Arthur George, the longest-serving president of the former Australian Soccer Federation, has passed away at the age of 98.
George, knighted in 1972 for his services to the Greek Australian community, was born in Sydney as Athanasios Theodore Tzortzatos, but as was common in the era he anglicised his name as he forged a career as a solicitor and later a property developer.
While renowned for his generosity towards a number of charitable causes, it was his stewardship of football at a time when it was transitioning towards becoming a mainstream sport which was arguably his best known legacy.
He was president of the ASF between 1969 and 1988, a period highlighted by Australia's first ever appearance at the FIFA World Cup finals in 1974, and the subsequent formation of the National Soccer League in 1977.
The NSL became the first national sporting competition in the country.
A strong, driven personality, George had many confrontations with officials, coaches and the media during his tenure but can be credited with a number of far-reaching reforms.
Aside from the establishment of the NSL, Australia fielded its first national youth teams in1979, hosted its first FIFA competition in 1981 (World Youth Championships) and staged a hugely-successful Gold Cup tournament including then world champion Argentina and powerhouse Brazil to mark the nation's Bicentenary in 1988.
Under George the ASF established the first coaching education scheme in Australian sport, a visionary step in 1975.
During much of his tenure at the ASF, he also served on the FIFA executive, the first Australian to do so.
FIFA later awarded him the Gold Order of Merit, the world body's highest honour.
George was also a long-serving member of the Oceania Football Confederation and despite making three failed attempts to change Australia's membership from the OFC to the Asian Football Confederation, he ultimately became a life president of Oceania.
Football Federation Australia chairman Frank Lowy, AC, acknowledged his years of service to Australian football.
“Sir Arthur served for almost 20 years at the head of the ASF and was single-minded in his pursuit of what he identified as the game’s best interests,” said Lowy.
“He fought for the game and presided over many great achievements, including Australia’s first ever qualification for the FIFA World Cup in 1974.
“On behalf of the football community, I send my condolences to the family.”
The funeral is set for St George Greek Orthodox Church, Newcastle Street, Rose Bay, next Tuesday.
If the World Cup was decided by ticket sales, Australia would finish fifth with Australians holding about 50,000 tickets for the showpiece event starting in June in Brazil.