Joe Marston did it with Preston North End in the 50s. Two decades later, 1974 World Cup player Adrian Alston became something of a pioneer when he signed for Luton Town after the World Cup, thus meaning that an Australian international would play in England’s top flight.
Luton had been promoted under the management of Harry Haslam and were to taste top-flight football for the first time since 1960.
But it wasn’t a happy star t- only 9 points in the first 21 games left them rock bottom. But in one of the most competitive seasons of top-flight football in English history, and following a shock win over Derby (who would win the league that season), Luton’s second half form was as good as anybody, only for them to be relegated with 33 points.
This Luton team contained such players as the Futcher brothers (who went on to have long careers), Jimmy Ryan (who’d later manage the Hatters), Peter Anderson, Jimmy Husband (a title-winner with Everton in 1970) and John Aston (a European Cup winner with Manchester United in 1968), while ever-present and wearing no.10 was cultured midfielder Alan West.
Alston played in only half the league games for that season, yet finished as joint top scorer along with Ron Futcher.
It was not a bad return considering, and certainly for one who played for what was regarded as a “minnow” team in a World Cup, which Australia, where the game was struggling for acceptance and still a part-time affair, were considered.
While second half form was too little, too late for Luton, given the quality of some of the above players, it does highlight the strength in depth of the English club game at the time.
To give you a further impression of the strength of domestic club football in Europe, the 1975 European Cup final was played between Bayern Münich and Leeds United- Bayern finished 10th in the Bundesliga, and Leeds 9th in the old English First Division!
The following season, Alston moved to Cardiff City. There he struck a productive partnership with Tony Evans as Cardiff returned to the Second Division. With players as Phil Dwyer, Willie Anderson, Doug Livermore, John Buchanan and Alan Campbell, Cardiff also competed in the European Cup-Winners’ Cup. Alston would have his moment there – he scored in European competition, becoming the first Socceroo to do so.
It was on to the NASL with Tampa Bay Rowdies, before returning to Australia.
Alston has remained involved in the game in the Illawarra region. In a sense, he was a pioneer- someone who’d represented Australia on the world stage, going on to play at the highest level of club football and holding his own.