Almanac Soccer History: Remember the ’93 Socceroos

Image may contain: 13 people, outdoor

The Socceroos to face Canada on 15/8/1993 in Sydney. REAR: Raul Blanco (Asst Coach), Eddie Thomson (coach), Mark Schwarzer, Milan Ivanovic, Alex Tobin, Tony Vidmar, Ned Zelic, Les Scheinflug (Asst coach) FRONT: Frank Farina, Graham Arnold, Jason van Blerk, Mehmet Durakovic, Aurelio Vidmar, Robbie Slater.

 

Since their 1974 appearance in the FIFA World Cup the Socceroos had lurched from crisis to baffling crisis. This included a witch doctor’s curse, kleptomaniac senior coaches and Frank Arok gesturing and yelling abuse in more than English while being sent from the touchline as another sorry campaign came to an end. Scotland knocked us out, as did New Zealand, Israel et al. As a kid never did I once wonder why Australia weren’t in Mexico in 1986 or Italy in 1990 up against Maradona or Matthaus. It just seemed it wasn’t our right to be there and if we even had a national team.

 

Two of the shining lights for Australian Soccer in the 80s either ended up playing for England (Tony Dorigo) or claimed that playing the sport for Australia was like surfing for England (Craig Johnston). The stocks for the national team were very low indeed but things started to turn around. Like pioneers on the Oregon Trail the trickle of players heading for fame and fortune in Europe were increasing with varying success. For the 1988 Bicentennial the Socceroos hosted the one off Bicentennial cup defeating the then World Champs Argentina and losing to a powerful Brazil side in the final.

 

Then at the 1991 Under-20 World Cup Australia took hosts Portugal (led by Figo) to the brink in the semi finals before finishing fourth. This was followed by fourth placed finishes in the Barcelona Olympics and 1993 Under-20 World Cup held in Australia. The third placed play off in 1993 against England I remember watching on TV before heading up to Claremont Speedway, an exciting and pulsating game against the old enemy that demanded your attention. A massive crowd! In Australia! For Soccer! Witchcraft!

 

The sport for me at this stage was at a distance with no NSL team in Perth, an absent national team and hearing the 1986 World Cup on a radio with my dad up in Shark Bay. The 15 hour drive back to Perth had me daydreaming of what the energy and atmosphere booming through the speakers in the Land Rover of what was happening in Mexico looked like visually. There was also the coverage on the BBC World Service during the club season, a sporting theatre for the mind.

 

Never had the Socceroos had this consistency at any level since 1974. New shoots of talent were emerging after a very long winter for the national side. Okon, Kalac, Popovic and the Vidmar brothers among others with the world at their feet. This also included Mark Bosnich who already making waves in England with Aston Villa appearing on the late night ABC highlights show. There was also Ned Zelic who scored a last minute goal from an impossible angle to send Australia to the 92 Olympics at the expense of the powerhouse Dutch side.

 

These new boys mixed with some experience now playing in Europe including Arnold, Farina and Slater who had all played NSL together, were good mates and then had taken the leap. The bedrock of the national side was formed by current NSL players with clubs like Adelaide City and South Melbourne having two of the best teams ever put together in domestic football in this country. Tobin, Ivanovic, Veart and Zabica from City with Durakovic, Trimboli and Wade from Souths.

 

ACT I (Oceania)

 

The campaign to make it to the USA 94 World Cup started in September 1992 with the usual slaying of the Oceania teams not called New Zealand. With the overseas players either not allowed to attend or choosing not to being mid-season in Europe the NSL players stood up eventually doing away with the Solomon Islands and Tahiti over four games tougher than expected. In late May 1993 would be the New Zealand play off in the long road to the US. With the European based players back Australia did it easy winning 1-0 in Auckland and then easing to a 3-0 win in front of the true believers at a wintery Olympic Park in Melbourne. It was now off for two sets of play offs. One against an opponent from North or Central America and then South America if we got past the first one.

 

Image result for Robert Zabica socceroos

Adelaide City and Socceroos alumni Tony Vidmar, Robbie Zabica and Ernie Tapai.

