Ernie Tapai hits out at Slater claims

Ernie Tapai, a member of the 1997 Socceroos squad that came together to fight for a share of prize money at the 1997 FIFA Confederations Cup, has hit out at “inconsistencies” in former teammate Robbie Slater version of events.

Ernie Tapai, a member of the 1997 Socceroos squad that came together to fight for a share of prize money at the 1997 FIFA Confederations Cup, has hit out at former teammate Robbie Slater for what he says are “inconsistencies” in the football commentator-s version of events.

In his weekly column for Sydney-s Sunday Telegraph, Slater revealed details about the -97 Socceroos- threat to take industrial action against the old governing body Soccer Australia, stating the situation caused “bitter arguments” between teammates, not least between Slater and Craig Foster.

But Tapai believes that Slater-s version of events - that the squad was divided and that coach Terry Venables was against the action - are incorrect and claims that in fact Venables was behind his mostly united players, who thoroughly appreciated his support.

“I read in Robbie's column that the squad was divided because of the dispute but, no, the camaraderie among that team was as good as I experienced in 12 years of representing Australia,” Tapai said.

“Eighteen out of 21 players signed the resolution [to take action] and anyway, we made the final, so how could we have been divided? That's total fiction.

“Terry addressed the players and told us that he was a big PFA man himself and in England they had to fight the same battles, so he totally understood and supported the team but did raise his concern over the timing.

“We let him know this was the first tournament Australia had been in with appearance money and plus we had our European players present, so there was no alternative. It was a one off. He completely understood and the boys loved him for it.”

Tapai has also questioned Slater-s version of events over his clash with Foster. The two have been involved in a much-publicised spat in recent weeks, with Slater writing in his column that Foster-s influence on the team was noticeable, and that the pair had a heated exchange inspecting the field before the game against Mexico, where Foster is alleged to have goaded Slater by saying, "Hey, Bulldog (Slater), you're not going to take that money, are you?”

“I doubt [Slater-s version] very much because I saw “Fozzie” ask that question in one of the team meetings,” Tapai said. “Every player wanted to know the answer. Robbie said no.

“But what he didn't say in his column was that Foz then promised Bulldog's share to the support staff like the gear steward, the physio and doctor, who were paid nothing. Foz believed if you didn't have the guts to fight, you shouldn't share in the benefits. And I agree with him.

“The rest of us told [Slater] we would never reveal that he was the only one who voted no to protect him. That's what a team should be about. No one ever said anything and I don't know why he feels he needs to score public points now at our expense.”

Tapai-s comments are sure to re-open the public dispute between the former teammates that has been simmering in recent weeks, but the retired Socceroo said he only decided to tell his side of the story after reading Slater-s newspaper column.

“What Robbie said about Foz was shameful, not to mention disrespectful of the rest of the players who were in that squad.

“Foz was passionate about making a stand for future players, so he was a big catalyst for sure. But there were many of us who'd been in the squad a lot longer and we all decided, after Eddie Thomson had informed us Soccer Australia were banking an appearance fee without telling us, that we needed to stand up.

"The dispute was not only about us, but players that came later.

“Some of the guys were playing in Australia and still had the guts to risk their international career because they felt it was important, but Robbie shouldn't be talking because he was on good money in England and still wouldn-t take a stand. That didn't go down too well with the players, I can tell you.

“Now that I've retired, I'm proud that we had the guts to fight for future teams and I hope the boys of today remember what the ‘97 squad did for them. All we ask is respect for putting our careers on the line. At least they now know what we did.

"And anyway, the support staff never got their money. To my knowledge, every squad player banked an equal share. So Robbie shouldn't be opening his mouth.”