Craig Moore sits down with Lucy Zelic to talk scoring at a World Cup, running Brisbane Roar out of a cafe, crazy adventures playing in Greece, winning titles at Rangers, the current problems with Australian football and playing 10 days after having surgery for cancer.
By
Lucy Zelic

Source:
SBS The World Game
4 Apr 2020 - 1:47 PM  UPDATED 4 Apr 2020 - 4:09 PM

Ever since the ‘Golden Generation’ took us to our first World Cup in 32 years, we have continued to obsess over the exceptionally gifted footballers that made up that dream team.

One man who missed out on that ‘special night’ in 2005 was Craig Moore but make no mistake, he was very much a part of that highly coveted Socceroos contingent.

One thing I’ve always appreciated about Moore over the years is that he’s never compromised who he is, irrespective of the role that he’s in - whether it’s a player, pundit or football director.

He has standards, operates without arrogance but rather the kind of assuredness that comes from a wealth of life experience both on and off the park.

In one of my most enjoyable and lively interviews yet, 'Moorey' opens up about the challenges the Australian game is facing, why he left Brisbane Roar, how Zeljko Kalac convinced him to sign in Greece and the tragic death of his friend, Mark Kingsman in 2019.

LZ: Firstly, I want to get your reaction to everything that's happened over the last week because it's been crazy, hasn't it?

CM: Oh, it's been mayhem, hasn't it? Obviously, with the players and staff being stood down at various clubs, it's disappointing.

You certainly feel for the owners, because clearly the business model hasn't stacked up for some time and then all of a sudden, when there's no revenue coming through the doors, then you can understand it.

But, I think it highlights all the vulnerability and the lack of strength that we actually have in the Australian game still.

The business model is a clear issue and has been for some time and it's probably why the clubs wanted to break away but and at the same time, it doesn't really fill you with a hell of a lot of confidence, if the same group of people are meant to be the ones to take the game forward financially as an independent set up with the league and we've got three clubs that are saying now, 'actually we're hurting too much we can't do it.'

That for me, is a very, very worrying situation.

From the moment that they decided to play through the pandemic to now, what's your impression been of how they've handled the situation so far?

Again, every department has had their own challenges, so it's been very difficult and it's very hard for us to talk about what's going to happen tomorrow, such has been the situation.

There have been daily updates and therefore any decisions have had to have been flexible because they could change tomorrow.

I think that the league should have been stopped earlier.

The circumstances that we were dealt with, I think that the focus had to be on the health and safety of not only the playing groups and the staff at each football club, but to the broader community.

I didn't see the understanding or reasoning behind the last game, for example, where I think it was Newcastle Jets and Melbourne City and we all knew the following day there was going to be an announcement that the league was suspended.

With the latest reports of a player contracting the virus - it should have been stopped earlier but again, the reasoning behind why it didn't, I'm not privy to all the boardroom discussions - is it purely down to the broadcast arrangement because we were scared to lose out financially moving forward? There's got to be something in that.

I guess, a gun had sort of been to the head of the FFA, maybe hoping that the government would come out and make the decision for everybody and then maybe they're protected in the agreement, I don't know.

At the same time, you've got Fox Sports who have thrown a lot of money at the game but they also are now probably at a time where they'll see that as a poor investment.

They were already cutting costs and the feelings are low within the football community and without it being confirmed, we believe that there's going to be a change moving forward, and if Fox could get out of their current situation, from what we've been led to believe, that was something that they were going to look into.

It's just been a really, really difficult situation and I still think that announcements have been individual-based.

We always talk about this inclusiveness, don't we? 'This game as one' yet we apparently see that clubs have stood down players and staff and that's probably something that wouldn't have been discussed in a larger group situation, maybe it had been with clubs, but I'm sure it hadn't been discussed with FFA and PFA.

So, we talk about being 'as one' and yet we still seem to do things by ourselves. The game will always survive. It's just what it's going to look like when things restart is anybody's guess really.

FFA have said they'll review with situation come April 22 with the hopes that the competition can resume and we'll be able to see out the rest of the season. Can you see that happening?

I think it's highly unlikely. I saw a Tweet about the idea of possibly going to China and playing a World Cup tournament scenario to finish the season and I've also heard it mooted in England but I always strip it back to football first.

If players are doing their own thing in self-isolation at the moment, how can we possibly prepare and have our players ready and firing to then be involved in such a thing?

The product for me is the most important thing so all of a sudden, you've got a poor product, where you might have millions of people that that tune in and watch it on television but is that a good thing?

I'm old enough and wise enough to understand that it's really important for football and commercial to be able to work together but I always strip it back to think what's best for football first and then work towards the best commercial outcome to support that.

I think that for many, many years we've been going the other way around and it's been the commercial aspect first and foremost and by the way, then we'll relay that to the football departments.

It's so true. I think this moment in time has given us the chance to pause and reflect on where we've gone wrong over the years but where do you think we have?

I think our stubbornness has to change.

Let's talk about the A-League for its lifespan currently.

For the first five years or so, to get it up and running, everyone was excited by it, it had huge interest, it was attracting the best players and it was promoting the game in this country in a really, really positive light.

But there's been a period after that, where clubs are looking at financially, this is not really working for us and a couple of reasons why maybe it wasn't working was the final series.

All the money was going to the FFA and the clubs were not experiencing any joy from their biggest crowds of the season.

