Sons of United was originally intended to include a biography of all 500+ players who have featured in the F.A. Youth Cup, however due to space limitations this was not possible. We decided to publish the biographies of every player from the first five seasons, every captain and some additional bios which we deemed interesting to the reader. Our plan is to produce a second edition which will capture youth cup exploits from 2011/12 onwards and also contain those further biographies which have been written and are ready to be enjoyed.
Unfortunately, many United juniors did not get the opportunity of playing in the F.A. Youth Cup and as such their story has never been told. Each month the authors will post a biography of a youth player that will not be published in physical format but can be viewed on this website.
Starlets such as Walter Whitehurst, Tommy Barrett, Tom Manley, Jackie Wassall, Jeff Whitefoot, Jimmy Ryan, Alan Gowling and Arnold Sidebottom all commenced their careers at Old Trafford and featured regularly in the starting XI of other league clubs.
We have decided to start with the biography of Ray Baartz, the first-ever youth player to make it as a professional with the club from outside of the British Isles. We hope you enjoy reading his story.
Born: 6th March 1947, Merewether, Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia
Height: 5ft 10in Weight: 11st 4lb
Career: Adamstown Primary School / Adamstown Junior Soccer Club / New Lambton South / Maitland City – March 1963 to September 1963/ Adamstown Rosebuds – March 1964 to September 1964 / Manchester United – (T) – September 1964 – Amateur: 10th December 1964 – Professional 8th April 1965 to March 1966 / Adamstown Rosebuds – March 1966 to September 1966 / Sydney Hakoah – March 1967 to 1974
Honours: 11 representative Australian Caps (4 goals), 48 full Australian Caps (17 goals), Sport Australia Hall Of Fame 1985
The 1964/65 season started with a wave of optimism throughout Manchester United Football Club. The team had successfully made the transition from the turmoil after Munich to a serious challenger for league honours. The FA Cup was won in 1963 and United were back in Europe finishing 4th in the 1963/64 title race. It was a significant improvement on the previous term where relegation was a serious possibility. The big money signings of Denis Law and Pat Crerand were now producing the goods and England international John Connelly had recently joined from Burnley.
At junior level the Youth team collected the FA Youth Cup for a sixth time, replicating the success of the Busby Babes initial foray into the competition eleven years earlier. The likes of David Sadler, Jimmy Rimmer, George Best, John Fitzpatrick, John Aston and captain Bobby Noble would all come through the ranks into the first team so it is little wonder that a small snippet of information contained in the United Review in mid-September 1964 was overlooked by the majority of supporters.
In David Meek’s regular column in the match-day programme he noted that:
“Two Australian boys, Ray Baartz and Doug Forsythe, are with United for six months on scholarships from their club Adamstown, in Newcastle, New South Wales. They are training with the United juniors before returning home with what they hope will be improved skills and fitness.”
What appeared to be an insignificant addition to the junior playing squad was actually a groundbreaking event. Never before had the club secured the services of junior players from outside the British Isles. So how did two unknown seventeen-year-old Australian prospects end up at one of the most famous football clubs in the world?
“Adamstown Rosebuds were one of the best teams around and we had some really good players. Our coach Brian Daykin was an ex-professional with Derby County and he had this idea of sending two players over to Manchester United for three months each year. He wanted to create a conveyor belt, send young players over a five year period and therefore build a really good team. Then the club told me that Doug Forsythe and I would be going to England. Doug was adopted and known locally as Doug Johns, his father Alan was an Australian international. It all came out of the blue and certainly caused some controversy at the time because Col Curran was probably the most popular player in the area and a lot of people wondered why he wasn’t selected. Col came over the following year of course.”
While relatively unknown in England, Adamstown was a hotbed of soccer in Australia at that time. Based in the coalmining district of Newcastle, 100 miles north of Sydney, the town had been populated by generations of English mining immigrants and so naturally soccer was the popular sporting pastime. Formed in 1889, the club had a proven pedigree and in 1964 were members of the Northern Federation and that same year came runner’s up in the Ampol Cup. One of the leading clubs in the country, the notion of sending youngsters to England was a visionary strategy.
