Words and images from home and away
June 2014 is here—can it really be forty years ago that Australia played Chile in Berlin on 22 June 1974? It’s a commemoration of sorts for me, as it has been every World Cup since then, in its small way, but the symmetry of the match against Chile has extra piquancy I suppose. I’ll be up in the morning to watch it, don’t worry, and if it ends in a nil all draw as it did in Germany all those years ago, I’ll be the proudest Socceroo fan on earth.
That year I was an eleven year old living in Edinburgh, a homesick Aussie boy trying to understand what on earth the kids at Gracemount Primary School were saying, surprised too that they couldn’t understand me. The first weeks and months went by feeling like a fish out of water at school, a Catholic who had to melt away in the playground shadows as my classmates pelted stones and snowballs at the Micks next door. But by the end of the year, though homesick and ready to come back to Melbourne, I had been warmly embraced by my class and could proudly recite a fair slab of Tam O’ Shanter with the best of them. It was soccer as much as anything that brought us together.
I gradually made a few friends at school. At lunch times, if I wasn’t eating school dinners in the cafeteria—lots of salty soup, mashed potatoes and haggis, huge pitchers of custard with a thick skin on top— I’d skive off with Gordon Finlay who lived over the road beyond the oval. We’d play Subbuteo, a soccer board game, and listen to David Bowie records. ‘Rebel Rebel’ was the latest hit, and all this pop culture was an eye opener to a swat like me from Melbourne who was brought up without a TV—it was the year that Waterloo won the Eurovision song contest, and I’ll never forget the music video of the Stones doing ‘It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll’ inside some kind of plastic tent as the bubbles rose to eventually swamp them.
That Australia made the finals in West Germany was some kind of heaven sent miracle, as it was of course for Scotland, forever in the soccer wilderness despite the passion of the tartan army. I remember the likes of Kenny Dalgleish, Jimmy Johnstone, Billy Bremner, Joe Jordan, Tommy Hutchinson, Denis Law. These were our schoolyard heroes. I remember one day being taken to visit a neighbour in our street, some retired soccer figure who showed me all his trophy cabinets—I didn’t really realise at the time, but it turned out to be John Grieg, the greatest Rangers player of all time.
So with Australia in the World Cup finals, in a group with East and West Germany as well as Chile, I could stand toe to toe with my playground mates Gordon and Stuart and Douglas, share in the camaraderie of the game, commiserate as we were bundled out after the group stage, swap the player cards that I seem to recall we bought in packs of bubble gum and which are now one of my prize keepsakes from that year (and check out the hairstyles!) along with a postcard from Munich and a first day cover of the World Cup stamps that I bought when we went to Germany in July as tourists.
The year came slowly to an end, and life in Australia resumed in 1975. The Christmas card from my classmates they gave me just before we came back to Australia and a black and white photo of the boys in my class became more tenuous aides memoire as the years went by. For a year or so I kept up a correspondence with some of my close friends, but like all long distance relationships this eventually fell away.
In early 1976 my parents received a letter from Stuart Fraser’s stepfather Ronnie. A few of the boys in my class had belonged to the Gracemount Rovers Football Club, and in 1974-5 they had cleared the board of trophies in their comp. As a treat the organisers arranged for the boys to have a weekend in Liverpool to play some teams there and to watch a first division match. On the way back home their bus broke down, and the parents received a phone call late in the evening saying that the organisers were trying to arrange alternative transport back. Near midnight, Stuart’s mum Ada had a call from the police and was told that an articulated lorry carrying 30 tons of paper hit the bus and forced it down an embankment. Stuart was killed on the spot, and another boy died a week later. Ronnie and Stuart’s mum Ada had been married just a week before. ‘I hope you will explain this to your son Andrew in better terms than I have’, Ronnie wrote. I don’t think mum did at the time, but I found the letter later in her things.
So go the Socceroos, as I say with passion every time the World Cup comes round again. And as always I shed a private tear and think of you my lost boys and the dreams we had all those years ago. I hope you’ve got a good possie somewhere in the stands.
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