Huge rentals on stadiums and for me also, you have a salary cap, which I understand the reasons for it coming in, but its rigidness has caused a lot of issues as well.

I just believe that we've lacked flexibility and we've been bogged down to contractual agreements which again, that's why they're put in place, but I think it's probably prevented the real growth.

Hyundai have been fantastic sponsors for our game for many, many years but for A-League clubs, when I was still involved a couple of years ago with Brisbane Roar, for us to decide that potentially we wanted to go with Audi for example, as a major sponsor, then $500,000 needed to be paid to the FFA for that privilege to then negotiate.

Basically, the deal would needed to have been a million dollars to make any sense.

That is crazy.

So $500,000 would go to the FFA and then as a club, you can reap the reward of the additional $500,000.

There were a lot of restrictions in place for clubs to be able to make money and at the end of the day, it is a business, football business is a different beast but you need to give clubs the opportunity to be able to make money, so clearly there was an issue with the financial model - the business model.

If we had shown a willingness to be flexible, to be understanding, I don't even think we'd have a separation today. I'm extremely concerned about what the new structure, the new set-up of the league and the people that are driving that.

I do believe that with a few small changes, where clubs could get a win here and there in the old form of agreements, I still think it would have been a far more suitable situation and probably allowed the game to grow significantly in the future.

What concerns you the most about the league becoming independent and control moving to the owners?

I think the decisions we make on financials rather than the future of the football game because of these investors, these owners - and again, I've got nothing against any of the owners because they are what have made our game because they've been willing to put their money where their mouth is - but in the current climate, nobody likes to lose money.

If you can see that there's no ability to try and recoup or at least have a sustainable business, then I can't see a huge commitment to the long term so that for me is a concern.

From your time with the Brisbane Roar during your administrative role, what kind of insight did you get because it's public knowledge that the Bakries don't have the greatest reputation when it comes to running the football club but what pushed you to walk away? Why leave?

First and foremost, it was a fantastic learning opportunity for myself and I was very thankful to the Bakries and to the club, to bring us in.

It was actually John Aloisi that brought us in so I've got to thank John because he was very influential because he was able to bring in his own staff.

But, I've seen a lot of things that I tried to work through and at times, found it extremely difficult with the support that probably wasn't there.

The first season that we were there, we had a chance to go and win the Minor Premiership and we were operating out of cafe's for the last eight weeks of that season.

The club had decided that our current offices at that time were at Perry Park, we were in the process of moving to Logan way back then.

Now, when I took a trip out to Logan and seen a hut with snake skins and all that sort of stuff around about, there's a real lack of feeling of a football club and a working environment that you could actually work properly.

For the last eight weeks that season, our football department were having meetings on a daily basis at local cafes, they loved us.

So you've got those kinds of situations and I don't know how many times we had to address the playing group with regards to wages being paid late.

That was an ongoing saga at the club during our period of time and John was fantastic because the Head Coach is the front of the football club - he's the one that takes all the questions and has all the pressure and he was brilliant throughout this period because this is a very easy time to lose the playing group.

I also had a situation, where not long after joining the club, the club hadn't paid Super and Luke Brattan, we actually lost that player through that process because he'd sent a letter to the club which had, I believe, a 14-day period to sort the superannuation out, if not, he was free to get out of his contract.

Administration at the time above myself, because I didn't deal with those things, thought that paying the player after 14 days and then going through a legal procedure was going to mean that the player would not be able to move on.

This was the kind of madness that I was dealing with.

Then, a situation came up at a later stage at the football club where again, Super was in question and a similar situation arose and through my experience, I said 'we either pay one person, which in my opinion you cannot do because experience tells me that's not the way forward, so if you can't pay all of them, you don't pay any.

We obviously have to communicate and manage that and be honest and upfront and I said "but you can't pay one player or one or one staff member".

But, we must communicate clearly because that's the best way of moving through a challenging period.

I experienced a lot in the end and I used to hear the word "hope" a lot - "hopefully it'll change", "hopefully it'll be better" and I'd already been speaking to John saying, "listen, I don't have a good feeling here, John. As much as I love my job and I love working with ya, I just don't really see a future in terms of how we can take this forward."

Then, right towards the end, there were a few more measures put in place in terms of running the football business where you had owners that didn't even actually comprehend properly the salary cap but all of a sudden wanted to be across every single decision that was made.

So a minimum contract player and all these kind of things and our owners at that particular time are overseas so that the process of getting things done was slow at the best of times.

For example, when we signed Avraam Papadopoulos, I was up to two o'clock in the morning to do it just before the deadline.

So these kinds of things are not possible if you have that delayed decision-making process and I just felt that things were getting more away from the experience of football people coming up with profiles, players, having discussions with CEO slash owner and decisions being made, it was getting worse by the day.

I made a decision that, along with out-sourced providers not being paid, players at times not being paid - and I'm the person that's having those conversations and trying to smooth things over - I just felt that I was no longer willing to put my reputation on the line for something that I had no control of.

I don't know about you but I feel like there's such a big misconception around the A-League as a "professional competition" when it can be quite the opposite. So many of these clubs are under-resourced and underfunded and it's almost incredible that they've managed to survive for as long as they have.

Very much so and again, when we talk about professional football - I've seen it, I've experienced it and there's a lot of people in this country that have.

The flip-side of that, is that there are a lot that have not so I don't blame them because you only know what you only know but when we talk about professionalism, we talk about a huge amount of detail.

