The OzSoccer Articles

Well it's not really common in Australian Football but here's some....

Forward Thinking

With a total of 89 Australian appearances for 36 goals Attila Abonyi has done it all for his country. From the age of fifteen when he made his first division debut for Melbourne Hungaria Atti was thrilling crowds with his magic touch, speedy runs down the right wings and an uncanny ability to sniff a goal. Credited as the only Australian to come close to scoring in the 74 World Cup finals by hitting the woodwork against East Germany, Atti gave his all for his country in a wonderful career spanning ten years. Transferring from Melbourne Hungaria to St George in 1969 he became an instant hit with the Budapest fans and his understanding with right back Doug Utjesenovic was a feature of a great side. Indeed Atti was a great player in a great side and it's for his eight wonderful years as a player at St George that he is probably best remembered. After three world cup campaigns and three championship medals with St George Atti's career has been outstanding achievement and one that few if any could ever hope to equal. A trip to the 1974 World Cup Finals in Germany was a fitting reward for one who never failed to give the green and gold strip 100% every time he wore it.

Atti has left the hustle and bustle of soccer life in the city of Sydney for the easygoing lifestyle of a beachside retreat on the north coast of New South Wales but he still hasn't lost his enthusiasm and love for the game of soccer. He remembers his days at the top of Australian soccer as if it were yesterday with an overflowing passion that can't help but grab you. In a recent interview Atti was generous enough to share his time and thoughts on his wonderful career with a sincere honesty that leaves no doubt that he is one of the true champions of Australian soccer.

GS : Members of the 1974 World Cup side made a lap of honour of the MCG at the final World Cup qualifier against Iran. In front of 85,000 how did that feel?

AA : "It was an enormous buzz. I'd never imagined it to be so great. Just to come out and see 90,000 people acknowledging what we achieved. And of course that was the first time since '74 so 24 years had gone by without much notice and then all of a sudden this recognition was a tremendous buzz."

GS : Do you feel it's a bit ordinary that every four years the Australian media all of a sudden get interested in the 1974 team and bring you together but between times they forget about you all a bit?

AA : "This was the first time in twenty four years that they've actually brought us together. It's an unfortunate thing I suppose but as far as I am concerned this was one of the best weekends of my life. To be able to see these guys again was tremendous on behalf of the Australian Soccer Federation. It was more than appreciated. But like you said I wish it was more often, but that's the way it goes."

GS : "You have got a Soccer Australia gold pass?"

AA : "No I haven't. No."

GS : "You know that you are entitled to one."

AA : "I believe so. I hear all these stories but I never actually see any of it. We did get about ten years ago was a plaque which means that if you, say for arguments sake twenty five internationals for Australia you got a bronze plaque, if you played fifty internationals, up to fifty you in other words you got a silver plaque, and if you played fifty or plus internationals you got a gold plaque. Thats the only thing we were given about ten years ago."

GS : "A little recognition for the many years of service to the Socceroos."

AA : "We were promised a gold medal after the '74 world cup and that was twenty four years ago and we're still waiting for it."

GS : You were born in Hungary.

AA : "Thats right, yes"

GS : And you came to Australia as a ten year old.

AA : "Ten and a half in '56. We left Hungary after the revolution."

GS : Did you play much in Hungary as a kid?

AA : "No I couldn't because back in the 50's you couldn't play junior football competitively until the age of twelve. You had to be twelve to be able to play competitive football, now all the football you learnt was played in parks and schools or wherever, but you could not actually play for a club like here. I started playing at the age of eleven for a little club called St. Kilda in the under 12's. I was eleven but it was the under twelve group and I was there for two, two and a half years. And from there I moved to a club called Melbourne which was a Hungarian club based in Melbourne and it was called Melbourne Hungaria. And I went there at the age of fourteen and there I played in the under sixteens. Next year I was fifteen and I started playing in the under eighteens and a month before my sixteenth birthday which was July of 1962, I made first grade for the same club of course, the senior side. That was in '62."

GS : And right through your early years you were always a forward.

AA : "Always, yeah. I hated defending (laughing). I love scoring goals."

GS : Sounds like a lot of forwards I know.

AA : "Yeah all my life I had to be around near the goalmouth, just of those things you grow up with as a kid. Scoring goals has always (been) my number one aim if you like. To be honest with you looking back on it now, I don't know how a guy can go twenty or thirty years playing as say a right fullback or left fullback. Oh gees not my cup of tea (laughing). Always as a right winger or inside forward."

GS : Do remember much about your debut in first grade with Melbourne Hungaria.

AA : "Yes I certainly do. It was July, I can't remember the actual date, but it was July of '62 at the showgrounds in Melbourne against George Cross."

GS : Did you score that day?

AA : "Nah we drew 1-1. I was petrified. I wasn't even sixteen and I played against one of the best fullbacks at that stage in Australia called Freddie Falzon. Fred Falzon played for Victoria a number of times and I even think he played for Malta at full international level. He was one of my idols."

GS : Did you maintain regular first team selection at that stage.

AA : "Yeah from then on I played first grade right through."

GS : You didn't make you Socceroo debut until 1967. Did you play many representative matches for Victoria leading up to that?

AA : "Oh yeah, '63 was the first one."

GS : You would have only been sixteen.

AA : "Nearly seventeen, put it that way. The first one I played was in Adelaide against South Australia. And in '64 (it) was my first time ever against an Italian club called Roma. That was in '64, Roma in Melbourne. And probably in the same year in '64, a Russian team by the name of Torpedo. They came out and I played in that too. And from then on it just went on."

GS : And were you scoring goals regularly at that stage to make rep selection easier.

AA : "Well you know, you're a striker and that's what you're in there for. If you are not scoring you're not playing. But yeah basically that was my introduction into representative football through playing for Victoria and then gradually as you said I was lucky enough to get selected against Scotland."

