Untold Stories, Southeast Asian Clubs: Darwin Cubs, Australia

Southeast Asia has a rich football history, with some big-name clubs intertwined with some notable, yet lesser-known outfits. In the latest edition of our tour through the region, FourFourTwo touched base with Australia's Darwin Cubs, a club that once pushed for the Singapore Premier League title...

Frank Falzon, one of the main men behind one of Australia’s least known international sporting success stories, makes a good point.

“A lot of people wondered why we were called the Cubs when there were none of those animals where we came from.”

The story behind the name is also part of the meteor-like success and blazing implosion of a team from Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territory that all too briefly, at the end of the last century, was a precursor to Australia’s footballing step into Asia.

DARWIN CUBS

FOUNDED: 1994

HOME STADIUM: Marrarra Oval, Darwin.

CAPACITY: 14,000

COLOURS: White, dark blue socks

BEST ACHIEVEMENT: 1994 Singapore Premier League, second place

One that could well point to the benefits, and warn of the pitfalls, should the ASEAN Super League ever get off the ground. And if Australia is invited or decides to join that project.

But back to the naming of the Cubs…

“We’d arranged a good deal of sponsorship to help get the team off the ground and part of that was a lucrative deal with a brewery, Carlton & United, who happened to have a cub as part of their brand identity,” Falzon explains to FourFourTwo.

“They gave us some shirts with the cub logo on it and when a team came down from Singapore to play some training matches they started calling us that, it stuck and that’s how we became the Darwin Cubs.”

For less than two years, from early 1994 to mid-1995, the Cubs and another Australian outfit known as the Perth Kangaroos were trailblazers for football Down Under as they entered – and dominated – the local league in Singapore.

In the 1994 season the two Australian sides, featuring several current and soon-to-be international stars, blew away their Singaporean opposition, finishing first and second in the league.

So successful was the campaign that they were invited to compete in Malaysia the following season, but declined as they’d already given their word to the FAS that they’d be back – little did they know then just how things would turn out.

Perth finished the ’94 season as undefeated champions, Darwin a spot back after losing only three matches all season – two of them to the Kangaroos.

It was the first time a fully-fledged Australian side had participated in a foreign competition and it didn’t come without its risks and rewards.

Perth Kangaroos in action. They would win the league undefeated

In 1993 the then-Singapore Premier League was stagnating, with Geylang winning six straight titles and interest in the local league severely diminished by the participation of the Singaporean side in the Malaysian league and cup competitions.

It was the first time a fully-fledged Australian side had participated in a foreign competition

With plans afoot to have the best players from that team return to the Premier League, the idea was formed to raise the profile of the competition further by expanding its international reach.  

The link between Singapore and Darwin, as Falzon tells it, came from a long-standing friendship between himself and none other than Fandi Ahmad.

“I was the coach of the Northern Territory team for several years and I’d often travel up to Singapore for work or for holidays with it being so close to Darwin.

“After getting to know Fandi we threw around the idea of trying to get an Australian club side to come and play in Singapore and that’s where the original idea really came from.”

Convincing the FAS and then financing the project were the next hurdles to overcome, but after the governing body was quickly persuaded of the mutual benefits to having the Darwin side playing in their league, they offered the team a place for the 1994 season – with one caveat.

“They wanted us to pay a kind of franchise fee which is something we could never find the money for so instead I came up with another plan,” Falzon recalls.

“I approached Qantas and they agreed to fund all the airfares for teams to fly down from Singapore every second week and a local hotel chipped in with free accommodation for the visiting teams and just like that we were accepted into the league.”

Image from a match day programme

Acting as both general manager and the team’s head coach, Falzon set about recruiting several interstate stars to compliment the core of the local Northern Territory side.

The Cubs’ first match was against Jurong Town on March 26 and the comfortable 4-0 win set the tone for the rest of the season.

Whilst Darwin and Perth were brushing aside their Singaporean opposition with ease, there were some more deleterious whispers doing the rounds concerning attempts to fix matches.

Darwin were not exempt to those advances, as Falzon explains.

“One night shortly after we’d first arrived in Singapore I heard a knock on the door of my hotel,” he recalls.

“I opened it and there were these two women standings there, one looked like Miss World and the other like Miss Universe.

“They came into my room and said they’d like to see if I was interested in an offer where we could help each other and which involved me arranging to have matches ending in a certain score, for 50, for 100 grand.”

The coach rebuffed their advances, but one of his goalkeepers was quickly dismissed from the team after conceding three goals from rather glaring errors in a single half early in the season.