For example, if you're flying to Wellington and you've got an eight o'clock flight in the morning, you make sure that you feed your players at the airport and you make sure that they've arrived and that they've arrived to some form of snack if you're expecting them to do some light training in the afternoon when you arrive.

These were the silly little things that we were having to challenge and push over the line during my time at Brisbane Roar.

Oh my God, that's crazy to me.

You know what I'm like Lucy, I'm like "well hang on. Are we a professional football club or are we just an amateur kick-about club?"

We go on about duty of care and looking after our players and they're professionals, we want to treat them like professionals and we expect them to do this, this, this and this but you know what? At the airport - ‘boys just get Red Rooster for breakfast’.

That is just absolutely insane.

But like I said, for me, it was a great learning experience.

I had huge challenges at the time with FFA, because, again, unless you actually come into our environment and see it on a day-to-day basis and see what we were going through, don't sit in your office in Sydney and tell me, you know what we're going through because you've got no idea.

I'll be honest with you, I think that they were very, very lucky that they had two strong people in John Aloisi and myself at the football club at that time.

I had no control so I made a decision that I was no longer willing to put myself in that situation.

There have been CEOs, there's been General Managers and there's been a lot of people that have been in exactly the same situation and they were probably slightly higher up but again, they don't have the control.

I'm not speaking poorly of those people, I'm just speaking of the particular business and how it was challenging for us all.

You're certainly not the only one that's experienced how tough it can be at the club and I guess it's no surprise really that they've stuck their hands-up to say that they're standing down staff and players without pay. The Bakries reputation has been in tatters for years in the eyes of the Australian football community.

They don't see the cash flow, so if you're not seeing the cash flow, then a situation like now, where you're waiting on the final instalment of your Fox income, you've got no chance because you know you're not sitting there with two dollars extra in your bank account anyway.

It's such a crying shame not to have somebody like you, with all of your football experience, both on the park and now off it, lost to the game. It just seems like we're still so caught up in the politics of football that we've been dealing with for decades and that we haven't grown up yet. Where do you feel your place is within the Australian football community now?

It's a really good question. I don't like to be that outspoken person, that's not who I want to be.

No, I think you're just honest, to be fair to you.

And sometimes people can take that passion and confidence, in the game in particular, as an arrogance but I do have huge experience in the game.

I understand the local landscape, I understand what a football business should look like on the field and off the field - I've got that experience but I'm not the only person that would probably feel that within this country that people seem intimidated by that.

I don't sit about waiting for my phone to ring, I'm not that type of person - I'm quite proactive and I like to stay connected and that's what I've done over the last two years.

I was hoping that within the last two years I would have fallen into a new role and I had a bit of a plan - I was exploring the player management side of things and just football consultancy in general, whether that would mean selling a football club and being involved in organising exhibition matches or being a support for players and coaches.

I've kind of done that, not so much the coaches, but players, I've mentored players my whole life, even when I was playing and I'm extremely passionate about that because I never had anybody when I was younger growing up.

Myself, and my mum and dad, had to guess our way through and hopefully that we came to the right decisions.

Whereas, we've now got enough experience to be able to guide and help these players and that's why sometimes I have a little bit of fun and try to be respectful on Twitter in terms of football debates.

For me, we all can have different opinions and that's fantastic - we might agree or disagree and I have no issue with that at all.

That doesn't mean that I don't get along with that person or I don't like that person, it just means that we may have differing views.

But, at the same time, I'm not going to come in and tell you how to do your job because that's not my experience and when you talk to me about your job, I'm going to listen because I want to learn.

Whereas in this country, many times I've had conversations with people that try to tell you how it is and what it's like and I don't ever say it, I just try to be polite enough, but I'm thinking "how many clubs have you worked in overseas? How many games of football have you played? How many times have you played in front of 60, 80,000 plus? I'm not questioning you or telling you how to do your business because that's not my experience. I'll listen.

I'll learn and then we can have a chat but don't tell me what you don't know.

So why do you think we're so resistant to change or to having good football people with the right pedigree and experience involved in the game? It seems bizarre to me that we're not in a position where we're embracing characters like yourself, so that we can progress and use that knowledge to our benefit.

I just think that we've got to cut through and I don't know how.

Unfortunately, I end up getting a sore head from the amount of years I've done it.

I remember actually seeing your brother Ned down in Canberra many, many years ago - I was working with the FFA at the time, I was doing the talent identification and I said "what are you up to Ned?" and he said "I'm not really doing too much".

I said to him what you've just said to me, "how we haven't found a position for someone like yourself with the experience that you've had of football at the highest level, one of the greatest players that the country's ever produced and you're coming down off your own back just to watch something which I applaud you for but we should have people like you involved in the game.

When I have been in positions, I try to look to to see who's out there that offers a really good all-round skill set but has the experience and there's a lot of them about.

I think that for many, many years we have probably been extremely poor at keeping our knowledge within the game.

I think we just assume that they've done well for themselves, they're going to just go and do their own thing.

Whereas, I'm going to be on their doorstep and say, by the way, Lucas Neill, how can we get you involved in the game because you were a national team captain 80-odd times, you played overseas your whole life, you've contributed so much to Australian football - how can we look to bring you in? Is there anything that interests you? What are your ideas about life after football?

We don't even have those conversations and if you don't have those conversations, you don't know what these people want to do.

It's true. You mentioned your mum and dad and that you had to navigate through things yourself as a kid when it came to football. What did your football journey look like and how do you reflect on it now?

