• Gary Cole during his time as Melbourne Victory's Football Operations Manager in 2008 (Getty Images)
The World Game's monthly feature pays tribute to Australia's heroes of yesteryear who left their mark on football down under. Striker Gary Cole struck fear among many defenders with his power and pace before injury cut short his career.
By
Philip Micallef

28 Jun 2017 - 2:59 PM  UPDATED 28 Jun 2017 - 2:59 PM

Socceroos striker Gary Cole has urged football authorities in Australia to resist the temptation of chasing the dollar and pick a venue that will give the national team the best chance of reaching the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

The Socceroos are engaged in a scramble to gain automatic entry to the tournament in Russia and will be at home to Thailand in their group's final qualifying match on September 5.

FFA have yet to confirm the venue for the match that should determine Australia's fate and if recent history is any indication the game will go to the city or stadium that offers the best deal.

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But Cole believes that this should not be the prime consideration.

The right football decision is crucial, Cole says.

"You can understand why everyone wants more money," Cole, 61, said.

"We have seen this recently, with a World Cup qualifier against Saudi Arabia being played in Adelaide at Adelaide Oval, which is a fantastic facility for cricket and AFL but not for football.

"The FFA have indicated that the final qualifier against Thailand is available to the highest bidder. If we are serious about our football we have to play this game, which may confirm our automatic qualification, in a rectangular stadium, with fans close to the pitch and with the best playing surface we can find.

"AAMI Park in Melbourne comes to mind. This would be a sellout, with an amazing atmosphere and a pitch that suits the way the Socceroos want to play.

"We have to play these qualifying games to suit our football, but we settle on suiting our bank balance."

Cole, who played 19 full internationals for Australia and many more representative games before his international career was cut short by a serious ankle injury, was happy to reminisce about his career with Heidelberg and the Socceroos.

What has become of Gary Cole the international footballer?

"I'm currently working in the leisure industry for Belgravia Leisure in Melbourne. We manage health and wellness facilities primarily for local government in Australia and New Zealand.

"I'm not involved in the game anymore. I'm now a fully qualified armchair expert!"

Football was very different in your days. What or where is the greatest and most glaring difference?

"I'm not sure it is a glaring difference because the game is constantly evolving. It is a much bigger business now than it has ever been. The A-League is bigger than the old NSL and the FFA is bigger than Soccer Australia. Today we have larger revenues and larger expenses.

"Perhaps you can use the term 'more professional' because of the dollars involved but that's unfair to those successful journalists, clubs, administrators, coaches and players who have always been very professional in their approach."

For the benefit of our younger readers what sort of player were you and is there anybody in Oz today who might resemble your style?

"Well, let me put on my rose coloured glasses!

"I was a big, strong, quick and old-fashioned central striker. By that I mean I played with my back to goal and was a 'target man' ... receive the ball, hold it up for supporting midfielders and then look to run forward.

"I wasn't blessed with close dribbling skills but I was quick and strong and there were not too many defenders who could catch me.

"I'm not sure strikers are necessarily my size and shape anymore. You certainly don't need to be big, although that still doesn't hurt when challenging for the ball at either end of the park.

"Modern strikers still have an advantage if they are quick. They are normally technically very good in tight areas and if they are going to make a successful career they need to make forward runs and get on the end of things close to goal. Being a good finisher doesn't hurt either!

"Maybe Melbourne Victory's Danny Allsopp was the closest to my style of play."

One of your best years must have been 1979 when Heidelberg finished second in the NSL and you played 10 internationals.

"I was fortunate to play for Heidelberg, Victoria and the Socceroos through that time. I played with many other Socceroos at the Bergers.

"With Victoria under Len McKendry I played really well against a number of touring teams. We knocked off AEK who had made the semi-finals of the European Champions Cup. We won 4-0 and I scored three at Olympic Park - great days.

"The Bergers' Socceroos were Jim Tansey, Jimmy Campbell, Geoff Olver, John Yzendoorn, Theo Selemidis, Jimmy Rooney, Jamie Paton, Yakka Banovic and Charlie Yankos - not too shabby!"

You also played in that infamous 0-2 defeat to New Zealand in Sydney that effectively ended Australia's chances of making the 1982 World Cup. Was that the low point of your career?

"No doubt the most disappointing time of my career. We initially drew 3-3 with the Kiwis in Auckland after we led three times but they kept equalising. I didn't go as I had a quad strain.

"Then the Kiwis came to Sydney with their tails up and full of confidence. We started off poorly and went 1-0 down with a long-range strike that went under Greg Woodhouse. I came on at half-time.

"But they were very good and we didn't make an impression. They made it 2-0 with a header and it was all over.

"We then played the remainder of our games and did really well, finishing with Fiji here in Melbourne and we won 10-0. Dave Mitchell got three and I got seven but we had to hope the demoralised Fijians could go to Auckland and beat the All Whites but they lost 13-0.

"Of course, the Kiwis went on to play in the 1982 World Cup in Spain in a group with Brazil, Russia and Scotland.