“My great grandfather came over (to Australia) from Germany in the 1860’s but my father was born in Queensland and was a Rugby League fan. He moved to Adamstown for work so wasn’t really into soccer. My mother was actually English and was born in Darlington. She was one of 14 children and had her first birthday coming over to Australia on the boat. It was my older brother Bob, who played for Adamstown Junior Soccer Club, who taught me how to play. Although we had soccer in the winter and cricket in the summer at primary school, it wasn’t until I joined Adamstown Juniors when I was about eight that it was all properly organised. Then when I was about twelve or thirteen I joined New Lambton South where a few of my mates were turning out including Col Curran. A year later, in 1963, Jock McBride, a Scottish coach, asked Col and I to join Maitland City. We were only fifteen at that time and ended up featuring in the Maitland City first team on Sunday’s whilst still playing for New Lambton on Saturday’s“.
While naturally modest, the young Baartz clearly had talent, and twelve months later he joined up with Brian Daykin at Adamstown Rosebuds where a new chapter in his career was about to unfold.
“The next thing I knew I was on a plane to England…it was quite an adventure. We arrived in London and caught another plane up to Manchester and were met by Frank McEwen. I was really worried about making a fool of myself. We met Jack Crompton and Johnny Aston at the ground and did a few drills before meeting Matt Busby. It was a little strange really as he didn’t seem to know much about us being there. He welcomed us to the club, asked us how long we were here for, where we were staying and how much money did we have. We were put in digs together in Old Trafford and given £2 pocket money. Each day we walked to the ground for training or caught a bus to the Cliff.”
Baartz turned out in the red and white of Manchester United for the first time on the 12th of September 1964, when playing in his familiar half-back role. He helped the ‘A’ team to a 2-0 success over Oldham Athletic in the Supplementary Cup competition and then featured in two more games for the U/18 team before dropping to the ‘B’ side where he turned out at fullback. This was all clearly part of the coaches plan to ease him into the English game and early in the new year he was pushed into the forward line, wearing the number nine jersey for the trip to Manchester City. Within four weeks Baartz had done enough to be thrown into Central League action, making his debut for the second string in the 2-0 home win over Preston North End in only his eleventh appearance for the club. It was an impressive and meteoric rise through the ranks for one so inexperienced.
In the remaining three months of the campaign, Baartz featured regularly in both the Central League and ‘A’ teams so when the season came to an end he reflected on excellent progress. Unfortunately, Doug Forsythe was feeling homesick and had returned ‘down under’ in the March. While Forsythe found it difficult to force his way out of the ‘B’ team, despite scoring regularly, Baartz ended up only playing only a handful of times alongside his Rosebuds colleague as he continually impressed the coaching staff.
“Even though Doug was with me I found it really tough. My father died when I was thirteen and my mother was on her own back in Adamstown and could only write so I was terribly homesick too. Although my brother was in London and I managed to visit him it was still very different to what I was used to. After that first Christmas Matt Busby called me in to his office and offered me a professional contract. I was over the moon and obviously accepted. When Doug went home I moved into digs with Frank McEwen.”
He signed terms before the curtains came down on a season that saw United win the League Championship. It was some baptism!
The following term, 1965/66, Baartz was a regular in the Reserves, turning out in all but three of the first twenty Central League fixtures. This also co-incided with the arrival of Col Curran in early November, who would go on to not only represent his country but earn the reputation as one of the best fullback’s ever produced by the Socceroos. By the time Christmas of 1966 arrived, the young Australian was feeling desperately homesick having not seen his family for over 15 months. When Curran’s three month trial ended in late January, it only reinforced Baartz’s solitude and he made the decision to give up life as Manchester United footballer to return home.