 

ACT II (Canada away)

 

In late August/Early September 1993 it would be Canada over two legs in the penultimate set of play offs. The Canadians, much like their antipodean Commonwealth cousins, have never been great shakes when it comes to this sport. While Australia had cricket they had Ice Hockey. While we had our token appearance at the FIFA World Cup in 1974 they had theirs in 1986. The first leg would be played in Edmonton in the stadium that would be used for the 1994 Commonwealth Games. Unlike the Commonwealth Games this wasn’t beating up on fellow former colonies, this was for sheep stations.

 

Australian Coach and ‘raconteur’ Eddie Thomson had his issues. Bosnich was under pressure to not travel to Canada and to stay with Villa where had just broken in to their senior side. Under pressure from both club and country he decided to stick with the club and the opportunities that would come with that rather than chase some lost cause with the Socceroos retiring from international duty to avoid a sanction. In his place came Adelaide City keeper Robbie Zabica, a laconic West Australian who pretty much accidentally fell in to the sport and still loved to send down some bouncers as a fast bowler in grade cricket. With injuries and suspensions blighting the keeping stocks a young uncapped 20 year old keeper from Marconi was chosen as a back up, Mark Schwarzer.

 

On a Sunday morning the true believers and those with an interest piqued (like myself) tuned in to SBS to watch the first leg. With American Football markings on the lush grass pitch in glorious sunshine the Canadians began to bully the Australians who panicked lobbing the ball forward and not using Okon and Zelic’s skill in the middle. On 17 minutes a Zelic pass bounced off the slow referee unable to get out the way with the loose ball ending up with a Canadian through on goal. Zabica came off his line, fouled the player and was sent off. Disaster for Australia. A player was sacrificed for another keeper and Mark Schwarzer was subbed on to try and save the game for Australia. For the rest of the half Australia stepped up a gear trying to cover the extra man and were the better side remarkably led when some Zelic magic saw a Canadian defender put the ball in to the back of his own net. Remarkable resolve from the Socceroos to be up 1-0 at half time.

 

It didn’t last though. Only seven minutes in to the second half Canada equalised from a corner then were ahead five minutes after that thanks to Australia’s inability to clear the ball. The hopes of going to USA 94 were evaporating but Australia held on, dug in and took the 2-1 loss. An away goal was more than welcomed heading back to Sydney for the second leg. A 1-0 win could do it for Australia on away goals.

 

Image result for Australia canada socceroos 1993

The ‘spew top’. Gone but not forgotten.

 

ACT III (Canada @ Home)

 

Schwarzer kept his spot in the side with Zabica suspended and captain Paul Wade was kept on the bench again, a controversial decision. The team was also decked out in the new Adidas designed strip with the infamous ‘Spew Top’ Australian strip now a thing of the past that would take on a new cult status some 13 years later. Australia were all over Canada from the start, Slater and Dutch based Jason Van Blerk unstoppable on the wings. Chances came and chances were wasted but the crowd kept behind the Socceroos, the team kept their heads up as the half wore on. Again, right on half time, Australia struck. Farina’s brilliant bicycle kick from a corner headed down making it 1-0 and Australia were through if it stayed the same.

 

This was the Socceroos though and after 10 minutes of the second half Canada struck, a shot from Hooper at a tight angle slipping through the hands of Schwarzer who could have done better. 1-1 and Canada now through if the score stayed like this until the final whistle as the air escaped from the stadium atmosphere. Minutes ticked away as the crowd got tenser before Mehmet Durakovic scored after some route one from Aurelio Vidmar, the ball dropping in front Durakovic who could head the ball in before the keeper could clear. 2-1. All even on aggregate and extra time would be needed.

 

The ref for this game was allegedly put in for this game to see how good Japanese refs were so they could possibly partake in the World Cup, a qualifier was probably was not the best place to test this out. Many rash tackles from both sides went unpunished; a Canadian player swinging a punch at someone on the Australian bench was also missed. Extra time went in a blur, both teams exhausted but on went the game from end to end. There was another head clash after the first had split open the head of Australian player David Mitchell, this clash resulted in a Canadian player going to hospital. It had been a brutal 120 minutes but would go to penalties.

 

Australia would go first in the shootout and Wade (on as a substitute) made no mistake from the spot returning back to his teammates in the middle of the pitch trying to gee up the crowd like a professional wrestler. Canada then scored before Aurelio Vidmar did the same. Schwarzer guessed the right way denying West Ham’s Alex Bunbury to keep it 2-1 Australia. The ever-reliable Tobin scored for Australia before the next Canadian player complained about where the ball had been placed, shot with power straight at Schwarzer and saw his shot saved. 3-1.

