Dream Team 2021 - Defenders

In 2021, as part of our 70th anniversary celebrations, a Dream Team of past and current players was voted for.

Here we turn our attention to the stoppers, sweepers and overlapping wingbacks - the DEFENDER nominees for the Athena Dream Team:

 

Con Dikopoulos - 1951-1961
Regarded as a football trailblazer and well ahead of his time, Dikopoulos was the inaugural team captain who led a generation of players in the blue and white before Athena was promoted to the top flight football division in 1960. Con played a key role as centre back in a defence that conceded only 51 goals over three seasons between '57-60, which ultimately catapulted the team from 3rd division to the 1st Division in consecutive years.

Dino Houlis - 1956-1967
After emigrating to Australia, Dino quickly turned into a force to be reckoned with for Athena’s backline for well over a decade. Cementing himself as a steely Centre Back, Houlis was part of Athena’s journey from the lower divisions right through to the club’s promotion to the First Division and won the Fairest and Best accolade along the way. Dino was one of many Houlis brothers who donned the blue and white over the years. During his Athena days, Dino was also presented with a bravery award after rescuing a work colleague who was pinned under a railway carriage at East Perth.

Steve Stacey - 1974-1977
Football is so often called “The World Game” and in Steve Stacey’s case, rightly so. Stacey (pictured above with past Athena players John Sydenham (left) and Alan Ball (centre) was the first Afro-American player to play in English football. His career kicked-off at Bristol City, but it was at Wrexham where he made his mark before joining First Division team Ipswich Town. After spending some stints on loan to Chester and Charlton, he wrapped up his UK football career with Bath City and Exeter City, the latter, also known as “The Grecians”. It proved to be ominous given he came out to play for Athena in March 1974. Stacey was part of the team’s 1975 Top Four Cup and 1977 Championship. He was captain of the Western Australian team, making 15 appearances and held various administrative positions, including being a member of the executive of the Soccer Federation of WA. In 2019 Stacey published his book “The Colour of Football” which documented his sporting and personal life. The cover of the book used was a photo from his Athena days playing at the Lake Monger Velodrome (present day Litis Stadium).

George Doropoulos - 1977-1987
Another Athena junior who broke into the senior ranks at the age of 16, George spent a decade playing for Athena alongside his brother and keeper Paul. George saw the team experience highs and lows, from winning the night series and league double in ’77 to being relegated in the early 1980s and then winning promotion again. He was also part of the squad which won the night series campaign in 1985. George was renowned for his finesse and delicate touch...even though he was a defender. He was later able to apply his football brain and insight to the game by coaching a generation of Athena juniors.

Jeff Curran - 1987-1993
Arguably one of the best players to pull on the Athena strip, Jeff Curran was as reliable and versatile as they come, slotting into the centre-back or sweeper role. He came from a strong pedigree, plying his trade at St Mirren, Stirling Albion, and Arbroath. Winner of the Rothman’s medal twice (1988 and 1989) Curran was Athena captain and represented the state several times. He played a pivotal part in Athena’s glory days which saw the club win the League and Cup double of 1988 and the Cup in 1989. These days Jeff works as a senior police officer in Scotland.

Mickey Cairns - 1984-1989
Another hard and gritty defender who occupied the right back position, Cairns (pictured top left) spent six seasons at Athena picking up the club Fairest and Best in 1985 and finished runner up for the same award in 1986. He was part of the ’85-night series winning team and the ’88 Cup and League double and the ’89 State Cup win. In a period of WA football, which boasted a plethora of internationally credentialed strikers, Mickey quietly went about his business of stifling them of the ball and keeping clean sheets. Mickey now lives in the south-west where until recently spent time, coaching the South-West Phoenix.

