Rafty (born Anthony Raftopoulos) passed away just three days short of his 100th birthday on 9 October 2015 and his career saw him sketch eminent people from all walks of life. He famously drew The Beatles during their 1964 tour of Australia and the work is of note because it’s the only art work that is signed by all of the Fab Four. He also drew acting greats including Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn, and Peter Ustinov, and world leaders including Ghandi and the first president of Cyprus Makarios III, as well as the first man on the moon Neil Armstrong.
But what isn’t known inside and outside the Australian football community is that Rafty captured two of the world’s greatest sports stars in Brazilian icon Pele and Argentinian legend Maradona.
How Rafty came to draw Maradona and Pele can be sourced back to former Socceroos World Cup coach Rale Rasic whose football museum walls hold the original drawings of both as well as the 1974 Socceroos image.
Rasic told Neos Kosmos that the great artist had a deep affinity for the 1974 Socceroos.
“Tony and I became friends soon after Australia defeated Greece on that world tour in 1970,” he says.
“I went to Tony’s house often. We were such great mates. Not one rude word was exchanged between us. During the World Cup qualifying tournament Australia played in 1973 against New Zealand, Iraq, and Indonesia, Tony asked for permission to do a number of caricatures of the Socceroos. He drew me, the whole team, and he had one-on-one sessions with Adrian Alston and Ray Baartz.
“His work meant so much not only to the Socceroos, but to the whole world, because he was a global person with global views on life.”
Tony Rafty loved drawing sports stars, including more than 250 Australian Olympians, from the 1948 London Games to the 2000 Games in Sydney, as well as Shane Warne, Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman and Betty Cuthbert. And Rasic revealed that Rafty was obsessed with adding Pele to his collection of famous subjects.
“When Brazilian club side Santos came to Australia in 1972 to play the Socceroos they toured with Pele,” he says.
“I can recall how Tony would ring me every day to try and do a caricature of Pele. I got Tony a ticket to that game, but we couldn’t reach an agreement with Santos because there was a disagreement with their fee.”
Rafty finally got his man in 1988 when he drew Pele in Sydney where he was invited by special request. When he found out that the Argentine World Cup legend was coming to Australia he sought Rasic’s help again.
“He knew that I knew Maradona,” says Rasic. “He said, ‘at any cost I want you to organise Diego Maradona’s caricature’. Even before I had organised anything or spoke to Diego I said, ‘done, I guarantee you I will have it done’ and his eyes just lit up.”
Australia played Argentina in 1993 in a two-legged play-off with the winner gaining a spot at the 1994 World Cup in the USA. The first leg was in Sydney and Andy Paschalidis who called both legs for SBS described the scene for Neos Kosmos.
“You could only imagine the chaos and the madness that occurred when Maradona was in Australia,” he recalls.
“The only person that I can recall that got a one-on-one interview was Les Murray. Not so much because we were the host broadcaster but Les was smart. He knew Maradona had two daughters and he bought them gifts and he gave them to him as he walked into the Crowne Plaza in Coogee where the Argentine team was staying before the game. That opened the door to get an exclusive interview with Maradona – it might have been 10 minutes at the most.”
When Argentina were training in Sydney the day before the game, Rasic and Rafty met with Maradona and once he saw the artist’s works he didn’t hesitate at the offer.
“I introduced Tony Rafty as the greatest cartoonist the world has ever seen,” Rasic recalls.
“Tony showed him a small album of some of his previous works and Diego was blown away when he saw some of the names like anyone would. So, Diego said, ‘yes, the privilege is mine.’
“So, when he went back to Coogee, Diego stood outside of the hotel until Tony was done. You will never believe in your life – Diego stood there for two hours and 15 minutes posing, full of pride, and hardly moved and wasn’t distracted.
“He rejected offers of coffee, water, and tea the whole time. Diego signed the drawing con afecto which means ‘with affection’ in Spanish. Afterwards me and Tony went for a coffee and he kept saying ‘unbelievable’ about 20 times. The work appeared in a copy of the NSW Soccer Federation magazine with the headline: ‘Maradona meets Rafty and Rasic’ and when Tony saw it he was in tears.”
Tony’s son Andrew says his father was one of a kind.
“Dad was unique,” he says. “Unique in the sense of his artistic talent and as a human being. He could draw quickly, accurately and superbly; he could effectively capture the essence of his subject’s personality and had a wide range of styles from cartoons and extreme caricatures to portraits to real life scenes.”
Neither Andrew Rafty or Andy Paschalidis knew that Tony Rafty had drawn Maradona. Paschalidis himself was also a subject of a Tony Rafty caricature and he can understand why the Argentine gave up so much of his time before such a crucial game.
“I didn’t realise this story until I was told by Neos Kosmos, but I’m not surprised by it,” he says.
“If you think about Maradona and how much time he has on his hands and how many demands were placed on him, he would’ve been impressed with the quality of Tony and identified the quality of the work. To have two hours with one of the all-time greats? Who gets that chance? No other Australian would’ve spent two hours with Maradona.
“Hector Martinez was with the Argentine squad and acted almost like a bodyguard in Australia and anyone that came near Maradona was politely declined. I saw it at training everyday – it was like a media frenzy and a circus. Then you think the flipside there at the hotel, Maradona standing there and holding court and Rafty doing his trademark work.”
Reading the many articles on Tony Rafty’s work its hard to find any mention of his Pele, Maradona, and Socceroos drawings, and Paschalidis says these pieces of art need to be seen by all Australian football fans.
“People have been saying for a number of years that there should be a football museum,” he says.
“Can you imagine it with Tony Rafty’s work as part of it? Is there anyone out there in the world that has done both Pele and Maradona? I don’t even think we’d be able to find that out. To know that he enjoyed football and that he’s highlighted our historic first ever World Cup qualifying team and arguably the two world’s greatest players at that time – it’s truly remarkable. It should be part of our sports history. It should be something we know, particularly the football family, and it should be something we actively promote.”