For over 50 years, the Preston Lions Football Club has grown to become one of the most recognised, respected and popular sporting clubs in Australia. Throughout this time, it has left an indelible mark on the Australian football landscape. Currently based in Melbourne’s outer-northern suburbs, the club was originally created as a focal point for the newly immigrated Macedonian community to gather, socialise and provide the Australian-Macedonian youth with the opportunity to learn and play the ‘world game’ that was so popular back in their homeland of Macedonia.
The Makedonia Soccer Club, as it was originally known, became a registered member of the Victorian Soccer Federation in 1959 and began playing in sanctioned competition. However, the club was established as far back as 1946 when members from the local Macedonian community began kicking a soccer ball around near the site of the current day Melbourne Zoo, at Royal Park in Parkville. Who would have thought back then that those tentative steps would lead to the development of a sporting icon in the Australian-Macedonian community that would go on to achieve such success at the highest level of football competition in this country, some 30-40 years later.
This small group of pioneers would continue to play non-official matches against teams from other local communities until 1949, and then re-grouped again in 1957, before gaining acceptance to the Victorian Provisional League in 1959. After moving to a new home ground at Cochrane Reserve in Collier Street, Preston, in 1963, and thus adopting the name of Preston Makedonia, the club moved forward in leaps and bounds to become champions of the Victorian Metropolitan League Division One in 1966, and as a result, was promoted to the state’s top competition, the Victorian State League in 1967. The challenge of competing against Melbourne’s best teams however proved to be too much and Preston subsequently dropped back to the Metropolitan League after just one season, and would have to wait a further seven years before tasting championship success again in 1975 and regaining promotion back to the Victorian State League.
There was no looking back now as the club built further on its success to eventually become Victorian State Champions and winner of the inaugural Victoria Cup in 1980. It was during this significant period of growth when home crowds reached in excess of 8,000 for blockbuster games, that the need for much larger facilities became apparent and the club moved to its current home base at B.T. Connor Reserve in nearby Reservoir.
The Preston Makedonia Social Club located directly opposite the ground was also built around the same time with the financial support and input from members, sponsors and all quarters of the local Macedonian community, and the club’s junior set-up really kicked into high gear helping to nurture and produce the next generation of stars to represent Preston.
The club was then given an opportunity to submit an application to enter the flourishing National Soccer League competition and after satisfying a number of stringent criteria, were promoted to that league in 1981, finally recognising a dream for so many of the club’s hard working members, volunteers, players and supporters.
Preston continued to compete successfully in the NSL for the next 13 seasons, finishing in the top five on five separate occasions and runner-up twice. Some of the other major achievements during that time included reaching the final of all three major competitions in 1985 – the NSL Cup Final, Dockerty Cup Final and the Southern Division Grand Final; taking out the 1991 Gold Cup Night Series; and then finally bringing home the prestigious Dockerty Cup trophy in 1992 in a thrilling penalty shootout against arch rivals South Melbourne, a memory the Preston faithful hold very close to their hearts. However financial constraints and off-field difficulties led to poor performances and in 1993 Preston played their last match in the NSL.
Relegated back to the Victorian Premier League, Preston were again crowned champions of Victoria in 1994, and it was at around this time that the club adopted the moniker “Preston Lions”. Preston would once again become Victorian Premier League champions in 2002 with a memorable Golden Goal extra-time winner against Fawkner in front of a record Grand Final crowd, and then again in 2007 with a 3-1 victory over the Whittlesea Zebras, to add to the club’s impressive trophy collection.
Another major achievement the club can be incredibly proud of is the number of talented players it has produced over the years who have gone on to represent Australia internationally at both senior and youth level including the likes of Peter Ollerton, Gary Cole, Warren Spink, Robbie Dunn, Phil Traianedes, Zarko Odzakov, George Jolevski, Andrew Zinni, Oscar Crino, John Markovski, Kris Trajanovski, Goran Lozanovski, Robert Spasevski, Robert Stojcevski and Vasko Trpcevski. More recently, long-time Preston player Sasa Ognenovski who graduated through the club’s junior ranks, captained his Korean club side to victory in the 2010 Asian Champions League Final and in the process took out the prestigious Asian Football Confederation Player of the Year award. He was also rewarded with a Socceroos call-up where he starred during Australia’s 2011 Asian Cup campaign.
The club has also been fortunate to have had some exceptional coaches over the years such as former Socceroos Peter Ollerton, John Markovski and Goran Lozanovski. Other notable past coaches include former NSL Championship winning coach of the Melbourne Knights Ian Dobson, dual A-League championship winning coach of the Melbourne Victory Ernie Merrick, and the great Andon Doncevski who was one of Macedonia’s greatest ever soccer players and former Macedonian national team coach.
Given such a proud history, it is important to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of many different people involved with the club including past players, coaches, presidents, committee members, life members, club officials, volunteers, members, sponsors and supporters who were fuelled by the passion, loyalty and desire to help build what has today become an icon in the Australian sporting landscape. For without them, the achievements of the club would never have been possible.
It is also appropriate to recognise the significant female contribution at the club, from the wives of committee members who worked tirelessly in the canteens on the weekend and helped organise fund raising events, to today’s on-field exploits of the Preston Women’s team, affectionately nicknamed the “Lionesses”.
Today the club consists of approximately 300 players at senior men’s, women’s and junior level. These teams are supported by a small but dedicated group of young and vibrant people involved in club administration, coaching and volunteering who are keen on learning from the past and building for the future.
The Preston Lions Football Club respects the strong Macedonian cultural influence that has ensured the success of this great club to date, however we also recognise that the club now has a larger role to play in the wider community. We understand that the future of football and our club lies with our children and this is why we are introducing junior development programs to raise community awareness of the Preston Lions Football Club and football in general. We also want to encourage and create a better environment for families, corporate partners, sponsors, members and supporters to attend our games and enjoy the welcoming atmosphere at the club.
We believe that the Preston Lions Football Club must continue to grow for the benefit and enjoyment of the people in our community who have now come to depend on its continued existence.