Tuesday 25 February 2020

Italian teams in Australia

Published as ‘The Italian Jobs’, Goal Weekly, Monday 5 May 2008, p. 11.

The mighty Juventus will play Melbourne Victory on 30 May bringing back memories of previous matches against Italian clubs on tour to Australia.

AS Roma was the first to arrive after the Second World War and it played two games at Olympic Park in 1966, setting the crowd attendance record for that venue variously put at 37,500 and 35,856 in the first of these. Either way it is the crowd record for Olympic Park. Roma won the first game by four goals to two after scoring in the first minute through Angelo Spanio, but when the Vics hit back with goals by Norm Gajda and Frank Micic, the crowd began singing ‘Arrivederci Roma’, before late efforts by Spanio again, Fulvio Francesconi and Victor Benitez swung the game back to the visitor. The second match attracted 15,694. Roma won by a goal to nil.

In 1976 Bologna arrived and played the Socceroos in Adelaide and Sydney. Australia beat Bologna by three goals to one at Hindmarsh in Adelaide, with goals by Richie Bell, Dave Harding and Atti Abonyi. The second match at the Sydney Cricket Ground was a scoreless draw. An Italian army team also visited in 1976 and it downed Australia 3–1 at the Sydney Sports Ground in front of 15,000 on 18 May.

Four years later AC Milan made the first of its two visits. Australia beat the Italian giant by two goals to one thanks to Gary Cole and Mark Jankovics at the Sydney Sports Ground on 18 May 1980. Tom Anderson described the Milan tackles and defensive methods as ‘crude, rude and downright dirty’. Jimmy Rooney captained the Australian team. ‘The wee man stood head and shoulders above them all’, according to the match report in Soccer Action. That year Milan was relegated to Serie B for its part in a match-fixing scandal.

Milan beat Western Australia 3–2, South Australia 3–1 and Victoria by 2–0 in front of 18,000 at Olympic Park.

It came back again in 1993 as Serie A champion and played two matches on successive nights in Sydney and Melbourne. Stunning displays by Mark Bosnich in goal could not prevent defeats through a Tony Vidmar own goal in the first match and strikes by Marco Simone and Gianluigi Lentini in the second at Princes Park. Referee John Fraser came in for criticism for carving nine minutes off the first half of the latter game, though some said it was done so Milan could catch the late night flight back to Italy.

Juventus has also been here before. In 1984 it arrived as the holder of the European Cup Winners Cup and played a three-match series against Australia. Iraklis, Manchester United, Nottingham Forest and Glasgow Rangers also took part in the month long tournament. Australia drew one-all with Juve at the MCG, thanks to a powerful David Ratcliffe header from a Joe Watson corner, only for Giovanni Koetting to equalise late in the game. Australia went down by four goals to two in Adelaide in the second match, but bounced back for a stunning 2–0 win in Sydney with goals from Steve O’Connor and Marshall Soper. Antonio Cabrini was sent off just before half-time, but coach Giovanni Trapattoni said Australia won because ‘it showed more heart and wanted to win more than we did’.

Udinese was next to appear in 1985 taking part in a four team tournament with Tottenham Hotspur, Vasco da Gama from Brazil and the Socceroos. Australia defeated the Italians at Football Park in Adelaide by two goals to one. The games were played as double-headers and Udinese drew with Vasco at the MCG and beat Spurs 2–0 in Sydney. One of my memories of that tournament is of locked gates on the upper deck of the MCG in the week after the Bradford fire in which many people perished when exits were barred to fleeing spectators.

Sampdoria toured the Far East in 1996, downing Perth Glory by 3 goals to nil on the Australian leg of its journey. Kris Trajanovski, Geelong-born Socceroo, turned out for Indonesia against Sampdoria in front of over 100,000 in Jakarta, and marked England captain David Platt, during that tour.
An Italian women’s team visited in January 1999, playing two matches and winning the first on penalties despite being down to 8 players after three were sent off. The second saw a one-nil win to the Matildas thanks to Cheryl Salisbury’s strike in 19 minutes at Bruce Stadium.

The most recent Italian team to play in Australia was the Under-23 team which took part in the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000. In the opening match with the Olyroos at the MCG before 93,252 Italy grabbed a late winner after an error by Hayden Foxe. A win over Honduras, and a draw with Nigeria got Italy into the quarter final, where it went down in turn to a late goal by Spain.

Brunswick United Juventus, our local National Soccer League club, went the other way, meeting Roma in Rome in 1985. That trip came as a bonus from the president, Tony Schiavello, for winning the NSL championship that year.

I am indebted to Andrew Howe, Egilberto Martin, Russell Lea, Nick Guoth, Denis Harlow, Richard Kreider, John Punshon and the contributors to the Ozfootball website for information for this article. Photographs by permission of Les Shorrock and John Punshon.

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