As a 24-season member of West Coast, there have been countless Saturdays and Sundays (and one ordinary WA Day Monday) spent at Subiaco Oval. Through those years, there have been premierships and wooden spoons and I have been fortunate to witness first hand many of the champions that have pulled on an Eagles guernsey.
I have compiled the 10 best games that I personally attended over that time, and while there are some notable absentees, these 10 games have formed a part of Eagle history over the journey. Before jumping in though, it would be remiss to not acknowledge games that over the journey I was unfortunate not to attend. As well as several finals during the mid-2000’s there are two that stand out: the draw in 2003 when Ashley Sampi levelled the scores after the siren against the Bulldogs, and the 2006 demolition of Adelaide that essentially re-shaped the premiership race that season.
If more games could be fit into a ‘top ten’ list, then countless others could have been included!
10. 2001 Round 13: West Coast 15.5 (95) def Melbourne 13.10 (88)
The Eagles were having their worst season in over a decade in Ken Judge’s second year in charge, ultimately recording just five victories for the season. As such any success in a disastrous season was like gold, and the reactions of Eagles’ fans on this day was akin to the Eureka Stockade.
Not much was expected from West Coast who had lost a club equal record eight losses in a row. The Demons themselves had only won five games to this point, but were favourites to defeat West Coast and inflict an 11th loss for the season.
The signs weren’t good early with Melbourne bursting out of the blocks to kick the opening three goals but by quarter time the Eagles had reduced the deficit to a goal. In a further blow, Chad Morrison went down with a knee injury, that would rule him out of action for the next 18 months.
West Coast stuck with the visitors and snatched a late lead in the second term to take a five point advantage into the second half. Dreary clouds started to hang above the stadium but inside spirits remained up as the Eagles continued to hold the lead into the final term. Melbourne briefly took the lead, but spurred on by a rapturous home crowd who were now withstanding the rain, West Coast held on for a seven point win.
Phillip Matera and Andrew Embley combined for nine of the Eagles 15 goals, while first year captain Ben Cousins racked up 37 possessions. Full-forward Scott Cummings summed up the feeling for all within the club by crash tackling Rob Wiley as the siren rang out to signal a rare 2001 victory.
9. 1995 Round 21: West Coast 16.8 (104) def by Carlton 15.15 (105)
Probably strange to throw in a loss in the top ten, but one of the great games in one of the Eagles early rivalries ended up being a one point loss to the Blues. West Coast had had an indifferent season in 1995 as they looked to defend their premiership of the year before. Conversely, Carlton who had been bundled out of the finals series in straight sets the year before, were making up for the disappointment by steamrolling all that came before them.
The Blues arrived in Perth with an 18-2 record, and having not lost a game since Round 9. The Eagles had been challenged by coach Mick Malthouse to make a statement in the final month of the home and away season and there the stage was set in the penultimate round between the defending champions and the team hell-bent on taking their crown.
The game was fierce from the outset but West Coast got the early upper hand booting six goals to four in the opening term. Ashley McIntosh was the trump card up forward with Peter Sumich sidelined and Peter Matera was explosive on his wing. The two sides went at it hammer and tong throughout the next two quarters with West Coast holding a slender one point advantage at the final change, courtesy of their accuracy in front of goal.
The two heavyweights continued the battle in the final term but when Guy McKenna inexplicably tried to soccer a bouncing ball out of mid-air, the resultant bounce landed in Dean Rice’s lap to put Carlton 10 points in front. The Eagles though wouldn’t be denied and kept coming, reducing the margin to a point when Peter Matera kicked truly with a minute remaining. The Eagles though would run out of time to find a winner and the Blues held on for a famous win.
Very few games focused on the emotional pull beyond what was happening on the field, but the return of Ben Cousins became one of the great (if only briefly) redemption stories at the club. Two months after claiming the flag in 2006, the full story of Cousins’ struggles were realised when he was ostracised from the club. As his teammates commenced their premiership defence, Cousins was overseas spending time in a drug rehabilitation centre.
Cousins returned to the club midway through the year and after a false start which saw his return delayed by a hamstring injury, the former captain and spiritual leader was reinstated to the AFL field against a regular foe. Starting on the bench, Cousins came onto the field midway through the opening term to the momentous applause of the adoring crowd. Cousins then proceeded to pick up where he had left off gathering 37 disposals in an inspiring effort.
The game also provided the bookend for one of the great rivalries over the previous couple of seasons. The Eagles and Swans played six straight games starting from the 2005 Qualifying Final that were decided by under a goal. The 12 point margin was considered a ‘blowout’. After scores were level between the two sides at half-time, the Eagles stormed away in the third quarter, booting seven goals and opening up a five goal lead at the final change. The Swans closed the game up in the final term but West Coast held on to secure a vital victory.
