'What an introduction!': Ray Gatt's special Frank Arok experience

They were different days in Australia, both football and media-wise - times when the two almost walked hand in hand.

There was no trying to control the narrative or trying to keep players away from the media….no  trying to sanitise things. 

It was raw but it was fun.

Stars like John Kosmina and Marshall Soper, neither afraid to speak their mind, had free rein to deal with journalists whichever way they wanted.

Access to the dressing rooms and the coach and players was simply a knock on the door and you were allowed in to be greeted openly and willingly.

It’s where the best stories often emerged.

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Journalists were even allowed to travel on same flights as the Socceroos, stay in the same hotel and have coffee and chats with the players as they please, and go to and from training on the team bus.

Occasionally we were even seconded to fill in on the training field to help make up the numbers as the late Mike Cockerill and myself found ourselves doing a number of times.

Imagine that happening these days!

I class myself as very fortunate to have experienced those times during my days as chief football writer at the Sydney Morning Herald in the mid-1980s.

There are so many memories and stories, some that can be told, many that can’t.

It was under these circumstance that I got to taste the experience of my first overseas trip as a journalist while covering Australia’s World Cup qualifier against New Zealand at Mount Smart Stadium in Auckland, New Zealand in 1985.

The late Frank Arok was coach and his assistants were the late Eddie Thomson and Les Scheinflug.

Frank Arok

As a spectator I watched the  Socceroos v New Zealand at the old Sydney Sports Ground in 1973 and the disaster of 1981 at the SCG when they lost a WC qualifier 2-0 to the Kiwis under the controversial Rudi Gutendorf, who was sacked just 30 minutes after the game.

But this was the first game against New Zealand I’d covered as a journalist.

And what an introduction.

The night before the game, Arok decided to join myself, the Daily Telegraph’s John Taylor and the late David Jack of the Sydney Sun in my room for a chat.

That chat developed into a three hour session in which a number of nice bottles of reds were consumed.

Arok opened up a fair bit and it was noticeable he was a little on edge, understandably, and somewhat nervous.

He was a little worse for wear when he eventually left, but you wouldn’t have known the next day!

The Socceroos ended up with an 0-0 draw, a good result under the circumstances. 

It was also my first encounter with the Kiwi coach Kevin Fallon, a gruff Englishman who rarely had anything nice to say about Australia.

Fallon was immensely unhappy with the tactics of the Australians after the game and went as far as saying of the cultured Socceroos midfielder Zarko Odzakov: “If he didn’t have arms he wouldn’t be able to play.”

Fallon would get his comeuppance later in the qualifiers when the Socceroos beat the Kiwis 2-0 in the return leg, thus winning the group and qualifying to play Scotland in the final stage of the World Cup qualifiers.

It was revenge for what happened at the SCG, but those pesky Kiwis wouldn’t lie down, as we were to painfully discover again a few years later. 

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