 

Australia needed only one more penalty to win the shootout. Frank Farina, the veteran striker who had forged a career in Europe that many more would follow made no mistake to send Australia through. The Socceroos had finally had some luck go there way and would go through to the final qualifying round against a South American opponent. This team of ragtag Aussies of different backgrounds and creeds had me. I was emotionally invested. By 1993 personally I was definitely on the fringes of society and more atuned to hang with the artistic fringe at school with their love of Ride and Teenage Fanclub rather than the rivers boots wearing Red Hot Chili Peppers loving surfs. This Socceroos side seemed to mirror my thoughts on loving the outsider, the rough diamond. It was an Aldous Huxley Door of Perception moment in fandom for me.

 

 

Image result for Australia canada socceroos 1993

Not the last time Schwarzer would be a hero in a shootout. Note David Mitchell’s busted head to the right.

 

ACT IV (Argentina @ Home)

 

The qualifying route was a confusing beast to see who we would play. Paraguay or Colombia looked likely opponents with Argentina to qualify easily but this Colombian side was something special building a magnificent team and probably the second best on the continent behind Brazil. In the final round of qualifying in South America Colombia traveled to Buenos Aires and massacred the struggling two time champs Argentina 5-0 putting them through to USA ’94 and relegating Argentina to the play off spot.

 

The former champions and runner up in 1990 Argentina would be playing Australia. Box Office wouldn’t even begin the describe this clash.

 

That 5-0 loss knocked Argentinian football of its axis. Calls were made for the Government to fall, the players to be lynched and it was all a FIFA conspiracy. The Argentine FA smashed the emergency glass and called back their fallen hero, Diego Maradona. Maradona had left Italy a disgrace after receiving a 15 month ban for drug use in 1990. A season in Seville had been followed by a return to Argentinean club football, a shadow of the superstar he once was but took the call to play his first game for his country since the 1990 World Cup Final.

 

Diego Maradona, quite possibly the greatest player of all time was making his comeback in Sydney against Australia for a spot in the World Cup. If the sporting world wasn’t watching before it sure was now. Personally it felt like I was part of something special and no one else really knew, it was niche and comforting when in actual fact many Australia wide had waited so long for something like this. I got to know Les and Johnny as well as Andy starting to watch ‘On the Ball’ on a Sunday on SBS that just seemed to be just a lot of people from different ethnic backgrounds arguing and gesturing for the entertainment of the viewer.

 

The arrival of the Argentine team and Maradona was a huge event at Sydney airport. The local Argentine community, many fleeing the military junta government in the previous years to come to Australia were in big numbers to welcome the side. Maradona played it up for the fans breaking away from the group and dancing sending them in to Beiberfever like meltdowns giving plenty of footage for the news networks both SBS and commercial. I watched World Sports on SBS every night and the build up getting to know the Aussie players and their quirks. Robbie Slater is fluent in French? Wow okay. Eddie Thomson is Scottish? Ned Zelic talked in his very Western Sydney ethnic way about what he loved about playing in Germany for Borussia Dortmund was the nightclubs played his favourite house music rather than Aussie classics like in Australia. I knew the team now more than some of my own family.

 

The line-up was settled and ready for Argentina. Bosnich was back in the side realising that perhaps retiring from National duty at 21 wasn’t such a smart move. The Adelaide City old guard of Alex Tobin and Milan Ivanovic would be in the central defence with Tony Vidmar and Mehmet Durakovic in the full back positions in the all NSL back four. Robbie Slater would be on the right wing with Van Blerk on the left. Ned Zelic would create in the central midfield with Paul Wade recalled to do one job and one job only, scrag Maradona. Up front, Aurelio Vidmar and his amazing mullet would team up with Graham Arnold. The back four could be trusted. Zelic always needed to get the ball at his feet and if he did he would create opportunities. Arnold I never had time for, but he played in Europe so he must have been good. He just always looked grumpy to me. Slater was fluent in French so he also must’ve had some cajoles. My logic was twisted, patriotic and ignorant about the chances for this new love.

