The World Game pays its monthly tribute to the Socceroos stars of yesteryear who left their mark on football down under. Goalkeeper Jim Fraser played a key role in Australia's qualification for the 1974 FIFA World Cup but his childhood dream was shattered due to circumstances beyond his control.
Socceroos goalkeeper Jim Fraser has revealed the inner torment that keeps gnawing at him after he forfeited a chance to realise his childhood dream of playing in a FIFA World Cup 44 years ago.
Fraser, who is now 70, played a key role in the Socceroos' qualification for the 1974 tournament in West Germany.
Yet, after helping Australia reach the first finals at their third attempt, Fraser was faced with the biggest decision of his football career.
Should he go or should he stay at home?
With a heavy heart he had to inform coach Rale Rasic he would not be available to play in the finals due to his business commitments and a threat of legal action by his company partner and out of respect for 150 employees.
Fraser and a partner owned a guard dog security business in Sydney that was linked to the building industry and whenever he was away on Socceroos duty the company did not function properly.
Facing the threat of being sued by his business partner for loss of earnings and fearing for the viability of the company and the welfare of its employees, as the building sector was going through a slump, Fraser made the big decision to pull out of the squad and watch the World Cup on television.
"Every time I went away the business lost money," Fraser said.
"My partner did not understand what football meant to me and kept telling me we were losing money and it was unfair and if I went to the World Cup the staff could lose their jobs.
"My wife was under a lot of pressure because she was taking all the calls and my partner even threatened to sue me if I went away again.
"Looking back, I would have loved to change my mind because I desperately wanted to go to Germany. Did the decision affect my life? Of course it did, it's in my mind most days. But I don't think I could have changed my decision.
"I used to hate it whenever I was asked the question why I was not going. Some English papers even poked fun at me saying Australia's goalkeeper was staying away from the World Cup to mind his dog.
"I am still disappointed but I have come to terms with the fact that I could not have made the decision any other way."
Fraser played only eight full internationals for Australia but his expertise in grooming promising goalkeepers served Australian football in good stead for many years.
He spoke at length about football then and now.
What are you doing now?
"I live on the south coast near Shellharbour. I coach at Football NSW and Football South Coast and I've just signed with Western Sydney Wanderers to do their academy (goalkeeping) next year."
How come you started playing first grade rather late at 22?
"The reason is I was with Sydney Croatia as a teenager but Ron Corry was just too good and I could never get a game. So I transferred to Polonia in 1968 and played two good years there before I signed for St George. I had a good apprenticeship under Corry but St George were a great club to be with. They were very well run."
St George, who now play in NSW's second tier, were one of the strongest clubs in Australia in the 1970s and 1980s - so you must have been disappointed by their rapid fall from grace.
"It's very sad, yes, and it is also disappointing that they never asked for any help from the boys of that era. The club went into decline in the latter part of the 1980s maybe because the people who came in did not have the foresight of the likes of Alex Pongrass. The Barton Park ground is a sorry sight today. The pitch is terrible and the main stand is condemned so you cannot even stay there any more."
Who were Australia's best goalkeepers in your time?
"Croatia's Corry was excellent as was Prague's Ron Lord and there were other young keepers coming through like Pan Hellenic's Gary Meier."
You were a member of the Socceroos' squad that tried to qualify for the 1970 World Cup. What are your memories of the campaign that ended with elimination at the last hurdle?
"Corry made the best two saves I have seen in my life in the final qualifier against Israel. He saved a penalty and flicked a ball destined for the top corner over the bar. We lost the game 1-0 and flew back to Sydney straight away but the federation could not keep us in camp for the second leg 10 days later because they said they could not afford to.
"In the return in Sydney we could only draw 1-1 so we were out. It was heartbreaking to miss out on a spot in the World Cup by just one goal.
"Another thing I remember is something that would not happen today. I was brought into the squad late for the preceding tie against Rhodesia in November that went to a deciding third match. I had finished my club season in September and I got a call asking me if I was fit. I said 'of course I'm fit' ... I was not.
"We started running at training at Wentworth Park in intense heat and after a while I started to lag behind, which is when Corry and Stan Ackerley grabbed me by both arms, hid me in their midst and dragged me around the park. The national team players were a great bunch of guys and they all looked after me. I was young and I got into the squad but did not play."
The bid for the 1974 World Cup would have a more positive outcome yet the Socceroos had to survive a few minefields along the way. Which is where you came in.
"I made my competitive debut in the first phase of qualifying against Iraq, who had to win in Sydney to stay in the race for the finals. We needed a draw as long as we beat Indonesia in our last group game.
"It was a tough match and it could have gone either way. I made a couple of good saves and all the team worked hard for a 0-0 draw. We then beat Indonesia 6-0 to win the group by a point and earn the right to face Iran in the next phase."
Australia won the first leg 3-0 but you guys were in big trouble when you trailed Iran 2-0 in the second leg in Tehran, right?
"We thought we were home and hosed after the first game. Everything clicked for us on the day but the return would be an entirely different story. When we arrived in Tehran at three in the morning we were 'greeted' by hundreds of local fans at the airport who tried to intimidate us. They even tried to ram our bus on the way to the hotel to put us off.
"When we actually got to the ground to play the game in front of a noisy and partisan crowd of 80,000 we were made to feel very much the away team. There was a moat around the ground and many policemen with sub-machine guns. Some fans targeted me and made signs with their hands showing I will be beaten four times.
