‘Sheilas, wogs & poofters is really a story of my time in soccer in this country … I hope the title doesn’t offend anyone – it’s not meant to. And if it does offend in 21st century Australia then you can imagine what it was like fifty-odd years ago. ‘Sheilas’, ‘wogs’ and ‘poofters’ were considered the second-class citizens of the day and if you played soccer, you were considered one of them. That’s how soccer was regarded back then and, to some extent, still is today.’
South Korea had already eliminated Israel and Japan to get to the final qualification stage so we knew they were a team in good form. They were going to be a handful in any circumstances but given our lead-up to the match, they were only going to be tougher. The eventual 0–0 scoreline probably flattered us but was also not really unexpected given our disjointed preparation. Our team lacked its usual aggression and fire. The crowd of thirty-two thousand at the Sydney Sports Ground was no doubt as disappointed as we were and it was a classic case of the Australian team not being able to perform at home in big matches.
The Koreans had decided to man-to-man mark me in that match and I barely touched the ball. My opponent was only a little guy but he didn’t leave me for the entire match. I thought he was even going to follow me into the change rooms at half-time! I absolutely hated being marked that tightly because it always made playing difficult. As a player, it meant you were never in any space and there was always added pressure on your first touch. I took being man-marked as a sign of respect but I never enjoyed it. My own performance and the result meant it wasn’t a match I remember with any fondness but I’m sure the pay dispute had a lot to do with our average performance. It meant that we would have our work cut out for us in Seoul if we wanted to see the fruits of our labour in our qualification quest up until now.
Just how much work we had in front of us became strikingly apparent when we were 2–0 down during the first half of the second leg in Seoul. I was confident the team had regained its focus during the week between the two matches but the South Koreans absolutely massacred us in the opening stages. The home crowd was going berserk and the Korean players were feeding off the excitement. They were probably already planning their World Cup finals campaign after scoring the second goal. Luckily for us Branko Buljevic scored a goal for us almost immediately after South Korea scored their second goal. Needless to say, our goal changed the entire complexion of the match. It suddenly gave us some confidence and took a bit of the heat out of the home crowd.
It was a brilliant feeling when Ray Baartz scored the equaliser in the second half. We had come back from the dead and I don’t think the crowd could quite believe it when we held on to secure a 2–2 draw. Unfortunately, in those days, away goals did not count as double, like they do today. Otherwise, Australia would have qualified on the away-goals rule, which means if scores are level after both games, away goals count as double.
The draw in Seoul meant another match needed to be played at a neutral venue and so the decider was played in Hong Kong. Although it didn’t have the drama of the second-leg rollercoaster ride the team played really well. Our 1–0 victory was secured by a wonderful goal from little midfield dynamo Jimmy Mackay. It was an absolute cracker that flew straight into the top corner of the goal and I’m sure it probably even disturbed a few spiders that had been living there quite peacefully. The goal probably should be more recognised in Australian soccer because it was the one that put the nation into its first and only World Cup.
Amid the jubilation there was a sense of disbelief among the team after the match. After all our struggles it was hard to believe that we had actually made the finals. For me it meant that the ghosts of 1970 had finally been laid to rest and my own personal struggle to recover from my knee injury had not been in vain. We were going to West Germany!