Socceroos Greats - Where are they now: Charlie Yankos

The World Game's monthly feature pays tribute to Australia's heroes of yesteryear - personalities that left an indelible mark on the game Down Under. This time it's the turn of 30-time Socceroos captain Charlie Yankos, the man who made Argentina cry.


Charlie Yankos was a key man in Frank Arok's Socceroos sides Source: Getty Images

Charlie Yankos admitted he was unaware he had just scored one of Australia's greatest ever goals when his thunderbolt floored the might of Argentina in 1988.

Yankos, who is now 54, found the back of the Argentine net with a 35-metre rocket from a direct free kick that helped Australia to a 4-1 win over the world champions in a Bicentennial Gold Cup match in Sydney that made global headlines.

"Oscar Crino would have taken that free kick but he did not play that day," Yankos recalled.

"It was a fair distance out so we usually would have played it short and got going that way.

"At training that week I had taken some long shots so I just hit the ball with all I had.

"I did not realise I had scored until the crowd went berserk and the wall had split up and I could see the ball in the Argentine net and the players jumped all over me.

"I did not even see how the shot dipped and swerved until the next day and when I did watch the goal on television I said 'wow!'.

"I think there is a video from behind the goal that shows me standing there waiting to see what happened with my kick.

"The next morning coach Frank Arok and I were invited to the Today Show and they picked us up from our hotel in a black limousine and on the way Frank told me 'this match and your goal will never be forgotten'. I think he was right."

Yankos, who lives in Sydney's south, was a director at Football NSW up until last month but he did not put his name forward again and will spend time on his real estate business.

He is a captivating raconteur and the recollections of his career highlights make compelling reading.

What do you remember about that famous match against world champions Argentina?

"Well, I remember the days leading up to the game very well. The media did not give us a chance and it was always going to be a Brazil versus Argentina final. But we said to ourselves 'hang on a minute, we can achieve something here' because we believed in ourselves. Before the Argentina game at the Sydney Football Stadium we lost 1-0 to Brazil but played well and beat Saudi Arabia 3-0.

"I remember Arok telling us he would love us to score just one goal against a world power. Well, they did not know much about us and we gave him his wish and scored four to make the final against Brazil and that gave us immense confidence for our 1990 World Cup campaign and our future as a football country."

Do you get annoyed that people seem to remember you as the man who shocked Argentina but forget that you also were a very strong defender who played 49 times for Australia?

"Well, I could be remembered for something worse so it's good that fans remember me for something positive. From that perspective it's a bonus for me and for us as a team. In today's circles people look at the 'golden generation' of the Harry Kewells and the Tim Cahills and this is all part of the generational part of football.

"When I played in the 1980s and 1990s they used to talk about the boys of 1974 who made the World Cup. I always look at football in decades and as chapters in our lives and under Arok we were part-timers and we played in a certain way."

You scored another great goal from a free kick in a World Cup qualifier against Israel in Tel Aviv in 1989 that finished 1-1. What do you remember about that strike?

"The Argentina one was more like me trying to hit the target but I meant the one against Israel. It was from a more difficult angle but the ball landed exactly where I wanted it."

Who were the contenders for the sweeper's role in Arok's teams in the first half of the 1980s?

"We played with two stoppers and a sweeper plus two overlapping fullbacks. The contenders for the sweeper's position were Alex Robertson, Mehmet Durakovic and Andy Koczka. In many games it was myself behind centre-halves David Ratcliffe and Steve O'Connor. Most teams played with two strikers and that's how we marked them."

What was Arok like as a coach and a man manager?

"He was a man manager as opposed to a coach. He had this attitude that if you can't play the game and you're picked for Australia there's a problem in terms of coaching. So for him it was a matter of putting together a group of people and getting the best out of them and making sure there were no egos around.

"He didn't teach us how to defend because if you could not defend or kick the ball from A to B you would not have been picked to play for your country.

"So what he did was tell us: 'Look, today we play Yugoslavia and for this match we need a certain combination with these players'. That was his way as a man manager ... to keep everybody happy and ready to be used when needed for the good of the team."

Frank Arok

Do you have any regrets about your career?

"No, because all my decisions were my choices. Regrets come when you think you should have been somewhere or done more things. I quit the national team at 29 when I wanted to and retired from the game when I thought it was time to. Nobody pushed me.

"The only main thing I did not achieve was play in a World Cup after two failed qualifying attempts but I needed to be realistic: Arok would have got rid of anybody above the age of 28 had he stayed on after the 1990 campaign.

"I was getting older and I was not dumb and I realised why he said that: playing in a World Cup at 32 was unrealistic those days. We were not professionals, remember, so at 32 you were considered over the hill in terms of World Cup standards. Physically you just could not do it."

Which was the highest point in your career?

