The international duo, who will spearhead the Spirit's inaugural assault on the country's premier soccer competition, put rich overseas deals to one side in order to plough something back into the game back home. Arnold will be the club's founding player-coach while Slater has been handed the captain's armband. With Spirit introducing a full time approach to the national league, Slater said the decision to come home was based on two things - Arnold and professionalism. `Arnie and I have been good mates at international level for years now and it is a good chance to play together at club level and help out a mate', the powerful midfield playmaker said. `There is no way I would have come home to play part-time, Northern Spirit has developed into a club which has everything the big European clubs have. Training twice a day, the players are well looked after and we have a firm infrastructure. Arnie and Iggy (assistance coach Ian Gray) have put together a very talented squad and everyone is as keen as mustard for the season to start'.
The man known affectionately as `Bulldog', Robbie Slater gained a release from English first division giants Wolverhampton Wanderers to put an end to an illustrious overseas career which included a Premier League winners medal with Blackburn Rovers and stints at Lens (France), Southampton and West Ham. Arnold, too, took a hefty slash in wages to put his energies into a concept he strongly believes in. The former Socceroo striker has put his heart and soul into the cause since returning from Japanese club Sanfreece Hiroshima, where he played under longtime mentor Eddie Thompson.
Following him from the J-League is former England international, Tottenham Hotspurs and Norwich City star Ian Crook. `I'm very excited about the prospects with Northern Spirit', Arnold said. `The officials have done everything right off the field and the playing staff are keen to repay with good results on the field. It was always going to take something like this to got me back home. Like Robbie Slater, I wasn't going to give up the wages you can earn overseas to come home to part-time football and clubs that have gone nowhere since we left the country'.
Arnold has brought back a wealth of experience to pass on to his players after successful stints with Roda JC (Holland), Liege (Belgium), NAC Breda (Holland) and San Freece (Japan) under some of the world's leading coaches and managers. With 58 Socceroo caps under his belt, Arnold is ready to concentrate on boosting the profile of the sport in Australia. Interest in Northern Spirit has already been phenomenal. More than 500 memberships have been sold without even advertising. It is anticipated that a total of 5000 tickets will be sold in the next few weeks leading up to the season opener against Sydney Olympic at North Sydney oval on October 9.
More than 17,000 free tickets are being issued to players aged l6 old under who are registered with the Spirit's three junior associations - Manly-Warringah, Gladesville-Hornsby and Ku-ring-gai as a goodwill gesture. The deal recently struck with English club Crystal Palace was a major coup for Northern Spirit and Australian soccer as a whole. It has opened up amazing opportunities and career paths for youngsters attempting to find their way to the dizzy heights Arnold and Slater have already experienced. And with a host of players in Arnie's first grade squad boasting no national league experience, the message is loud and clear - if you're good enough, you'll get a change. While Arnold, Slater, Crook, former NSL player of the year Kresimir Marusic and widemen Luke Casserly and Troy Cranney offer the experience, the likes of Clayton Zane, Paul Bilokapic, Mark Rudan, Tony Perenich and John Perosh will continue their bids to become household names by the end of the coming summer season.
Then there's Young Socceroos in Michael Cunico, Eddy Bosnar, Paul Wearne and Nicholas Purdue, who has impressed during recent trial games. Arnold has not been afraid to return to the roots of Australian soccer in preparation for the coming season, organising trial matches against not only state league clubs but local premier league outfits as well.
Tickets for 9th October are on sale through Ticketek.
Membership queries through Melissa Down at Northern Spirit FC on 9460 2187.
This article came from the magnificent full colour match program issued by Eastern Suburbs Wanderers on Sunday 20th September, 1998 for the Trial Game v. Northern Spirit which was won by Spirit 0-1. Well done Easts for your enterprise! Thanks to Geoff Coy for passing it on to Get Spirited.