Hall of Fame: John Gardiner

John Gardiner

Few individuals can lay claim to having the influence on Victorian football than John Gardiner. Arriving in Melbourne via Scotland, Gardiner won the inaugural Gold Medal in 1971, repeating the feat the following year. His 22 appearances for Victoria over a dozen years make him the sixth most capped player of all time. His influence as a coach took shape while he was still a player and his legacy lives on in the success of today’s modern greats.

John Gardiner was born in Dundee in August 1947, establishing himself as a promising youngster with local club Lochee United before a move south to Peterborough United at the age of 17. With limited opportunities at senior level, Gardiner returned to Scotland, scoring nine goals in 24 appearances for East Fife, before ultimately trying his luck in Australia, transferring to George Cross midway through the 1968 State League season. Three goals in an impressive half-season cameo provided a glimpse of his natural talent.

Gardiner, a skillful inside-forward with an eye for goal, was quick to establish a presence in his adopted homeland. Suspended by George Cross in 1971 amidst a pay dispute, he missed the first seven games of the 22-round season. Few local pundits gave Gardiner any chance of winning the inaugural Rothman’s Gold Medal, but he polled three votes in the final round to edge clear of Hugh Murney, Ian Marshall and Jim McCracken, all tied in second place.

1972 John Gardiner Gold Medal and Bill Fleming Medal
Double-act: John Gardiner with the Gold Medal and Bill Fleming Medals he won in 1972.

Gardiner polled 25 votes in 1972, becoming the first player to win the Gold Medal in consecutive seasons. He also won the Bill Fleming Medal, becoming one of a select few to have claimed the referee and media award double. George Cross were unable to claim that elusive Championship in his seven-and-a-half seasons with the club, though silverware did come in the form of the State League Cup in 1973 and the Ampol Cup in 1974, Gardiner scoring a hat-trick against Polonia enroute to the final.

It was during this time that Gardiner made an impact with the Victorian State team. His debut came off the bench in a 2-0 win against South Australia in 1972 and he featured against touring Brazilian club Cruzeiro the following year. He starred in the midfield in defeats to Legia Warsaw and Glasgow Rangers in 1975, though his best was yet to come for his adopted state.

John Gardner with Essendon Croatia
John Gardiner holds aloft the Ampol Cup with Essendon Croatia.

By 1976, Gardiner and George Cross had fallen out and after a protracted contract saga, he dropped down to the First Division of the Metropolitan League with Essendon Lions. After helping the club achieve promotion to the State League, Gardiner was lured to the newly established National Soccer League, joining South Melbourne in a season where both he and the club struggled to make an impact. Gardiner returned to what became Essendon Croatia, and so began the greatest period of club success in his playing career.

Gardiner led Croatia to back-to-back State League Championships in 1978 and 1979, winning the Ampol Cup in 1978, and the Dockerty Cup in 1979 and 1980, the latter coming with a sensational 7-0 demolition of Juventus in the Final. Throughout this period, Gardiner moved into coaching, assuming the Player-Coach role for seven games in 1978 and for the entirety of the 1980 season. Bobby McLachlan signed Gardiner to Green Gully in 1981 and awarded him the dual roles of captain and Assistant Coach. The combination of McLachlan and Gardiner paid immediate dividends, the club achieving a unique treble, with the Ampol and Dockerty Cups held aloft alongside a first ever League Championship. Gully followed up that remarkable season with a League-Dockerty Cup double in 1982.

John Gardiner and Bobby McLachlan
Dynamic duo, John Gardiner and Bobby McLachlan embark upon a successful stint at Green Gully.

As a state team representative, this period was John Gardiner at his peak, playing in eleven consecutive matches between 1979 and 1982, many as captain against the likes of New York Cosmos (two 2-3 losses), AC Milan (0-2 loss) AEK Athens (4-0 win) and Red Star Belgrade (2-1 win). In all, he would represent Victoria on 22 occasions, a number only bettered by Frank Micic, Billy Vojtek, Branko Buljevic, Jimmy Mackay and Tom Jack.

With his playing career drawing to a close, Melbourne Croatia signed Gardiner once again, this time as Head Coach in 1983, and he guided them to second place in the State League and a State League Cup win. A move to Maribyrnong Polonia in 1984 witnessed another second-place finish and three Cup final appearances, with a 3-1 win over Box Hill to claim the Buffalo Cup. Gardiner was ultimately lured back to his spiritual home, returning to Sunshine George Cross, where he coached them in the National Soccer League for five seasons.

John Gardiner representing Victoria against NY Cosmos
John Gardiner captaining Victoria against New York Cosmos in 1982.​​​​

Gardiner handed NSL debuts to young stars in John Markovski, Andrew Marth and Paul Trimboli, all who would play over 300 NSL matches and represent the Socceroos with distinction. Among those under his coaching tutelage at Sunshine George Cross included Chris Taylor, who was encouraged to attend coaching courses as a player and has since become one of the longest serving top flight coaches in Victorian football history.

