Thursday 27 April 2017

Teams no longer with us. Footscray JUST

Goal Weekly, Monday, 2 June 2008

JUST, the Jugoslav United Soccer Team, was founded in Melbourne in March 1950 by Ivan Kuketz, a local hotelier and vice-president of the Brighton club where a number of recently-arrived Yugoslav players were playing. Kuketz had come to Australia from Europe in the 1930s and was of Croatian background. He was assisted by John Ivanovic. Harold Holt, then Minister for Immigration in the Menzies government, helped Kuketz to recruit players from Bonegilla and other migrant centres in Victoria, Canberra and New South Wales.

JUST had a swift climb to the top level in Victorian football. It won Division Three South in 1950. In 1951 JUST was the only unbeaten team in Victoria as it ran away with Division Two and won the Dockerty Cup for the first time. Inside forward Stevo Zakomarac was one of the stars of the early 1950s, representing Victoria against England in 1951 within a few months of his arrival. He had played with Radnicki in Belgrade before the war. Though there was always a strong core of Yugoslav players, JUST drew on talent from many countries. Spanish inside forward Jose ‘Pepe’ Cubero shared the Argus Medal with Bob Wemyss in 1956. Maltese recruits Lolly and Tony Vella also starred with JUST in the 1950s.

At the time Juventus was the dominant team in Victorian football and JUST became one of its main challengers. JUST reached the First Division for the 1952 season, playing at Yarra Park. Then it moved to Orrong Park, Como Park and the Melbourne Showgrounds before settling in Footscray at Schintler Reserve in 1961 following amalgamation with, or perhaps more accurately, a take-over of Footscray Capri. JUST won the Victorian Division One championship in 1957 by four points from Moreland, though it had the league sewn up much earlier and took its foot off the pedal in the last few rounds. This was the final season before the start of the State League in 1958.

JUST’s record was stunning. It won the State League in 1963, 1969, 1971 and 1973, the Dockerty Cup in 1951, 1963 and 1976, the Ampol Cup in 1955, 1956, 1957, 1960 and 1966 (1965 according to the VSF), the Australian Ampol Cup in 1960 and the State League Cup in 1973, 1974 and 1975. (or 1974,1975 and 1976 according to the VSF Yearbook 2000). It also won the reserves competition, the Armstrong Cup in 1968.

Rale Rasic arrived from Belgrade in 1962, thanks to the assistance of Tiko Jelisavcic who was player-coach at Yugal in Sydney. In his autobiography, Rasic describes the move as ‘going from living on the French Riviera to living in the Stone Age’. But JUST was welcoming and had a cadre of top class players including Frank Micic, Billy Rice, Jim Milisavljevic, Cec Dickson and later Tommy Stankovic. In 1963 JUST won the State League and the Dockerty Cup. In 1964 Rasic returned to Jugoslavia to do his national service, but also undertook a university degree, and came back to Australia when that was done in January 1966. He began his coaching career with JUST and then with the Victorian State team and in 1970 succeeded ‘Uncle’ Joe Vlasits as coach of the Socceroos.

In the 1970s the club continued to pile up championships and cups and Footscray JUST was a founder member of the National Soccer League in 1977 under its dynamic president Tony Kovac. In 1985 it finished in last place in the Southern Conference, when the NSL had been split in 1984. Saved from relegation, JUST bounced back in 1986 to record its best ever finish as runner-up to Brunswick United Juventus. In the finals series, JUST reached the Southern Division Grand Final going down by two goals to one against Adelaide City at Olympic Park. Jugoslav legend, Drago Sekularac was coach of the year in 1986. Ossie Latif was top scorer for JUST that year with 8 goals. But this proved to be JUST’s swansong. In the next two years it finished well down the table and in 1989 it came second last and was relegated.

JUST played in the Victorian State League as Melbourne City JUST in 1990. Ken Knight was Secretary. In 1991 it was down to State League Division One following the inception of the Victorian Premier League and it had been colonised by South Americans. Mr J Pacheco took over as Secretary and all connection with the Jugoslav/Serbian community was severed. In 1994 when in Division Three Melbourne City moved to Keilor Park Reserve, so the Footscray connection also disappeared.

Over the years JUST had many top class players including Ivan Pikl, Branko Buljevic, Slobodan Zoraja and Mendo Ristovski, while coach Pepe Dugina helped develop Socceroo stars including Oscar Crino and Alan Davidson.

My thanks to Milan Ninovic for assistance with this column.

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