"Rudi Gutendorf got the sack after the loss to New Zealand in Sydney and Les Scheinflug took over for the remainder of the qualifiers but it was too late."

You also suffered a bad ankle injury two years later in 1983. What happened? Did that mishap cost you more full caps?

"I went down a hole playing in Adelaide against Adelaide City. I rolled the ankle and ruptured ligaments.

"I tried to play without surgery but it was no good so I had it reconstructed. I missed four or five months and then it takes time to get back into it.

"I also left Heidelberg to play for Preston the following season. Fair to say my form for the best part of six months at Preston was not great.

"So I probably missed a year of Socceroos games and with Frank Arok arriving on the scene a number of younger players had developed and come through and started to do great things. I'm talking about guys like Marshall Soper, Paul Trimboli and I think John Kosmina came back to Oz as well.

"I had one more selection in a Socceroos B team when Rangers and Iraklis came out and we played in a tournament."

What was it like to play in the Heidelberg versus South Melbourne derbies from players' and fans' point of view?

"They were amazing games and Olympic Park or Middle Park used to be packed to the rafters with 14,000 to 18,000 crowds. The place would erupt when either team scored.

"I got my fair share in these wonderful derbies and the Hellas fans loved to hate me!

"Winning the derbies also had the capacity to cover a poor season. If you were struggling in the league but could beat South once or twice and get the Greek bragging rights, it was still ok.

"The fans were and still are amazing, very passionate. You could not wish for more warm, friendly and hospitable people. They loved you and loved to share food and drink - very generous.

"I've caught up with Hellas playmaker Ulysses Kokkinos a couple of times and we reminisced about these days and some of the great players that pulled on the yellow or the blue."

Do we need more derbies in the A-League or do we have enough?

"I think that the Melbourne and Sydney derbies have been great for the A-League ... massive crowds, amazing atmospheres.

"It's inevitable that we will have more. The FFA need to grow the competition and eventually there will be another team in Melbourne or Victoria and another team in Sydney.

"Brisbane City have indicated they are keen to apply for a licence, so a derby would be great for Brisbane too.

"We already have the M1 derby between Central Coast Mariners and Newcastle Jets. I'm not sure about second teams for Western Australia or South Australia though.

"The key here will be where these new clubs are based. The Wanderers concept in western Sydney was ideal and worked a treat because they were not in central Sydney, competing head-on with Sydney FC.

"Melbourne City were dropped into central Melbourne and while they have built a great club and an amazing training facility out at La Trobe University, they are still struggling to get average crowds of more than 10,000 apart from the derby games.

"That's why if and when another team comes to Melbourne it would make sense that it is from Melbourne's south-east would work."

Who are the best players you have played with and against?

"Wow, that's a tough one because I played with so many great players.

"I always admired what Jimmy Rooney did for Apia and the Socceroos and I encouraged Heidelberg to chase him, which they did. He had great skill, vision and passing ability. He had an immense knowledge of the game and he was a good bloke too.

"Also, I struggle to get past Jimmy Tansey and Jimmy Campbell from the Bergers. My partnership with Jamie Paton was very successful for Heidelberg and Victoria and of course a couple of games with the Socceroos.

"We were very different players but Jamie was a great finisher and had the goalscorer's knack of being in the right place at the right time. I couldn't tell you how many times he scored from inside the six-yard box!

"The best I played against is also a challenge. Tony Henderson at Marconi was a very good player and very good on the ball and a very attack-minded defender. Jerry Gomez at Hakoah and Sydney and I had some ding-dong battles. He was also very quick and as hard as nails and took no prisoners!

"I had the pleasure of playing against Franz Beckenbauer when he came to Australia with New York Cosmos along with Carlos Alberto, Giorgio Chinaglia and Johan Neeskens. He was still the general with silky skills and he seemed to play in slow motion, never hurried - he certainly had the best pedegree!"

And finally who are the players you admire most in Australia and abroad?

"I think Craig Johnston should not be overlooked from an Australian perspective. In the modernish era he went and paved a road that many of our golden generation followed.

"To head off with nothing but a dream and to pursue that dream in spite of the early knockbacks and then achieve what he did with Liverpool is outstanding and perhaps showed Europe the character and quality of footballers that Australia could produce.

"Mark Viduka, Harry Kewell, Mark Schwarzer, Tim Cahill et al that followed a few years behind Craig had amazing careers and achieved greatness themselves but maybe all Australian footballers owe Craig a mark of respect.

"I think I have to go with the strikers for the foreign part. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has had an amazing career for club and country and he just keeps scoring goals ... not just goals but important ones too. He is the sort of player you can rely on to win you games 1-0 or 2-1 not just the striker that that can make it 2-0 or 3-0. When the heat is on he scores goals to win games, championships and trophies.

"Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are incredible and are everything I have just said about Zlatan and more. They also keep on improving.

"It intrigues me that the world is split over who is the best. For me they are both the best and maybe we will never see two players dominate world football as they have done."

GARY COLE FACTFILE

Club career:
1976-1983: Heidelberg
1984-1986: Preston Lions

International career:
1975-1984: Australia (19 matches)