The second instalment of this 3 part series on Leopold Baumgartner, reflects on his time at Canterbury, South Coast, APIA, and his treatment at the hands of NSW Federation officials. Click here to read part 1.
By applying his signature to a contract in a sports store in Kingsrove, in Sydney’s south west, Leo Baumgartner marked the next chapter in his Australian story. Baumgartner signed with Canterbury at the bequest of John Gray, the owner of the same sports store in which the contract was signed. Gray and Baumgartner got to know each other well, as the star player’s boots were sold from his store.
A new committee at Prague, who Baumgartner described as knowing “very little about soccer”, was the reason for his request to leave. The club obliged, placed 1000 pound transfer fee, which was ironic considering they themselves skirted regulations and did not pay one of themselves. Baumgartner said of the new board at the club he was departing;
“New committee wanted to run the club their way, little realizing that a club like Prague with many star players was not easy to run. The better the players, the more individual their problems.”
Baumgartner was brought to Canterbury to help in the football education process for their youthful side, by learning side-by-side with the master in training and on the field. In reading the biography ‘The Little Professor of Soccer’, interview transcripts, and quotes from newspapers, Baumgartner would on one hand give a brutal assessment and then offer praise. On Joe Vlatsis’ coaching he would say “(Vlatsis) coached the boys like it was a school class, but they seemed to enjoy it,” and then also reminisce fondly “But sessions were the same as Vienna.”
A young teenage sensation, Johnny Warren, along with his brother Geoff, were in the Canterbury side. Warren would go on to being not only captain of the Socceroos, but also being arguably the most influential people in Australian football. In his book ‘Sheilas, wogs and poofters’, Warren described Baumgartner as:
“A real showman and people used to call him Sabrina, after a well endowed movie star of the time, because of the way he ran with his chest out. The crowds used to love him because he was trememdously gifted with the ball and he always try to keep them entertained in return.”
Warren would also go onto describe the talented star as not the most easiest person to play with:
“Leo never liked running much and always demanded the ball be played to his feet. While I was used to people making the effort to retrieve a slightly mis-hit pass, Leo simply didn’t move. It had to be played to his feet. Because of this attitude he wasn’t the easiest person to play with on the field but at the same time he made everyone lift their own game and improve some of weaknesses.”
Baumgartner scored 30 goals for Canterbury that year. But none would have been as remarkable as his goal that changed the grand final.
Leading up to the grand final against his former team Prague, Canterbury spent 40 pounds on recording their previous encounter which resulted in a 1-1 draw. Vlatsis and Baumgartner used stills from the game to point out technical errors, during a special camp in the lead up to the finale in the Blue Mountains. The pair worked together in “planning counters to cover Prague’s inside right Karl Jaros and open centre field plays”.
A crowd of 17,872 attended the grand final at Henson Park, and they were treated to a surprise, as the young Canterbury side went ahead 2-0. Only once before in 28 games has Canterbury defeated Prague, so this result would have stunned most whom were present. It is said that Baumgartner influenced the game by taking command at key moments, as he played the role of deep lying forward, or what would be called today the ‘number 10’ position.
Six minutes after half time, Karl Jaros scores for Prague to bring the score to 2-1. But this was to be all in vein, as only ten minutes later Baumgartner was to assert his magic. He picks up the ball within his own half, and beats three players. Baumgartner then plays a ‘perfect pass’ to Jose Amigo, when lays off to Geoff Warren on the left. Warren then cuts the ball back for Baumgartner in the box, who score what is claimed as the ‘goal of the season’.
The crowd’s reaction to the goal could not be better summed up then by Baumgartner himself, even if we allow for poetic license;
“The whole crowd stood up with a tremendous roar, hats flying, papers being thrown around, jackets tossed high in the air. A jubilation went through the crowd.”
The game ended in a 5-2 win for Canterbury. Baumgartner received a standing ovation as he was carried from the field, holding the coveted Championship Cup.
Sydney Morning Herald journalist Terry Smith – who seemed to be in awe of the man based on his excessive use of superlatives when writing articles on Baumgartner’s feats – does give a great personal insight in his article ‘He is the Gasnier of Soccer’ (16th October 1960; just after the grand final):
“Baumgartner and rugby league’s Reg Gasnier are the most talked about footballers in Sydney.”