"I got involved with Heidelberg United in Melbourne at the age of 15. There were no youth sides at the time so I got into the reserves. I can recall probably half a dozen Socceroos at the club, such as Jim Rooney, Gary Cole, Jim Tansey and John Yzendoorn who would become my mentors. I learned more about the game by just talking to and training with those guys than anywhere else.

"Rooney would pick me up near Flinders Street station and we would talk about the game for 40 minutes on our way to training. I will always cherish those special moments."

You took part in some heated derbies for Heidelberg. How do those derbies compare with those of the A-League?

"I don't see any big difference. The build-up, hype and competitiveness were always there, no doubt about it. We had some good players and sometimes we got 20,000 and even 30,000 for our derbies against South Melbourne. The football standard then was very similar, if not better than today's.

"The little difference today is that derbies are more representative of the mainstream. Those days the only thing that generated national interest in the media was the Socceroos."

Who were your idols when you were taking the first steps as a footballer?

"Pele, only because of his obvious stature in the game. There was no internet at the time and from videos and books I understood some of his techniques, like practising and taking penalties, for example, which I took on board.

"From a local perspective I would have to say Rooney because I spent so much time talking with him. He was a little midfielder with unbelievable skill on the ball and he used to waltz past people."

Who was the best player you have played with?

In terms of overall skill and confidence I would have to say fullback Alan Davidson. We grew up together in Melbourne and we used to have one-on-one training together on weekends long before we were representative players. For me he was a complete footballer."

And the player who gave you most trouble in the National Soccer League?

Striker John Kosmina. You knew you were in a game when you faced him. And if you were in a battle and you needed a fighter to lead the line there was no other man I would want in my team, without a doubt."

How do you rate current Socceroos central defenders Trent Sainsbury and Matthew Spiranovic? How would they compare with the centre-halves of your time?

"They're different eras. There are no sweepers now, or rather the sweeper is the goalkeeper now. In my time many keepers could not even take goal kicks. Sainsbury and Spiranovic are competent players and obviously doing a great job for Australia.

"In my days we were more or less destroyers and we had to work as a unit and get the ball to the players who could play whereas now defenders are expected to play out.

"If I even entertained the idea of weaving my way out from the back - not that I could do it - Arok would kill me. Then came guys like Paul Okon and Ned Zelic and everything evolved."

Who are the players you admire most abroad and in Australia?

"I am a big fan of Lionel Messi, mainly because of his extraordinary ability and the things he is doing.

"On the local front I have the deepest admiration for Tim Cahill, who has given the Socceroos such good service over many years with his ability to change games."

Would your Socceroos beat today's national team?

"I tell you, we would be competitive enough. And we would be street smart and more adaptable because we had to be to overcome the challenges we faced."

What were the Socceroos camps like and are you envious of how the modern-day Socceroos are pampered?

"I'm never envious. We did not know any different in our days. We never had the exposure today's stars have. If Cahill walks down the street there would be many people wanting a piece of him. He'd be mobbed. With us it was a case of sometimes somebody would come up to you and say 'well done Charlie' or something like that.

"Part of me says I prefer the relative anonymity but when I'm playing for Australia I'd like fans to admire or recognise what I'm doing for Australia.

"Everything was run on a shoestring budget. In terms of treatment we always travelled economy class, usually a couple of days before a match and we would stay at the Rydges in Camperdown or something basic like that. No Hiltons or Intercontinentals for us.

"We did not get paid much, perhaps a couple of hundred bucks if we won, five hundred sometimes. We did not have collective bargaining agreements. Many players who had businesses actually lost money to play for Australia."

What's your view on the governance of the game and is there anything Football Federation Australia should improve on?

"I think there is a level where the game has advanced and another where it has not. The Socceroos and the organisation and structure around the team is where we have advanced substantially. You have to give credit to Frank Lowy for getting us into Asia and enabling us to derive all the obvious benefits, especially when it comes to World Cup qualification. We are not good at sudden-death, as we used to deal with before. Now you can have a bad game and still get through.

"On the minus side there is an element of disconnect between what the A-League is doing and the lower levels of the game. To me there is still a lot of work to be done to complete the integration of football. The FFA Cup is a good step but not enough. That's just a mechanism. What we need is a genuine alignment between the FFA and all the member federations."


Club career:
1980-1985: Heidelberg
1986: West Adelaide
1987-1988: APIA Leichhardt
1988-1989: PAOK Salonica
1989-1990: Blacktown City
1990-1994: Wollongong City (also with Canterbury-Marrickville in 1992)

International career:
1983-1990: Australia 49 matches

APIA Leichhardt: National Soccer League 1987, NSL Cup 1988

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12 min read
Published 6 April 2016 at 9:30am
By Philip Micallef
Source: SBS