. Rep Giordano took over as Club Chairman (a position he still holds to this day), Frank Schafer was appointed as senior coach and new players were brought in including former Scottish School boy and Hibernian player Stuart Blair, 1979 Player of the year come Club Captain Wally Bojczuk and the only Azzurri player to go on to represent the Socceroos Robbie Dunn. Mixed with up coming juniors including the Michelon Brothers, Paul Iannace and Club stalwarts including Chis Manolev and John Francis culminated in the realisation of the Club’s 23 year dream as E.D. Azzurri were crowned Champions of South Australia. The team also went on to win every single trophy available that year including the Federation Cup in controversial circumstances, the Coca Cola Top 4 Cup and the Charity Shield a feat which has never been equalled even to this day. Frank Schafer was suitably awarded Coach of the Year and Wally Bojczuk was crowned league top scorer with 19 goals. In 1982 the success continued with the team continuing an undefeated run of 38 matches winning it’s second championship in succession and Coca Cola Cup in two years. Wally Bojczuk again was again league top scorer, this time sharing the honour with Joe Mullen on 13 goals.
E.D. Azzurri were quickly establishing themselves as a force in South Australia soccer (football) with back to back wins in the Ampol Cup, defeating National League side West Adelaide and Adelaide City along the way. 1984 also saw a second triumph in the Federation Cup, Alan Scott awarded Man of the Match and John Francis crowned the Rothman’s Player of the Year.The 1980’s also saw the club consolidate a strong junior policy with teams in all competitions. This was proven a major boost for the First Team, with many players rising through the ranks. 1985 saw the senior squad just miss out on another title finishing second, but picked up a consolidation prize with the West End Cup, Pat DeVita starring as league top goal scorer with 12 goals. In 1986 despite finishing 8thon the table the squad lifted the Federation Cup for the third time, Jan Kierno being awarded the player of the match in the final. One of the Clubs darkest hours came in 1987, when an already struggling team was deducted 2 points for allegedly using an ineligible player. The decision has a demoralizing effect with the squad dropping point in the last few matches of the season to be relegated to second division, this despite the decision being challenged in Court by the Club.
1988 the Club appointed former winner of the Player of the year award in 1983 Jan Kierno as player coach. A former professional in Poland, Kierno was nicknamed “the General” for the way he managed to control the entire flow of the game. The effect was instant with the squad regaining it’s top flight status finishing second. The following years the Club began to rebuild its playing ranks with external acquisitions as well as see the rise of many juniors from within the Club. The team had high table finishes again in 89, 90 and 1991 during this period, including a victory in the Coca Cola top 4 Cup in 1990 and the West End Cup in 1991. One of the Clubs acquisition’s included Andy Read who was crowned the Foundation SA player of the year in 1991.
In 1992 saw the introduction of the Finals Play-off series and the return of E.D. Azzurri to the top of the pile captained by Duane Gray. Home grown players such as the Angie Giannitto and Joe Cutillo who both went on to Captain the Club emerged together with two critical signings Jeff Tyson a former professional who derived from the Blackburn Rovers junior ranks who finished League Top Scorer in 1991 to 1994 (3 of those years for the Azzurri/Blue Eagles) and Zoran Karadzic a professional player from the former Yugoslavia who’s skill and deft touch demoralised teams and could seemingly finish in any dead ball situation. Mark Abraham was awarded the Alex Hastings Medal for the Best Player in the Grand Final where Azzurri defeated Croatia 3-2 in front of 5,000 fans at Hindmarsh Stadium. The finals series was televised on Channel 10 that year.
At the beginning of the 1993 season following violent clashes in the National Soccer League between members of rival ethnic Clubs it was decided that ethnic names from Clubs would need to be dropped. As a result of this decree the team was renamed the Adelaide Blue Eagles. Adelaide to broaden the Clubs appeal to the broader community and not just limited to the eastern suburbs, Blue as a representation of the Clubs colour and a direct interpretation of Azzurri and Eagles after the bird which has adorned the Clubs crest since it’s inception representing independence and strength. The Clubs name was shortened to the Azzurri Sports Club. 1993 was a year which began with such promise but ended in bitter disappointment. A turning of the soil ceremony was held at the site of the now Marden Sports Complex as the beginning of the construction and fundraising of the establishment of the Clubs new home. The season also got off to a good start after the team finished undefeated during the minor rounds and 12 points clear at the top of the table with 14 wins and 4 draws. Unfortunately the Blues failed to make the Grand Final and were left empty handed.
