Socceroos Greats - Where are they now: Branko Buljevic

The World Game pays tribute to the stars of yesteryear who left their mark on football down under. Croatia-born striker Branko Buljevic tells how a holiday in Australia in 1968 changed his life and would take him all the way to the World Cup in 1974.

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Branko Buljevic in action against West Germany in 1974 Source: AFP

Branko Buljevic was one of the stars of the Socceroos team that played in the 1974 FIFA World Cup in West Germany but his remarkable achievements for his adopted country have gone largely unnoticed by most Aussie fans.

His World Cup coach Rale Rasic rates him "a fabulous player with a beautiful temperament", goalkeeper Jack Reilly says he had "more ball skills than any other Australian" and defender Doug Utjesenovic regards him simply as a "superstar".

But ask most modern-day fans if they knew much about Buljevic and unfortunately their reaction is more likely to be 'Branko who?'

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"We were greatly unappreciated and I am still upset about this," Buljevic, 70, said.





"What we went through and the obstacles we had to overcome to be among the best 16 teams in the world is something that deserves better recognition.

"We were the first Socceroos to make the World Cup and we were all part-timers but we were poorly treated by Australian Soccer Federation, particularly those of us who came from Victoria."

Buljevic was born in Split and came to Australia in 1968 and played for Footscray, Heidelberg and South Melbourne over a period of 15 years.

He was happy to share some of his experiences with the Socceroos, particularly for the benefit of the younger generation.

You quit football in 1985. What are you doing now?

"I am a pensioner and taking it easy in Melbourne after I had a few operations on my hips. There is not too much I can do."

You were a left-sided attacking player and scored many goals for club and country. Did you feel that you were a forward or a midfielder?

"I was always a forward and I scored and made goals for my teams. I was never a midfielder running up and down the pitch."

What was the game in Australia like in the 1970s?

"Football in our days was very good but it's hard to compare with today's game although I must say it is much faster now. But, you know what, a talented footballer will always be a talented footballer in any era. Pele will always be Pele and Maradona is the same. It's just the speed that is different which is understandable because we used to train three times a week."

The Socceroos were staring World Cup elimination in the face when they were two goals down on aggregate in the final playoff against South Korea in Seoul in 1973. How did you guys rescue the tie?

"We drew 0-0 in the first leg in Sydney thanks mainly to goalkeeper Jim Fraser's top performance and we were in trouble early in the return. We were down 2-0 after half an hour but the turning point came a minute after they scored their second goal when I scored to reduce the deficit.

"The goal gave us a lot of confidence and after the break we started to attack more. We drew level with a goal from Ray Baartz and could have won the game but we had to settle for a 2-2 draw and forced a decider. It was a great team effort."

What do you remember most about the famous 1-0 victory over the Koreans in Hong Kong?

"It was something you dream of and we gave everything we had to realise it. We were confident after coming back from the dead in Seoul. Our only worry was the food, climate and conditions in Hong Kong. Playing in Asia is never easy. We had some players missing too so it was a massive thrill to get through."

The 1974 World Cup must be the highlight of your career. Tell us about the experience.

"I'm not sure about the others but I was living for just that: to play in a World Cup. As a child you never expect that one day you will play against such teams as West Germany and Chile in a World Cup. To be honest we were not that confident about facing so many great players because we were very inexperienced at that level of football. We were a bit scared, actually."

So you never regretted your decision to leave then Yugoslavia for Australia in 1968.

"I was not very happy there. I am Croatian and I had a trial with Hajduk Split but that did not work out so I went to Dinamo Zagreb and the same thing happened. OFK Belgrade were my next club but it was a disaster because they never gave me a proper chance. I did well in my first game but I was not selected again. That's when I decided to come to Australia."

But you came here for three months, right?

"Yes, that's true. I came here with a few friends and an equivalent of about $500 in my pocket just to see Australia. After three months we were expected to go back home to join the army but I was young and I did not want to waste three years of my life so we decided to stay here. It is, after all, the best country in the world."

You did not play again for the Socceroos in a full international after the World Cup in West Germany. Why?

"I had a new job as a turner after we came back from Germany and I just could not ask for leave to play for the Socceroos in a three-match series against touring Polish side Legia Warsaw in early 1975. I played in the first game but was not picked for the next two matches. My last appearance for the national team was against visiting Benfica later that year. I scored twice in a 2-2 draw."

Any regrets in your career?

"I just feel I was not treated fairly by national coach Brian Green after the World Cup. Some players who pulled out of matches due to work commitments were invited to return to the team but not me. That was disappointing and it hurt."

You know from experience how hard it is to get to a World Cup. Are you surprised that the Socceroos have reached the last four tournaments?

"I don't think the current Socceroos team are particularly strong but it is a sign of Australia's improvement as a football country that we have managed to make the World Cup four times in a row."

Who was the best coach you played under?

"I really cannot single out anyone because each one I've worked with had his own ideas. Coaches are all different and it's all about opinion, anyway. Many dislike Arsene Wenger but I like him for the way his teams play. I also like Pep Guardiola's style but Jose Mourinho is not my cup of tea. He is too defensive."

Who were the best players you have played with and against?

"I highly regard my Socceroos team-mate Baartz, who was the type of player you'd want to have on your side not as an opponent. The West German team we faced in 1974 was very strong and I will never forget fullback Berti Vogts, who was as fast and tough as you can get."

And finally who are the Australian and foreign players you admire most?

"To be brutally honest no Aussie player stands out because they are an even bunch. They are a good team but individually they are nothing special. I am not sure about the foreigners."

BRANKO BULJEVIC FACTFILE

Club career
1966-1967: OFK Belgrade
1968-1976: Footscray 
1977-1979: Heidelberg
1980-1983: South Melbourne
1984-1985: Footscray

International career
1972-1975: Australia (22 matches)

 


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6 min read
Published 12 December 2017 at 1:00am
By Philip Micallef