GS : You remember that match.

AA : "Yep, well there was three games. The first was in Sydney, the second was in Adelaide and the third was in Melbourne. Now the first two games I didn't even get on the bench. There was a squad of twenty two players playing three tests against Scotland and I was selected to play in the final game in Melbourne. Which I s'pose the fact that I was still living in Melbourne at the time, psychologically was a great boost because it was in front of my home crowd if you like. So I am sure that was purposely done if you know what I mean."

GS : You started in that match.

AA : "Yep. Right from from the word go. We had a guy called Joe Venglos who was the coach at the time and I am pretty sure that had a lot to do with the me being from Melbourne, and I was fairly young and (my) hometown there wouldn't be a lot of nerves there, so it was great. Good introduction put it that way."

GS : You would have played against Alex Ferguson in that game.

AA : "Yes I sure did."

GS : Do you remember much about him in that game.

AA : "I was a bit over excited about the whole event. Lining up for the first time in the green and gold, hearing the national anthem and all that just overtakes everything. You know I didn't even know if my parents were in the stand or not. I mean they were but emotionally it was tremendous. Again playing with guys that you sort of looked up to, people like Johnny Warren, Johnny Watkiss, Pat Hughes they were playing and here I was lining up next to these guys, something phenomenal."

GS : And Melbourne Hungaria won the Australia Cup that year too.

AA : "Yes that's right."

GS : You beat APIA in the final.

AA : "Yep 4-3. Geez you know more than I do (laughing)."

[Please excuse Greg leaving this in - Ed]

GS : I just did a bit of background.

AA : "Yeah we beat APIA 4-3."

GS : Was Joe Marston in the APIA side that day?

AA : "No, Joe had finished by then. I could not put my finger on what year he actually packed up playing for APIA, but he definitely wasn't in then."

GS : Whenever you talk about the APIA side in the sixties they all talk about Joe Marston.

AA : "Well that might have been early sixties. '61, '62 or whatever. There were guys (in APIA then) like Pat Hughes, Botallicco, Stan Ackerley, Cliffy Van Blerk, Giacometti there was an Argentinian guy Campagna, just basically those guys, but I mean what a team. And to beat them 4-3 was just great."

GS : You must have had some very handy teamates at Hungaria.

AA : "Well to be honest it was one of those years at Melbourne where this club I played for, Melbourne Hungaria of course, it was a fairly small club in comparison to clubs like say South Melbourne Hellas or Croatia or Juventus but we just had one of those years where everything clicked at the same time by winning the Victorian state league and the Australia Cup in the same year was unexpected. It wasn't a brilliant side let me tell you I'll be quite honest, but everything went right for us in that particular year. Like in the year before we finished fourth, but in the years before that we never ever made fourth. From the time I can remember from the early sixties that club has never played in the semi-finals or four or whatever. We always finished eighth, ninth, tenth, seventh, whatever, but it was one of those years where it all clicked. It was tremendous. We had a good team but I'll be quite honest and you have to be honest about this kind of thing that I thought there were better teams around in that particular year but we just happened to have a good year and we won it."

GS : There were no standout players in that side. Like a Johnny Warren or a Watkiss?

AA : "No there was absolutely no one. Nobody had really even played for Victoria in those days in that particular club except myself and a guy called Henry Surma. He was a goalkeeper at that stage. He was also one of these juniors that came through the ranks and he was tremendous. I mean I am not knocking it, a couple of decent players Colin Myers and Frank Stoffels, just to mention a few names. Alistair Scott who of course went onto play for Victoria after that period for quite a number of years."

GS : So basically it was a team of no name players.

AA : "Yeah yeah"

GS : A good hardworking team

AA : "Yeah A good hardworking team. Because the year after we finished bloody eighth again (laughing) after winning everything in '67 we nearly got relegated. But it was a great club. A great club for young kids. They did bring on a lot of juniors over the years and they were always a club who were prepared to gamble with their juniors. Instead of buying which I can't remember them buying more than ten players in ten years whatever when I was there from as a kid. They were always bringing on young lads. It was a good nursery if you like."

GS : At the end of 1967 you went on the Asian tour in the Socceroos squad.

AA : "Yeah we went to Vietnam."

GS : How did you find that trip considering Vietnam was in the middle of civil war.

AA : "Well it was, you're right it was smack bang in the middle of it. When you look back now we often talk about it, even now with Johnny Warren and guys like that. We just can't believe that it actually took place. We went in October of '67 and the tour was organised months and months before then but because of the war everybody thought it would be called off. I mean how crazy. We heard bombs go off in the background and things like that. I mean here we are in the middle of Saigon playing in a ten nation tournament. Just looking back on it it's so strange."

GS : They would never even think of doing that these days.

AA : "No As I said I can't even now think why on earth did they ever go ahead with it. As look as far as we were concerned we never came near any dangerous situations yet we knew that the war was smack bang in the middle."

GS : So it must have been extremely difficult to concentrate on the football.

AA : "Well again, you must remember that this particular team was a brand new team. I mean after the games against North Korea in the '66 qualifiers eighty percent of that particular team dropped out completely. Now this new team of '67, the average age was around 21. So basically it was a brand new team (with) guys like Billy Vojtek, Tommy McColl, Alan Westwater and myself, apart from Johnny Warren, Johnny Watkiss, Ray Baartz in fact nobody really played for Australia before then."

GS : Was Manfred Schaefer around then.

AA : "Yeah but Manfred again it was his first time for Australia. In fact eighty percent of the team was the first time for Australia so they could have dropped a bloody bomb right next to the hotel and it wouldn't have bothered us. Because that was the first time for Australia, you know what I mean Thats why we weren't too concerned about anything else but to play those games and try and do our very best. Which we did and we won ten out of ten games and you can't ask for more than that."