As a kid, I was just obsessed with football.

I had an older brother, who was four years older, Troy who was a far, far better football player than what I was and naturally very talented so my upbringing was trying to impress him and trying to avoid getting the shit kicked out of me by his mates when we were kicking about the streets or the local park and you've got to find ways to be competitive.

Also, Western Suburbs of Sydney, Doonside where I was brought up, was a big rugby league region but my interest was purely on football.

I was at a community club, I was at Doonside Hawks until I was eleven years old and had five years there

Was that a good thing because there's such a push now to get kids into academies and professionalise them from such a young age but when you consider for example our golden generation, so many of the stories are like yours, playing at the local junior club. Was that a benefit when you look back now?

I have no doubt about it. For a lot of the people that you mentioned - and I played with the majority of them because it was my generation - they all loved the game.

For me, I think that already at an earlier stage, we're talking about skill acquisition phase, we're talking about structure, we're talking about things that are far beyond their years.

Up until the age of 11 and 12, I think that apart from the basic structure of providing a training session and for games, it should be just falling in love with the game and letting people really express themselves.

Back in the day, people were actually more than happy that I served my time at that community club when they knew that, by the way, this boy' going alright - he's better than what we've got here so he needs to go somewhere else: they were supportive of that.

Nowadays, we want to grab that person in a headlock and try and keep them where they are for our own personal gain.

I experienced politics as a young fellow, I never ended up playing for New South Wales state teams, I was too young for the under 13 group.

I got brought in and out a couple of times as a shadow player but the excuse was not that you're good enough or you're not good enough, it's like "you're just a bit below the age group" so I wasn't selected for that particular time.

But that wasn't the coach's fault, it would've been decision-makers above that, that would have had rules and regulations.

The turning point was when I moved to Brisbane and funnily enough, I trialled at a few clubs and I couldn't even get a club up here so I ended up having a season just at a local club where I was 13 years old, I played at Redcliffe City, which is where I lived and I just had a ball that season.

I was playing with older boys, it wasn't in the top league and I just had fun and I run amuck in that league.

The turning point for me was Brian McNicholl, who was a Scottish coach involved in the Queensland state teams.

He was posed with the same dilemma that I had in New South Wales in terms of, you're slightly underage of this particular group that's going to get selected for the Joeys but he went to the board at Football Queensland at the time and said "I don't care about his age. He's my best player by far. I'm taking him or I'm not taking the job."

So, I've got a lot of thank Brian McNicholl for - he's somebody that altered the pathway for me because I ended up getting selected for that Australian under-17 side, the Joeys that ended up playing in the World Cup in 1991 in Italy.

What are your memories of that like?

You look at the opening of the World Cup and you get your program and you're going through all the team lists and I remember, I think we watched the Italian game, I'm not sure who they played against, but AC Milan, Inter Milan, Sampdoria and you're going "oh my God, these players must be amazing!"

I think Roberto Baggio had a younger brother that was in that team, so we're going "these are the people that we're going to be playing against. This is massive. This is unbelievable!"

It was just a great experience because you get a good opportunity to gauge yourself against the best in the world.

Certainly at that age group, we should never, ever be a million miles away and we weren't at that stage, we got to the quarters and knocked out by Argentina.

They were great days, but you need a little bit of luck.

The hard work, the dedication, those keywords that we know that creates a professional in any environment but I also just think it's so important that the drive and the love comes from the individual, not by mum and dad, not by anybody else.

If you have it, then I'll tell you what, you got every chance to go on and be a success, wherever that might be, because there are levels for us all.

So do you think that that drive and that ambition is lacking? A lot of ex-pros I speak to say that one of the fundamental things they feel is missing, is that real love and passion for the game. Is that something that resonates with you or are there other gaps that you've identified?

There are but we've got ourselves to blame for a lot because we've changed.

They're getting what we're giving them - it's the same as parents.

What my kids get away with today, there was no chance in the world I was getting away with when I was a kid.

Time's changed, society's changed and certain things that we were allowed to do as kids.

On the weekend's, my parents didn't want to see me in the house before the street lights came on. It was like "piss off, you go out and play and don't back until dinner's ready."

Whereas nowadays, there's not a chance in the world you'd do that.

So I feel that, even in regards to the football, we say "oh, the kids don't want it enough" or "they don't work hard enough", "there's no passion" or "there's no desire".

I think it's because we don't explain, we don't take them aside - and I'm not saying that you gotta put your arm around somebody all the time because sometimes they need a kick up the backside and with any football club there's got to be a combination of things.

We're not preparing football players in the best possible way if all they've heard is you "were so good", "you were the best", "that was an amazing pass" and then all of a sudden they get to a stage where it's elite and there's a level of standards and information is different and the response from coaches is different.

How are we expecting these players to be able to adapt to that straight away?

I used to love getting shouted at by coach because I used to be like that - I'm going to go out there this second-half and I'm going to show you why I'm here, I'm going to show you why you know that I'm good enough and thanks very much for the motivation.

Whereas now, I've worked with many a player, even in the top league here - you shout at that player then forget about it, you're one man down.

I don't blame them, it's just we've changed and we all rely on information and I think there's a lot of times when we just expect them to know and we expect them to understand.

We expect them to know how to manage a one-nil game out but have we actually crossed through that process, in terms of 'ok, now we've got a team that's throwing the kitchen sink at us now, we're a man down, we're one-nil up but we've got to see the game out'.

