|Tuesday, 29 July 2008 19:56|
ERIC HEATH - RIGHT PLACE - RIGHT TIME
Name : Eric Heath
South Bank - AFC Northern League
Originally Eric Heath trained to become a member of an aircrew but due to the demise of the action in Europe, Eric had to relinquish his airforce uniform for one in the British navy. He was then shipped out to Ceylon during the height of the Allies war with Japan. His job, as a qualified blacksmith, was to repair damaged English naval vessels.
He fondly recalled his time there, playing for the NAVY against various XIs, mostly made up from visiting damged warships. It was there he met Australian service men for the first time.
"It was more of a holiday than a war posting. As far as we were concerned, the war was a millions miles away. Most of the time we would play football, go to the beach or go up to Colombo."
Eric returned to England after the war and fell back into civilian life, working for a Northern manufacturer. Soon after though, he read an article in an newspaper, extoling the qualities of the land down under. He remembered the warm nature of the Australian Servicemen he had met while stationed in Ceylon and felt, like most immigrants of that time, that it would be a better life for him and his wife.
Eric set out for Australia in 1949. He arrived in Melbourne on January 1950 with his wife Irene. He soon began working for Henderson Spring Works in North Melbourne as a 'blacksmith'. However he did not stay there long, as he had heard that another company, McLean Massey in Sunshine offered "piece work" (paid per unit produced) and he was soon on his way.
It was here he met Sam Horrobin, his foreman, who asked him if he played football. When Eric replied that he did and that he was on the books of Middlesborough, Horrobin's eyes lit up and another Australian soccer career was born.
"There was a foreman at Maclay Massey, whose name was Sam Horrobin. He came in one day and asked me if I played soccer. I told him that I did and that I was on the books of Middlesborough. He said, we go tonight to Moreland and I agreed. It was a Tuesday night, I trained and he (Sam) signed me up straight away. I played the following Saturday."
Eric was so good that he was made captain of the Moreland team halfway through his first season in 1950. With Reg Parkhouse and Tom Bennett sharing the keeping repsonsibilities, Heath and Pat Clarke in defence, former Scot Joe Kennedy at centre half, Alec Nolan at left-half and with Bertie "Bluey" Grix, Bob Greenslades and South African Reg Hardman up front, the first division side won their way to the Dockerty Cup final of that year.
However Eric didn't take his place in the victorious Cup Final side. He was selected to tour New Caledonian as a member of the Australian team along with the likes of fellow Victorian, Angus Drennan.
"I played every single game that year expect the Dockerty Cup final.That was played whilst I was in New Caledonia. But they still gave me a winners medal."
Eric had little warning about his forthcoming selection.
"Mine was a very late selection. Out of the blue I get this phone call from Moreland president Jimmy Stewart saying Eric you've been picked to play for Australia to go to Noumea. I said Noumea!! Where on earth is that?"
So Eric packed his bags and headed to Sydney where he joined the rest of the squad before flying out to Noumea.
"They looked after us well. It was a very small island but we had a hectic schedule. I think it was 3 games in four days."
The following year, he made his Victorian debut against South Australia in Adelaide on May 9th 1951. In early June of that year, Eric played in the Victorian side that competed against a touring English XI in a 2 game series in Melbourne. These games were played on the 6th and 9th of the month.
The Australians were scheduled to meet the English at the Richmond Football Ground on June 11th. And Eric was selected to once again face the might of the English. He donned the green and gold for the first time on Australian soil, and despite going down 6-1 to the professionals, Eric, in his right back position, had once again done himself proud.
The touring English side had a outside left by the name Bobby Langton, a Bolton forward. Heath lined up on the star and when his first chance came, Heath, pumped full of adrenalin, slid in and tackled Langton ferociously. Once Langton had made his way back to his feet, he turned and smiled at the young Heath and commented, "Son, I know you're trying to impress, but for God's sake son, take it easy, I have 10 more games to go."
In the same year Eric was selected to tour New Zealand as part of an invitation Victorian team put together by Bill Thomas. This team was known as the "Kangaroos" and spent three weeks touring New Zealand.
