Socceroos Greats - Where are they now: Jack Reilly

The World Game's monthly feature pays tribute to the Socceroos heroes who left their mark on the game down under. World Cup goalkeeper Jack Reilly reminisces on his international career and recalls the day he 'clashed' with German giant Sepp Maier.

Jack Reilly

Jack Reilly presents Mark Schwarzer with the male footballer of the year award during the Australian Football Awards in 2009 Source: Getty Images

Australia’s 1974 World Cup goalkeeper Jack Reilly conceded nothing had prepared the team for the shock of their lives when they returned home from the tournament in West Germany.

The players were welcomed by then Australian Soccer Federation president Arthur George and were told there and then that coach Rale Rasic had been sacked.

Rasic had stayed behind in West Germany for the rest of the tournament and his players had no idea that their mentor was gone even though they knew that the two strong-willed men often clashed over a range of issues.

It was an extraordinary finale to a football fairytale involving a bunch of intrepid part-timers who had captured the hearts of an entire nation by their fierce determination to get to the World Cup against all odds.

“Playing in the World Cup was obviously a career highlight but on the downside I will never forget our return home from the tournament,” Reilly, who is now 73, said.

“We were coming down the steps from the plane at Sydney airport and Arthur George greeted us by telling us that Rasic had been dismissed.

“His contract was up and it was not renewed. We were all shocked and in complete disbelief.

“I think that moment sent our football so far back that it was going to take the game many years to recover. We would be in the wilderness for the next 32 years. 

“But it was exciting to see some fantastic young players starting to come through and it was already evident four or five years before we qualified again in 2005 that we were going in the right direction.” 

Melbourne-based Reilly spoke at length with The World Game about football then and now.

What are you doing at the moment?

“I am still involved in financial markets. Like football, it is very difficult to make the break. I am also politically active at council, state and federal levels."

You played all three matches in the 1974 World Cup but you did not take part in the qualifiers. What tipped the balance in your favour when it mattered most?

“I tipped the balance because two years before the World Cup I was playing regularly for Australia but after that I had to inform Rasic that I could not commit to the team because I was already preparing a future for myself post football in the money markets.

“I told Rale I needed to know four weeks before that I was getting called up for a match. Rale said this would be very difficult for him so I was left out for a period of time. By the time the World Cup came around I was playing well in Melbourne and I got selected for the big event in West Germany. Jim Fraser and Ron Corry had played in the qualifiers but they did not make it to the World Cup. Jim had some business commitments and as to Ron, you’ll have to ask Rale why he was left out of the squad.”

Jack Reilly

What do you remember from the famous playoff against South Korea in Hong Kong which the boys won 1-0 to book their ticket to the World Cup?

“Anybody who can forget the special goal that Jimmy McKay scored should have a long and hard look at themselves. We all followed the match live on radio in Australia but the phenomenal goal that got us through was played over and over again on television for a whole week. 

“It was an exceptional achievement from the boys. What many people forget is that those players were all part-timers. They all had jobs and they all put their heart and soul into the game in order to fulfil their dream of playing at the World Cup. I have never seen a team with so much commitment and will to win for their country.”

Which are your main recollections from the tournament in West Germany?

“I was absolutely delighted to be there. I had had a very rugged time in the financial markets, taking substantial losses, so the World Cup provided me with a distraction and took the pressure away.

“I remember the people who were involved in that squad. I have never seen a group of people so committed to their cause and if there is one thing Rale had, which not enough coaches have these days, it is his man management skills. 

Any regrets?

“The only regret I had was rushing towards West Germany's big goalkeeper Sepp Maier after the game in Hamburg and trying to get his jumper. He said to me: ‘dressing room, dressing room, dressing room’ but when I caught up with him later I could see to my embarrassment that he had so many layers of clothing on him that I had nearly castrated the poor man in trying to rip his jersey off on the pitch. He gladly gave me the jersey and years later I would donate it to the Martyn Crook Foundation and it went for $8500.”

