Classic Finals | Berries blast Prague

Leading into Sunday's Hyundai A-League decider, associate editor Michael Cockerill looks at some of the great grand finals of the past.

Prague grand final team lines up before the game (from left): Fredi Durenberger (mostly obscured) Karl Jaros, Herbert Ninaus, Andy Saghi, Toni Schwarz, Les Scheinflug, Erwin Ninaus, Kevin O'Neil, Ken Hiron, Ron Lord.

Leading into Sunday's Hyundai A-League title-decider, associate editor Michael Cockerill will remind us of some of the great grand finals of the past.

Geoff Warren wasn't nervous going into what he describes as the biggest game of his career. But he was hungry. Starving, even.

The 1960 NSW grand final fell on a Sunday. Canterbury splashed out and put the players up at Crows Nest Hotel, with a full breakfast provided. Trouble was, the club forgot about lunch.

"In those days, everything was shut on a Sunday," recalls Warren. "Johnny Watkiss and I went to the ground (Henson Park) in separate cars, but we both bumped into each other at Marrickville because we found a shop which sold chocolate. That was it for lunch. A block of dairy milk."

Empty stomachs, perhaps, but no shortage of energy as it turned out.

Canterbury were rank outsiders going into the title-decider against star-studded Prague, the glamour club of the era. Austro/Hungarian imports such as Herbert and Erwin Ninaus, Walter Tamandl, Karl Jaros, Toni Schwarz and Andy Saghi were transforming the way the game was being played, and had made the Czech-backed club the team to beat.

Prague were the minor premiers, and had eased straight into the grand final with a routine 3-0 win over APIA-Leichhardt in front of 13,189 fans at Wentworth Park.

The Prague players were given a three-day camp in Katoomba to prepare for the big day, although those preparations were marred by an injury to star winger Tamandl, who was ruled out for the grand final and replaced by Fredi Durenberger.

Canterbury, by contrast, had to get to the title-decider the long way. A win over Auburn in the minor semi-final followed a grinding extra-time victory over APIA-Leichhardt in the preliminary final.

Geoff's younger brother, Johnny, scored two goals in that game but suffered a nasty cork to his thigh and was ruled out of the grand final side.

In fact Johnny was to spend a fortnight at Prince of Wales Hospital, Randwick, before the swelling went down. "Skippy" did at least get to Henson Park as a spectator, thanks to a lift from his parents, but he went straight back to hospital afterwards.

Speaking of spectators, Henson Park - the atmospheric home ground of rugby league side Newtown - was jam-packed for the grand final. What was then an Australian record crowd of 17,872 paid an eye-popping £4,216 in gate takings. Canterbury inside right Brian Smith (partly obscured) heads past Prague goalkeeper Ron Lord, with Geoff Warren (dark shirt) and Erwin Ninaus in close proximity.

In a rarity for the era, the game was televised - although viewers had to wait a week to see the coverage on the ABC.

While the vast majority of the capacity crowd were Canterbury supporters, even the most optimistic "Berries" fans were unprepared for what was about to unfold.

Canterbury, it needs to be said, were in the midst of a golden era. They were to play in four grand finals over five seasons from 1957-61, and throughout the 1950s and 1960s were known as "Canterbury Babes" for their trend-setting philosophy of promoting young, Australian, talent.

Nonetheless, against a high-pedigree side chock full of talented foreigners, few expected them to beat Prague. As it happened, they walloped them.

Canterbury raced to a two-goal lead by half-time, and there was a brief moment of anxiety when Jaros pulled one back for the favourites. But a wonder goal from Leo Baumgartner, which came at the end of a 50-metre burst involving an interchange of passes with Joe Amigo and Warren, effectively ended any hopes of a Prague comeback.

In the end, the 5-2 victory caused a sensation. Each of the five forwards (Warren, Baumgartner, Amigo, Salisbury and Smith) scored a goal. For coach "Uncle" Joe Vlasits it was to be another bookmark on a path that would eventually lead to the Socceroos job for the 1969 World Cup campaign.

At full-time, the crowd surged onto the field, and Baumgartner was hoisted on the shoulders of a couple of teammates as the players lapped up the adulation. Following the trophy presentation, the squad drove to nearby Campsie RSL for a long night of celebration.

"It was an unbelievable feeling to score five goals against Prague, they were the outstanding team of the generation," Warren says.

For Canterbury, the 1960 grand final win was arguably the high watermark of their long and chequered history. Formed in 1886, these days the Berries are playing in the second-tier of NSW football (as Bankstown Berries).

TEAMS (3-2-5): CANTERBURY: Ron Brown; Tom North, Jack Curry, Eddie Jones; John Watkiss, Geoff Campbell; Joe Amigo, Brian Smith, Leo Baumgartner, Barry Salisbury, Geoff Warren. PRAGUE: Ron Lord; Erwin Ninaus, Kevin O'Neil, Ken Hiron; Stuart Sherwin, Les Scheinflug; Fred Durenberger, Andy Saghi, Toni Schwarz, Herbert Ninaus, Karl Jaros.

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