"That was a good tour. We did both islands, yes that was a good trip. They looked after us and treated us well. The trip was organised by Bill Thomas, who was an ex-New Zealander, so he knew where to go and who to see. We paid our own way there but we received some reimbursement from the Federation. "
"It was like we were on a holiday which would be interupted occasionally by the odd game of soccer. I remember two of the guys, doing highland flings for the cameras. A lot of the players were from the Brighton Soccer Club as was the orgasniser, Bill Thomas. The Brighton Club President also came over. So in a way it was like an end of season trip."
In June 1952 Eric represented Victoria in the Interstate Carnival held at Toorak Park in Melbourne. Crowds flocked to see all the games and the locals were able to prevail in the final winning 3-1.
One of the most infamous incidents happened the day when New South Welshmen, Frank Parsons was sent off for decking Victorian Serge Biassi, whom Frank claimed had thrown mud in his face.
"We beat them. I can recall Frank being sent off. The game was at Toorak Park."
I quizzed Eric if he could remember any arguing that took place before the mud was thrown, he looked a little sheepishily and I understood instantly that he didn't want to dob in an old soccer collegue.
"Not really. I mean Frank is a mate of mine."
In a jokingly fashion I replied that I didn't think that Mr Biassi would like to take Frank to court.
"I know he got sent off. He threw mud in the blokes face. Frank turned around and went job."
"Sergio, in my opinion, was the best player in this country. Out of all I played with or against, he was the best, Sergio Biassi. His positional play and his accuracy of passing. You see I played right-back and he played in midfield and he was always on his own. I never had to kick the ball more than 20 or 30 yards. He was always in position, always on his own. He made me look so good, cause I could always manage to pass it into the clear, which was to him."
"Biassi, a Juventus player, was a gentleman. He was so polite to you, you couldn't find a better man than Sergio Biassi."
"Angus Drennan was a good friend of mine and a good player. One of them players that really trained hard. He worked himself to death you know, he trained so hard. Everybody liked Angus Drennan, he was a very sociable and likeable person. He'd never say a wrong word about anyone. You know he's a dinky di Aussie, not a migrant like most of us."
During the 1950s and 60s, the face of Victorian soccer began to change. The ethnic clubs became stronger both on and off the pitch. They were able to offer players, for the first time, a wage. Presidents of the powerful ethnic clubs travelled around Melbourne buying up the best players.
The Moreland Soccer Club was a favourite target. During this period numerous players left to play with the cashed up clubs. In 1957, despite the decimation of the team, Moreland were able to win another Dockerty Cup, taking their tally to 4, with an upset win over the hot favourties, Slavia.
"You could understand why the players left. They had families to support. They (ethnic clubs) had huge attendances and were able to pay their players."
In 1962 Moreland had a written guarantee that the great Stanley Mathews would play 8 games with the club. However this deal fell through because of FIFA's ban on foreign players coming to Australia.
"The club had correspondance with Stanley. Yes. He really wanted to come. He remembered Frank Loughran, his old sparring partner, from the Blackpool tour in 1958. You see Tommy Trinder and Harry Hopman were both patrons of the Moreland Soccer club.
"Juventus and JUST had all the support. They were able to play their main games at Olympic Park. Double headers, big big crowds, not like today. I remember going to Middle Park and you always could judge the size of the crowd by how close or how far away from the gound you could park your car."
His playing career for the Morelanders finished in 1978 after 28 years of loyal service to the one club. In 1969 he was dutifully rewarded for his loyalty when he was made a life member of the Moreland Thistle Soccer Club, an honour which rates as high as any other achievement in his life.
He is a trustee, life member and patron of the Victorian Soccer Federation and oversaw the purchase of the first soccer house in 1960 for 13,000 pounds. In 1998, the VSF sold this property for $1.25 million.
Eric and Irene now reside in a quiet South-Eastern suburb of Melbourne. Still fit and healthy, his only complaint is a dodgy knee, he gets togetherwith a few of his mates every Tuesday for a drink, which he has done for many many years and occasionally he'll drive down to watch his beloved Moreland take on his "local favourite", Sandringham, in the Victorian State League 3rd Division.