FORMER Inglewood coach Jimmy Pearson was among a group of former Socceroos stars to be hailed by Football Federation Australia in Sydney on November 16.
The 77-year-old was involved in a reunion of the surviving members of the Australian team that made history 50 years ago when the Socceroos attempted to qualify for the World Cup for the first time.
To mark the 50th anniversary of the pioneering effort, FFA gathered together 14 of the original squad of 20 for their first official reunion and presented them with special commemorative shirts.
Apart from Pearson, they also included captain Les Scheinflug, vice-captain Pat Hughes and fellow players Stan Ackerley, John Anderson, Roy Blitz, Archie Blue, Ron Giles, John Roberts, Bill Rorke, Nigel Shepherd, Geoff Sleight, David Todd and John Watkiss.
The 1965 squad prepared in the humidity of north Queensland to become acclimatised for their two World Cup qualifiers against a battle hardened North Korean side at a neutral venue in steamy Cambodia. The Socceroos were beaten 9-2 on aggregate across the two matches. They lost the first game 6-1 (with the Koreans scoring three late goals) and then ran a closer race in the second game before going down 3-1.
But the results were put in context when the North Koreans defeated the highly rated Italy in the 1966 World Cup finals, held in England, and led semi-finalists Portugal by three goals before Eusebio turned on some magic for the Portuguese to prevail 5-3.
Adding to the legend of the Australian squad, none of the players were full time or paid to play, each provided with only a small amount for food and necessities.
“These pioneers laid the foundations for future World Cup qualifying campaigns and broke new ground under trying conditions and with extremely limited resources as they travelled to play in a place totally foreign to them,” said FFA chief executive David Gallop.
“Considering the challenges they faced and the magnitude of what they were up against, these trailblazers epitomised what it meant to represent this country. They have and will continue to leave a lasting legacy for Australian football.”
Scottish-born Pearson played for Greenock Morton and Aberdeen before emigrating to Melbourne in 1962. He then played for Sydney side Pan Hellenic and his eye-catching efforts on the wing earned him an international call-up. He played eight times in all for Australia in 1965.
Pearson later turned to coaching and arrived in Perth to guide several clubs, including Inglewood, Dianella and Forrestfield.
Another Scotsman who was part of that World Cup squad was Archie Blue, who played for Hearts before heading Down Under and turning out for Footscray JUST and APIA. He turned out 10 times for Australia and later had a brief coaching stint in WA.
On the same day as the 1965 squad reunion, former Matilda Lisa Casagrande and Indigenous pioneer John Moriarty were inducted into the Football Federation Australia Hall of Fame.
Casagrande made her Matildas debut at just 14 years of age before retiring at 22. Her first match for the Matildas came against Japan in 1994 and a year later she scored in a 3-2 win over Brazil. Casagrande featured at two FIFA Women’s World Cups and became the youngest player to reach 50 international caps.
Moriarty was the first Indigenous player ever selected to represent Australia, although he did not end up taking the field in the green and gold due to the Socceroos’ tour to Hong Kong in 1960 being cancelled because of Australia’s expulsion from FIFA. He later co-founded John Moriarty Football, a foundation that mentors young Indigenous footballers.
PICTURED: Jimmy Pearson (front row, third from left) at the World Cup reunion.