For Cousins the romantic return would prove to be short-lived. He played all bar one of the remaining games of the season, before tearing his hamstring in the Qualifying Final loss to Port Adelaide. That would be his final game in an Eagles jumper as more off-field issues resulted in his deregistration from the club at the end of 2007.
7. 2000 Round 6: West Coast 28.10 (178) def Fremantle 9.7 (61)
The derbies have proven to be special occasions in each season since the Dockers were admitted to the competition, and in the early stages West Coast were the dominant force as they won the opening nine clashes played between the two sides. However, the Dockers finally broke through when they claimed the derby win for the first time late in 1999.
This loss didn’t sit comfortably for players and fans at the club, and in the opening derby of 2000, the Eagles were hell-bent on making amends. The Eagles demolished their cross-town rivals, inflicting a record 117 point defeat. Scott Cummings kicked 10 goals and Chad Morrison bagged four as West Coast slammed on 17 second half majors.
For Eagles fans still smarting from their perfect record being ruined the year before, it was the perfect tonic to heal those wounds and the thrashing is till cast upon Dockers supporters to this day.
6. 2002 Round 5: West Coast 18.13 (121) v. Brisbane 10.15 (75)
The Eagles found themselves in a transitional phase in 2002 as many of the premiership heroes from the early 1990’s had exited with the next generation ready to take their place. Club icon John Worsfold had been ushered in after two horrid seasons to reinvigorate the club and just five games in, West Coast were able to deliver one of their finest wins.
The Lions arrived in Perth having claimed their first premiership the year before and were on the back of a 20 game winning streak. However the Eagles delivered an insight into the future as Ben Cousins, Daniel Kerr and Chris Judd (in just game four) ran rings around the stellar Brisbane midfield. The trio each kicked two goals with veteran rookie Troy Wilson booting five. Michael Gardiner though was clearly best afield as he tallied 24 disposals, 29 hit-outs and a goal.
With the likes of Peter Matera and Glen Jakovich in the side (Ashely McIntosh was still on the list this season, but missed the game), it served as a real changing of the guard moment in West Coast’s history as they were about to embark on six straight finals appearances which included the 2006 flag.
5. 1995 Round 7: West Coast 23.13 (151) def Fremantle 9.12 (66)
A seminal day in West Australian football, the Eagles and Dockers met for the first ever Western Derby in Round 7 of 1995. With the game also the official unveiling of the new southern stand (of which we were now seated) it remains one of the landmark days. Such was the occasion that even then-Prime Minister Paul Keating
Quipped the Mothers Day Massacre, the Eagles thrashed the newcomers with Brett Heady the star. There was no Ross Glendinning medal in the first Western derby, but had there been, Heady would have easily claimed. The half-forward finished the day with five goals from 19 possessions and 12 marks.
It would be the first of nine consecutive wins for West Coast, with the Eagles keen to make a statement against their newest of rivals. West Coast were physical from the outset, with John Worsfold’s hit on Dale Kickett an indication of the afternoon. The more experienced Eagles were too strong, extending their lead at every change and eventually running out 85 point winners.
4. 2015 Qualifying Final: West Coast 14.12 (96) def Hawthorn 9.10 (64)
Never had a crowd been so electric than the night that West Coast declared themselves premiership favourites. After finishing second at the end of the home-and-away season, the Eagles were drawn to host the two-time reigning premiers in the opening game of the finals series.
The Hawks had been in town only a few weeks before, defeating the Eagles by 14 points after West Coast twice looked like getting away. The Eagles chances of a win and direct entry into a home preliminary final took a further hit when Chris Masten and Matthew Priddis were both late withdrawals.
After a tense opening quarter, where both sides kicked two goals, the Eagles famed zone defence took control. In one of the most memorable quarters in recent memory, West Coast booted five goals to a solitary point to take complete control of the game. The Eagles marched on in the third term booting a further five goals to two, extending their lead with a quarter remaining to 50 points.
The Eagles displayed an aggression and an arrogance that hadn’t been noted for this squad and changed the perspective of many external commentators on their flag hopes that year. Despite finishing second, there was still an air of doubt on whether West Coast could go all the way with many pointing to a favourable draw as one of the reasons for the Eagles high placing.
After overcoming North Melbourne two weeks later to set up a rematch with the Hawks, the final game of the season didn’t go the way that many hoped, but the night that West Coast flipped the premiership race on its head will remain in the memories of many who attended that night.
3. 2006 Round 11: West Coast 16.15 (111) def Carlton 15.11 (101)
The Eagles group of 2006 were an extraordinary group and this was never displayed moreso than in one of the great comebacks in Eagle history. A week earlier, the Eagles had overturned a 54 point deficit against the Cats in little more than a quarter to record a famous three point victory at Kardinia Park.