GS : It would have been an interesting introduction to the Socceroos.

AA : "Yeah and that team virtually stayed together right up to the seventies."

GS : You also went on the 1970 Asian tour which included Vietnam. Was that the same experience with bombs going off, etc.

AA : "Oh no, it was nowhere as bad. But you know it was still Vietnam and somewhere that you didn't feel very comfortable in. I mean as I said we were there to play football and nothing else. I suppose you never thought about those kind of things but now looking back on it you say christ how crazy."

GS : On those sorts of tours what was the training regime on tour like. Was it pretty casual or all very serious.

AA : "Well you're now talking thirty years ago and the facilities were absolutely terrible. I mean we had training grounds in Vietnam for arguments sake that now you wouldn't even send a bunch of schoolkids onto train. It was just absolutely pathetic. But again, to play for Australia we would have trained anywhere regardless and we did. I mean we trained on top of a building for example in Vietnam. There was no training facility and we stayed at a place called the golden building which was the name of the hotel we stayed in. It was probably a twenty story building or whatever, ten story building whatever. A great big roof on top and that's where we trained a couple of times because they just could not provide us with a proper training ground."

GS : Who was the Australian coach at the time.

AA : "Uncle Joe Vlasits. He had the team from '67 right up to the end of '69 and Rale Rasic took over in 1970 up till the end of '74."

GS : At the end of the end of 1969 you dropped out a bit from the Socceroos side due to business commitments.

AA : "Well it's a bit of a long story, but I moved to Sydney in '69 and my first child was born in May of '69 and I was just settling into Sydney, new job, etc. And they went away on this particular trip in 1970 and I think they went away for something like six weeks. At this stage I had already had so much time off from work and so forth. I mean back in those days everybody had a fulltime job and virtually part time soccer players, so you couldn't really have so much time off. As I said my son was born, first year in Sydney so a lot of personal things happened and come together all in one hit. And therefore I thought, as much as I would have loved to, but at that stage due to different circumstances I thought it's best that I didn't and I had to say no. One of those unfortunate things."

GS : But you were back shortly after.

AA : "Oh yeah it was never meant to be a retirement. I explained to Rale at the time that with my first child, the business, settling into Sydney because it was a hell of a move for me as you can appreciate I was still only young. I was only twenty two and I made a move from Melbourne to Sydney, and geez it was like living in a different world. I was finding my feet, new job and new this and so there was a lot of things I had to attend to, so that was it."

GS : So how did your move to St George Budapest come about?

AA : "Well it was straight forward. In '67 when I got into this final squad to go to Vietnam we assembled in Sydney and I happpened to have Johnny Warren as my room mate. And he of course was captain of St George at that particular time and within a very short time we became very friendly and one thing led to another and I just mentioned to him one day that I'd love to make a move to Sydney and try my luck at St George. As a kid I used to follow St George and it was such a great club. And the next minute I knew I was talking to the St George committee. But I was still of course contracted to Melbourne. Actually I was going to go virtually straight after the '67 tour when we came back from Vietnam but the club in Melbourne wouldn't release me, they wouldn't give me a clearance because again we won the championship, we won the Australia Cup and they wanted to hold the team together. So they really put the brakes on it for a year. They said you're not going anywhere and then finally at the end of '68 I just made it quite clear that look my ambition is still to play in Sydney to play for St George and you just got to let me go or I don't know what. And they did so that's basically how that move came about. It was an ambition that I had and to be honest with you I was only going to go for two years to see what it was like to play. Look everyones ambition back in those days was to play in Sydney because the standard was much higher than what it was in Melbourne and I thought I'd try for two years and it turned out to be twenty years. It was such a great club it was just unbelievable."

GS : St George assembled one of the best club sides ever.

AA : "Actually we were talking about it down there in Melbourne. We had six or seven boys from St George at the reunion so there was always members who were Australian representatives. I mean people like Manfred Schaefer, Johnny Warren, Jimmy Fraser, Harry Williams, myself, Adrian Alston, Bobby Hogg , so we always had quite a few internationals."

GS : And I also hear that at some Australian games at the Sydney Sportsground the crowd would chant St George.

AA : "Yeah one in particular I'll never forget we played against a team (which included) Yashin, the great Lev Yashin who played for Russia for so many years and probably regarded as the best goalkeeper ever. Dynamo Moscow came out here I think it was in 1969, in fact my first year in Sydney and Frank Aroks first year in Sydney as well, and he had the New South Wales team and we had nine St George players playing that night. The two exceptions were Ray Baartz and John Watkiss and that was a case of come on St George (laughing) not New South Wales."

GS : How did you find Frank Arok as a coach?

AA : " Brilliant".

GS : People often say he was a few years before his time in that early period in Australia.

AA : "He was. And you must remember that he was only thirty six when he came out here in '69. He was full of aggression, a lot of ambition, he had a lot of European experiance behind him even though he was only young and he brought a breath of fresh air to Australian soccer. And he was by far the best ever put it this way. I mean he has had his knocks and I know a lot of people don't like him, but players who have played under him and know him I'm sure they will have the same opinion. He was absolutely marvellous. Plus he had a good team and if you got the right team too it makes it a lot easier. I mean Frank Arok is now at the Falcons down at Morwell. And he is not doing all that well in his second year. Now whether it's because he hasn't got the players or not but basically I must say he was absolutely brilliant. But Frank was Frank. He was a total professional and he wanted the best. The time that he had St George we always won something."

GS : You also played under Mike Johnson at St George.

AA : "Yes he was there in '73 and half of '74."

GS : How did you find him as a coach.