 

The game was a sellout at the SFS, the local Argentine community at the ground in big numbers. I saw this game at the Raffles Hotel underage, my family there to watch a distant cousin called Ross who was doing his Neil Diamond Tribute Show in the old ‘Boiler Bar’. I watched the game on a tiny TV with no sound and no one else interested and a cold squash in front of me. Not the last time a cold drink would be in front of me whilst in a bar watching this team in the coming years. Hot November nights indeed.

 

Australia were bright in the first half forcing a number of corners. Slater was amazing on the right wing dashing down to the side at every opportunity and asking questions of the Argentine defence.  Zelic was creative in the midfield, a player with potential now a bona fide Australian star established at a massive European club. Wade chased Maradona never giving him an inch in a Crowley on Johnson like way. Unfortunately, on 37 minutes, Wade finally did give Maradona and inch and the little master made him pay slipping away for a nano second and putting in an impossibly brilliant cross to Balbo who sent the ball past a desperate Bosnich with a diving header. 1-0 Argentina.

 

Australia didn’t wilt like they had all those times since 1974. Just five minutes later Zelic collected the ball from a thrown in and sent an exquisite pass over the top of the Argentine defence to Tony Vidmar who put in a dangerous cross to his brother Aurelio at the near post who slotted the ball home. 1-1! As the commentary said on SBS ‘The Adelaide connection had come good!’

 

My celebration was muted much like the TV such was my surroundings, cousin Ross belting out adult contemporary next door and me not wanting to cop the ire of any of the more rougher bar folk. This was pre-gentrification era Raffles Hotel. 1-1 it finished, Australia making some late subs to try and get a win when the horse had bolted. Australia were still alive.

 

Image result for slater maradona

Diego Maradona had never been this close to a ginger before.

 

ACT V (Argentina away)

 

Back to SBS during the week leading up to the return leg. Maradona had returned to Argentina full of praise for Slater referring to him as La Llama De Pelo (The Flame Haired One) giving him his famous #10 shirt following the match in Sydney. The Australian press was either happy to have pushed Argentina to a draw or was disappointed that it would be almost impossible to win in Argentina. The dreamers and the pragmatists in the press who clash heads to this very day.

 

The return leg would be played (unfortunately for me) on the morning of a school day. By 16 I knew that my educational needs were not going to be served by Safety Bay Senior High School and would have another crack in the coming years. The environment and culture at the school for someone like me wasn’t that supportive and I’d slipped down in to the bottom class already daydreaming of better days beyond suburban Rockingham.

 

Our teacher Mr Troy was an ex PE teacher and was tasked with getting us interested and focused on something, anything. Being a fan of the round ball and probably looking for an excuse to see the game during work hours he wheeled in the TV in to the demount-able and found SBS with the rabbit ears, the both us educating others on the whys and wherefores of what was at stake here. Even the most knuckledragger of knuckledraggers in the class didn’t mind watching Soccer if it meant not having to do schoolwork.

 

Before the cross to Buenos Aires, Les and co on SBS went through the highlights of an amazing qualification night in Europe. England were out, Wales had somehow managed to fall short, the Republic of Ireland had beaten Northern Ireland in a spiteful derby in Belfast to qualify. France and their bevvy of stars like Cantona had somehow defeated themselves letting Bulgaria go to the World Cup. There was one spot left and it would be Argentina or Australia with the world watching. The Socceroos had never been this relevant, even in 1974. I myself personally felt relevant. That somehow I owned this moment watching this team.

 

The stadium and crowd on the TV were like something from Mars. I’d seen old footage of the 1978 World Cup but this was something else with the gloomy old stands overflowing with people, the banners, the colours, the ticketape, the running track around the pitch. This was not Subiaco Oval on a Sunday Oval. From what I could gather Emu Export wasn’t for sale in the bars. Bosnich was out injured so Zabica came back in as keeper, just a mere 12,564 kilometres from his native Spearwood just south of Freo. Another huge blow was Zelic being injured, his spot taken by Farina who played up front with Arnold with Aurelio Vidmar dropping back in to the midfield in the creative role. Argentina welcomed back key players to make the task even more daunting.

