Top 100 World Cup Moments (From the Aussie P.O.V.): 35-The Socceroos and the Witchdoctor (1969)

1969 Socceroos

Following the rather brief qualifying campaign for the 1966 World Cup Australia was to take a more far flung route to try and get to Mexico 1970. The quite despised coach from 1965 in Tiko Jelisavcic was well gone from the national set up and another NSW League old boy in Joe Vlatsis was given the gig. The team looked completely different from the side that had been beaten to a bloody mess by North Korea but the new talent that had fought their way in to the side was decent. Goalkeeper Ron Corry, Johnny Warren (who had been on the bench in Cambodia) was now the captain and the ex Man United striker and now Hapoel goal machine Ray Baartz had starting knocking them in.

The Socceroos had a convoluted route of playing in a mini tournament with Rhodesia, Japan and South Korea with the winner playing against Israel over two legs. The warm up matches for Australia against the likes of Japan and Greece served them well with a great effort in the first phase of qualifying in South Korea. Australia first defeated an injury hit Japan 3-1 with goals from McColl and Baartz getting them over the line with a little help from an own goal by Ogi.

Australia then did the Koreans 2-1 in their back yard in a fantastic effort, Watkiss and McColl scoring. McColl scored again in the next match with a 1-1 against Japan meaning it would come down to the final match against South Korea with only a draw needed (Rhodesia had pulled out). In the final match of the phase the Koreans went ahead first but a goal from Baartz in the second half and a brilliantly saved penalty by Corry got Australia through with a 1-1 draw and a thank you from the Korean fans that was said in a mass of projectiles such as batteries and seats being thrown on to the pitch.

It was supposed to be over to Tel Aviv a month later for the two legged play off but FIFA decided to allow Rhodesia back in to the mix to qualify and a play off in Mozambique against Australia was ordered. The whole kerfuffle with Rhodesia had come from the Mexican government announcing that they would not allow the Rhodesian team to enter the country if they did in fact qualify due to their rather extreme treatment of natives in the South of the country but for some stupid reason the playoff was to go ahead. Rhodesia frustrated the Socceroos over two matches that both ended in draws. The first being a 1-1 draw where McCall had got Australia off the hook. Then the quite fluky Rhodesian goalkeeper Robin Jordan repelled attack after attack in the second match to keep it 0-0 and force it in to a third match.

The Australians were starting to get in to a bit of a panic now because the game against Tel Aviv would kick off only five days after the third play off should they win so a fourth game had to be out of the question. Whilst drowning their sorrows/calming their fears in a bar before the third match two journalists told ASF officials that there was a witchdoctor who could perform a ceremony for a small fee and perhaps curse the Rhodesian goalkeeper. The officials decided that this was worth a crack and linked up with the Witchdoctor at the ground at dawn on the morning of the match.

In the ceremony the witchdoctor buried bones under one set of goals and placed a curse on Jordan. The ploy seemed to work as Jordan was taken off injured after colliding with Baartz and Australia won 3-1, Rutherford and Warren scoring with Sibanda scoring an own goal. Following a night of some serious boozing the hungover Australian team was leaving their hotel to do their own version of ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ to Israel when the Witchdoctor arrived wanting to be paid for his services. The Australian team manager told him that there would be no such payment.

The Witchdoctor decided that that was a little out of order and placed a curse on the Socceroos. Did this curse work? Well after 1974 how many times did they qualify? Australia took some 30 hours to get to Israel from Mozambique and were outdone by a fitter and more technically efficient Israeli side 1-0. In the return leg in Sydney in front a sellout crowd Australia would go out 2-1 on aggregate after only drawing 1-1, the goal from Australia coming near the death through Watkiss.

Australia were out, cursed and it wouldn’t be until satirical comedian John Safran performed a ceremony with Warren in Mozambique and then Sydney to lift the curse which was shown on his program  ‘John Saffran VS God’. The curse was gone and Australia qualified for Germany, nuff said. Another steep learning curve for Australia with an interesting story to boot (since how many countries get cursed qualifying for a World Cup) but then again there are many stories good and bad when it came to Socceroos over the years.

About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Glory Guerrillas Producer and Co-Host. Contributer to Football Nation Radio and Football West. Worships at the feet of the mighty Cats, Socceroos, Matildas, West Perth, Glory and Glasgow's Green and White most of the time.


  1. Patrick_Skene says

    Always pay the witchdoctor…

  2. Dennis Gedling says

    Indeed. It’s amazing some of the situations the team got themselves in over the years.

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