IT’S 50 years since the West Australian State team made history by becoming the first Australian representative side to take part in a tournament in Asia.
The Australian national team, the Socceroos, had initially been invited to compete in the Merdeka Cup international tournament in Malaysia in 1967 but could not take up the offer.
Julius Re, the President of the Soccer Federation of WA at the time, lobbied hard for WA to step into the national team’s shoes in what was at the time Asia’s most prestigious football festival.
“We were knocked back initially at the annual general meeting of the Australian Soccer Federation because the perception was that the WA team wouldn’t be strong enough to represent Australia,” recalled Re.
“But I kept up the lobbying and the ASF eventually gave us the go-ahead. We didn’t let them down for I thought we competed very well against what were the national teams of several Asian countries.”
WA were edged out 3-2 by the host nation in their first game and lost another thriller to India before beating Thailand 3-1. A narrow loss to Hong Kong was followed by a 5-3 triumph over Singapore.
“This was a wonderful achievement and not only put WA on the world football map but made international players of 16 local players, a goal of almost anyone who takes part in sport but one that is achieved by only a handful.”
That squad was:
Peter Mitchell, Chris Wissink, Theo Paap, Alan Lind, Zyggie Pieda (who was also the playing coach), Peter Giorgi, Dick Jones, Jim McIntosh, Tony Lawlor, Paul Sobek, Wally Musial, Ray Magennis, Graham Oughton, Bobby Varlow, Ian Tannahill, Christian Ducasse.
Such was the success of the venture that WA was invited to send a team to the Merdeka Cup again in 1968 – and came close to reaching the final.
The State team lost 4-3 to Malaysia in the semi-finals before beating Indonesia 3-1 in the play-off for third place.
***A SPECIAL tribute will be paid to the ground-breaking 1967 WA team at a Football Hall of Fame WA function at Dorrien Gardens on December 12.
PICTURED: The 1967 WA squad with support staff