AA : "Well he was an entirely different person, different perosnalities. When you talk about a coach you're also talking about his personality, his temperament, his knowledge, his background, his whatever and Frank Arok and Mike Johnson had two different personalities, so he was an entirely different person. He didn't have the experiance. I mean Mike Johnson had clubs, I am not knocking it but he had clubs like Sutherland in the second division whereas Frank Arok had european first division experiance behind him so it's very hard to compare it.

GS : The 1973 World Cup campaign how did you find that. You struggled a little bit to gain a regular starting spot.

AA : "Well I did but that's something I really can't answer.

GS : Was it your form.

AA : "No I don't think so. You've got to respect that Rale was the coach and he picks the team and it's entirely up to him. If he doesn;t pick you, of course you don't like it but theres nothing you can do about it. Like you said I wasn't a regular, I came on or came off in nearly all the games but I wasn't a regular. Now whether he saw there was something wrong or he preferred somebody else I just had to accept it and get on with it."

GS : Did it bother you too much

AA : "Well of course it did. Lets face it no player likes to be taken off and no player likes to be left out of a team I don't care what level you play at. If you are dropped whether it's cricket or anything else if you're not selected you don't like it but what can you do. Of course I was devestated thinking back to those days and I know looking back at it I can say whatever I like but I know I was absolutely devestated lots of times. I felt that I should have been playing but again everybody has that opinion of themselves and to be honest with you when you're not playing you always think you're the one who should be playing. Why did he drop me, somebody else is not doing what I think I can do and so it's always the same vicious circle, but of course I was devestated but what can you do."

GS : By the end of the '73 qualifying series you had managed to hold down a regular starting spot.

AA :"I came back fully for the game against Indonesia. I think it was six nil and I scored two goals and I had a fairly good game. The only way to answer Rale is to sort of prove him wrong. As a professional, well semi professional player that was the only way to deal with that to come back and hold your spot. It was a brilliant team and it wasn't easy getting into the team as a permanent player. You weren't always guaranteed a place in the team. It was a very very good squad."

GS : But you were in the team for the final three qualifiers against Korea that got us to the world cup.

AA : "Yes and two against Iran."

GS : Now where we you when Jimmy Mackay put the goal away that got us to the world cup finals. I guess you remember it fairly well.

AA : "I'll never forget that goal. There it comes, boom thirty yards. He just whacked the ball and it ended in the top corner."

GS : The best goal in Australias rich soccer history.

AA : "Its funny because I played with Jimmy for a number of years and as much as I admire him I never ever remember him scoring a goal, not even in training sessions. I don't even remember Jimmy or Manfred Schaefer ever scoring a goal during hundreds and hundreds of practise sessions (laughing)".

GS : Was it a dead ball situation.

AA : "No actually I think it was a free kick that Jimmy Rooney played to him and he just hit first time. He got a pass from Jim Rooney he virtually caught it on the half drop volley."

GS : I bet the celebration would have memorable that night.

AA : "Oh you've got no idea. You can't describe it. I mean to know that you actually made it to the world cup and we went through hell as you can appreciate, again you got all the records. The number of games in the number of countries that we had to go through and to play the best in Asia. I mean we had to play THE best, not the fourth, or not the third, not the second but we had to play everybody. Japan, Korea, Iran we had to finish on top to qualify. Now I'm not knocking the present team but they had to finish fourth to get into France. In comparison they virtually had to finish fourth to qualify. Wheras we had to finish first so again it was extremely hard and I often think I honestly don't know how we made it. Remember all these guys are now full-time professionals. There is not one player in the Australian team playing now who is a part timer. A lot of people don't even talk about or mention that we all had jobs. I mean Manfred Schaefer was a milkman, Peter Wilson was working in a coalmine, I worked as a painter everybody had a fulltime job and we just played soccer purely on a part time basis. So we were the first and only virtually part time team who ever made it to a world cup final where there was only sixteen teams not thirty two or twenty four".

GS : Going into '74. You were a part of the Uruguay series.

AA : "Yes two games. One in Melbourne nil nil and two nil in Sydney.

GS : That was the first time the world really stood up and took notice that the Socceroos were a world class team.

AA : "Australia had a couple of decent results against visiting overseas teams but that was possibly one of the biggest (results) up to that point when we beat Uruguay in Sydney 2-0. If I remember rightly there was probably two other scores that stand out in my mind, that was beating Greece in '69 while that was the first time that we beat a European side and then in '70 beating Greece in Greece 3-1. So there were two but the of course there was Uruguay because they had won the world cup twice. That was something special."

GS : You remember the infamous Ray Baartz incident, when he was karate chopped by a Uruguayan player.

AA : "Oh yeah very much so. I was taking a corner kick at the time and that's when it happened. I went to take a corner from the right wing and Baartzy like evrybody else was in the box waiting for the corner to be taken and the guy just karate chopped him from behind. I didn't end up taking the corner kick because everything just stopped Baartzy went down and the game was held up for I don't know five, seven, eight minutes I don't know. Oh geez I remember like it was yesterday."

GS : Did the Australian players step in and start anything at that stage.

AA : "Well to be quite fair I really didn't see it because I had back to it going out to take a corner kick and next minute I heard the roar of the crowd and I thought what the hell is going on. And as I turned around I believe Baartzy was hit and he was on the ground and of course a few players that were nearby saw the whole incident and they all rushed in and there was a bit of a scuffle but it's up to the referee."

GS : Its hard to imagine something so blatant as that happening on a football field during an international friendly.

AA : "Yeah exactly. Baartzy went home and apparantly at two in the morning he was totally paralysed. He was rushed to hospital and everybody thought well actually we were convinced and he was too there on he'll be paralysed for life."

GS : That incident must have affected the Australian camp as Ray Baartz was one of the regular starters in the Socceroos side.

AA : "Well not only that he was one of the better players but he was one of the oldest players not in terms of age but he was with the team right from the word go like most of us. It was a tremendous blow to the team."