Tell us about captain Peter Wilson, who has been a virtual recluse for many years. What was he like as a player and a person?

“Peter was a fantastic guy and an exceptional defender. He was very, very good in the air and very, very strong on the ground. He was a leader of men but he found it particularly difficult because like many of us he was a naturalised Australian while Johnny Warren was the local hero, the man all Australian fans looked up to. He always felt he never got the publicity and the accolades he deserved.”

The goalkeeper’s role has changed a lot since you played. Would you have coped with the extra demands of today’s role?

“The way I played the game then I would have no hope. But if I wanted to play the game the way it’s played now I would have had to put in the extra training to be able to be as good with your feet as you are with your hands and read the game. Goalkeepers are seen as ‘players’ now and I think this has done the game a world of good. Mat Ryan is a phenomenal goalkeeper.” 

Do you feel that your guys’ achievement of reaching the finals as part-timers and when it was still an elite 16-team event is not fully appreciated?

“It is not appreciated at all. What the players gave up to do it is extraordinary. They were doing it for not a lot of money but for their love of the game. Many lost their jobs in the process and struggled for many years afterwards.” 

How do you rate today’s Socceroos?

“Today’s team unfortunately are being tested ruthlessly by the level the game has been taken to worldwide. Football at the top is played at a pace probably 25 per cent faster than it has ever been. The skill is quite unbelievable and we have got to get our players up to that level.”

Would any member of the 1974 team play in today’s national side?

“I think with the same training facilities and with the same level of (federal) commitment towards the team, the 1974 boys would beat the current side … I firmly believe that. I have every respect for that very special team.”

Jack Reilly

Australian football has made great strides forward on and off the field since your playing days. Where is the biggest difference?

“The biggest difference is in the number of young boys and girls who are participating in the game and being given the opportunity to come through the system. We have a problem at the moment because it costs parents a lot of money for their children to play football and that has got to get right. We also do not have enough grounds for all the six-year-olds who want to play and if we fix these two facets of our game we will go to a different level.”

The game also is still beset by the some old problems, such as a lack of unity among stakeholders and the ‘wrong’ people holding too much power. What’s your take on this?

“I have given Frank Lowy’s board and the incoming board a 40-page submission and it’s all about everybody having the opportunity to review the game in its totality, without politics interfering. A plan needs to be put in place now and people chosen to monitor it ruthlessly.

“Since the A-League started we have spent $3 billion and lost $310 million. We have made progress in some areas but we must review our governance structure and make he game’s administration totally accountable.”

You were unceremoniously dumped from the FFA board in 2014. Is that because you always spoke your mind and you were not the ‘compliant’ type?

“I enjoyed every minute I spent on the board but I was far from compliant … which might explain why I was dismissed via email. But, you know what, every board member has written to me to express their gratitude for my significant contribution to the FFA and Frank Lowy himself even apologised for stating that I had done nothing for six years and said he would correct that publlcly … but I’m still waiting.”

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

“I put West German Franz Beckenbauer on top of the list. He looked slow but he was as quick as can be. He was quite phenomenal. And Maier was as good a goalkeeper as I have ever seen. 

“Warren and Wilson were both exceptional players and I reckon Wilson was underrated. I also have a lot of respect and admiration for Ray Baartz.” 

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

“At the moment I cannot see a player with the same level of skill, intelligence and commitment as that of Brazilian striker Neymar. 

“I have plenty of time for Harry Kewell who achieved a lot even though nothing came easy for him. I also admire goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer who forged a great career.” 


Club career:
1969-1972: Juventus Melbourne
1972-1974: Melbourne Hakoah
1975-1976: Fitzroy Alexander
1977-1980: South Melbourne

International career:
1970-1977: Australia (35 matches)

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10 min read
Published 22 August 2017 at 10:43am
By Philip Micallef