The 1974 FIFA World Cup™! For the majority of football fans, this tournament brings back memories of long hair, Franz Beckenbauer holding the trophy aloft, and the dazzling Dutch runners-up, led by the inimitable Johan Cruyff. During and after the tournament, everyone remarked on the stunning 180-degree swivel that the Dutch maestro regularly executed...it was the birth of the "Cruyff turn". Or was it?
Take a look at the East Germany-Australia game from the opening round, and you will see a tall Australian forward performing a perfect "Cruyff turn" to beat the highly-rated East German defender Konrad Weise, a day before the Dutch had even taken the field. The name of this Aussie innovator? Adrian Alston. "I was doing the same thing, in the same World Cup," laughs Alston, who spoke to FIFA.com from his home in the Australian city of Wollongong. "I'd never heard of this ‘Cruyff turn', it was just a skill that I'd picked up along the way."
Like many members of Australia's 1974 team, Alston originally hailed from the British Isles. While an apprentice at Preston North End, he received an offer to play in Australia for the ambitious South Coast United club. He immediately felt an affinity for his new home. "I thought I was coming for one season only," Alston remembers. "And they paid for my airfare...I've still got my return ticket somewhere! But after a couple of weeks, I wrote to my girlfriend and said ‘I'm not coming back, so you'd better get yourself out here!' "
Alston was soon a vital member of the national team, and played an important role in the Socceroos' historic qualification for the 1974 world finals. Even before the tournament, legendary West German manager Helmut Schoen had picked out Alston as a player for his side to be wary of, and Alston still recalls with pride the moment when Schoen announced on German television, "."
When Australia did finally meet the eventual champions, Schoen's concerns were proved valid, as Alston caused plenty of trouble. "I beat [Hans-Georg] Schwarzenbeck and Beckenbauer and nearly scored in that game," Alston recalls. "Beckenbauer was here recently, and gave me a DVD of it!"
Alston became the envy of his team-mates by swapping shirts with the incomparable German captain after the game, and the shirt, now signed by Der Kaiser, is still a cherished possession in the Alston household. "It belongs to my son now," explains Alston.
Following the FIFA World Cup, Alston embarked on a career in Europe. Although his performances had attracted interest from a number of German clubs, including Hamburg, Hertha Berlin and Eintracht Frankfurt, Alston moved back to England, with Luton Town.
"That was the worst move I made. I should have stayed in Germany," Alston confesses. "Looking back, Germany had just won the World Cup, and I would have been playing in their league, already recognized as a player. Instead, in England, I was just another Aussie."
Alston's adventures didn't finish there. After a relatively happy spell with Cardiff City, he moved to the USA, where he became one of the foreign stars in the glamorous North American Soccer League, where he rubbed shoulders with the likes of Pele, Cruyff, George Best, and Beckenbauer again. A return to England followed, but Alston's heart was still in his adopted land.
Perhaps inevitably, Alston's wanderings took him back to the land that had given him the chance to play on football's greatest stage. "I went back to Preston for six months," Alston recalls. "One morning, my son was rubbing the window with his pyjamas on a frosty morning, and said ‘Dad, what are we doing here?' And I said, ‘You know what, son, you're right!'. So we settled back here, and started again."
These days, Alston divides his time between his day job, caring for people with intellectual disabilities, and his coaching position at Bulli FC in the Illawarra Premier League. The time he spent at football's premier event, however, remains a treasured memory.
"I think Harry Kewell made some statement a while ago, where he said that he'd rather win the European Cup with Liverpool than play in a World Cup with Australia," says Alston. "I think he soon changed his mind when he actually went to the World Cup!"
Facts and figures
Clubs (player): South Coast United (1968-1969), St. George Budapest (1970-1972), Luton Town (1974-1975), Cardiff City (1975-1976), Tampa Bay Rowdies (1977-1978), Wollongong City (1984).
Clubs (coach): Port Kembla (1997-2004), Wollongong City (2004-2005) Bulli FC (2006-present).