It was around this period that the Adelaide Blue Eagles Juniors and reserves were experience increased success including Reserves Cup wins in 1991, 93 & 96 and Minor Premierships in 93 & 97 and Under 18/19 with minor premierships in 92, 93 , 94, 95 and 97 and championships in 92, 93, 94, 97 and 2000. All of which laid the foundation for the senior teams to come.
In 1994 Zoran Karadzic was appointed senior player/coach assisted by Mario Corti and introduced a side with attacking flair. Deadly finishers of the ball including Mark Abraham, Andrew Borghetto and Jeff Tyson coupled with attacking mid-field flair from Karadzic and a rising star by the name of Corey Artone who was a midfield libero who could pluck a goal from distance or dead ball situation seemingly at will meant the Blues were never short of a scoring option. The side went on to finish second in the minor championship but surged through the finals series and defeated long time rivals Campbelltown City in a penalty shoot-out in front of a huge crowd at Hindmarsh Stadium. The success continued the next two years, in 1995 the Club captured the double, finishing top of the minor round then going on to defeat Raiders in the grand Final as well as lifting the Federation Cup. Zoran Karadzic was awarded the Coach of the Year award and for the second consecutive the Alex Hastings Medal for the best Player in the Grand Final. 1996 saw the culmination of a championship team as they made it three wins in as many years all lead by Angie Giannitto as Captain. While finishing second in the minor Championship were again able to turn it on come finals time. During this period the development of a stronger defence including players from the Clubs junior ranks including Tony Giannitto, Lino Sattin (who went on to Captain the side) and Tony Zito as well as volatile goal keeping talent Gino DeLucia who has also played the role of Club Captain. The Blue Eagles defeated White City in the Grand Final in front of over 7,500 fans with Joe Barbaro receiving the man of the match award. The Grand Final was also shown live nationally on Foxtel and Galaxy pay television.
Despite losing a few key players due to retirement or moving onto the national league the Blues continued to do well in the league qualifying for the finals again, although not managing to make the Grand Final. The team did however continue to collect the silverware in 1997 and 1998 the Club lifted the Federation Cups.
1999 was a rebuilding year with much of the Clubs resources concentrated on the imminent move to the new home the Marden Sports Complex. This reflected on the pitch with a 9thplace finish. The construction of the Marden Sports Complex was the realisation of the Clubs dream. A dream which was achieved with the help of many of the Clubs supporters, and sponsors donating money, time and materials and without any Government grants or assistance. The Marden Sports Complex has a full size main pitch with seating for three thousand, one thousand of which are undercover as well as three practice pitches, new Clubrooms and Change rooms it has become the Number 2 pitch in South Australia after Hindmarsh Stadium regularly hosting International Teams such as the Italian Olympic Team in 2000, Japanese J-League teams Yokohama and Consoladole Sapporo, AC Milan U21 squad, Olyroos and numerous other national Olympic team squads have all used the facility for training and matches. In 2004 Oceania Football Confederation Qualifiers were held at the ground in conjunction with Hindmarsh Stadium which included a qualifying match for the Socceroos against Fiji on their run which finally saw the team qualify for the 2006 World Cup. Other events hosted at the Club include the SA leg of the Vodafone National 5-aside competition, Allan Shearer ‘Down Under’, 2006 Women’s Asian Cup preliminary round games, the National Police and Fire Games.
The Facility was opened in 2000 to much fanfare defeating Campbelltown 4-0 in the grounds opening match. The Blue Eagles had again recruited well seeing the return of Corey Artone from the National League and the acquisition of a lethal pair of strikers Frank Sergi and Michael Brooks. The trio scored averaged over 60 goals between them over the next three seasons. With Michael Brooks crowned League top scorer in each of those seasons with 27, 30 and 32 league goals and over 100 goals for the Blue Eagles in all competitions during this time. The Blues went on to win the minor championship and Grand Final on Golden Goal against Modbury in 2000 and on penalties in 2001 captained by Joe Cutillo. Marcin Keirno (son of Jan and creative midfield libero in his own right) won the man of the match in 2000 grand final and Corey Artone in 2001. To ad to this Artone was awarded the Player of the Year medal in 2001. The 2000 and 2001 finals attracted huge crowds in excess of 9,000 people.
