Old Soccer: Australian writer Roy Hay on his helping hand to Sir Alex Ferguson and Ferenc Puskas' time with South Melbourne

In his latest Old Soccer column, Doug Booth catches up with veteran football writer Roy Hay on helping Sir Alex Ferguson and Puskas' time in Australia
By Doug Booth

Roy Hay still cringes when he remembers the 1985 World Cup qualifier between Australia and Scotland at Melbourne's Olympic Park.

Scottish-born Hay has been one of Australia's most influential football writers over the past three decades, combining his role as a lecturer in social history at Deakin University in Melbourne with his passion for the round ball game.

But it is that match between the country of his birth and his adopted country which has a special place in his life.

The Socceroos needed to beat the then-mighty Scots, managed by Sir Alex Ferguson, to reach the 1986 World Cup finals in Mexico.

Australia had lost the first leg 2-0 at Hampden Park, with Frank McAvennie and Davie Cooper [pictured] scoring for the home side.

Hay was part of the passionate 66,000 crowd at Hampden for the first leg with his son, Ross, a member of the touring Victorian Under-13 football team, also at the match.

He was proud of the way Scotland had demoralised the Socceroos' hopes in that first leg, but how quickly allegiances can change.

For the return leg in Melbourne, Hay compiled a breakdown of Australia's strengths and weaknesses which he sent to Ferguson.

"I still have the letter from Alex Ferguson in which he thanked me for the dossier," he said.

But having watched his adopted country draw 0-0 in the second leg - thus missing out on what would have been just Australia's second-ever World Cup appearance - his part is something that still disturbs him.

More importantly, it proved pivotal in deciding where Hay's loyalties lay. He chose Australia.

Ferguson's letter to Hay, thanking him for his help against the Socceroos.

Hay also recalls when Ferguson visited Australia for the first time as a member of the Scotland team in 1967.

In his autobiography, legendary Manchester United manager Ferguson devotes a chapter to the match against Australia as a player, which was downgraded to a "B" international because of club commitments.

"Celtic had got into the European Cup final, Rangers were playing Bayern Munich in the Cup Winners' Cup and Leeds United were in the Inter-City Fairs cup final," Hay said.

"The three teams provided the bulk of the national squad so Scotland basically sent a "B" team."
The match still grates with Ferguson. He never received a Scotland "A" cap.

Hay has plenty of other football memories, some of which are included in his soon-to-be-published book "A Game of Two Halves" which he has co-written with Latrobe University lecturer Bill Murray.

For instance, Hay's grandfather, James [Dun] Hay had the claim to fame of being the first Protestant captain of fiercely Catholic Celtic.

"He actually captained Celtic to six League titles in a row," Hay said.

"In 1911, he fell out with Celtic over money and moved to Newcastle United, who he captained until 1915.

"He moved back to manage Ayr United but in 1926 he became the only [Scottish] manager to be suspended for life for refusing to apologise to a club director, who had attempted to bribe the referee.

"The director was Tom Steen, who was treasurer of the Scottish Football Association for 20 years."

A year later, Steen was voted off the SFA and his grandfather's ban was lifted.

But you have to turn the clock back more than 50 years for the match that fuelled Hay's passion for the world game.

The setting was Hampden Park where 135,000 fans crammed into the home of Scottish football to watch the European Cup final between Real Madrid and Eintracht Frankfurt.

The Spanish giants, driven by Ferenc Puskas and Alfredo Di Stefano, beat the Germans 7-3 in what remains arguably the most amazing club match of all time.

"The Germans were not mugs," Hay said.

"They had beaten Rangers 12-4 on aggregate over two legs on the way to qualifying for the final."

"He would get the South Melbourne players to try and hit the cross-bar and they would miss but he would be successful in what could only be described as his carpet slippers."
- Hay on Puskas' time with South Melbourne

Puskas and Di Stefano are only two of three players to score a hat-trick in a European Cup final. Puskas repeated the feat in the 1962 final.

But when Hay had the chance to quiz Puskas later, when he coached former NSL side South Melbourne, the Hungarian legend said the European Cup final had not been his best match.

"He told me the matches he played for his clubs side Honved and Hungary - the Mighty Magyars - earlier in the 1950s were his best," Hay said.

"Puskas was amazing. He would get the South Melbourne players to try and hit the cross-bar and they would miss but he would be successful in what could only be described as his carpet slippers."

Hay said it is difficult compare the Real Madrid side of the 1960s with the modern club, coached by Jose Mourinho, but he believes the likes of Di Stefano and Puskas would have been talented enough to adapt to the modern game.

When Sir Matt Busby was told that players like that would not be able to adapt to English mudheap pitches, he replied: "They would just pass the ball six inches above the ground."


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