Australia’s football community has been shattered by the death of pioneer Manfred Schaefer – but his legacy in establishing the code as a national sport will never be forgotten.
The legendary Australian football player has died at the age of 80, his passing sending shockwaves throughout the football community with many paying tribute to the man who helped the Socceroos create World Cup history in 1974.
Schaefer was born on 12 February 1943, in in the East Prussian town of Pilla, Germany. He moved to Australia in 1954, where he began playing for St George-Budapest in Sydney.
He took up a job as a milkman, his regular runs contributing to the defender’s extraordinary strength and endurance.
Schaefer’s crowning achievement came in 1974 when he was part of the Socceroos team that qualified for the World Cup for the first time. He played a crucial role in the historic victory over South Korea, which secured Australia’s place in the tournament.
Schaefer’s contribution to Australian football did not end with the 1974 World Cup. He played a pivotal role in the development of the game in Australia, coaching and mentoring young players and serving as a mentor to up-and-coming coaches.
Manfred Schaefer (second from left) is pictured in the 1974 World Cup match between West Germany and Australia
Peter Wilson, Jack Reilly, Branco Buljevic, Adrian Alston, Erny Campbell, Doug (Douglas) Utjesenovic, Ray Richards, Jimmy Mackay, Manfred Schaefer, Collin Curran and James Rooney stand on the pitch prior to the World Cup match against West Germany
Despite his achievements on the field, Schaefer remained humble and dedicated to his community. He worked as a milkman for over 30 years and was known for his friendly nature and willingness to help others.
Schaefer’s death has been mourned by many in the football community, including former Socceroos teammates and coaches.
Former Socceroos coach, Rale Rasic, paid tribute to Schaefer, saying, ‘He was an extraordinary man, a wonderful footballer. He was tough on the outside but kind and gentle on the inside.’
Manfred Schaefer (right) leads Socceroos training with teammate Harry Williams
Represented Australia 73 times between 1967 and 1974, 49 of those ‘A’ Internationals
From 1959, played more than 450 games for St George
Coached Australian sides from 1975 to 2004
Best known for his solid defence against stars such as Pelé when Santos toured Australia, and Germany’s Gerd Muller in the World Cup Finals
Inaugural inductee into the Football Federation Australia Hall of Fame
Schaefer Terrace in the Sydney suburb of Glenwood is named after him
Schaefer’s legacy extends beyond Australian football. He was a close friend of Brazilian football legend, Pelé, who described Schaefer as ‘a great player and a great friend.’
In June 1972, Santos, a Brazilian club, played against the Australian national team at the Sydney Sportsground.
The match ended in a 2-2 draw, and during the game, Schaefer and Ray Richards were assigned to mark Pelé who was at the peak of his popularity after winning the World Cup in Mexico just two years earlier.
During the game, Richards fouled Pele, and Schaefer went over to help him up. Pelé, recognising Schaefer, reportedly said, ‘I know your name, you’re Mr. Bastard.’
Schaefer later spoke of his friendship with Pelé and that nickname which stuck.
‘When I ran into him again in West Germany during the 1974 World Cup he greeted me with another ‘Mr Bastard’,’ Schaefer said.
‘We had a cup of coffee and a chat. Later on in 2003 I even appeared with him on a television show for former World Cup players. It was good, really nice. I see him as my best mate, believe it or not.’
Football Federation Australia (FFA) Chairman, Chris Nikou, also paid tribute to Schaefer, saying, ‘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.’
Schaefer’s contribution to Australian football was recognised in 1999 when he was inducted into the Football Federation Australia Hall of Fame.
Schaefer’s passing has prompted an outpouring of tributes on social media, with many fans and former players paying their respects to the football legend.
Pelé (pictured on a visit to Australia in 2015) saw Shaefer as a worthy rival and good friend
Former Socceroos goalkeeper Mark Bosnich tweeted, ‘RIP Manfred Schaefer …wonderful servant to the local game.’
Former Socceroos captain Craig Foster also paid tribute to Schaefer, saying, ‘Saddened to hear of Manfred’s passing. A former coach of mine at Marconi in the mid 90’s, gentleman, ornament of the Australian game and Socceroos. Condolences to the Schaefer family,’
Schaefer’s funeral is expected to be held later this week, with many members of the football community due to attend.