GS : The side then left Australia for Germany via Switzerland.

AA : "Yes three games in Switzerland. Well first of all we played on the way in places like Jakarta and Hong Kong and we ended up in Tel Aviv Israel for ten days training camp. We played against Israel but it was mainly used as a training camp. Our preperation for the world cup we played against Israel I think was only the one full international and from there we went to Switzerland again for another ten days to two weeks as part of our buildup. We played three games in Switzerland all against first division clubs Young Boys, Neuchatel and a third team, three (Swiss first division) club sides. Note : The 3rd team was St Gallen - Ed And from there we went onto Germany."

GS : It must have been a bit exciting for a team of part timers from downunder.

AA : "Yeah it was one of those teams that probably only comes along once in a blue moon that (has) not only good players but our friendship was just tremendous it was just like a family. And of course our confidence was growing too."

GS : Was Rale Rasic playing a reasonably attacking game or more a defensive game at that stage.

AA : "I think he was a bit cautious and I can understand that. In the next couple of weeks you'd be facing teams like East Germany, West Germany and Chile. I mean to ever think that Australia would play against West Germany, the best team in the world (with) Beckenbauer and Mueller. So he had to be cautious. In that particular tournament Haiti I think made it in the '74 World cup, Haiti and another team Zaire from the south of Africa they were copping eight and nine nils. It sounds silly but to lose only three nil against West Germany again would have to go down as one of the greatest results ever."

GS : And nil nil against Chile was a good result too.

AA : "Yeah that's right. I mean alright we didn't score in three games but we got a point which I suppose is something and we played against three extremely bloody good teams. I mean when you think East Germany were the only team to beat West Germany in the tournament one nil so you actually played against the world champions and you played against the team who beat the world champions. Great results.

GS : What happened after the World Cup?

AA : "I called it quits.From '67 right up to '74 you're looking at nealry eight years non stop and the family is starting to grow so I personally thought that maybe this is the ultimate. You've been to the world cup I mean another four years who knows what. Brian Green came out from England (to be Socceroo coach) and saw me at a game at Wentworth Park between St George at Hakoah. I'll never forget that and I had a reasonably good game and he in fact approached me and said we've got two games coming up against New Zealand later that month would I be available. Anyway we sat down and talked about it what my chances are what my possibilities are and why he wanted me back he said he was keen and by this time I suppose I was getting itchy feet again and I really wanted to play. So he convinced me that I should make a comeback and in fact I did in the second game. I didn't go to Auckland which was the first game that they played but I played the second game in Melbourne which was the return (leg) against New Zealand. So that was my first game back and we won 3-1."

GS : And you were included in the world tour.

AA : " No then Brian Green got the bullet after that and Jimmy Shoulder came along. Shoulder was only very very young chap at the time. I think he was only twenty nine (or) thirty. And by this time people like Jimmy Rooney, myself, Peter Wilson were two or three years older than Jimmy Shoulder, and up to that point Jimmy Shoulder had never had a club side. He was working at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra. Through Eric Worthington the director of coaching for the Australian Soccer Federation he actually got Jimmy the job and that's how Jimmy Shoulder came along. And that either in very late in '75 or early '76. Thats when we went on the world tour in '76 We went to England with Jimmy Shoulder.

GS : What was that tour like to be on.

AA : "Well every trip was brilliant lets face it and up to that point I'd never played in England before and we played two games in England. We went to Israel we went to all the Asian countries so it was memorable."

GS : You'd never had any desire to go and try your luck in England up to that point.

AA : "Well back in those days it was unheard of. I think Ray Baartz was the only one who went to Manchester United as a young boy he had couple of years trial there. Johnny Warren went to a team called Stockport who were in the third division in England but it was just unheard of not like nowadays. In fact nobody really played apart from Joe Marston who was before our days. Apparantly he went overseas and he played and even played in the F.A. Cup. But he was the only one it was just unheard of. Of course as much as you wanted to no other (overseas) club never even considered looking at an Australian player. We were a laughing stock we have to be honest about this. These (current) guys have got the under sixteens, the young socceroos the olympic team. I had the oppurtunity back in '75 when Man United came out here. Tommy Dockerty invited to me to play for United as a guest player against Queensland. But I was already twenty eight by that time and he said as much as I'd like to sign you and he wanted to but he said you're too old. You're twenty eight were not going to sign a twenty eight year old guy.

GS : Do you regret that at all.

AA : "Of course you do. From the day I was born I was a Man United supporter and for him to invite me to play for United against Queensland in Brisbane was the only time an Australian player has been appeared as a guest player for a team like Man United or any overseas team. So that was personally probably my greatest achievement on the personal side. We were talking about '74 but that was as a squad but on a personal level that would be my greatest memory."

GS : And that was in........

AA : "In '75. They came out here to play. I think they played about six games, played three against Australia and they played the usual Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland and so forth. I think they played four or five interstate games as well."

GS : Did you get to keep the jumper and the gear after the game.

AA : "Oh yeah. He gave me the whole kit which was again tremendous which was a tremendous gesture. Socks and shirts and badges and bags. I mean they gave me everything and really treated me nicely. Great memory."

GS : You've kept a lot of stuff.

AA : "Well that's one thing I have kept over the years but by the same token I have given a lot away. I mean I've got my very very first shirt and I've got a couple of jerseys from the '74 world cup. I've got the ones we swapped against Germany, I've still got a few of those shirts.

GS : You were a part of the infamous "mudbath" 1970 grand final against Yugal.

AA : "Yep 4-0."

