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The story of the 1973 Socceroos

Wednesday, 13 November 2013 4:35 PM
 

On 13 November 1973, one of the greatest achievements in Australian sporting history took place in Hong Kong.

The event was a FIFA World Cup play-off match between Australia and the Republic of Korea (South Korea).

The prize was a place in the final 16 nations to play at the 1974 FIFA World Cup finals in West Germany.

The all-or-nothing match in Hong Kong was hastily organised after the Socceroos and the Republic of Korea had played two pulsating matches in Sydney on 28 October and Seoul on 11 November.

The Sydney match finished 0-0 with the Aussies desperately holding out the livewire Koreans. When the Socceroos were 0-2 down after 30 minutes in Seoul the World Cup dream was in tatters.

But the Australians fought back to draw 2-2 with crucial goals to Branko Buljevic and Ray Baartz. Under today’s rules, the Socceroos would progress on away goals, but in 1973 the order came from FIFA to play a decider in Hong Kong on two days’ notice.

In front of 28,000 spectators at the Hong Kong National Stadium, the tense battle was locked at 0-0 after 70 minutes when Jimmy Mackay unleashed a thunderbolt from 25 metres that still resonates in Australian football today.

The ball screamed into the net and the Socceroos held on for a famous 1-0 victory. Not only were the Socceroos heading to the FIFA World Cup, they were de facto champions of Asia.

In 11 qualification games, the Australians had overcome the best Asian could offer, including the South Koreans, Iran and Iraq, as well as Trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand.

The triumph has since entered the nation’s folklore. The Australian team was made up of part-time players who had to find time for their football passionate around day jobs, as tradesmen, school teachers, security guards and in one case, a milkman.

They overcome the Koreans, effectively full-timers toughened by years of military training.

The Socceroos were one of the early examples of how migration and multiculturalism were changing Australian society. In the squad in Hong Kong were a mix of home-grown players, migrants from Europe and an indigenous star named Harry Williams.

Harry would become the first indigenous player to represent Australia at a major international football tournament when he played at the 1974 FIFA World Cup in West Germany.

The coach was Yugoslav migrant Rale Rasic, an iron-willed disciplinarian and wily tactician. He was the first football coach in Australia to use a sports psychologist and insisted on a professional dedication from his part-timers.

His key defenders were Peter Wilson, a former coal miner from the north of England and Manfred Schaefer, who migrated from Germany and earned a living in Sydney as a milkman in the days when bottles were hand-delivered in the wee small hours.

The midfield included the stylish Scotsman Mackay, the English hardman Ray Richards, the hard-running Jimmy Rooney and two of the finest players ever produced by Australia; Johnny Warren and John Watkiss.

Up front, talented strikers in Branko Buljevic, Atti Abonyi, Ray Baartz and Adrian Alston, whose clashes with the legendary Franz Beckenbauer in the finals in West Germany who change his life.

The stories of the 1973 Socceroos are an insight to individual commitment and collective spirit. On that November night, they changed the way football in Australia was viewed, domestically and internationally. They also held up a mirror to Australian society and showed everyone the emerging face of the nation.

In 2013, the heroes of 1973 will gather in Sydney to celebrate the 40th anniversary of their achievement.
After a day and night of formal ceremonies, the team will once again board a plane for Hong Kong to commemorate that special night.

Football Federation Australia (FFA) is co-ordinating anniversary celebrations with the Australian Consulate in Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Football Association.


Upcoming Match Details

Socceroos vs Costa Rica
Tuesday 19 November 2013
Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Kick Off: 7.30pm
Gates Open: 6.00pm

The match will be broadcast live and exclusive on FOX SPORTS.

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