Smith then goes onto describe Baumgartner as “a nervous fellow who always smokes a cigarette with a shaking hand to unwind after a match before he takes off his boots.” Within the privacy of the dressing room, and also within his own home is one thing, but it seems Baumgartner got a rush of ‘white line fever’ each time he entered the field of play, “(He) can be aggressive on the field if he disagrees with a referee’s decision.”
The journalist also recalls a moment which defines why he was such an enigma, “One game for Prague he staged a ‘one man sit down strike’ on the sideline for 10 minutes.” But its was also no denying his talent, “He is the most brilliant soccer player in Australia when in the mood.”
Baumgartner would only spend one season with Canterbury, as the logistics of travelling from his home in Maroubra, in Sydney’s eastern suburbs to Unanderra, just south of Wollongong, for work was taking its toll. Baumgartner was managing a canteen in a migrant camp in this town. So in 1961, he signed as player/coach, but his stay was brief (4 games), and unremarkable (lost all 4 games).
But that did not deter APIA’s Jim Bayutti, who desperately wanted Baumgartner to help salvage their club’s season. APIA paid South Coast a transfer fee and four players in return for Baumgartner. This much needed cash and new players would lay the foundation for South Coast for them to claim the title in latter years, ironically against a Baumgartner’s APIA.
Baumgartner quit the migrant hostel, and commenced with APIA. In his first training session about 500 fans attended to see their new star in action. After a season that was below expectations for the Italian community club, he was given the player/coach role in his second year, as well as a job in the social club. Baumgartner also coached the New South Wales representative side, plus second division team Sydney Croatia.
The year 1962 would be a prosperous one for Baumgartner. Three coaching roles, plus one playing, and an administration job. NSW won the interstate competition undefeated, APIA made the semi finals and Sydney Croatia won promotion to 1st Division. The only downside was Baumgartner had to quit his role at Croatia.
Whilst 1962 was a prosperous year for Baumgartner, 1963 was probably the year to forget. In late February 1963, Baumgartner was given the role of Director of Coaching in NSW, which required him to organise all coaching activities and make regular visits to schools. Baumgartner would later state that this role, and his dealings with the state federation, would give him “the most grief.”
Whilst washing his car one Friday morning, an official who lived nearby, asked Baumgartner if he would like to conduct a football camp for 100 boys. The problem was the camp was the next day. When Baumgartner arrived at the camp nothing had been organised. He had to make up most of it on the run. The programs, drills, even making sure the kids went to sleep. This is one of many issues he had with the state administrators.
APIA were doing well in the 1963 season. An upcoming state representative game against South Australia, was to become one of the darkest memories in football for Baumgartner. Jim Bayutti, who was also Vice President of NSW Federation, told Baumgartner and Karos (who also came to play at APIA), not to play in the match in case the players got injured.
Baumgartner resigned as captain and coach of the NSW representative team. In a meeting with the federation, Baumgartner cited again the need of his club, and if he got injured the financial impact on his family. His version of the meeting was that:
“One official countered that he was not interested in my family affairs and commitments, he just recorded that I refuse to play for NSW”.
These versions of events quoted by Baumgartner in his biography, and also in interviews, differs from what was reported at the time. The Sydney Morning Herald reported:
“(Baumgartner) said he did this in protest against ‘muddled thinking’ by the federation in delaying their selection of state squad.”
South Australia went on to beat NSW. Baumgartner and Karos were banned for life. The feelings expressed by Baumgartner about the decision:
“After 23 years of playing football in all parts of the world, having played with stars whose names were on the lips of every young boy, having proved my worth to Australian soccer, I was suspended for life. What a humiliation.”
Whilst APIA made the grand final, the year did not improve. South Coast had had turned from stugglers to grand finalist. The grand final was played at the Sydney Sportsground in front of 30,102. It was reported that police had to close the ground and turn supporters away.
After 20 minutes, South Coast were up 3-0. The APIA supporters began to turn on their team, cheering for South Coast and booing their own. The loss didn’t go down well. Post game rumours circulated that Baumgartner had thrown the game. Consequently Baumgartner was hauled in front of the APIA committee;
“The committee had two factions. One was Italian and the other wasn’t. Karl and I were often told we were good footballers but we weren’t Italian. My interest was in soccer, not club politics. It was time to go.”
Baumgartner was placed on the transfer list – for a fee of 1200 pounds. APIA club secretary Bob Walker on the incident at the time said “As far as we are concerned, Baumgartner is not happy with APIA. When he asked for a transfer we agreed to it.”
Asked why he wanted to leave APIA, by SMH’s Terry Smith, Baumgartner replied “APIA have too many experts.”