So that's not the time when you revert back to the curriculum and say we're interested in playing out from the back.

There are certain things where the game changes certain scenarios within a game and it's always changing.

Career-wise though you had an incredible run. You played at Olympics, World Cups, represented Australia over 50 times and amassed great success with Rangers. How do you look back on it all now? Are there any regrets or moments in time where you wish you'd gotten more out of it?

I sit really, really well. My heart, in terms of what my football career delivered, I've got a full heart.

There were certain situations throughout my career where maybe things happened differently but as you touched on, I was very fortunate. I played with the national team from 17s right through to senior, I played at the Junior World Cup, I played at senior World Cups, the Olympic Games, I played in the top European club competitions and I had an absolute ball.

I never took anything for granted and I'm also part of the generation that worked extremely hard because we had to, otherwise we never played.

But at the same time, there was a real bond within the majority of the teams that I was playing with so we all got on and we were like brothers and loved nothing more than spending time with each other.

At times it was painful when you lose a football match, but at the same time, you knew you had a group of people that weren't going to turn against and they were gonna stay united and certainly try and turn the situation around. I loved that.

I've spoken with and seen many people that probably went out on somebody else's terms rather than their own, and that's a personal preference, but I always felt that I wanted to go out on my own terms and always felt the 2010 World Cup, playing at the highest level, was a really nice way to go out.

I could have played another two or three years because physically at that stage, I was probably in the best condition I'd been for a long time.

You kind of make promises throughout your career to yourself, in terms of targets you may set, your principles and who you are and what you believe in.

I made a promise to myself that whenever football felt like work, was the time that I needed to stop playing immediately.

I went through and was just starting to go through that period - I'd been back two and a half years in Australia - the first year was unbelievable, I just loved being back. The second season, you're still riding on the momentum of that first season but going into that third season, I was starting to get frustrated and I was starting to get frustrated because I still knew that we had such a long, long way to go.

But, I had great times with Brisbane Roar at that particular time and I had an influence in helping, I believe, many young players that came through that football club.

Robbie Kruse, Tahj Minnecon, Adam Sarota, Michael Zullo, Luke Devere came in as a young lad from the Centre of Excellence and played beside us, Tommy Oar - a lot of good young players coming through that football club that I'm sure if you picked up the phone now, they would be very positive about the interaction that they had with myself for that period of time.

What about your time at Rangers because bloody hell, you cleaned up with them. Five league championships, the domestic treble in 2003, 12 major honours. That's incredible. I don't feel like we talk about your time with that club enough.

Oh, it was a whirlwind. I went in a little bit blind because I didn't really know anything about the Scottish League because we all used follow Match of The Day football, English football - Craig Johnston he was certainly my idol as a kid.

Then all of a sudden the opportunity to play at Glasgow Rangers came up and I remember I went in 93' and I trialled and it was the back end of their season and there was a Cup game, Rangers v Celtic at Ibrox and I go, 'oh my God, this is insane'.

This is football like I've never, ever seen it or known it. It's like I've only ever seen it on the television but live here, I go 'this is unbelievable'.

Then, I've come at the start of the following season where I was in the under 18s and I was playing in the reserves, and this is a great thing when you've got a proper set-up - you're all training at the same place but then you get that call to come train with the first team - oh, that was unbelievable!

This is what I say to young kids here, when you get that opportunity to go and train with the first team - don't be placid, don't be nice, don't just try to hide through the session.

Your aim for this session is to make sure the coach remembers you for the next session.

So I went in there and obviously was respectful but I was competitive and I was snapping at heels, doing whatever I can.

But, at that time, our team - I was by no means part of the first team at that stage - you had Ally McCoist, Mark Hateley, Gary Stevens, Trevor Steven - they were all international players and then your Laudrups come and your Gascoignes - it was insane.

Our training sessions were that competitive because everyone was desperate to play.

It was a team that, the season before I'd went there, had that extended upbeat run, so there was just this mentality of winning. At times, it went on at any cost.

Sometimes you've got to roll the sleeves up and you've got to win that fight in the first 15, 20 minutes and then you can go on and win a game and win it comfortably but if you went in there a little bit half-hearted, thinking this is gonna be a stroll in the park, it was a tough game because basically every team that you're coming up against, and Celtic are no different, every team that you're coming up against, it's their Cup Final every week.

So you're at it but there's nothing better than being at it, every day and every weekend and having to work in that manner because that's what produces winners and top professionals.
That's what a competitive environment brings.

What did you get out of your spells with both Crystal Palace and Newcastle United?

Palace I loved, they were in Division One at the time and Terry Venables was the connection there, so he was the coach after our qualifying campaign in 97'.

Did you rate Venables? A lot of the boys speak about him quite fondly.

Yeah, Venables football-wise is a genius but what I'll also say is, he probably got to a stage in his life where he was entrepreneurial, so he always had something going on.

When he was on that coaching field and wanted to coach, you get none better.

But, with Crystal Palace, I really enjoyed the time. It was after six years I'd been at Glasgow Rangers, probably after six years, I wasn't an established starting eleven player and Walter Smith had announced that he was leaving so it was kind of a change of a generation.

I just felt that I was probably part of that, that maybe it's time to go off.

So, I went down to Crystal Palace and when I did start off, I think they thought they'd signed a striker - I scored three goals in my first five games. People were getting excited and I said "yeah don't, we're done now. I can't anymore."

