Socceroos Greats - Where are they now: Ray Baartz

The World Game's monthly feature pays tribute to Australia's heroes of yesteryear who left their mark on football down under. Striker Ray Baartz wonders what could have been if a despicable karate chop in a World Cup trial match did not cut short his career in his prime.

raay baartz

Ray Baartz after being named in Australia's greatest team of all time Source: AAP

Socceroos legend Ray Baartz said one of the hardest moments of his career that was cruelly cut short by a karate chop came when he was forced to watch from the sidelines as his team-mates played in the World Cup.

Baartz, who is now 70, played 48 times for Australia and was one of the key men behind Australia's successful attempt to reach the 1974 FIFA World Cup in West Germany.

But a callous blow from unscrupulous defender Luis Garisto in a World Cup trial against Uruguay five months before the big event struck his carotid artery so hard that it swelled and partially closed, reducing the blood flow to the brain.

The injury crushed his dream of playing in a World Cup and prematurely ended his brilliant career.

Coach Rale Rasic invited Baartz to be part of the Socceroos squad in Germany as a form of recognition for his big contribution in the qualifying phase and to offer moral support to the team that had to face eventual winners West Germany, East Germany and Chile in a most difficult group.

Baartz still believes that watching his mates dine at the big table was excuriatingly painful. His World Cup adventure was not meant to pan out that way.

"It was extremely tough to watch them go round and it probably was even harder to take than when I was told in hospital that I should not play again," Baartz said.

''The World Cup wasn't to be, but you think 'I wonder what would have happened if you had that opportunity to play'."

Baartz, who is rated by his Socceroos team-mate Adrian Alston as a "fabulous striker who could play with both feet", was forced to retire in his prime at the age of 27 after playing for only one club - Hakoah - and went on to build a successful sports store business in Newcastle.

In 2012 he was named in Australia's greatest team of all time, which is remarkable considering he never played professionally abroad.

He is a former chairman of Newcastle Jets and as a highly respected member of the football community in the Hunter and beyond his opinions are sought and valued.

So what are you doing now?

"I am retired. I play a bit of golf and I am happy to enjoy my grandkids."

You formed a key part of Rasic's Socceroos team that made the 1974 World Cup. What made that side tick?

"We had a lot of very good individual players with a tremendous team spirit and great will to win."

What do you remember of that famous 1-0 win over South Korea in neutral Hong Kong in 1973 that gave the Socceroos a ticket to their first World Cup?

"That contest with the Koreans was really won in the previous game in Seoul when we came back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 and force the tie into a playoff. We drew the first leg at home 0-0.

"At no stage in the 'decider' in Hong Kong did we feel we would lose. Is there such a thing as a comfortable 1-0 win?"

The incident with Garisto in early 1974 is well documented. Have the Uruguayans or the player himself ever apologised for that cynical act?

"I can tell you that I never received any contact from them whatsoever."

As an international striker you enjoyed a high profile yet you spent your entire career with one club: Hakoah. Did you ever get any opportunities to move?

"I was well looked after and very happy at Hakoah. I did not have or seek any opportunities to move to another club."

Do you feel that there is no loyalty left in the modern game?

"I most certainly do."

What was club football like in the pre-National Soccer League days?

"We were all part-timers but there were a lot of very good players who would be even better with today's conditions."

People say the game is evolving all the time. Has the striker's role changed that much?

"It really hasn't changed that much, although the service and build-up is a lot slower than what it was in my days."

Football's image has improved considerably in the last decade or so but is it still seen as a secondary sport by mainstream Australia?

"The A-league is probably second to the NRL and AFL but with the Socceroos it's different. They are certainly up there in terms of popularity."

What do you think of the overall standard of the A-League and where it's heading?

"I watch the A-League regularly but I feel the standard this last season was not as high as in previous years. I would like to see a more positive approach from all the teams.

"Looking at teams individually, Adelaide United were more exciting the previous season. Brisbane Roar, Melbourne Victory and Western Sydney Wanderers were not as strong as in other seasons, either.

"In my opinion there is too much emphasis on 'keeping' the ball instead of taking the first option to 'go forward' if it is on.

"To compete against the other codes we need to provide an entertaining and 'positive' style not to 'grind out a result'."

Are you happy with the way football is run in this country?

"No comment."

You are a Hunter man through and through who has been vocal about the trials and tribulations of the Newcastle Jets. What does football mean to the people of Newcastle?

"The Newcastle area has a strong history with huge playing numbers.

"The majority of fans are passionate about the Jets and they surely deserve a successful club. Hopefully it will happen next season."

What about the Socceroos? What's your take on the national team?

"It is not as strong as in previous years and it is clear that we need a fully-fit Tom Rogic more than ever to be competitive."

Your career was cut short by circumstances but you have played enough football to be able to name the best players you have played with and against.

"My Socceroos team-mate John Watkiss was always a pleasure to play with and how can you go past Pele as an opponent. I faced him when the Socceroos played Santos in Sydney in1972."

And finally who are the current players you admire most at home and abroad.

"Rogic and Tim Cahill for Australia and Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi abroad."


Club career: 
1966-1974: Sydney Hakoah

International career: 
1967-1974: Australia (48 matches) 

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6 min read
Published 2 June 2017 at 1:47pm
By Philip Micallef