“I was playing with a real lack of confidence and happy to just go along with the flow, even if it meant getting a bollocking from Jimmy Murphy. I was encouraged to shoot more often but I was playing it safe all the time and laying it off. I was very shy and never had any real coaching. Most of the lads at the club were taught to play with a certain arrogance and I had never experienced that sort of professionalism, I didn’t think I could crack it. The weather was terrible and I missed all the colours of the Hunter Valley. It was a real contrast to the lifestyle I had in Australia. When Col went home it unsettled me and I went to see Matt Busby to tell him I wanted to go home. Busby asked me to think about it for a few weeks, if they had offered me a trip home I might have stayed longer.”
Although Matt Busby desperately tried to convince him to stay, a fall out with one of the coaching staff only exacerbated the situation and Ray Baartz played his last game for the ‘A’ team on the 26th of February in the 6-0 win over Tranmere Rovers. It had been a terrific footballing journey, playing and training with some of the best footballers in the world, an experience that would hold him in good stead when he continued his soccer career in warmer climes.
“It was different for lads like Craig Johnston and Mark Bosnich, they came to England to make a career in the game. It was only supposed to be three or four months for me. It was a great experience. I scored twice at the Cliff against an England FA X1 which included Bobby Charlton and Bobby Moore. I idolised Charlton, he was world class. I was training with Denis Law and George Best every day, I even taught them how to play cricket. I often went to the bowling alley with George, Harry Gregg was fantastic too. I never really had any coaching apart from that given by my brother and it felt like I had gone from the gutter to the penthouse, the professionalism and sharpness had an amazing impact on me. When I came back I was so much sharper and started to believe in myself. The professionalism at Manchester United made me into the footballer I became.”
Upon returning to Australia in March 1966, there was significant interest from numerous well-known Sydney clubs for his services. However, Baartz felt that he owed Adamstown something in return for his ‘English education’ and played for the Newcastle based club during the 1966 season. His form during this period earned him a call-up into the New South Wales representative team that faced an AS Roma touring squad in the June of 1966 and later for the Australian squad to face the Italians. After just one term he was transferred to Sydney Hakoah for $5,600, a notable fee in Australian footballing circles at the time.
“It started really well for me at Hakoah. We won our first six games and I scored a couple of cracking goals. There were loads of write-ups in the papers and my confidence just grew from there. It just happened.”
Having just turned 20, the youngster achieved national prominence when he was selected to make his international debut against a touring Scotland team in late May 1967. In a squad that contained future United players Willie Morgan and Jim McCalliog, it also included a gangly centre-forward by the name of Alex Ferguson. Australia were defeated by the odd goal in both touring matches but Baartz’s performances were well noted by scribes of the day. The following month he renewed acquaintances with his former Manchester United colleagues when he found himself lining up against the Reds during United’s 1967 Tour of Australia. Selected for the New South Wales team, he played well in the 1-3 defeat that triggered Matt Busby to comment that ‘you saw how Ray Baartz played and now you know why we wanted to keep him.’
“When I read that it gave me so much confidence. I went to the United hotel after the game and caught up with all the players which was great.”
In November 1967 he featured in five representative games for Australia in a Vietnam International Tournament before making his international debut ‘proper’ versus Indonesia later the same month. By the end of the year he had turned out for his country ten times.
In 1968, Baartz helped Hakoah to one of their greatest ever achievements, winning the league title, the Grand Final, the Australia Cup, where they defeated Melbourne Hakoah over two legs, and finally the Ampol Cup. They continued their dominance in the New South Wales State League over the next few seasons leading to the club being named as the Best Club Team in Australia in 1971.
At international level, there was disappointment in 1969, as Australia saw off Korea, Japan and Rhodesia in the Asia-Oceania World Cup qualifiers, only to lose 1-3 on aggregate to Israel in the final stages to miss out on a trip to the 1970 World Cup in Mexico.
