Stanley Matthews came to Australia with Blackpool in 1958 and was invited back as a guest the following year with the carrot being some top class tennis coaching for his son as much as the payment for himself. He was always careful in looking after the bawbees was Stanley and he did not take up the offer, though it is believed he was tempted.
Internal poaching of players as guests for critical matches happened in the 1960s. In 1964, Croatia won the first division after an enthralling struggle with Makedonia which went right to the final game, which happened to be between the two promotion contenders. Croatia only lost one game and drew three in the league season. The Scots of Moreland inflicted the defeat, while Bayswater, Sandringham and Makedonia, in their first encounter, were able to share the points. The last match of the season would decide the league and neither side was prepared to contemplate defeat. Both clubs sent representatives to Sydney to sign players on loan to play in the crucial game. Frank Burin managed to recruit six players from sister clubs in Sydney and returned to Melbourne in triumph believing he had the talent to ensure victory. But the clearances for the players did not come through and a message to Frank’s home was waiting for him when arrived, so the visitors had to watch the game from the sidelines. Makedonia had been luckier, or more resourceful, and had Jelasavlevich from Sydney in the team, whom they reported had been cleared to play.
As it turned out the additional strength was not required and local Croatians proved capable of doing the job on their own. Croatia won by three goals to one. The team was Mirko Kovacek, George Briscuso, Tibi Becsi, Bruno Slivar, Ivo Matijevic, John Tato, Jim Vojtek, Horst Rau, Harry Richmond, Billy Vojtek and Ollie Norris. The match was played at Port Melbourne, and the attendance was said to be 4,000. The referee was Geoff Harrison and two of Croatia’s goals were scored by Billy Vojtek, and the other by Horst Rau. Grosdanov replied for Makedonia.
Charlie George and Malcolm ‘Supermac’ Macdonald were both in Australia as guest players in 1977 with St George and South Melbourne Hellas respectively. That was the first season of the National Soccer League and they met at Middle Park on 15 June with MacDonald scoring twice, but Charlie George got the winner in a 3-2 result. That was George’s only goal in six games for St George. Macdonald was insured for $500,000 for three games and South Melbourne asked the clubs he played against to chip in to help pay the premium of $2,000.
So Melbourne Victory’s seeking opponents to pay part of Harry Kewell’s current asking price is not unprecedented.
England’s 1966 World Cup winner Bobby Charlton had one game with Newcastle KB United in 1978 and he also played for Blacktown City in 1980 scoring in his only game.
Including Charlton GW believes there have been five World Cup winners in total who have at one time or another played in Australian football league competitions.
The others were 1966 English World Cup winner Martin Peters (Norwich City and Frankston City in 1980), Osvaldo Ardiles (Argentina 1978 and St George in 1985), Francesco Graziani (Italy 1982 and APIA Leichhardt in 1988) and Romario (Brazil 1994 and Adelaide United 2006).
Nicola Berti played in Italy’s 1994 World Cup Final loss to Brazil before later turning up six years later in the NSL in 2001/02 to score 2 goals in 19 games for Northern Spirit.
The current A-League allows for what are called marquee and guest players, and while the former category has been widely used, guests are infrequent. Brazilian superstriker Romario arrived in the second season of the league and played four games for Adelaide United. He did not set the world on fire though he helped draw a few spectators through the gate. Benito Carbone joined Sydney FC that year too and scored a couple of goals, but injured a hamstring after only three games.
Craig Johnston had a stint as a guest player at Newcastle KB United in 1978, playing 9 games and came back again in 1982 for another four games. The highlight was a hat-trick against Brisbane Lions on 26 June in a three-one win. After the match around 1,000 youngsters spilled on to the pitch to greet their hero. In his first spell he was at Middlesbrough, but by the time he came back he had moved to Liverpool. Kevin Keegan arrived at Blacktown City in the NSL in 1985 scoring one goal in two games for the club.
Then of course there was Peter ‘Gus’ Tsolakis. He was a guest player for his favourite club West Ham United when they turned up one short for a match at Olympic Park. Not bad being a guest player in your own country for a First Division English club.
Amongst others we can recall who graced Australian soccer shores at one time or another under the guise of guest player in order to help make the turnstiles click at the gate were:
Francis Lee (Manchester City and St George in 1976)
Ralph Coates (Tottenham and St George in 1978)
Ray Clemence (Liverpool and St George in 1978)
Ian Rush (Liverpool and Welsh legend played 3 games for Sydney Olympic and scored 1 goal in 1999)
Justin Fashanu (Norwich City and Adelaide City, played 11 games with 5 goals in two stints in 1980 and 1981)
Martin Chivers (Tottenham star who played 2 games for Frankston City in 1980)
Bob Latchford (Everton striker who played a handful of games for Brisbane Lions in 1981)
Peter Beardsley (Former Liverpool, Newcastle United and Everton star played 2 games for Melbourne Knights in 1999)
Peter Barnes (Former Manchester City, Leeds United, Manchester United and England winger played 2 games for Footscray JUST in 1989)
Paul Mariner (Ipswich Town and England striker played 2 games for Wollongong City in 1988)
Alan Brazil (Ipswich Town and Scotland striker played 12 games and scored 4 goals for Wollongong City in 1988)
George Best (Manchester United and Northern Ireland legend played 4 games for Brisbane Lions in 1983)
Mick Channon (Manchester City, Southampton and England striker played 4 games with 3 goals for Newcastle KB United in 1981).
Last but not least there was John Samaras - the son of Georgios Samaras who was one of the founder members of South Melbourne Hellas back in the 1950s. John was a former Panathinaikos and OFI Crete striker who returned to Australia in 1988 to play one game for South as a guest. John refused any match fee and scored the winner in a 2-1 win over Sydney Olympic - and fulfilled a dream to play for his father’s club. John is also the father of Celtic’s Giorgos Samaras.
I don’t know of any consolidated list of guest players in the long history of the game in this country and given the rather uncertain conditions under which many players were attracted to spend some time down under, it is unlikely that a comprehensive one will be possible. It would be good if our eagle eyed readers and those with long memories could send Goal Weekly any details about guest players, particularly those from non-UK sources so that we can try to compile the best list we can. You can use the comments box at the end of the column on the website to do so if you wish.