2002 the Centenary year for Soccer in South Australia saw the team again make it to the grand final but unfortunately fail at the last hurdle losing the Grand Final. Rep Giordano was honoured at the inauguration of the South Australian Soccer (Football) Hall of Fame as an inaugural inductee as the longest serving Club Chairman in the sports history in the stat. 2003 the Club was rebuilding, loosing many of its top players. There was a new emphasis on developing its youth. Former Yugoslavia Under 21 coach Dragan Sipka was recruited to guide the side. Initially thing were looking shakey but the midseason acquisition of two players from Argentina Hugo Rosales and Pablo Duran as well as the re-acquisition of Marcin Keirno who left for Raiders at the beginning of the year paid dividends with the team entering the finals with momentum. The Blue Eagles made the fourth Grand Final in as many years Captained by Donato DeIeso and snatched the victory for the Clubs ninth Senior Championship. Tony Zito was awarded the man of the match in the Grand Final.
The following seasons has seen mixed results, 5thin 2004, in 2005 former Club Captain Angie Giannitto took over the coaching reins with a 5thposition in 2005 and in 2006 the team actually finished in 2ndposition but due to a controversial interpretation of the competition rules by the Federation the Club was deducted 3 points for using a suspended player, which saw the team demoted to 6thplace.
In 2007 Diego Pellegrini a ex-professional player who had played most of his career in the top three divisions of the Italian Leagues and a winner of the UEFA Cup with AC Parma was appointed as Senior Player Coach after having been brought to Australia the previous year by the Club. His appointment in a crucial rebuilding year almost proved to be a disaster with the team finishing in 9thposition just avoiding relegation in the final match (Only one team relegated in the 10 team league in 2007).. 2008 the Clubs 50thAnniversary another former player from the club Pat De Vita together with Gennaro Polvere were appointed to lead the Club. Despite numerous experienced players on the park such as 1998 SA Player of the Year Lachlan Campbell, Argentine Mauro Beron and home grown Captain Lino Sattin on the field the team did not fair well finishing 8thagain just avoiding relegation (rules changed in 2008 for bottom 2 teams to be relegated from 10 team league).
In 2009 Zoran Karadzic made his return to the Club as Senior Coach to immediate effect. The Club commenced the Season winning the first six matches in succession including a 1-0 victory over Adelaide City at Marden Sports Complex on the 18thApril 2009 exactly 50 years to the day the Club played its first match, although this time the squad was sitting proudly seven points clear at the top of the table. The team couldn’t maintain the momentum for that season and ended finishing the season in fifth place and 3rdin the final series. The Club also sent a squad of Young players to Italy to play against professional squads such as AS Roma, UC Sampdoria and Chievo Verona among others professional teams, a tour it repeated again in 2011.
2010 saw the return of some silverware to the Club after a long absence with the Club winning the Federation Cup defeating Metro Stars in a memorable 3-2 win. The Club doubled its delight with the Reserves also lifting the Federation Cup. In the league the team finished a respectable fourth place but surged into the Grand Final only to lose 1-0 to Adelaide City. At the end of season Zoran Karadzic was inducted into the SA Hall of Fame for services to the game as a Player and a Coach.
At the end of the 2010 season Soon after Zoran Karadzic departed for a professional coaching position in Indonesia and the coaching mantel was taken up by his understudy Vojo Gluscevic for 2011. Under the guidance of Gluscevic the team made it second consecutive Federation Cup Final just missing out on a penalty shoot out to Western Strikers. The disappointment of missing out on back to back Cups was compensated after a strong third place finish the Squad stormed into its second Grand Final in two years, however this time emerging winners on penalties against Adelaide City. This was the Clubs 10thLeague title in South Australia. The championship success was echoed by the Under 19 squad who backed up their minor premiership success with a Grand Final win.
2012 The Club started the year where it has left off making the pre-season Cup Final, but amazingly the match went to penalties for the third successive final in a row and the Blues missed out on the Silverware. Again the Eagles had a good season on the park finishing second in the minor Championship but lost form at the wrong end of the season going out of the finals in straight sets. The Under 19 squad made it a second consecutive minor premiership however this time missed out losing the Grand Final.
The Azzurri Sports Club is one of the most successful Clubs in South Australia now boasts in addition to the Marden Sports Complex and three senior teams over 200 juniors boys and girls and two amateur teams. It is good management both on and off the field which has seen the Club rise from it’s humble beginnings to one of the Champagne sides of both South Australian and Australian soccer (football). The Clubs vision is to further develop its junior structure and source more players within it’s own ranks and hopefully contribute to the development of the quality of the game at grass routes level. This coupled with continuing improvements to facilities and professionalism towards the management both on and off the field is hoped will lead to greater success in the future. The story continues………