Four years later however, history was created when the Socceroos defeated Korea in a play-off to capture their place in 1974 World Cup Finals in Germany. With their first ever success secured, the Australian Soccer Federation wanted to provide some additional experience for the players so they organised two friendly matches against Uruguay, who were also planning for the World tournament. The first match, at Melbourne’s Olympic Park, was a hard fought affair with the South Americans resorting to all sorts of under-handed tactics in order to secure a result. It finished in a 0-0 draw and set the tone for the second encounter three days later.
On April 27, 1974, a crowd of 25,708 was at the Sydney Cricket Ground to witness the second instalment. Late in the first half, Baartz was running off the ball to support an Australian attack, when Uruguay’s Luis Garisto threw out his arm to impede the Australian forward. The side of Garisto’s hand caught Baartz across the throat in an action that Australian coach Rale Rasic later described as “a karate chop”. Baartz was floored, but got up after a few minutes of treatment and decided to carry on. He had trouble with his vision at half-time, but was determined to see the match out. Fifteen minutes into the second half, he scored a magnificent goal that set the Australians on their winning way. After controlling a pass with his back to goal, he turned and shot in one movement, the 25-yard drive hitting the back of the net like a rocket. Rasic commented that “it was one of the best ever goals scored by an Australian”.
As the game moved into the last quarter of an hour, Garisto’s protests over a corner-kick decision prompted Baartz to give him a bit of lip.
“I was pretty upset by how cynical they were and particularly by Garisto as he just wanted to stop me playing. So when he started arguing with the referee I just pointed to the scoreboard to remind him who was winning. Then out of nowhere he just smacked me on the chin. I couldn’t believe it. Another Uruguayan player then hit Garisto in order to draw some blood and claimed that I had punched him first. The whole thing was farcial.”
With no choice but to send the defender off, referee Don Campbell threatened to abandon the game when Uruguayan players and officials surrounded him disputing the decision.
Having already scored one goal, ‘Bullet Boot Baartz’ was now a marked man but was still able to set up another goal in the final six minutes of the game that gave Australia a 2-0 lead and they saw out the remaining time with relative comfort. It was a huge shock in world footballing terms, which not only illustrated that Australia were a decent side, but in Ray Baartz, the Socceroos had a potential match winner.
In the dressing room after the game, the euphoria of victory eased whatever pain Baartz was feeling, but at a dinner party later he felt unwell, and with his wife pregnant decided to go home to bed. During the night, he started to experience some discomfort and was unable to move his left arm. The next morning, he went to the Royal North Shore Hospital, where he lost consciousness for two days. The blow to his throat had damaged his carotid artery, which when swollen, blocked the blood supply to the brain. When Baartz did awake, doctors told him that he had suffered what was equivalent to a stroke and that another blow to his throat could potentially kill him.
The 27-year-old’s soccer career ended there, having played 48 games for Australia with his 17 goals for the national team a record at the time.
“I accepted the decision from the doctors straight away. I went out to the World Cup with the team and was sitting in the dressing room before the first game when we were going through the team. It was then that it really hit me that my career was over. It was quite a traumatic experience. So I moved back to Newcastle and opened a sports business after securing an Adidas contract. It took me a good two years to get over it. I had damaged an eye and kept getting migraines all the time. Four years later I thought of making a comeback after a new club was set up locally. I started training but I was never going to make it so in the end I made do with the occasional social kickabouts. I put my whole energy into my sports business and that filled the void in many ways.”
Australian Coach Rale Rasic later commented:
“We lost a talent that would have been recognised forever after the 1974 World Cup…we lost of the greatest strikers that Australia has ever produced, and certainly the best with both feet.”
Baartz was involved in local soccer circles for the next three decades and in December 2000 he was awarded the Australian Sports Medal for his services to the game. He retired from running his sports business after 34 years, now in the hands of his son, and is currently on the board of a number of local soccer clubs including the Newcastle Jets who play in the Hyundai National League. In July 2012 he was named in the ‘Greatest Ever Australian Soccer Team’.
Married with three children and eight grandchildren he still lives in the Newcastle area and while his time at United lasted only 18 months, Ray Baartz will forever hold the unique honour of being the first foreign youth player to feature professionally for Manchester United.