Taki Nicolaidis - 1988-1999
Nicolaidis is well regarded as one the club’s favourite sons and owned the right back position in his early days after breaking into the squad as a teenager. With a bullet for a throw in, Nicolaides grabbed the headlines when he scored the opener in the 1988 D’Orsogna Cup final against Bayswater City going on to scoop the Young Player of the Year award in a season where the team picked up the League and Cup double. In 1989 he scored again in another Cup Final against Stirling Macedonia in a year where the team finished Minor Premiers, a feat it repeated in 1990 and 1991. In 1992 Nicolaidis was part of the Western Australian team which beat German giants Werder Bremen 3-2 in a friendly at the WACA. Bremen had only just won the European Cup Winners title a few weeks earlier. Nicolaidis was also part of the undefeated Perth Kangaroos which played in the Singapore League in 1993. Nicolaidis went on to captain the team and tasted success as skipper when Athena took out the night series title in 1997. Later he served as assistant league coach from 2003-2011, playing a critical part in the team’s undefeated league winning season of 2007 and the night series titles of 2008 and 2011.

Sean Lynch - 1988-2000
Another one of Athena’s reliable centre backs, Sean Lynch (pictured right) played during Athena’s halcyon days and provided a rock-solid defence which proved to be key in the season of ’96 when Athena won the treble under former NSL coach of the year, Jim Pyrgolios. Lynch represented Western Australia and was also a key member of the Perth Kangaroos alongside teammate Nicolaidis.

Doug Ithier - 1994-1997 & 2000-2003
Before joining Perth Glory as one of its inaugural players in the 1996/1997 National Soccer League season, Ithier was making headlines in the state competition under the Athena banner. Originally from Bunbury, Doug arrived at Floreat Athena to play first team football at the ripe age of 20. He quickly made a name for himself as a no-nonsense defender with power and athleticism. Ithier was renowned for spectacular long-range goals (including one from the halfway line in the 2001 Night Series Final), specialty free kicks, and bone crunching tackles. He won the fairest and best for Athena in 1996 and made several representations for the state team. His career also took him to Malaysia and China.

Troy Bernard - 1997-2004
Troy Bernard was well regarded as a player’s player. Mentored by coach Jim Pyrgolios in the club’s treble winning season of 1997, Bernard quickly established himself as a solid central defender or central defensive midfielder. He was man of the match in the 1999 Boral Cup Final and was one of the youngest players to captain the state, when at aged 22 he led Western Australia against South Australia. Tragedy struck for the Bernard family in 2004 when Troy died during a workplace accident while working as a Western Power linesman. His number 7 jersey for Athena has since been retired as a tribute to the Bernard family and the club continues to honour his memory by naming the young player of the year award after Troy.

Adrian Sutton - 1999-2006
New Zealand born Sutton (pictured right) arrived in Perth late in the 1999 season at Athena and immediately made an impression. Having already made an international appearance for the All-Whites, Sutton dominated the sweeper/centre back position for several years and is a recipient of Athena’s Fairest and Best award a record five-times. After making his debut for Western Australia against South Australia in 2002 he was also one of two Athena players to make the FootballWA.net All Star Premier League Team. After retiring from football, Sutton spent time coaching Athena’s amateur teams and was also part of the historic Athena Masters team, which won the Perth Ethnic World Cup in 2012- a feat he has often remarked as being one of his greatest sporting triumphs! In 2021 Sutton was appointed Athena assistant league coach, where he has helped the team win the 2021 State Cup.

Ante Kovacevic - 2007-2011
Often mistaken as the Rocky IV character, Ivan Drago (played by Swedish actor Dolph Lundgren) Kovacevic was an established force to be reckoned with by the time he arrived at Athena in 2007. He had retired from professional football, having already made his mark with former NSL champions Melbourne Knights playing alongside Socceroo great Mark Viduka. He went on to captain Adelaide City before heading across the Nullarbor to join Perth Glory in its inaugural years under the A-League banner. Kovacevic played a key role in the defensive line-up bringing his grit and hardened approach (some say he was channelling his inner Ivan Drago!) to help steer the team to an undefeated season in ’07 to pick up the league title along the way. Between 2010 and 2011 he was appointed player coach, picking up the night series title in ’11. In 2020, Kovacevic made a cameo appearance for the blue and whites, serving as interim head coach, guiding the senior NPL team to the night series final.