Socceroo, milkman, friend to Pelé: football mourns Manfred Schaefer

·4-min read
<span>Photograph: AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Football fans across Australia are mourning the death of 1974 Fifa World Cup Socceroo and Football Australia Hall of Fame member, Manfred Schaefer, who was 80.

The defender represented Australia 73 times between 1967 and 1974, 49 of those ‘A’ Internationals, and was a member of Australia’s first FIFA World Cup squad in 1974, starting all three of Australia’s group games at the tournament in West Germany.

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Football Australia Chairman Chris Nikou said: “Today we mourn the passing of a giant of Australian football in Manfred Schaefer. While not born in Australia, Manfred gave everything to Australia, representing the country both on and off the field with the greatest of distinction.

“Even after retiring as a player, Manfred influenced the careers of so many of the nation’s finest players through his technical brilliance and strong managerial skills for almost three decades.

“Manfred loved all levels of Australian football and would regularly be found supporting the sport, whether at grassroots, NPL, Australia Cup or national team level, where his presence will now be sorely missed but always felt.

“On behalf of Football Australia and the Australian football community, I send my deepest condolences to the Schaefer family, his friends, and former teammates at this sad time. Manfred Schaefer, forever cap 198.” concluded Nikou.

Schaefer migrated to Australia from East Germany at the age of 10 and took up football at high school. He initially joined Blacktown before transferring to St George in 1959 and playing 450 games for them, winning the NSW State League in 1972.

“Manny” credited his strong psyche to his early days. Born in the East Prussian town of Pillau, Germany (now Baltiysk, Russia), his family fled to Bremen in the dying embers of World War II before emigrated to Australia.

A milkman by trade, Schaefer credited his Cabramatta milk run for making him him one of the fittest and strongest players in the land. Sure enough, he made his debut for Australia under Joe Vlatsis in 1967, introduced as a half-time substitute during a 5-3 win over New Zealand at the Quốc Khánh Cup in war-torn Vietnam.

Schaefer went on to start in all the remaining matches at the tournament as Australia defeated the likes of Malaysia, hosts South Vietnam and Asian powerhouses South Korea to defy the odds and win the country’s first international trophy.

Many credit the 1967 tournament as the “birth of the Socceroos spirit”, in which the core of the squad that went on to qualify for Australia’s first World Cup in 1974 made their debuts. That included Schaefer, who established himself as a mainstay in the Australian backline during the 1970 and 1974 World Cup qualification campaigns.

Schaefer, alongside Ray Richards, famously marked Pelé during Australia’s 2-2 draw with Santos at the Sydney Sportsground in June 1972. Schaefer’s uncompromising effort led to a friendship with the Brazilian great until the latter’s passing in 2022.

At the 1974 World Cup finals Schaefer was charged with marshalling global superstars such as Gerd Müller as Australia faced West Germany, East Germany and Chile in their first appearance at the tournament.

Despite Australia going down to 10 men, Schaefer helped keep a clean sheet against Chile in the final group game, securing a 0-0 draw which was the Socceroos’ first point at the World Cup finals.

Schaefer was remembered fondly for his kindness in retirement as well as his achievements on the field.

“My parents struggled financially and there were probably times the milk money wasn’t there when Manfred delivered,” wrote football journalist Ray Gatt. “But, there was always two bottles at the front door, money or not.”

In retirement Schaefer managed St George, Sydney Olympic, Brunswick-Juventus, APIA Leichhardt, Sydney Croatia, Marconi, Adelaide Sharks and Parramatta Power between 1975 and 2004. He was inducted into the Football Australia Hall of Fame for his service to the game in 1999.

The Socceroos will wear black armbands in tribute when they face Ecuador at Marvel Stadium in Melbourne on Tuesday night, with a moment of silence to be conducted before kick-off.