Entering the game against bottom-placed Carlton (who had won just one game for the year), none in the crowd that day could believe that West Coast would stage such an enormous comeback for a second week in a row!
Led by enigmatic full-forward Brendan Fevola, the Blues stormed out of the blocks stunning the home crowd. Midway through the third quarter, Carlton led by 44 points and one of the upsets of the season appeared to be on the cards. But as they had done the previous week against Geelong, West Coast’s enormous running power took over.
Ben Cousins was the catalyst as West Coast completed a nine goal turnaround in little more than a quarter. The Eagles started by booting three of the final four goals of the third term to reduce the deficit to 29 at the final change. West Coast fans could feel the momentum shifting and the home crowd support lifted a gear in the final term.
West Coast slammed on eight goals to two in the final quarter as West Coast recorded a remarkable victory. Adam Hunter and David Wirrpanda were both swung forward, and with under three minutes remaining Ben Cousins running goal had West Coast two points shy of the lead. The Eagles were surging forward and it seemed only a matter of time before they would be in front. Andrew Embley would land the killer blow when a long ball from Brent Staker ran over the back of a pack for Embley to run into an open goal. Embley would then have his second moments later to record an amazing 10 point victory.
2. 2013 Round 8: West Coast 12.18 (90) def North Melbourne 13.10 (88)
In the only game that West Coast have won after the siren, Nic Naitanui etched himself into Eagles folklore that toppled the Kangaroos. The Eagles had gone into season 2013 as one of the premiership favourites, but after seven rounds things were not panning out as expected. West Coast though were starting to build momentum with two wins on the trot and on a Friday night in Perth were expected to make it three against North Melbourne.
However as injuries mounted during the game, the Kangaroos looked set for an upset win. North Melbourne jumped to a 17 point lead at quarter time and held this advantage for much of the game bar a brief period in the third term when West Coast grabbed the lead.
Midway through the final quarter, North still held a 15 point advantage and it appeared that West Coast were done. However Josh Hill kicked truly on the edge of time-on and then Luke Shuey copped a dubious high tackle that also resulted in a goal. Trailing by four points, the Eagles were throwing everything at a desperate North defence and it appeared that time was running out as the ball was fiercely contested just beyond the 50m arc near the boundary line.
Adam Selwood was the recipient of another questionable high tackle with his long bomb descending on a pack of players 20 metres out from goal. From behind, Naitanui soared the highest clutching the pack mark to the disbelief of most at the ground, none moreso than Kangaroos coach Brad Scott.
The siren sounded as Naitanui began his run-up and after a moment to compose himself, the cult hero calmly slotted the match winning goal to the delight of the home crowd who were now going bonkers. In a game that had looked gone for so many reasons during the night, it had a finish straight out of a Hollywood script.
1. 1994 Round 2: West Coast 14.13 (97) def Adelaide 11.12 (78)
While the number one choice might sound like an after-school special, the first game I ever attended still remains my favourite. Having only been an AFL convert the year before, my love of West Coast had grown in leaps and jumps over the Summer and on a warm Sunday April afternoon at just eight years of age I was able to go see my new heroes in the flesh.
The likes of Sumich, Matera, Mainwaring, Worsfold, Jakovich, McKenna, Kemp, Turley, McIntosh and Lewis who had been idolised on the television for much of the previous year, now graced the turf in front of my own eyes.
The Southern side of the ground was still in construction and the city end grandstand was over a decade away from making an appearance, meaning the crowd was squished together in two thirds of the oval. The waft of cigarettes and beer filled the ground as I sat perched on my dad’s shoulders at the back of the grass hill overlooking the rest of the patrons in the standing area.
The game itself was a frenetic one. Neither team could be split for the first half, although John Worsfold had split Tony Modra in half with a bone-crunching hit as the Adelaide full-forward led for the ball. Modra wouldn’t be seen for the rest of the game, and it proved to be a match winning moment. The Crows talisman had booted 13 the week before against Carlton and with him out of the way the odds were tipped in West Coast’s favour. The physicality of the contest only worked to whet my appetite for football even more!
The Crows though, despite being without their star player, took hold of the game in the third term and leading by 20 points at three-quarter time, it seemed that my first outing to an Eagles game was set to end in defeat.
But with West Coast kicking to the end we were standing in the final term, they finished the stronger, booting seven goals to one to record a 19 point win. There would be several more games attended during the 1994 season, standing on the hill, before becoming fully fledged members the following year.
Catching a ride or catching the train to Subiaco Oval has been a long-standing part of my football life and while the tradition will continue at the new stadium, the timeline of West Coast at Subiaco Oval will remain strong in the memory.