He personified the Socceroos under the coaching regime of Frank Arok. Promoted by the wily coach as ‘mad dogs’, when it suited his mind games, their skipper Yankos could blend steely determination and total commitment with much more skill, tactical nous, and finesse than he was given credit for. Like Kenny Dalglish he had a big backside, tremendous power in his legs and he made the opposition come to him and play on his terms. He played 86 games for his country, including 49 A-internationals between 1983 and 1990, and scored 11 international goals.
Charlie Yankos was born in Melbourne on 29 May 1961. He represented Australia as a schoolboy and joined Heidelberg United in the National Soccer League in 1979 and made his debut for the club in Round One of the 1981 season at nineteen. The team he joined that day included Jeff Olver, Arthur McMillan, Pat Bannon, John Yzendoorn, Jim Campbell, Jim Rooney, Theo Selemidis, Jamie Paton, Gary Cole, Andy Bozikas, Bob Provan and Ken Taylor. Manny Poulakakis was the coach and Heidelberg drew two-all away to APIA at Lambert Park. He was a regular in the team very soon and helped Heidelberg to the National Conference grand final in 1984, going down to the eventual national champion and perennial rival South Melbourne. Heidelberg led two-one when Yankos was sent off after a tackle on Oscar Crino, who had earlier nearly broken his leg in a collision, and South scored three times in the second half.
After six season with the Bergers he transferred to West Adelaide Hellas in 1986, then moved to APIA Leichardt in 1987 helping the club win the NSL championship that year. Rale Rasic was the coach and APIA had a top side, including Terry Greedy, Tony Pezzano, Vic Bozanic, Dave Ratcliffe, Arno Bertogna, Terry Butler, Peter Tredinnick, and Marshal Soper. APIA finished the league with a six-point gap to Preston but lost the final of a post-season play-off series to St George. However this was not counted as part of the championship that year. In 1988–89 he had a season in Greece with PAOK Salonika, but then returned to Blacktown City for the first season of summer football for the NSL. His final move was to Wollongong City where he played from 1990 to 1994, with a brief spell as player-coach at Canterbury-Marrickville in the New South Wales State League in the winter of 1992.
In June 1983, Les Scheinflug, the Australian coach, made a fateful decision in what he saw as the best interests of the game, to accompany the Young Socceroos to Mexico to participate in the Youth World Cup. When England came on tour in June that year, Sir Arthur George, president of the Australian Soccer Federation, turned to Frank Arok to coach the Socceroos. Arok revamped the national team and awarded Charlie Yankos his first cap on 12 June at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Australia held the English to a scoreless draw in that match with Yankos, David Ratcliffe and Steve O’Connor at the centre of an obdurate defence. In the second match in Brisbane only a single Paul Walsh goal gave the English the victory. The third match in Melbourne produced another draw, this time one-all with Phil Neal conceding an own goal for England just after Trevor Francis had put England ahead.
Two years later Yankos nearly drove the Socceroos to the brink of World Cup qualification going down to Scotland over two legs. I saw both games—at Hampden Park, where Scotland won two-nil and the scoreless draw at Olympic Park, which Australia deserved to win. For me it was a turning point in my allegiance to the country in which I have lived, rather than where I was born. Yankos was appointed captain of the Socceroos in 1986, succeeding John Kosmina.
In 1988 Yankos led the Socceroos to the final tournament of the Olympic Games in Seoul, where Australia overcame a star-studded Yugoslav team and Nigeria to qualify for the quarter-finals. The team lost to the eventual gold medal winning Soviet Union. Earlier that year Australia got the final of the Bicentennial Gold Cup with a four-one win over the current world champion Argentina at the Sydney Football Stadium. Yankos scored twice, once from the spot, but it was his earlier strike from a free kick which reduced Martin Tyler for once to near silence. ‘Charlie Yankos … my word!’ is all he said. It was enough.
The 1989 qualification campaign was a major disappointment as the Socceroos went down to New Zealand and drew twice with Israel and so failed to progress. Yankos led by example once again with a penalty kick in the four-one win over New Zealand which opened the series and another stunner against Israel in the away leg which seemed to have put Australia on its way to success. Yankos signed off his international career the following year with a goal in his final match which was a two-all draw against Hajduk Split at Olympic Park.
Charlie Yankos was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for his services to the game in June 1991 and subsequently has had a business career in real estate and investment.
My thanks to Charlie Yankos for assistance with this article.