15 November 2017

Socceroos celebrate 50 years since Vietnam triumph

The Socceroos journey to Vietnam in 1967 is the forgotten tale of Australian football but their courage was recognised on Wednesday when the team celebrated 50 years since their remarkable triumph.

War was raging when the Federal Government sent a team of young, talented footballers to the warzone where they played South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and the host nation Vietnam in what was meant to be a ‘friendly tournament’.

Against the odds, the Socceroos won 10 straight games to progress to the final at Cong Hoa Stadium where they beat South Korea 3-2 in front of 30,000 fans to win their first piece of international silverware. 

Billy Vojtek scored off the back of a wonderful solo effort after 36 minutes, and Atilla Abonyi and captain Johnny Warren added the other two to secure the win in testing circumstances.

Warren recalled the team ate with soldiers in their mess and then played football while their compatriots went off to fight. Players experienced training under mortar fire, poor hotel facilities, a diet of spam, grungy playing facilities next to a paddock full of land mines, and stifling heat during their tour.

They did the nation proud, but their efforts were lost in the chaos of the Vietnam War and the years that followed. A failure to qualify for the 1970 World Cup, the triumph of Gough Whitlam’s Labor Government, Harold Holt’s disappearance and a resting Parliament were just some of the factors that took the spotlight away from their achievement.

The Socceroos outfit that boarded the plane were formally recognised when members of the squad gathered in the SCG Members Pavilion, exactly half a century on from their incredible feat. The SCG Trust commissioned the event with Chairman Tony Shepherd paying tribute to the team.

“Against the odds and in the direst of circumstances, you prevailed and along the way set a standard of footballing excellence that has rarely been lived up to in the 50 years that have followed,” Mr Shepherd said.

“Today we recognise an achievement that took place thousands of kilometres from our ground but is every bit as great as the Bradman centuries, rugby league grand finals or Bledisloe Cups we’ve seen at the SCG.

“On the most distant of playing fields, and just about as far from the spotlight as imaginable, the Socceroos legacy was created.

“It’s a legacy that lived on to 1974, through the barren years and into the golden era when players like Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka and Tim Cahill established themselves as household names.

“The SCG Trust has taken the important step to right that oversight in our sporting history. It is our absolute pleasure to have so many of the ‘67 players here today, as well as the others who have worn the Socceroos jersey.

“It is our honour to host you. It is our honour to recognise your efforts, not just for football, but for Australian sport.”

The team were presented with Australian jerseys by Socceroo Robbie Slater who helped lead the tributes. Click here to see all of the photos from the afternoon. 

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