The Johnny Warren Football Foundation (JWFF) hosted a special event to celebrate the outstanding achievements of the 1991 Australian Under-23 Olympic Select Futsal team at an exclusive function in Sydney on Saturday evening.
The members of the team were presented with Australian Caps.
JWFF Chairman Jamie Warren said: “We are humbled to host such a significant function and honoured to formally acknowledge the most successful Australian futsal side in our history.
“We hope this event will not only recognise the outstanding achievements of these players and their coaching staff, but also to promote the many benefits of futsal for the foundational development of the hundreds and thousands of impressionable youngsters playing football right around our great nation."
The Australian Under 23 Olympic Select team was selected by Soccer Australia (SA) at a time when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) were considering including Futsal as an Olympic Games sport for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
However the IOC finally decided not to include the sport of futsal and to expand the Olympic men’s football tournament from sixteen to twenty-four teams.
Australian player and team spokesperson, Johnny Papas said: “this team would have given their left hand and an eye to be classified Olympians, it was that close and the players were absolutely devastated."
The ‘Golden Generation’ of Australian futsal were invited to play in the ‘Cup of Hope’ and the ‘Russian Cup’ in Russia, only when Italy withdrew from these tournaments at the last minute. The Australian team were only expected to make up the numbers, however they not only won both tournaments, but completed their European tour undefeated.
The team held training camps, under the expert eye of Coach Bernie Duval and manager Albert Umpelby in Brisbane, Parramatta, Lidcombe and the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in Canberra to prepare them for the tour.
The team departed Sydney on the 28th of November 1991 and travelled to Bangkok, Rome, Bergamo, Moscow, Konakovo (Cup of Hope), Kremlim and then onto Gus Crustalnee for the Russian Cup tournament.
The team returned to Australia as the undefeated Cup of Hope and Russian Cup Champions after defeating world fustal power-house Spain, stacked with Galacticos, then host nation Russia, who at the time had one of the best professional futsal leagues in the world.
Johnny Papas said: “When you are in a national team set-up, flying across the globe representing your country as part of a talented athlete program, you feel like you’re Peter Pan at Never Never Land, staying in an environment that you don’t want to leave or you never want it to end, it was the best fourteen days of our lives."
The late Johnny Warren watched the progress and success of this team and said upon the team’s return from Europe in 1991: “No one can ever take away that you represented Australia and what that Australian team did that night was bloody special! Memories are for free, you can relive and activate those memories again and again. Futsal should be a part of every Australian footballers DNA, which will lead to more technical players playing for the Socceroos”.
The Australian Under 23 Futsal Olympic Select Team members are:
Bernie Duval (Coach NSW), Albert Umpelby (Manager NSW), Velchie Kondinski (VIC), Brett Duval (NSW), Darren Toohey (ACT), Greg Saville (NSW), Johnny Papas (QLD), Craig Eagleton (NSW), Steve Duval (Captain NSW), Brian Deane (NSW) and Brad Glassick (NSW).
A snapshot of the successful 1991 European tour:
- Australian indoor football/futsal Olympic select team of Under 23 players.
- Still today, is the only Australian Olympic futsal team ever selected.
- First Australian futsal team to play in Russia.
- First ever Australian futsal team to win a major tournament on European soil.
- After 25 years, it’s still the only Australian futsal team to win a major tournament on European soil.
- The Australian Olympic Futsal team won the ‘Cup of Hope’ and the ‘Russian Cup’.
- Awarded the ‘Keys to the City’ of Gus-Khustainy, located on the Gus River.
- Awarded a ceramic Kangaroo.
- Awarded a crystal glazed fish.
- The Australian Olympic team were individually given crystal boots in recognition of winning the ‘Russian Cup’.
- The first Australian futsal team to win and be undefeated on European soil, underwritten with a 100% win ratio.
- This was the first international sporting event held in Russia after the fall of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev rule.