You came in too hot, too quick!

I know! It was a good club, I really enjoyed it.

The owner was a great guy but I think he was successful in the computer IT business and was a Crystal Palace fan but I don't think he purchased the club and got the best financial outcome.

Then all of a sudden, a few months later, he was starting to hurt and struggle financially.

As much as I loved being down there, very early I kind of knew that, through discussions with the owner that, if there was an opportunity that they could move us on that, that would be something they would be looking at.

We had open dialogue so it wasn't done by closed doors or sneaky.

At the time we tried to see what was available down in England and in other clubs.

I also then saw after a game or two, the Chief Scout for Rangers who I knew, was down watching a couple of games, so I kind of felt that something was brewing there because Dick Advocaat had come in and did try to keep me last minute before I went to Crystal Palace, so I ended up returning to Rangers because of the financial situation of Palace.

I went back and had a better spell because I became a starting eleven player, playing as a central defender under Advocaat and had a fantastic time.

Advocaat was also a person that I worked briefly under at Borussia Monchengladbach.

What happened with your stint there? It was very brief wasn't it?

Yeah, but it was only brief because Dick Advocaat left.

He was sacked wasn't he?

Yeah, it was a strange one. I'd gone there because I failed a medical at Blackburn Rovers, it was pre-Olympic Games 2004, funny enough.

You were the captain at that tournament, weren't you?

Yeah. Football circles are very small, I failed a medical that was meant to be kept confidential and all of a sudden, everyone knows that I've got a knee that I've had problems with for many years so I was struggling to try and find a place to go and play and prove that I'm fit and able.

Dick Advocaat was the man that helped me get back up and running there again and I went and played for the last six months of that season with Monchengladbach, we discussed a new deal for an extended three year period.

But, then things started to happen - I hadn't signed the contract and then I said to Dick, 'look, not a great feeling in the dressing room'.

I hadn't seen this before, I hadn't been in a team that were struggling with relegation.

I was normally playing in a team that was lucky enough to be winning trophies or trying to win trophies!

We were 17th bottom when I arrived so the culture was very much 'it's his fault, it's his fault, your fault.' Everyone pointing fingers.
I said 'this is not good and there's actually starting to be quite a lot of fingers pointing saying coach, coach, coach. I just don't have a good feel, I don't think I'm going to extend my deal.'

So after having that conversation with Dick, the very next day, he resigned and I'm like, 'oh my God, what are you doing?' I remember phoning him that day and I said ' the reason I came here was because of you and I've given you a little bit of information because we've got respect for each other, I trust you, you trust me and you've left me in the lurch!'

He was brilliant but he just wanted to know who the players that didn't like him and what was happening, what they were saying and I said 'it doesn't matter. It's irrelevant.'

He was like a dog with a bone and I said 'as long as you're well, I wish you all the best - I'm going to try and work my way through this situation'.

So after that, we still had at that time, Les Gelis and Anthony Crea who were helping the Socceroos based in Europe so Anthony Crea came up to Scotland, and Glasgow Rangers were kind enough to give us the facilities for a couple of weeks and he trained me like you would not believe, only as he knows best.

I ended up snagging a move to Newcastle really late in the transfer window, so they were really stressful times because I'm thinking ''I'm not gonna get a club, everybody's done their business'.

You're waiting for a hole in a squad, somebody to pick up an injury, which is a horrible thing but that might mean that it's an opportunity for you.

You were worried but then you ended up making your competitive debut against Chelsea in the FA Cup quarters.

We were never winning that, it never looked likely but it was a great experience.

I was at an age where I wasn't fazed by teams or stadiums or fans and that was good because Newcastle can be quite an intimidating place to play, as much as they're for you and they're great fans, it's a great football club, if you're not delivering, they'll turn on you as well.

They're the type of football club that will eat their young.

[Laughs] Look, my one regret was that I wasn't fit and my best during that two year period with Newcastle.
When I was fit, I did play but I was always playing catch-up with injuries, I had hamstring problems and it made it a really tough two years, which I still really, really enjoyed.

I played with some some fantastic players - Alan Shearer, Michael Owen, Nicky Butt, Stephen Carr, Shay Given, Damien Duff, there were loads and the ones that I've missed, I apologize, but it was a really good experience.

If I was fit and healthy, it would have been a lot more enjoyable because at the end of the day, you're a footballer and you want to play and you want to play well on a weekly basis and test yourself and contribute to the football club.

Whereas, I feel as if, although they didn't pay money, I still got paid decent money, but I feel as if they probably got short-changed over my particular situation.

You worked under some pretty impressive managers in your time but who really had a big influence on you as a footballer and as a man too?

When I first went to Rangers, they were not a club who had many managers in their history, I think Walter Smith was only the ninth manager in their history but he was just a great man.

He was a great manager, a great person and some of the nice touches that he showed early on when I was just a young lad - I used to go in once a week to phone mum and dad, so they used to invite me into their office, they would clear their office for me just to phone my mum and dad for 20-30 minutes in the morning before training.

They didn't need to do that, that's such a great touch and showed me the human side of them.

Domestically, Walter Smith was unbelievable. He knew the domestic game inside out, he always had good players, but he knew how to get the best out of those players.

He was really good at putting a winning team on the football field and he was a gentleman but at the same time, he had the ability to pull you in into line and it was a it could be quite scary. I'm not saying that I had that experience, but I've seen it.

