Centenary Celebrations Double Down Under

FORTY YEARS AGO…Australian football recognised its 100th anniversary of operation in 1980 by facing Northern Ireland in three friendly matches – and the Irish were, themselves, savouring their own Centenary.
The tour was made even the more meritorious with the Irish Football Association securing the British Home Championship for the first time in 66 years, under the guidance of their new manager, Belfast-born Billy Bingham who himself gained 56 caps for his country.
So it was indeed a special though privileged visit considering the Irish players had just endured a heavy season on top of the British Championship.

The exhausting term prevented several star players travelling, including Pat Jennings, Pat Rice and Sammy Nelson. With Jennings’ absence, however, it enabled Middlesbrough’s Jim Platt to step in, having already been voted among the top four goalkeepers in the English First Division that year.
Platt, in fact, still makes regular visits to Perth, since he has a son living permanently in WA.
The first match was played at the Sydney Cricket Ground on 12 June and the visitors managed to edge out the Australians 2-1. Jimmy Nicholl put the Northern Irish ahead after just 11 minutes and John O’Neill increased their lead eight minutes after the break. Peter Sharne pulled one back after 75 minutes but the Aussies were unable to find the net again.
The second friendly three days later was a much more even affair with the game ending 1-1. Played at Melbourne’s Olympic Park, Sharne was again on target when he put the Australian’s into the lead after 18 minutes.
The Irish however managed to scramble a draw eight minutes from time through Martin O’Neill.
The third game (June 18) went the way of the first with Northern Ireland clinching another 2-1 win in Adelaide. Sharne put Australia 1-0 in the first half before Noel Brotherston (67) and Colin McCurdy (77) swung the game around after the interval.
Meantime, four days later, the Northern Irish completed their obligations Down Under with a friendly against Western Australia.
With State representative football at that time experiencing a slump in appeal, a paltry 2,631 fans came through the WACA Ground turnstiles to see WA receive a 4-0 hammering.
“1980 will go down as the year that international soccer was beaten, bludgeoned and buried in Western Australia, possibly for all time”, said an article in the 1981 Soccer Federation of WA yearbook.
“Should we stop all international matches and deny the right of our young players to measure themselves against the world? Shall we bury our heads in the sand as the rest of the world goes by, admitting that our interest is so parochial that we really don’t care about the game? The solution is elementary. We must support ourselves, for nobody else will.”
It eventually took a friendly against none other than the Socceroos three years later at Inglewood Reserve to reverse the trend, when a large crowd witnessed the West Australians emerge victorious 2-1 in what was a truly commanding performance.

FOOTNOTE: The WA squad that faced Northern Ireland was: Willie McNally; Keith Jones, Steve Tombides, Peter Baczynski, Paul McKenna, Lee Adam, Stephen Sceats (capt), Gordon McCulloch, Tony Pragnall, Neil Garvey, Frank Smerilli. Res: Michael Lynch, Stephen Snell, John Fiamengo, Dave Fidoe, John Alavakis (rgk). Coach: John Ward.
**The now WA-based pair of Ken Boden and John Coyne were in the Australian squad that faced the Irish. 

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