GS : Leo Baumgartner coached Yugal. It was one of greatest coaching triumphs

AA : "Yeah and the week before we beat them 4-0 to knock Hakoah out of the grand final. We deliberately played Hakoah out of the grand final because we were winning 4-0 after twenty minutes and Frank Arok who was coaching St George at the time virtually told us not to score any more goals. Because had ad we scored one more it would have put Hakoah back into the grand final and Hakoah for some reason we could never beat. So by keeping it down to four which meant that we played Yugal into the grand final on goal difference and they bloody beat us 4-0 would you believe (laughing). Talk about rain that game should never have been played."

GS : Tony Boskovic was the referee and everyone except him thought it should have been called off.

AA : "I've got pictures of it. I've still got black and white still shots of that game and all you could see is water. You could not kick the ball five yards. You had to lift the ball."

GS : The St George supporters who went out that day say it was one of the worst days in their life to see the side get beaten under those circumstances.

AA : "One of the stories going around was apparantly Tony Boskovic was flying out the next day. He'd been invited to referee a few games in Asia, in some Asian tournament. So he thought if the game was called off on Sunday the game would have to be either replayed on a Wednesday or the following Sunday and he would have been in Asia and he wanted to referee the grand final. Whether it was true or not I don't know but there you go."

GS : Do you remember your last game for the Socceroos.

AA : "Yes I certainly do. Do I ever. Against Iran in Tehran. In the '77 qualifiers. I knew that was it. By this time I am like thirty one, I was born in '46 and this was '77 so yeah I was thirty one. I knew this was the end of the road for me (as a Socceroo)."

GS : You were still playing club football?

AA : "Oh yeah I was playing for Sydney Croatia at the time. I left St George and went there in '77 '78 and '79 three years."

GS : It must have been hard leaving St George after all those years.

AA : "Very hard. It was just a personal thing. My contract was up in '76 and that was the last year of the original state league. The national league was starting up in '77. Manfred Schaefer was the coach at the time at St George and I went into see him about my contract. I couldn't come to an agreement. It was basically as simple as that after eight years, eight wonderful years. You know that's the highlight of my soccer life, I had a brilliant eight years at St George. Unfortunately I was thirty one at the time and I had to think about myself for a change, my family was growing up plus national league was starting up. It was more demanding, more travelling, more this, more that but as far as Manfred could see there was no more money for me. We couldn't come to terms and Croatia came along and offered me more money and so I went to Croatia."

GS : And how did you find your time at Croatia.

AA : "Brilliant. Unfortunately we were in state league, Croatia at that stage didn't go into the NSL but it was tremendous. Crowds, we used to average 8 to 10,000 people in 77' 78'. I was there for three years '77 78' and '79. In the three years that I was there we won the minor premiership, we won one grand final, we lost another one and we bombed out in the third one. So we had a very good three years and financially it was very good. Well financially back in those days you were looking at $5,000 being good money. I mean these guys are earning hundreds of thousands now, but who cares about money. We never played for money always for the love of it. I can just imagine these guys coming back from England earning two hundred thousand or half a million, I mean I wish I was born twenty years younger."

GS : So you weren't paid a great deal for the Socceroos.

AA : "We got five (thousand) for the whole World Cup in '74. Thats all the games all the qualifiers which in total was about thirteen games plus the World Cup included. Five thousand for the whole lot minus tax so we ended up getting about four."

GS : But they supplied all your gear for that.

AA : "Oh yeah adidas did. Adidas was like a Nike - by far the biggest sporting company plus the fact that it was in Germany they sponsored nearly all the teams. Everything was provided by adidas of course not by anybody else (and not by) the australian federation or anybody. Adidas purely sponsored ninety percent of the teams in the '74 world cup."

GS : So you got five grand and a lot of memories.

AA : "Yeah well more memories. Like Johnny Warren's christmas card this year said a lot of memories but no money (laughing). Him and I keep in touch and we always have a good laugh about it and good old chats about times but those were his exact words. A lot of memories but no money (laughing)."

GS : I've been a bit of surprised that out that '74 team Johnny Warren has been the only real high profile player to go onto a long term career in the media. You see guys like Ray Richards and Adrian Alston on television only occasionally and the others like yourself we don't hear much about you.

AA : "Well I used to do quite a few on SBS, same thing with Les Murray. Well I moved here in '89, so for the '86 world cup I did quite a bit there with Johnny Warren and Les Murray. A few guys occassionally like now call in for bits and pieces but just like Adrian Alston. You might see him round about World Cup time or something important as this game was (against Iran) but now you won't see him on tele for another three or four years. Its just the way it works so that's the pattern."

GS : It doesn't bother you too much.

AA : "Well not anymore."

GS : I thought that being Australias greatest ever soccer team that there would be more of a profile for all twenty two of you.

AA : I know what you're getting at but unfortunately it never worked that way. You're right because even the ASF to my knowledge has never offered a particular position to a player. I mean would you like to be involved in the New South Wales or Australian soccer federation as a representative or a secretary or a PR man."

GS : Or even an ambassador.

AA : "Nope nothing what so ever."

GS : Its a tragedy because I personally feel that your talents as individuals and as a team haven't been utlilised.

AA : "And to be honest with you they have killed a lot of people that way. I now, having been in Coffs for nine years and you might not be able to tell, have lost a hell of a lot of interest for the game. I mean it will always be with me the memories and all but soccer to me now is soccer, it's past it's gone but it's not something that I live for like I used to. I could talk to you for forty minutes on this topic why there is so much politics in the game and what I've seen and what I've heard I have just had enough. But there is a lot of politics in the game unfortunately that spoils the game right from junior level up to senior level."

GS : Are you talking about the ethnic side of the game.