For my introduction into senior professional football, I couldn't have got a better start from a better man.

Then I went on and learned the game a little bit more, because all of a sudden, under Advocaat, in particular, I was playing as a central defender, which I didn't previously and tactically getting to understand the game a lot more and he was just a different of coach who played a different style of football.

He certainly tested me and I've told this story many a time - one of our first games of the season, I think against Kilmarnock, I made an error and after twenty-three minutes, he took me off - substituted me.

You know what? I kind of rate that.

I didn't rate it at the time! But imagine doing that to somebody today?

Oh, you wouldn't hear the end of it.

I was embarrassed because I knew I made a mistake but at the same time, I knew that I could grow into the game, next minute, I see the number up on the boards - yeah, you're off son, see you later. [Laughs]

So, that was the weekend, we had a European qualifier on the Wednesday, we're in the hotel Monday and Tuesday and he's brought me into his hotel meeting room and he goes 'look, what you've done at the weekend. Simply unacceptable. That's not standard of this football club it's not the standard I'm going to accept them and maybe I need to go out and sign another central defender.'

So that was our conversation. I said, 'you know what gaffer? You can go and sign another central offender. Go knock yourself out. Just to let you know, I'll be the one that's playing.'

He just had a look at me with a little bit of a smirk and he nodded his head and said 'that's what I wanted to hear' and that moment, was a defining moment, because all of a sudden there was a trust.

As a player, you've got to earn the trust of the coach and I think once you've earned the trust of the coach, you really can achieve special things.

Take me back to that moment when you're lining up to take a penalty against Croatia in the 39th minute of the game at the 2006 World Cup. What's going through your head? And then after you slotted it home, what went through your head?

The game was simply an amazing atmosphere.

Plus, as you know with your heritage, the five or six, maybe even seven we had with the Croatian background in our national team - the three that Croatia had with the upbringing in Australia, you just couldn't understand the build-up, the game itself.

Everything came together, it was like a great melting pot.

The penalty situation, I'll be honest with you, I started off the game very, very average - that's probably me being kind to myself.

We conceded an early goal, Srna scored the free-kick, top corner, so we're battlin' aren't we?

They're putting a lot of pressure on us, they're ranked fifth in the world, they're a top team and we couldn't really get into a rhythm.

Even trying to come out from the back, a few of my decisions weren't great in terms of keeping possession.

Then we managed to find a foot in the game, where we said 'we're in the game, 1 nil is not horrible, there's something still potentially in this game.'

Penalty situation. I was taking the penalty and Viduka missed a couple leading in if you can remember?

My thought process was, it's a World Cup. Imagine you can score a goal in a World Cup?

That's something unbelievable but I'm like 'there are better players than me that have missed penalties in the history of football so just get up.'

The only little bit of doubt, which wasn't really there was, I wasn't having a great game but to get up, to make good contact with the ball most importantly and don't focus or think about anything else.

l managed to do that, the goalkeeper goes down nice and early, which probably makes it look a better penalty then what it was and then it was relief - not that I had scored but we're back in this.

It really was a game like no other. It was back and forward and I was fortunate enough to get that penalty and my game went from strength to strength after that, I believe.

From then on, I kind of grew in confidence and it was just remarkable - everything from start to finish to that World Cup.

But that particular night, warming up to AC/DC, then after the game, even the Croatia supporter stayed behind and it was much like a party atmosphere that you could have in football that I'd experienced at national team level because I wasn't involved in the greatest night of Australian football in 2005.

That was something I missed through injury so this for me was the best that I'd seen, the best that I had certainly experienced at international level.

It was just a night that produced everything.

What went down in Greece over at Kavala?

Phwoar, what didn't?

What about this, so I'd just come away from Brisbane Roar, I think we've got a national team game in Asia somewhere and I pick up the phone to Spider (Zeljko Kalac) 'Spider, how you going big fella, what's happening, how's Greece, how's your club?' and he goes 'brilliant' and I say 'I'm looking to try and find a club for preparation for the World Cup' and he goes 'mate come here, I could speak to the president and that'd be unbelievable.' I said, 'I'll leave it with you then.'

So then he phones and then comes back to me sharpish and says 'they want to sign you. It's on.'

So I ended up flying from Asia to Athens, met with the president's son, signed a contract and obviously we'd had some conversations prior to that but I needed to go back to Australia to get my stuff and away we go.

I knew after two minutes there was no chance I was going back to Australia.

Once I got there and signed that contract, there was no chance they were letting me leave.

So, I rolled into games straight away and then we went up north somewhere, I remember Scotland was cold, but this place he went to was bloody freezing - it was the coldest I've ever experienced.

We're staying in these lodges and I am rooming with big Spider and I walked into this room and it's not the biggest room.
In the middle of the room, there's two or three stairs that you walk up to and then there's like a nice big double bed and I'm looking up thinking, 'well, where's the rest of it?' Then I've looked to the left and I swear to God, there's like this wooden bench. [Laughs]

It's just joined to the wall, right and it's not even a metre in width and I go 'Spides how am I meant to sleep there?' and he goes 'you'll be alright son' because I had to respect my elders. I had the worst night sleep.

I said 'mate one roll, just one roll and I'm on the floor here.' [Laughs] It was unbelievable.

We played that game, I think we got a draw and then we came and had a home game against Olympiacos.

