Newcastle has had its fair share of sporting legends.
Among them is the great Col Curran.
He’s the only Novocastrian to have played at the men’s World Cup.
Col played for the Socceroos at the 1974 World Cup. It was the first time Australia made it to the biggest sporting event on Earth.
As many football fans will recall, we didn’t qualify for another until 2006. It was a long 32 years.
The Herald reported on Friday that Northern NSW Football had named the Heritage Cup player-of-the-final medal in Col’s honour.
It’s a well-deserved accolade.
Col, 70, told Topics that he remembered the ‘74 World Cup in Germany like it was yesterday.
The Socceroos played against West Germany, East Germany and Chile, losing to the German sides and drawing with Chile.
The West Germans went on to win the tournament against the Dutch in one of the most famous finals of all time – mainly because the Dutch were favourites to win with their much-admired playing style, known as Total Football.
“We played against the likes of [Germans] Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Muller. They were the highest paid players in the world,” Col said.
“We were on peanuts. But we did ourselves justice in Germany.”
Col played 32 times for the Socceroos over 11 years.
He would have played many more times for his country, but the cost was a factor.
“Every time there was a tour, I was asked if I was available,” he said.
“I couldn’t go on all the tours because we had to work and support family. We weren’t full-time professionals. We were only part-timers.
“We weren’t paid a lot of money.”
Nevertheless, he’s thankful for the matches he did play.
“I’m so appreciative that I played for my country,” he said.
The World Cup, held every four years, will be staged in June in Russia.
The Socceroos will play in the group stage against France, Denmark and Peru.
“It does bring it all back. I get glued to the TV and follow our team and our country,” Col said.
He likes to watch the different types of football being played, but said: “To me, football is still the same. It’s about getting the ball in the net.”
Col’s great mate Ray Baartz would have joined him on the field at the ‘74 World Cup, but fate intervened.
It’s been reported many times that Ray’s career was ended by a callous blow to the throat from a Uruguayan defender.
But that was a long time ago.
And it’s good to know that Col and Ray – two of our greatest football players – remain pals after all these years.
“Ray and I grew up together. We’ve known each other since we were nine,” Col said.
“Ray often rings me to see how I’m going. I do the same with him.”
Topics recently recounted the two years that Ray spent playing for Manchester United.
Ray had trialled at United on an Adamstown Rosebuds’ scholarship.
Col was also keen to get to Manchester for a trial but the scholarship program ended, dashing his hopes.
But he was determined to get there.
“I decided to pay my own fare. But it was £3500 return [for a plane ticket].
“So I decided to catch a ship. It took me six weeks to get there.”
Col was 16 when Manchester United offered him a contract. He knocked it back.
Manchester was cold, grey and rainy. Col missed the sun and the surf.
“Sometimes I kick myself for not staying. But I’m not disappointed with what I achieved when I came back home,” he said.
We’re not underdogs
New Lambton’s Ross Greig has a bone to pick with Herald football columnist David Lowe.
In Lowey’s article last Monday about the Jets’ epic victory over Sydney, he referred to Newcastle as “underdog battlers”.
“He’s got this bee in his bonnet about us being underdogs and battlers,” Ross said.
“We’ve got a billionaire owner and we get good crowds.
“I’ll agree that we’ve been an underachiever for seven or eight years, but we’re not underdogs to anyone. I won’t have that said about Newcastle.
“It’s like we can never be anything better than that. But we are better than that.
“We’ve underachieved through lack of finances over the years. That’s the truth.
“Now we’ve got the finance and a team that’s performing like champions.”
And another thing. Ross was none too happy about Knights star Mitchell Pearce referring to Newcastle as a country town.
“I don’t see any sheep, tractors or farmers going down the main street,” he said.
“Newcastle is a city.”