AA : "Well that might come into it too. And of course theres a lot of bickering and in my opinion the game never took the right direction. There was too many politics involved in the game. I mean back in '74 they said right from now on soccer is going to kick on and it just died. It just died for the next ten years till something else came along. We had a lot of interest shown and a lot of publicity for the first time, good coverage and certain people, I am not going to name names but certain people let it all fade away again with politics and bickering. Somebody didn't like somebody or somebody else instead of thinking about the game itself. And there was always a lot of personal conflicts and a lot of personal interests that play in front of more important issues. That I found at club levels too. If you're a wealthy guy and you didn't know nothing about the game it didn't matter you were the president. Only because you had the money not because you were interested in the game or you had some knowledge of the game or you had passion for the game. It was because you were well off and that to me is not the way. I can say that after twenty years, I have been out of it for nine years now since I've been in Coffs. My last years at St George, I went back as Frank's (Arok) assistant at St George in '88 and '89 so I have been through quite a few clubs and I have seen unfortunately the way it's run and you're right with the ethnic problems too."

GS : You were player coach at Croatia and you finished there in....

AA : "'79 as a player coach."

GS : And then where did you go from there?

AA : "Melita. I gave away playing and by this time I was thirty three. I thought I have had enough and I just now concentrated on purely coaching rather than player coach."

GS : Did you have a lot of success as a coach.

AA : "Well I was at Croatia for three years and player coach for the last two years '78 and '79. We won the minor premiership in both those years. The I went to Melita in '80 which was my first year as just a coach not a player. We won the minor premiership (but) we lost the grand final. So that was three out of three if you like. And from there I was offered a full time job at a little club called Riverwood you might remember in the state league. That was a case of a lot of things coming together at the time. I was working for a sports store in Liverpool with this guy Steven Smith the cricketer and that particular store folded, the company folded All Round Sports. The company folded completely so I lost my job like he (Steven Smith) did and everybody else did. And just at that time, honestly I think it might have even been that same week at the end of the '80 season at Melita. I mean brilliant we won the league we won the grand final everything was going well and a brilliant little club, absolutely brilliant club to work for. Nice people good facilities out at Parramatta somewhere there and I had no intention of leaving. But Riverwood came along, they used to be called Arncliffe Scots but it was that year that they changed to Riverwood and they offered me a full time job. I mean I couldn't believe it. I was the only full time coach in the state league back in those days (laughing). So how could you knock it back. So I took that on for two years as coach. The first year we finished seventh I think and the second we finished runners up to Croatia in fact. In fact I think that was their (Croatia) last year in state league before they went up into the NSL. So we finished second to them on goal difference. And I left them and was offered a job in Canberra in '83 in the national league with Canberra City."

GS : Did you have much success down there?

AA : "Well I was only there for one year. They offered me a two year contract but I didn't take it because I still had a house and family in Sydney. I moved to Canberra by myself purely to take on this full time coaching job. But I couldn't move my family my house and so forth so I said I'll see what happens after one year. And when the year was up I think we ended up finishing seventh on the table and there was fourteen teams in the NSL so half way. It was quite enjoyable quite good a fairly successful year. They offered me a two year contract. Then it was a case of what do I do. Do I sell up and move to Canberra or what. And that was the year in fact that Croatia came back into the NSL, '84 was going to be their first year in the NSL. So they rang me up while I was still in Canberra (and said) would I be interested in taking Croatia again? So I thought what an oppurtunity I can come back to Sydney and continue full time coaching. I wouldn't have to sell or move. So a lot of things happened and I came back and took on Croatia in '84. And they sacked me (laughing). Typical, halfway through the season we lost a few games on the trot and bang. Typical soccer. I mean I said to them at the start of the season that here we are playing in the NSL. Were going to be playing against teams like St George, Hakoah, APIA who are really established and brilliant teams and they have already been in the NSL since 1976 eight years in the NSL. You step up from state league into it. (They said) Croatia must finish up the top. I said are you crazy or what."

GS : Too high an expectation.

AA : "I said this will take three years or four years to catch up to these clubs. I virtually took on that team with a pure state league squad (with) unknown players. Don't get me wrong they were good players but they were just like Barnsley in the premier league. First year, poor Barnsley, bottom of the table. Lucky if you survive. If you don't get relegated you're doing well. Next year you do a little bit better and again. So I said to them it will take time and they said we cannot wait this long what about our supporters. And I said well stuff you let the supporters do the job if that's your attitude. So I took it on and the of course we lost a couple of games and they sacked me. But that's soccer of course. Who's to go first? It's always the coach isn't it. So I left it and then I started to be a bit........ I don't know. It's not because I got the bullet don't get me wrong it's part of the game but when you give up playing it's never the same. Once you stop playing believe me it's not the same. Your passion goes, coaching is alright but it isn't like being a player. And I started to be a bit sceptical (and) about the game the people running the clubs. Becasue when you are a player you don't give a stuff what the committee says or what they do or what they think (because) you're playing. But when you're involved as a coach you go to these meetings, committee meetings and some of the shit.........anyway I don't want to bore you. So that's what happened and the I thought that's it I want a break from soccer for a full year completely. So that's when I started working for AMP as a rep selling life insurance. Again Mike Johnson got me the job there and I thought I am not going to do anything for a full year. And then in '85 Rockdale Iilinden rang me up. Would you coach the team so I ended up going there. Probably one of the silliest mistakes but again I wanted to do it. By this time I had a year off and I was starting to........"

GS : Get itchy feet.

AA : "yeah itchy feet and I just wanted to be involved and I went along to their little practise ground out at Rockdale. So I was there and one thing led to another and Frank Arok got in touch with me and said how would you like to come back to St George. And magic, back to my love. So in '87 and '88 I was back at St George assisting Frank in the national league. So that's basically how I finished up."

GS : And from there St George went out of the National League.

AA : Well I left at the end of '88."

GS : And then you moved to Coffs Harbour.

AA : "Thats right. I went to see Frank at the end of the year and I said we decided to move up north and I am leaving. And that was the end of my soccer days."

GS : And you're enjoying your soccer retirement up there?

