Last Friday, FFA headquarters in Sydney hosted the latest inductions into the FFA Hall of Fame. Former Socceroo and Sydney Olympic club legend Peter Raskopoulos was among three new inductees into the FFA Hall of Fame, alongside former Matilda Sacha Wainwright and former international referee Tammy Ogston.
The 54-year-old former midfielder was able to meet with many former teammates and coaches of the 1981 Young Socceroos team who had gathered for a reunion at the event.
Choosing to honour a former NSL great, as well as the 1981 Young Australian Socceroos team, which he captained, provided the FFA with the opportunity to bring closer its current vision of the game and the game’s long history in this country.
Commenting on Raskopoulos’ induction, FFA CEO David Gallop said: ” Peter was a legendary figure throughout his playing days and is still highly respected in the football community today. His contributions to the NSL and the Socceroos are awe-inspiring and serve as a source of inspiration for all sports fans.”
For someone who made his senior debut on the national stage as a precocious 15-year- old way back in 1977 and in just four years was captaining the Young Socceroos at the 1981 World Cup tournament, it’s perhaps unsurprising to hear Raskopoulos say, “I’m a great believer in youth football”.
Looking back over an extensive career in football which includes a long, decorated playing career, a senior coaching role at Olympic and also a management role at the club, Raskopoulos considers among his finest achievements in the game captaining his country at both youth and senior levels, but also, as a club CEO, assembling the NSL championship and premiership-winning Sydney Olympic squad of 2001-02.
“When we won the NSL grand final and the following year, the minor premiership, we were by far the youngest squad ever to achieve that. Like from that squad, I think in 2013-2014 in the A-League we still had 13 or 14 players and a couple overseas. And even in this A-League, we’ve got four playing from our squad. So that was a thing I’m proud of and I believe in, and especially the way youth football is going at the moment, I don’t think it’s great, as you’re probably aware if you follow the Australian youth teams, there hasn’t been much success in the last 10 years.”
Raskopoulos believes that Australia’s lack of success at international youth level in recent years reflects an underlying problem with the system, although he’s not exactly sure what it is.
“I think there’s a couple of things there … Kids are being asked to pay too much money (in registration fees). Maybe the best kids are going to AFL and certain other sports. And I mean, in many ways now, I’m astounded at how many textbook and computer coaches are out there, that haven’t experienced football, and the people with experience aren’t being utilised.”
No longer involved in the game apart from occasionally advising young players, Raskopoulos has business interests and is operations and public relations manager for Rasko Exporters and Consultants. Asked if he has any desire to be involved in the game again in some capacity, he says, “no not really. Life’s pretty good”.
“To be involved in football, even when I was CEO, it’s a 24/7 job, 52 weeks of the year if you want to be successful. Besides advising and consulting occasionally, I’m not interested in that sort of time that you need to put into football.”
Raskopoulos described last Friday’s induction into the Hall of Fame as a great day because it gave him the opportunity to meet up with members of the 1981 Young Socceroos squad, which included other former Sydney Olympic associates including Golden Boot winner in the 1981 World Cup tournament Mark Koussas, Jimmy Patikas, Grant Lee, David Mitchell and Raul Blanco.
“And we had a couple of boys from Melbourne, obviously − Oscar Crino, Stevie Blair and Fab Incantalupo − come up. So it was a great day.”
“This team helped put football into the mainstream by showing that we could compete against the world’s best on our home soil when football was still very much a minority sport,” David Gallop said of the team which made it out of the group stage of the 1981 World Cup tournament held in Australia.
“They laid the foundations for our current national representative teams and showed that we can be competitive on the world stage.”
Raskopoulos, who captained the side, said “it was the first time ever we beat a powerhouse nation in the world.” The Young Socceroos upset then current world champs Argentina 2-1, to make it through to the quarter-finals where they were unlucky to lose to eventual tournament champions Germany 1-0.
“The amount of broad interest we created through the country surprised everyone. Because don’t forget, back in those days, it was still an ethnic, wog-ball game type of thing. And that created interest throughout the whole nation.
“I mean we were a really close-knit unit − even the Melbourne boys, we’re really good friends and it was great getting back together again.”