Tuesday, June 26, 2007
The Pioneers, Part 1
I'd heard plenty about the side, of course; in the first edition of Matthew Hall's The Away Game, there were some tender reflections from Adrian Alston and Andre Krueger, the "crazy German" who has followed the Socceroos so passionately over the years, on the tournament. Krueger (whom I had the pleasure of meeting in Germany last year) has a website dedicated to the 1974 Australian team, which constitutes one of the few proper online records of Australia's first foray into the World Cup.
On seeing the games, the characters and characteristics I'd read about so often finally came to vibrant life. The tough tackling and mesmerising "inside-out" long throws of Ray Richards. Branko Buljevic's subtle control and bursts of pace. The dogged industry and modest inventiveness of the two midfield Jims, Messrs. Rooney and Mackay.
The power and nimble footwork of Adrian Alston up front. The vigorous enterprise of the attacking left-back, Col Curran (Australia's player of the tournament, in my opinion). And, last but not least, the bravery and agility of Jack Reilly in goal, who had a World Cup to be proud of.
These days the average Australian fan is likely to identify the 1974 World Cup with Johnny Warren, but the sad truth is that the tournament came at the wrong time for the late SBS analyst and former Socceroo captain. At 31, he was somewhat past his best, and after picking up a knock early in the game against East Germany, he had a minimal influence on proceedings and took no part in Australia's final two matches.
So, how was Australia's standard perceived by the European football media? Over to the venerable Brian Glanville, whose account in his famous History of the World Cup reads:
Australia's team, made up almost entirely of immigrants, well coached by a Yugoslav, Rale Rasic, would prove far the best of the three outsiders.
Australia conceded five goals and scored none in the course of the 1974 event, which might lead one to conclude (especially by comparison with last year's efforts) that their campaign was a failure. But when one considers that the players in the green and gold were all part-timers, with only a smattering of European experience among the migrants, their achievement suddenly appears commendable at the very least.
By way of comparison, the two other tournament "outsiders", Zaire and Haiti, conceded a whopping 28 goals between them in their opening-round encounters (Haiti at least had the consolation of putting a goal past the Italians, who had kept a series of clean sheets prior to the event).
The Australians played fair, too. Although Gerd Muller, the great West German striker, was later to complain about the Australians' rough approach, they played in an excellent spirit in general; in their first match, in particular, they were far more sinned against than sinning in the foul stakes. Ray Richards was sent off in the game against Chile...but there's an interesting tale there, about which more anon.
I had thought of presenting an overall review of the tournament, but there's so much to chew over that I've decided instead to do a match report of sorts on each of the three games. They are all very watchable, and full of incident (even the 0-0 draw against Chile, a far more lively encounter than it has generally been portrayed).
Tune in next time, then, for Australia v. East Germany - our first appearance at the world's greatest sporting event.
Unfortunately I have to let my source remain anonymous for now. Next time you're in Sydney, drop me a line and we'll watch the games together over a cleansing ale.