At 40, Knights travel deluxe

TONY DURAY will allow himself a few moments for reflection when the Melbourne Knights run on to the pitch for their 40th anniversary match, against Sydney United, at the Croatian Sports Centre in Sunshine today.

He will look around at the imposing stands, the social club and training pitches and marvel anew at the giant strides taken by successive administrations since the Knights comprised a bunch of friends who would travel to matches squeezed into a 1947 Mercury Deluxe.

“Our team was made up of whoever we could fit into that old car. That was our only transport,” Duray said.

“Our first president, Peter Filipovic, was also our coach.”

Today, the Knights – born as Croatia Soccer Club in Duray’s Footscray home in 1953 – are on top of the national league ladder and their trophy cabinet is bulging at the seams.

They have won three Premier League championships, five Premier League Cups, seven Dockerty Cups and five night championships and retained a total of 23 Socceroos including Alan Davidson, Billy Vojtek, Jimmy Mackay, Ken Murphy, Eddie Krncevic, Andrew Marth, Tommy Cumming and Branko Milosevic.

In 34-year-old captain Josip Biskic, Australia’s 1991-92 player of the year, the Knights have one of the most enduring virtuosos in Australian soccer history.

And in 18-year-old striker Mark Viduka they have a player destined to become a giant on the world stage.

Leo Saric, 63, who was in the pioneering Croatia team of 1954, has seen few players to compare with Viduka. “He is potentially the best player Australia has produced,” said Saric, a former wing-half. “The way he scores goals astounds me.”

Saric, who had played as a youngster for Jedinstvo in Croatia, maintained his soccer involvement with a team made up of migrants from the Maribyrnong Hostel after arriving in 1952. It was two years later that he took part in the early get-togethers at Duray’s home that led to the formation of Croatia Soccer Club. The history of the Knights involves four other clubs _ Preston, Croat, Lions and Hajduk.

A group of Croatia officials broke away in 1960 to take over Preston which became known as Croat. This division of the Croatian soccer community persisted until 1963 when a group of influential administrators, including the Durakovic (now Duray) brothers, Harry Mrksa and Frank Burin, engineered a merger.

In July 1974, Tony Vrzina, who had coached the Knights in 1971 and 1972, became coach of the Ukrainian club Lions, which had amalgamated with Hajduk in 1958.

With Vrzina as their leader, they succeeded in buying out Lions for $25,000 in 1975. Vrzina was installed as president-manager, Duje Zemunik as coach and many of the former Knights officials made up the committee.

Appropriately, their 40th anniverary match today is against their sister club Sydney United, formerly Sydney Croatia.

LATEST nominations for the Australian Players’ Association’s teenager of the year award are Brisbane goalkeeper Clint Bolton, for his performance against Newcastle, and Brunswick striker Joe Tricarico, for his display against Wollongong.

TODAY’S matches, with likely winners in capitals: MELBOURNE KNIGHTS v Sydney United at Croatian Sports Centre, Sunshine, 6pm; Heidelberg v Brisbane (draw) at Olympic Village, 6pm; PARRAMATTA v West Adelaide at Melita Stadium, 6.30pm; ADELAIDE CITY v Wollongong at Hindmarsh Stadium, 7.30pm.\

Laurie Schwab
The Sunday Age

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