Vale Atti Abonyi

Atti Abonyi, a pivotal member of the Socceroos team that qualified and played in the FIFA World Cup in 1974, passed away on Thursday, aged 76. A legend with Melbourne Hungaria and the Victorian State Team, Abonyi is remembered fondly as a goal scoring winger who excelled in Victoria before embarking upon a decorated national career.

Born in Budapest on 16 August 1946, Attila ‘Atti’ Abonyi was a keen footballer at a young age, but his life was turned upside down as he and his family escaped the Hungarian revolution in December 1956, firstly across the border to neighbouring Austria, before settling in Melbourne some six months later. As a young boy in a foreign land who couldn’t speak the language, football would prove a natural entry point into Australian life.

He and his brother Joe began their playing careers in 1958 with St Kilda Juniors, eventually making the spiritual move to Melbourne Hungaria at the turn of the decade. Atti was already starring with the Under 16 team in 1962, when a chance call-up to the Seniors came late in the season. Abonyi made his senior debut in the second-half against George Cross at the Melbourne Showgrounds, a 1-0 loss in front of a mere 3,000 spectators. It would be the first of over 150 league and cup appearances for the club.

1963 Victorian Under 16 State team
Atti Abonyi, pictured kneeling third from the left, with the Victorian Under 16 State team in 1963.

Abonyi established himself as a classy winger in a struggling team for much of his early time at Hungaria, and it quickly led to greater honours. He made his debut for Victoria aged 18 in November 1964, coming off the bench for fellow debutant Michael Mandalis in a 3-1 win over South Australia at Hindmarsh Stadium. He started his first match in a representative shirt the following year at the same venue against Torpedo Moscow, as Victoria were outclassed 4-1. He was outstanding in the two-match series the following year against Italian giants AS Roma, where Victoria were gallant losers 4-2 and 1-0 at Olympic Park. Abonyi’s only goal in the navy blue followed in August, a 2-2 draw against Sing Tao of Hong Kong.

Hungaria experienced a stark improvement in their fortunes in 1966, with the club finishing third in the State League Championship and earning a spot in the Australia Cup, where Abonyi scored a hat-trick against Perth Azzuri in its quarter-final before Hungaria’s progress was halted by eventual champions APIA in the semi-final.

June 1967 would be a momentous month in his flourishing career, beginning with a debut for Australia against Scotland in the Melbourne leg of their tour. Still only 20, Abonyi was impressive in a match notable for the goalscorer, Alex Ferguson, who scored a brace at Olympic Park. The following week, Manchester United visited Olympic Park in the first of two matches against Victoria. Abonyi played the entire match in a 1-1 draw in front of over 34,000 at the home of Victorian football and reprised his role as the Reds exacted revenge 4-0 ten days later.

Atti Abonyi
Atti Abonyi was a star with Melbourne Hungaria throughout the 1960s.

While 1967 would bring Abonyi representative notoriety, it would also culminate in his greatest club success in Victoria. A game and goal difference clear from Juventus heading into the final two rounds of the league season, Hungaria ostensibly claimed the title with a 3-0 demolition of Slavia at home and removed any mathematical doubt with a 1-0 victory away to Hakoah, Abonyi scoring in both matches to ensure it clinched the State League Championship barely ten years after its formation.

Another appearance in the Australia Cup followed in October, and Hungaria came from behind to defeat Launceston United 2-1 at Olympic Park in the opening round, Abonyi claiming the equaliser in the 85th minute before Frank McCann netted the winner barely a minute later. Drawn at home against fellow Victorians Croatia in its quarter-final, Abonyi was on the scoresheet again in a comfortable 3-0 win. Another Victorian opponent followed in the semi-final with Abonyi scoring an 87th minute sealer to end Juventus’ run.

Melbourne Hungaria Australia Cup
An exhausted Atti Abonyi, pictured on the far right, fresh from a match-winning hat-trick which sealed Melbourne Hungaria the Australia Cup in 1967.

Drawn against defending champions and hot favourites APIA in the final at Olympic Park, Hungaria initially pulled clear in a pulsating contest. But in a match which ebbed and flowed, APIA’s John Watkiss scored an equalising goal to cancel out the hosts lead, the match ending 3-3 in normal time. Abonyi had already stamped his authority in the contest with a goal in each half, and he would confirm his hat-trick in the fifth minute of extra time, with Hungaria holding out APIA to become national champions, exacting revenge on their loss the previous year.

The following month, Abonyi boarded a plane to war-torn South Vietnam, and would represent Australia with distinction at the Independence Cup. In the tournament which ultimately birthed the ‘Socceroos’ name, Abonyi would score hat-tricks against New Zealand and Singapore, along with the winning goal in the final against South Korea to help Australia claim its first piece of international silverware.

Atti Abonyi (bottom right) with the Socceroos in Sydney.

An exhausted Abonyi appeared in 48 matches for club, state and country in 1967 and on the advice of national team captain Johnny Warren, would ultimately be lured to New South Wales powerhouse St George Budapest at the conclusion of the 1968 season, ultimately bringing to a close his Victorian representative career. In all, Abonyi would earn 15 caps for Victoria, the last of which came in a two-match series against Cardiff City in June 1968.

Abonyi would spend the next dozen years in the New South Wales First Division, winning Championships with Budapest in 1972 and 1976, before a move to Sydney Croatia yielded a hat-trick of wins in 1977, 1978 and 1979, the final two as player-coach. Abonyi also coached Melita to the Championship in 1980 and enjoyed stints at the helm of Canberra City and Sydney Croatia again in the National Soccer League.

Atti Abonyi
Atti Abonyi: 61 caps and 25 goals for the Socceroos.

But it was Abonyi’s performances for Australia where his star shone brightest. 61 ‘A’ international matches yielded 25 goals, a record which stood before John Kosmina equalled it the following decade. Abonyi remains the fifth highest goalscorer for the Socceroos and was a member of the 1974 FIFA World Cup squad, playing two group stage matches against West Germany (almost scoring) and Chile, where Australia recorded its first point in a World Cup Finals.

Abonyi’s services to Australian football were formally recognised with induction into the Football Australia Hall of Fame in 1999, where he formed part of the inaugural intake. He was also named in the FA Team of the Decade: 1971-1980 in celebrating 50 years of FIFA membership.

In 1988, Atti Abonyi retired to the north coast of New South Wales, living in Coffs Harbour until his death on Thursday, aged 76.

The FV Board of Directors, Executive and staff send our sincere condolences to the Abonyi family.