AA : "I love it. Lifestyle is absolutely perfect it's what we like and I'm now involved in things like golf. I'm now a bloody golf fanatic for the last four years."

GS : Golf is a bit like an addiction sometimes.

AA : "It is very much so. Well I decided I'm 51 now so I thought when I come up here I want to do things I have never had the chance to do. When you're working and playing soccer, training three or four nights per week plus every weekend you've got no time for anything else. So I thought once I come up here the lifestyle is entirely different. I mean the first year I was up here would you believe I ended up playing soccer for a little club called Sawtell up here."

GS : You actually played.

AA : "I actually played. It was nine years ago so I would have been forty two. Well the reason for that is certain guys found out that I was moving up here. Leo Baumgartner was already here for a full year before I moved up."

GS : Is he still coaching up there"

AA : "No but he was. He actually coached a club for two years North Coffs and then he was director of coaching up here for about three years and last year he just packed it up completely. Again politics. Certain guys didn't want him in the job."

GS : I can't imagine that because he was arguably one of our best imported players, if not the best.

AA : "Well yes. I'm glad you said that because it took me all this time to tell him and I've known him for donkeys (years) and we've become very good friends, and it took me that long to tell him - when I was a kid growing up he was my idol and he couldn't believe it. I said you've got no idea, when I was thirteen (or) fourteen, he played for New South Wales while I was still living in Melbourne being a little ballboy at thirteen, when I heard that Leo Baumgartner was coming I couldn't sleep for two nights. Things like that and he's a mate of mine. Incredible. If you had to ask me who in your opinion (was) the best player to play in this country or import if you like (Leo Baumgartner). But Leo I have seen him play and he was unbelievable."

GS : They used to call him Sabrina because he was like a ballet dancer with the ball.

AA : "Yeah Sabrina that's right. Unbelievable the little professor. I've got his book too called the Little Professor."

GS : Has he signed it for you?

AA : "Oh yeah he did of course. He wouldn't be more than seven minutes in the car from my place to his place. So I see quite a bit of him and his wife. We've been there for a barbecue they come to our place occassionally and we get on real well."

GS : So who would have been the best player you played with? You can pick a few.

AA : "To play with I'd have to mention Johnny Warren of course. For again a lot of reasons his leadership of course his skills and ability, but more so his leadership and determination. An example to all of us as a player, I mean he was just a 110% player. So it's a combination of a number of things. Another guy would be Doug Utjesenovic the right fullback (for St George and Australia) because him and I had brilliant understandings and he possessed so much skill. Its a pity that all his life he was a right fullback which I thought was probably the wrong position for him. He just had so much skill that he would have been a better players say playing as a midfielder. Very creative, very skilful, read the game perfectly and we had brilliant understanding so I enjoyed playing with him more than anybody else, actually playing with him. Those two would have to stand out in my mind and Adrian Alston up front. Probably those three I would have to mention."

GS : What about the hardest defender.

AA : "Stan Ackerley without a doubt, the bastard (laughing). I'll never forget when I was playing in Melbourne as a young lad of sixteen or seventeen he played for a club called Slavia. I'll never forget the first game I actually played against him I didn't even know who the hell he was. (We were) playing at Port Melbourne, I don't remember what year it was I'd have to think about it, (but) he said to me even before the game kicked off when we were lining up, he just looked at me, he was left fullback and I was right wing and a skinny little boy at seventeen year old. He said these exact words - I am gonna' break your leg before this day is out. Just then I shat myself but that was a put off of course, but he was by far the hardest defender I've faced. But they are all hard lets face it. As a forward you find every defender hard."

GS : Coaches - Frank Arok the best you have played under.

AA : "Yes by far."

GS : Even better than Rale Rasic. I guess it's like comparing chalk and cheese..........

AA : "I wouldn't say by a mile, but Frank and Rale those two in particular. I've had quite a few over the years but yeah Frank and Rale. Those two would have to stand out more than anybody else."

GS : Do you have any regrets on your career at all.

AA : "Oh no not at all. No I am very very grateful and very lucky at the same time. You know how you hear players saying ever since I was a kid I dreamed of playing for Australia. To me that's such bullshit. Now again that might surprise you. I mean when I started playing soccer I only thought about the next Saturdays game. If you get selected to play for your club side at first grade level or New South Wales or Victoria it's an extra added bonus. You're not going to think about it from the age of ten. You know I never thought I'd play for Australia that was never my ambition. My ambition was to be a good player end of story. If you good enough or lucky enough to get picked it was unbelievable but I never thought at the age of ten one day I'd like to play for Australia. And I honestly don't think anybody could. It sounds silly and a lot of people sort of look at me and say that's not right, but people will always say that once they've made it. Have you noticed that? It's always when a guy makes the Australian team in any sport he says oh one day i had a dream that one day I might like to play for Australia. But you never hear a guy who never made it say geez one day I want to play for Australia. That's what fascinates me. I just think it's not possible. I think if you love the game and you're good enough and you work hard enough you'll get the benefits out of it. You'll play for Australia but you can't actually dream about it. I just don't believe it's possible. Even Bobby Charlton said the same thing. I've got a video where he's actually talking about that. He said maybe I should never have even been picked for England. Now fancy him saying it, he played for England one hundred and six times. But he said I was dead lucky to have been picked for England. All I wanted to do was play for Man United and he said all of a sudden I got picked for England. I don't know whether I deserved it or not. Now fancy him saying that. And he's the only guy I've ever heard that said exactly what I always thought."

Not frightened to call a spade a shovel, the talented right sided forward once thrilled crowds on the pitches of Australia now drives golf balls on the north coast of New South Wales. Although now firmly retired from the game Atti adamantly maintains that's the way he plans to stay that way. An outstanding person both on and off the field the countless memories he gave all Autralian soccer supporters will be fondly remembered for many years to come.