Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Vale Friedrich 'Fritz' Umgeher (20 January 1938 - 12 June 2023)

Photo:  Fritz Umgeher at a Rapid reunion at the bowls club at Cadbury's in Claremont in April 2008. [PlessPix] 

One of the finest footballers ever to grace the game in Tasmania, Friedrich ‘Fritz’ Umgeher, passed away in Hobart recently aged 85.

Born in Vienna, ‘Fritz’, as he was affectionately known, was a schoolboy international for Austria and played against Italy, France and Hungary at junior level.

He signed for Vienna Athletic Sports Club, which had 5,000 members and also had branches in sports other than football.

Fritz arrived in Australia in 1956 after being in contact with the great Austrian internationals Leo Baumgartner and Walter Tamandl, who were stars in Sydney after being lured to Australia by New South Wales clubs, who did not pay transfer fees for them.  This resulted in Australia being expelled from FIFA for a few years until the issue was eventually resolved.

Umgeher spent a short time at the Bonegilla migrant camp in Victoria before being sent to Queenstown in Tasmania, where he worked as a smelter for two years.

It was there that he met two other stars of Tasmanian football, Frank Pieruzzi and Chris Syrginis, who were playing for Wayatinah.

Half-way through the 1958 season, Umgeher moved to Hobart and signed for the new club Rapid, which had been formed by Austrian and German migrants and was run by Jan Zuraszek, and fellow Austrian Otto Frick.

In 1959, he was Rapid’s top scorer and recognised as a player of immense talent.

Photo:  Fritz Umgeher as a 24-year-old Rapid player in 1962. 

He put his skills down to playing football endlessly in the streets and wastelands of Vienna.

My friends and I would go to South Hobart to watch Fritz play and were mesmerised by his ball control and skills.  He always played with his arms akimbo, perhaps to balance himself, and this became his trademark.  When we played scratch-matches, we’d extend our arms in imitation of Fritz.

Fritz scored two excellent goals in Rapid’s 3-2 win over the visiting Victorian club Austria-Melbourne, and after playing for Southern Tasmania against Victorian outfit, Moreland, he was off to Melbourne.

He scored 24 goals in 18 games for Austria-Melbourne, but his Tasmanian wife, Margaret, whom he married in 1959, became homesick and the couple returned to Tasmania after just one season in Victoria.

He joined Juventus upon their return to Hobart in 1961, but the club withdrew from the Tasmanian Soccer Association half-way through that season.  Hobart Juventus would play Launceston Juventus for the rest of that year, alternately in Hobart (at what is now Queens Walk) and Launceston on weekends.

Fritz, however, rejoined Rapid and continued to star and also represented Tasmania against South Australia.

He helped Rapid to win their first league title in 1961 and become the first ‘New Australian’ club to do so.

Rapid lost to Northern Juventus in the State title match and Juventus thus became the first ‘New Australian’ club to win the state title.

He was employed at Cadbury’s, the chocolate factory in Claremont, by that time.  He would later become a delivery driver.

Fritz’s advice to youngsters was to keep fit and to practise ball control.

He was also a keen table tennis player and skier and he always listened to the cricket on the radio.

A few years after retiring as a player, Fritz gave coaching a try with Hobart Juventus, but he lasted only a few months as the players rebelled at what they probably considered old-fashioned methods.

I regularly saw Fritz at the food court in Northgate during recent years, where he would have a daily coffee with friends.  He always said hello and was his usual jovial self.

Covid put an end to that for a while, but I was meeting a former work colleague there a few weeks ago when I saw Fritz from a distance.  I detoured to say hello.  He was as friendly and cheerful as ever, but he looked quite ill.  In retrospect, I am so glad I went out of my way to speak to him.  It was the last time I would do so.

Thanks for all those great football memories, Fritz.  You influenced so many of us youngsters when we were just starting out in the game.

Fritz leaves a partner, Wanda, (his wife predeceased him by several decades), three sons and a daughter, and several grandchildren and great grandchildren. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Rest in peace glad I spoke to you few weeks ago