There were riots before the game, riots on the field - we've got staff running out trying to keep people from getting into our dressing room, fireworks in the dressing room, all of a sudden they got somebody running in with blood coming out their nose, somebody with a black eye and I'm thinking, my wife Heather and my kids had come to Kavala and they were with Zeljko's Mrs at the time with the kids.

I'm in the dressing room and I've gone 'listen, just watch this one on television, do not come to this game.' I don't even feel safe going out to play.

It was funny - we ended up drawing nil-nil but within five minutes of the game, it was one of those ones where, the striker has gone to go short and then to spin off his right shoulder.

I know exactly what movement he's going to make and where he's going to run and I've been on that right shoulder so as he's turned to spin, I'm coming forward as if I'm looking at the pass that's gonna come and the boy has just hit a brick wall hasn't he? He's just gone 'boom'.

Then there's this uproar and I'm thinking, 'oh my God, it's not even five minutes into this game the referee is going to send me off because it's so volatile.

He ends up giving me a yellow card which is fair enough but Spider loves that story.

We played that game and then two days later, there was a cafe that we used to go to, there was an Aussie boy who used to own it and Spides says to me, 'bud just to let you know, that's me, I'm leaving'. I said 'what?! He said 'mate, I'm done. I'm done here.'

I said, 'Spides, are you taking the piss mate? I came here, we're going enjoy playing together, the team's doing okay, we're going to push for a European position. I'm not even here for 10 days and you're telling me you're going?'

Oh it was good times because I experience a lot of things for the first time that I hadn't experienced that I'd heard so much about.

You hear about a president coming in, smoking a cigar and writing a hundred thousand euro bonus for the squad, if you beat Panathinaikos away.

We won that game, funnily enough and on the bus back to the airport, all the boys are at the back and they're divvying all the money out and the money's about to come to me and I said 'no, no, no. I've got a contract, don't worry about it, I don't want the bonus.'

Why didn't you want it?

Because I think in that kind of culture that you are then under their spell. So I never took it. Two weeks later, we got a bad result and the president wanted the money back. [Laughs] So that's why I didn't take the money.

What a brilliant story! I want to switch gears now to talk about some of the challenges that life has thrown at you including your run-in with testicular cancer in 2008. You were really fortunate in so many ways because you had your surgery and were back playing not long after?

I played 10 days later.

Wow. Holy shit. 10 days later? I didn't know it was that soon.

I only missed one game. I was lucky - no scooting about.

I discovered a lump on my testicle and straight away, I went up to see the doctor, I was sent for scans and the look on the face, obviously wasn't good.

They said, 'we need to get you in ASAP for surgery.'

This was all a blur.

What's going through your head at that time?

To be honest, I'm not really thinking about anything other than I've got to go in and get this surgery done and let's see what it's like after.

I don't know. I wasn't thinking, I'm going to die' or 'my life's changed forever'.

Nothing was getting it, if that makes sense? The only time that I actually broke down was when I tried to explain it to my son who was 10 years old.

So I'm having a conversation with him because I think he's 10 years old, he's going to hear it, he's going to see it in the newspapers so I want to do the right thing and have a conversation. Then I bubbled up.

But I was lucky, I had the operation, I played 10 days later.

My blood markers were never, ever an influence, they were always normal.

I never had to have any chemo or radio, I had no treatments, I just had to monitor every three months at the beginning which stretched out to six months, then a year.

So I kind of feel as if I don't really know what it was like to have it because I don't feel as if I had it.

This next one's a really sensitive one, so I completely understand if you don't want to chat about it. It's been over a year now since the death of Mark Kingsman. I can't even imagine how horrible that must of been for you and Danny (Tiatto) in that moment and ever since that day. What comes to mind when you think about it now?

Not the actual incident, obviously, but whenever Mark's name comes up, it brings a smile to my face because I know what a great person he was in terms of, how he liked to live his life.

I'll tell you what, we used to head-butt as well with his time at Brisbane Roar as the CEO, but that was a big part of our relationship.

He just loved a debate and he didn't mind a beer and we used to sit and pull the game apart and he used to have his take on it but Mark was a fan and hadn't really experienced what I had experienced so I was having breakthroughs with that and bringing him up to speed.

But the actual situation, oh my God, oh, it was horrible.

We were out for a jetski and then all of a sudden he'd come in a little bit closer with a bit of wave jumping and had come off the ski.

Eventually, Danny Tiatto was with us and another mate, Grant and they've gone in to get him back up on the ski and back out but he'd worked hard to get to the ski and just as he got back on the ski another wave came and knocked him off the ski.

At that stage, his head had bobbed and Danny's launched himself in and I've actually got Danny's son with me at the time on the back of my jet ski.

We came flying in with him being dragged up the beach, and we got to work (CPR) straight away.

For 50 odd minutes, we're working away and no joy.

The location was isolated in terms of access and by the time people got there, it was just too late.

I smile because I know Mark and loved Mark and know the type of person that he is and the way that he lived.

Even just going out that particular day, he was as happy as I'd seen him for a long time.

He had a big smile on his face and he's like 'how good is this, going out with the boys?'

He was a fantastic friend and we're very close still to the family, because there will continue to be tough times and down days which is normal when we all have loss.

I like to speak about the positive times and what made us laugh and how they made us feel and keep them still relevant in the conversation rather than a taboo subject.

They want us to be positive about them. They want us to continue to go on and lead as best a life that we can.

We should still be talking about them because we love them and we have great memories and shared so many fantastic times, so that's my outlook.