 

Argentina wanted to start with purpose but Australia didn’t let them, the NSL back four looking as comfortable on the bumpy deck at the Estadio Monumental as they would on the pitch of a suburban ground back in Australia. Every time Australia had the ball the whistling from the fans was deafening distorting the sound on the TV. Mistakes crept in to the Socceroos though, a foul throw from a Vidmar, an unmarked Batistuta by a static Aussie defence somehow missing an easy finish. Cards started to come for the Aussies as they constantly were just that second too slow to put in the right tackle. Balbo missed a chance, as did Ruggeri for the home side who was denied thanks to a wonderful Zabica save.

 

Australia had their half chances, that missed pass from an Argie, that one great pass away from having a shot but they were snuffed out. Australia would receive only one or two chances and would have to take them. 0-0 at half time but Australia needed a goal, the whistles from the fans in the stands now aimed at their own players rather than the plucky visitors. Australia were not expected to still be in the contest by half time in the second leg.

 

Around 15 minutes in to the second half that Socceroos curse again came in to play. After nice lead up work the one time Perth resident Gabriel Batistuta had the ball on the edge of the penalty area being forced out wide by a stoic Tobin. A hopeful pessimistic cross in to the centre deflected off Tobin’s leg and from a tough angle looped over Zabica and in to the goal to make it 1-0 Argentina. An extraordinary own goal that 9 times out of 10 would not have gone in. Hearts sank, Argentines celebrated.

 

The Socceroos had 30 minutes to find a goal to force it to extra time but this was where experience counted at this level. The Argentine players were slow to get up after fouls, the ball boys slow with giving the ball back for thrown ins, the injuries allegedly sustained seemingly to take forever to get tended to. These were the first of many hard lessons we would learn at this level up to this day by the team and their fans. Argentina almost conceded when a Slater free kick was almost comically put in to the net by Diego Simeone. Carl Veart was brought on to try and inspire the Aussies and had a shot cleared. Zabica at the other end made another excellent save but there was nothing length in the tank, it was over for the Socceroos.

 

Being a supporter of Geelong and West Perth in Australian Football, I was not a stranger to disappointment with both losing grand finals in 92 and 93 respectively but this felt different, gallant, an inspiration, the beginning of something. The scenes on the TV showed the Socceroos flat on their backs, exhausted but proud. The Argentines celebrated as one, the crowd chanting ‘Aus-tra-lia!’ over and over as gratitude for the contest and to show that value of how hard it is to qualify for a World Cup. If Australia had won I think Aussie heads may have been on pikes.

 

Thomson’s Socceroos didn’t go to the USA 94 but the seed was planted, this team was on the up and there would be some good times (2006) and many bad (1997 et al). They had on respect and hearts Australia wide. The team for the France 98 campaign would be bolstered with the likes of Viduka, Kewell, Moore, Lazaridis and other stars being introduced to the team to mix with the nucleus of the 93 side. The 1997 side was a side without confidence, form and the brotherhood of this Thomson coached 1993 side. Thomson’s team would have overcome Iran.

 

Related image

Paul Wade going the scrag in Buenos Aires.

 

I’m sure for many around my age this was an introduction to this national team that dug its claws in and never let go. They gave me an out from the monotony of teenage life in the burbs and the alienation that came with it for me personally but the Socceroos were in a lot of ways alienated too. They were on the edge of appreciation by the greater Australian public, a nobody in the realm of the world game internationally and a side that sometimes rose above the political bickering and dodgy deals that blighted the game domestically. A team full of skills, emotion, contradictions and a bunch of other feelings that will all be fighting each other again when we rise in the early morning to watch the class of 2017 play off in Honduras.

 

Remember the ’93 Socceroos.

 

Socceroos v Honduras Saturday Nov 11 at 9am AEDT, 6am Dennis Gedling’s time in WA.

About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM presenter and Glory Guerrillas pod co-host. Cat, Cardie, Glory Bhoy and Socceroo by pain of death. Seen too many Geelong and Socceroos disasters to mention and worships the holy trinity of Larsson, Mifka and Senna.

Comments

  1. Mick Jeffrey says:

    Amazingly history almost repeated this year for Argentina, who were basically 90 minutes away from either traveling to New Zealand or even worse miss out altogether. A Hattrick from some bloke called Messi (pretty handy player by all accounts) changed that and now NZ have to face Peru for a shot at the big dance.

  2. Malby Dangles says:

    Thanks for the epic recount! I remember much of those matches. Here’s for some magic for us over in Honduras tomorrow.

Leave a Comment

*