"Thankfully, John Watkiss played like a man possessed ... he ran all night from box to box ... it was the best game I've ever seen him play.
"Yet amidst all the tension and drama he did not lose his sense of humour. At one stage I dived to my left to make a save at the expense of a corner and Watkiss came up to me and said 'will you stop giving away corners you bloody idiot'. The match was a torrid affair but we survived to go through."
The final tie against Korea Republic was a true test of character, especially after you guys were held to a 0-0 draw in the first leg in Sydney.
"The Koreans had been the better team in Sydney and we were rather tense going into the second leg in Seoul. When we were lining up before the national anthems were played I looked across to my team-mates and they appeared to be nervous. I said to myself 'we're in trouble here'. But when 'Advance Australia Fair' was played the body language suddenly changed.
"At the ground I remember a very eerie atmosphere. There was not much noise compared to what we had experienced in Tehran even though there were about 30,000 people.
"We were under intense pressure all night from a very strong team with a quality player in Cha Bum Kun, who would become a star in the Bundesliga. I did my utmost to waste as much time as possible. After the match the Dutch referee came up to me and said 'there are 20 ways to waste time and you're an expert in all of them'."
"We were two goals down after half a hour and it did not look good. However we were a very tough team that never gave up and luckily Branko Buljevic pulled a goal back almost immediately and soon after halftime Ray Baartz made the scores level. In the end we managed to get away with a 2-2 draw and earn a decider in neutral Hong Kong."
The Socceroos must have felt destiny was with them in the deciding third match against the Koreans three days later.
"Interestingly, a few days before the start of the tie the Koreans tried to put back the date of a possible deciding match so as to give themselves enough time to recover from the return leg and our federation was inclined to agree with them. But Rale would have none of it. He insisted we play after three days as scheduled because he knew that we were physically superior to our opponents and we had better recuperative powers.
"People sometimes criticised Rale whom I regard as a close friend of mine and I've had some big arguments with him, you're got no idea. But he was a coach who left nothing to chance and his tactical expertise and ability to know everything about the opposition were second to none.
"It was a tense lead-up to the decider because we knew how good the Koreans were. They could have beaten us by three goals in the first leg because we did not play well but in Seoul we showed our true character and played a lot better. The Koreans did not recover well enough from the second leg and Jimmy McKay scored the winner with 20 minutes to go and we were in the World Cup for the first time."
What was the reaction in Australia to the Socceroos' achievement?
"I don't think many people realised what we had just done. At first we ourselves did not realise the enormity of reaching a 16-team World Cup. You must remember that rugby league dominated the Sydney press those days and I'm sure it was the same in Melbourne with Australian Rules. We got a couple of back pages but it all died very quickly."
You quit football soon after the World Cup. Why?
"Within 12 months of qualifying for the World Cup, I got a really bad shoulder injury playing for St George and I virtually retired at the age of 27. It was a rotator cuff and they did not operate those days on rotator cuffs and I played a season with it. I never recovered and the pain was that bad I retired.
"So I never got the opportunity to produce my best football, which was a shame because I was beginning to play well."
As a respected goalkeeper coach, you crossed paths with some top prospects. Who was the best you worked with?
"I worked with Maty Ryan when he was at school and he later came to my academy in Blacktown for two years. I could tell he was going places but John Crawley is the one who made him a top goalkeeper. I had some input but John must take most of the credit.
"I worked with Clint Bolton at Sydney Olympic and Sydney FC and he was by far the most consistent keeper I have coached. It is a pity he did not play overseas because he could have extended his career."
How good is Ryan and have we seen the best of him?
"Maty is young and playing in a great league. He is mentally tough and has all the foot skills so he has the potential to be our best ever goalkeeper ... no way have we seen the best of him. Mark Schwarzer was excellent. He pulled off the big saves in the big matches but Ryan has the ability to emulate him.
"In a way I was really disappointed to see Ryan thrown in at the deep end at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil without having been groomed for the job. They kept picking Schwarzer while Ryan was basically an onlooker.
"At the World Cup he showed his inexperience and could have done better. They could have destroyed his career. The problem is coaches do not understand the pressure of the goalkeeper position."
Who is the best goalkeeper you have ever seen?
"England's Gordon Banks. He was a safe keeper not a flashy one and that's the kind of keeper I like."
Which was the best club team in Australia and which Socceroos side was the best?
"I think it's hard to compare teams from different eras but St George are the strongest as far as I'm concerned. We had eight or nine internationals in the team and we had some outstanding reserve players who rarely got a game. And in Johnny Warren, we had the best captain on and off the field you could hope for.
"The 2006 Socceroos were excellent and the finest national team I can remember. They were strong all over the park and had plenty of depth. There was no one in the team of whom you could say 'he should not be there'."
Finally, who are the best players you have played with and against?
"It is hard to separate Baartz and Watkiss, who were both unbelievable players and I was lucky to play alongside them for club and country."
"I was fortunate to play for NSW against Stoke City's Banks and Geoff Hurst, Birmingham City's Trevor Francis and Dynamo Moscow's Lev Yashin when their clubs toured Australia in the early 1970s."
JIM FRASER FACTFILE
1970-1974: St George
1973: Australia (8 matches)