Strewth, Mate…..A Tough Nut To Crack

No Way In For Aussie Hopefuls

The Ashes are under-way Down Under, for better or worse, and we use that resumption of hostilities to enlarge on a story we briefly mentioned in our ‘Dear Diary’ item in the autumn…..namely, a bizarre pattern involving certain signings from the Antipodes. This substantial piece is based on the words and excellent research of the Wolves Museum’s Peter Crump.

It may be a caricature but Bert Williams set the standard for all other Wolves keepers to aim for.

We have been used to seeing strong goalkeepers at Molineux through the decades.

Regular Wolves Heroes contributor Charles Bamforth has talked at length about the stars of our no 1 position, his book on the subject of about 30 years ago containing the line that his own boyhood dreams were centred on pulling on the club’s green jersey.

From our long-time record appearance-maker in goal Bert Williams to the man who overtook him, Mike Stowell, to Phil Parkes to other fabulous keepers like Malcolm Finlayson……Wolves always seem to have had a safe pair of hands.

One aspect of this vital department of the club that is less recognised, though, is the number of Australian keepers that have passed through Molineux and they all have one thing in common; not one of them made a first-team appearance here.

In January, 1981, Wolves welcomed the first Aussie we can trace – a last line of defence by the name of Tony Franken, who had written to the club asking for a trial. He was 16 and flew over with his Dutch-born dad, Frank, the family having paid for the £1,000 trip from Perth. The trial was unsuccessful but Franken made it in his homeland, playing in the Australian League from 1982 to 2003, serving as the national goalkeeper coach and briefly managing the side in 1992.

There was a long wait for the next Aussie keeper at Wolves, during which the club welcomed an Australasian on to their playing staff for the first time. This was New Zealand defender Ricki Herbert, who made his Wolves debut well over ten years before Zeljko Kalac arrived at Molineux from Leicester on the wishes of his former Filbert Street boss, Mark McGhee.

Kalac checked in around the time Steve Corica was drafted in, too, but the giant keeper never played here as a perplexing deal ended up in the courts rather than over the line, work permit issues playing a part. McGhee had spotted some rich potential, though – his man later sat on the bench as an unused substitute for AC Milan in a Champions League final.

The year 1999 saw another addition of Antipodean interest, with Steve Mautone joining Colin Lee’s ranks in a three-month deal. He remained an unused squad member and had left by December, 1999 for Crystal ​Palace, having previously played a few games for West Ham and Crewe and around 30 for Reading.

Steve Mautone….one of a sizeable group of unfulfilled imports.

Another Aussie keeper signed on loan that season, with Andy Petterson coming in during February, 2000 until the end of the campaign. He was on loan from Portsmouth and had been a target for Lee when at Charlton in the summer of 1999. By coincidence, his last game for Pompey had been on Saturday, January 15, when Wolves thrillingly won 3-2 at Fratton Park.

Petterson signed as cover for Michael Oakes as Mike Stowell and Matt Murray were recovering following operations and had been the home keeper at The Valley on the day Glenn Crowe bludgeoned a tremendous equaliser past him on the final day of 1995-96.

Petterson did not appear in Wolves’ first team and had a similarly unproductive time at Albion as back-up for Russel Hoult but he did manage three matches for Walsall and has worked for many years now as a goalkeeper coach, both Down Under and in the Far East.

Another name on this highly unusual list is that of Frank Talia, who was born in Melbourne and first brought to the UK by Blackburn. He was understudy to Bobby Mimms, who became Wolves’ first full-time keeper coach, and his non-appearance in the club’s first team was followed by another easily forgotten chapter in the Australian goalkeeping series in these parts.

In December, 2001, Wolves signed Danny Milosevic on loan from Leeds after Stephen Bywater and Marlon Beresford had been borrowed earlier in the season. You’ve guessed it – he never made a senior appearance while he was here and didn’t appear for Leeds either.

Finally, for now, we move forward to 2002-03 and young Adam Federici, who joined Wolves on a free in the February until the end of the season. This 18-year-old graduate of the Australian Institute of Sport had impressed on trial and would later play more than 200 times for Reading as well as 16 games for his country.

The story of Wolves and their Aussie keepers is, indeed, a strange one and we await the next instalment in the hope it proves more fulfilling to all parties.

No other Australian has been at Wolves since in the first team squad. This means Steve Corica, Kevin Muscat, Robbie Slater are the only 3 Aussies to play for Wolves first team. Tony Franken, Zelko Kalac, Andy Petterson, Steve Mautone, Frank Talia, Danny Milosevic, Adam Federici of course did not and as we know they are all goalkeepers Other Aussies to be at Wolves were Tony Popovic. Popovic was a defender who appeared on our 1996/1997 squad photo. Popovic most notably went onto play for Crystal Palace as club captain and was also Dougie Freedman assistant for some time.. Supporters may also remember Popovic playing for Australia. On 12th February 2003 England played Australia at Upton Park. The international is remembered for Wayne Rooney at the time becoming the youngest ever England debutant at 17 years and 111 days. Tony Popovic scored Australia’s first goal and the opening goal of the game that evening. Kevin Muscat did appear in this match as at 87 th minute sub however he had of course left Wolves by this point and was playing for Glasgow Rangers. Popovic never did play for Wolves. Utility player Gareth Musson and Striker Patrick Antelmi have appeared in youth and reserve football and are both Aussies. The story of Wolves and Aussie keepers however is a strange one and we await our next.

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