While his time with Sunshine George Cross came to an end in 1989, John Gardiner continued to coach hundreds of players at various levels, including Thomastown Devils and Springvale White Eagles in the Victorian Premier League. 

From Dundee to Melbourne, John Gardiner leaves an everlasting legacy on the Victorian football landscape. 

Watch John Gardiner's FV Hall of Fame Series episode on YouTube

A snapshot of John Gardiner's career

Playing record (league appearances): 

  • 1965-66 – Peterborough United (English 3rd Division) 0 app.
  • 1966-67 – Peterborough United (English 3rd Division) 0 app.
  • 1966-67 – East Fife (Scottish 2nd Division) 17 app + 1 sub. 6 goals.
  • 1967-68 – East Fife (Scottish 2nd Division) 6 app + 0 sub. 3 goals.
  • 1968 – George Cross (Victorian State League) 12 app. 3 goals.
  • 1969 – George Cross (VSL) 20 app. 4 goals.
  • 1970 – George Cross (VSL) 20 app. 1 goal.
  • 1971 – George Cross (VSL) 15 app. 7 goals.
  • 1972 – George Cross (VSL) 20 app. 2 goals.
  • 1973 – George Cross (VSL) 20 app. 2 goals.
  • 1974 – George Cross (VSL) 20 app. 5 goals.
  • 1975 – George Cross (VSL) 20 app. 7 goals.
  • 1976 – Essendon Lions (Victorian Metropolitan League Division 1) 22 app. 1 goal.
  • 1977 – Essendon Lions (VSL) 2 app + 0 sub. 0 goals.
  • 1977 – South Melbourne (National Soccer League) 13 app + 0 sub. 0 goals.
  • 1978 – Essendon Croatia (VSL) 22 app + 0 sub. 0 goals.
  • 1979 – Essendon Croatia (VSL) 12 app + 1 sub. 2 goals.
  • 1980 – Essendon Croatia (VSL) 18 app + 2 sub. 1 goals.
  • 1981 – Green Gully (VSL) 22 app + 0 sub. 2 goals.
  • 1982 – Green Gully (VSL) 20 app + 0 sub. 1 goals.
  • 1983 – Hamlyn Rangers (Victorian Metropolitan League Division 4) 2 goals.
  • 1984 – Maribyrnong Polonia (VSL) 15 app + 4 sub. 0 goals.
  • 1985 – Sunshine George Cross (NSL) 1 app + 0 sub. 0 goals.

State representative career:

  • Victorian state representative 1972-1984  - 22 appearances.
  • 1972 – South Australia.
  • 1973 – Cruzeiro (Brazil), Australia B.
  • 1975 – Legia Warsaw (Poland), Glasgow Rangers (Scotland).
  • 1976 – Italian Army (Italy).
  • 1977 – South Australia, Middlesbrough (England).
  • 1979 – Wisla Krakow (Poland), South Australia, AEK Athens (Greece), New York Cosmos (United States).
  • 1980 – Red Star Belgrade (SFR Yugoslavia), New South Wales, South Australia, AC Milan (Italy).
  • 1981 – Dinamo Zagreb (SFR Yugoslavia), New Zealand.
  • 1982 – Hungary, Watford (England), New York Cosmos (United States).
  • 1984 – Northern New South Wales.

Personal honours:

  • Inaugural Gold Medal winner (1971)
  • Gold Medal and Bill Fleming Medal winner (1972)
  • 4x Victorian State League Champion (1978, 1979, 1981, 1982)
  • 5x Victorian Dockerty Cup Winner (1979, 1980, 1981, 1982)
  • 5x Victorian Ampol Cup Winner (1974, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1981)
  • 5x State League Cup Winner (1973, 1978, 1979, 1980,  1982)
  • Victorian Metropolitan League Division 4 Champion (1983)
  • Buffalo Cup Winner (1984)

Coaching record (NSL/VSL/VPL):

  • 1978 – Melbourne Croatia (VSL) P7 W6 D1 L0
  • 1980 – Melbourne Croatia (VSL) P22 W12 D8 L2 (2nd)
  • 1983 – Melbourne Croatia (VSL) P26 W21 D2 L3 (2nd)
  • 1984 – Maribyrnong Polonia (VSL) P26 W15 D7 L4 (2nd)
  • 1985 – Sunshine George Cross (NSL) P22 W8 D7 L7 (6th)
  • 1986 – Sunshine George Cross (NSL) P24 W9 D12 L3 (4th)
  • 1987 – Sunshine George Cross (NSL) P20 W2 D9 L9 (12th)
  • 1988 – Sunshine George Cross (NSL) P26 W11 D5 L10 (7th)
  • 1989 – Sunshine George Cross (NSL) P26 W7 D5 L14 (11th)
  • 1994 – Thomastown Devils (Victorian Premier League) P4 W1 D1 L2
  • 1998 – Springvale White Eagles (VPL) P19 W5 D6 L8 (from Round 8, 11th)