Pan Hellenic 2 1 APIA Leichhardt
J Karyannis 14 mins. G McCulloch 87 mins E Campbell 21 mins
Half time 1-1 Crowd 18,180
In 1968, the world was in turmoil. Already that year, Martin Luther King Jnr. and Senator Robert Kennedy had been assassinated, American forces in Vietnam were reeling under the Tet Offensive and on 20th August 1968, Soviet Russian forces had invaded Czechoslovakia. Two days earlier on 18th August 1968, far away from the world trouble spots I saw what I consider to be one of the most exciting football matches I have watched in my lifetime. It was not in Serie A, La Liga nor the English first division but was played between two NSW Soccer Federation teams, Pan Hellenic and APIA Leichhardt.
The match was played at Wentworth Park in Glebe, Sydney, a venue that was primarily a greyhound track but in the late 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s became the “spiritual” home of New South Wales football. I had just turned fifteen and as had been customary for many years, accompanied by father, a football journalist to the game.
It was a lovely sunny afternoon and having collected our passenger Tony “Hotspur” Horstead, the Daily Mirror football writer, we headed to Wentworth Park. Even in 1968, parking was scarce around Wentworth Park and as usual my father called upon Johnny Thompson, NSW Soccer Federation treasurer and later Sydney Olympic identity, to sneak his cream 1966 Ford Falcon station wagon into the ground.
With just three games left in the season proper, Pan Hellenic were joint top of the table on twenty nine points with a very strong Hakoah side, four points clear of their opponents that day, third placed arch rivals APIA Leichhardt.
Wentworth Park was not ideal for the footballing spectator. Although the playing surface was always well grassed, the dog track, gates, barriers and lowly hung racing lights hindered the view of the distant football pitch. Upon arriving, we were entertained by the reserve teams of the respective clubs, always a more entertaining distraction than today’s practice of watching a 45 minute warm up.
On paper APIA had the better line up. Cliff van Blerk, Stan Ackerley, Pat Hughes and Archie Blue had all represented Australia, Fil Bottalico was a tough as nails defender and the talented Argentinian Ricardo Campana and Italian born Johnny Giacometti were both exceptional attacking players. APIA also boasted an 18 year old Ernie Campbell, who had spent time at Chelsea and later was to play twenty four times for Australia.
Their opposition, Pan Hellenic had a string of UK born players as was the fashion in the late 1960’s. Among them a Welshman, goalkeeper Horrie Clarke, three Scotsmen, Davey Johnston, John Cole and George McCulloch, skillful English born winger Roy Blitz, his compatriot Alan Westwater plus Liverpudlian defender, Alan Hignett. These were supplemented with Hellenic heritage in the form of strikers Sot Patrinos and John Karyannis and their talisman, former Greek international and fan idol, Takis Loukanidis.
These two clubs consistently drew good crowds but with Pan Hellenic within reach of a maiden minor premiership and with the now well acclimatised Loukanidis in their ranks, every milk bar in Sydney was closed that afternoon. More than eighteen thousand spectators crammed into the home of NSW greyhound racing as packets of peanuts and the popular publication the green “New Soccer Vurld” registered record sales.
Pan Hellenic started brightly and took the lead in the fourteenth minute through their slender striker John Karyannis. The lead was short lived however as APIA struck back seven minutes later, courtesy of their red headed teenager Ernie Campbell. The game ebbed and flowed infused by the vibrant crowd as the Pan Hellenic fans took first half points in the noise stakes. Pan Hellenic had two goals disallowed for offside, much to the dismay of their enthusiastic supporters. Both claims were declined demonstratively as was his manner, by FIFA accredited referee the ebullient Tony Boskovic. The sides went to half time at 1-1 and it was time to enjoy that Wentworth Park delicacy, a Sargent’s meat pie and a cup of coffee.
The second half continued with APIA having the better of the early exchanges. The Leichhardt based outfit received a set back however when their former Manchester United left back Stan Ackerley was sent off. Rather than buckle, the sending off lifted APIA. Campana and Campbell both went close for APIA but in the eighty seventh minute, Pan Hellenic’s busy midfielder George McCulloch won the ball just inside the APIA half drove forward and from thirty five metres lashed a tremendous right foot shot past Brian Taylor in the APIA goal.
Wentworth Park erupted as thousands of delirious fans chanted “Pan Hellenios, Pan Hellenios.” It was a magnificent goal to settle such an important match and Pan Hellenic hung on for a memorable 2-1 victory, remaining on top of the competition table on goal average. The majority of the crowd celebrated jubilantly as they went home, most probably via the Hellenic Club in Elizabeth Street Sydney.
Sadly for Pan Hellenic supporters, a couple of weeks later, their club was pipped for the title by a very strong Hakoah side but those fans of both teams who attended Wentworth Park on that sunny Sydney afternoon had witnessed a wonderful football spectacle.
Driving home, my dad, Tony Horstead and myself agreed that if we could witness the excitement of that match on a regular basis, Australian soccer would surely become the foremost football code in the country.