From Goals to Gold: The Story of Post-War Victorian Football’s Greatest Goalscorer

When Sash Becvinovski was born in 1972, the top scorer in the Victorian State League that year was Jimmy Armstrong. His 17 goals for South Melbourne Hellas helped them clinch their fifth championship on goal difference over perennial runners-up George Cross. In thirteen seasons in the Victorian top flight, Armstrong amassed 152 goals, a post-war record that stood for almost thirty years, until the 29-year-old Becvinovski eclipsed that tally before claiming an unprecedented double century.

Sash Becvinovski began his football as a 6-year-old with Footscray JUST in 1978, a club where he would spend his youth while his acclaimed senior team dealt with life in the fledgling National Football League. Just a month after his 17th birthday, a conversation with then-head coach John Margaritis and club captain Oscar Crino led to an invitation to train with the senior team. Becvinovski remembers his enthusiasm at the time: “It feels like yesterday when I had that conversation. He had no expectation of playing, he just wanted to live the experience of training with the first team”.

It didn’t take long for Becvinovski’s talent to shine through, making his senior debut for Footscray JUST at Schintler Reserve in a 3-1 loss to Sydney Croatia. His teammates included Gary Van Egmond, Mehmet Durakovic and Ernie Tapai, while the opposition featured Graham Arnold, Robbie Slater and David Seal. Dear company for someone so young, but the talented striker didn’t seem out of place. He appeared a further seven times for the relegation-bound club, scoring against Sunshine George Cross and Adelaide City.

Making his debut, 17-year-old Sash Becvinovski (left) was undeterred by the class of 1989.

The start of the new decade kicked off with the final season of the Victorian State League, with SOLO struggling to keep pace in a league that featured 18 clubs and 34 round-robin rounds. The chaos of that season (games played on successive days over multiple weekends) made it difficult for statisticians at the time, but what is known is that Becvinovski was now cementing himself as a formidable prospect. 12 goals in at least 26 appearances were enough to pique the interest of international selectors, with a call-up to Australia’s Under 20 youth team. He also signed a deal with Wollongong Macedonia for what turned out to be his solo NSL campaign.

While that move proved brief and relatively unsuccessful (just 2 starts and no goals in 5 appearances), his return to Victoria with Green Gully in the inaugural season of the Victorian Premier League earned him successive Golden Boots and Under 21 Player of the Year. A season comeback of 17 goals in 24 starts was followed by 18 in 26, as Gully finished fourth in 1992, eliminated by Fawkner in the first week of the Final series.

That form earned him another NSL contract, this time with the newly promoted Morwell Falcons. Under Bobby McLachlan, Becvinovski would enjoy his best season in the NSL, scoring 9 times in 23 games. “It was the club’s first season in the national league, with Latrobe Valley having great support from wonderful people running the club, including the incredible Don Di Fabrizio.”

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Unfortunately, the long trip to Morwell several times a week encouraged a return to Melbourne the following season, where he would again link up with John Margaritis at Brunswick Juventus. His mid-season dismissal ultimately cost Becvinovski his place in the starting eleven and it would be five long seasons before he returned to the NSL.

under 21
Becvinovski’s best season in the NSL came with the Morwell Falcons in 1992/93.

The newly appointed Preston Lions, freshly relegated from the NSL and with Peter Ollerton at the helm, signed Becvinovski for the 1994 Victorian Premier League campaign. With a strong defensive base the Lions stormed into the Championship, Becvinovski scoring 7 goals on a team that featured a wealth of talent. “It was my first Championship at a massive club that had a rich history and our team had a host of former NSL players like Steve Blair, Dale White, Gerry McAleer, Sean Lane, Adrian Pender, Robbie Spasevski, Robert Stojcevski and Phil. Traianedes to name a few.”

VPL Championship success with Preston Lions in 1994.

Financial troubles hit Preston the following season, an exodus of players along with three different managers leading to relegation and another tap on the shoulder from a coaching luminary, “to my surprise I got a phone call from Ian Dobson who was in Champions Altona Magic.” But Dobson was soon on the move, answering the call of the Melbourne Knights in the NSL and was quickly replaced by Gary Cole.

This time, a change of manager worked wonders: “We reached the grand final for the second year in a row against a strong Heidelberg United team who pushed us that day in front of 6,000 at Middle Park.” Becvinovski scored a brace in regulation time and again in the penalty shootout, no doubt benefiting from the tutelage of a legendary goalscorer in his own right. “Gary played at the highest level and being a striker also made it easier to understand each other. He was a great communicator and taught me a lot in terms of positional movement in and around the box.”

Cole himself recalls a player at the height of his powers: “Sash was technically very good. He could comfortably receive the ball from any angle or height. As well as a wonderful first touch, he had excellent passing range and the vision to bring other players into the game.” However, there was still one improvement left in his game: “I asked Sash and the other forwards to spend more time looking forward and to run forward runs behind defenders. Sash adapted very well to this. I think he saw the benefit of playing this way and scored regularly en route to another Championship.”

Golden Boot
Watch out for the goalkeepers: Sash Becvinovski and Gary Cole.

And another Championship after that, with Becvinovski scoring 70 goals for the Magic in three seasons, making it impossible for NSL clubs to ignore his prolific goalscoring form for much longer, and at 26, he returned to Morwell with the Gippsland. Falcons in the middle of the 1998/99 season. . But a solitary goal against the Knights was the only goal in a largely unsuccessful campaign in which the Falcons finished second from bottom.

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It was Dobson who would bring him back to the Premier League in 2000, this time at Green Gully, where he would play in a Championship side once again in a season gone by. His return to the Magic in 2001 would kick off his longest tenure with any club, seven seasons that saw two losing Grand Finals in 2004 (Bulleen Zebras) and 2006 (South Melbourne).

Altona Magic
Becvinovski spent ten seasons with the Altona Magic, winning two championships and playing in four grand finals.

2006 would see Becvinovski secure his fourth Golden Boot, but Best-and-Fairest honors had always eluded him. “I finished runner-up twice and third once. To be honest, I thought the horse had run amok and the Gold Medal seemed so far away, especially at the age of 34.” But his form in 2006 clearly caught the attention of party officials, and Becvinovski would eventually claim the one individual award he didn’t have in his trophy cabinet, taking 27 votes ahead of Manny Muscat (24), Fernando de Moraes, Henry Fa ‘Rodo and Jeffrey Fleming (23).

At a time when managerial opportunities were few and far between, Becvinovski made seven appearances for Victoria, scoring in the first leg of the Fiji tour in 2003. Gary Cole was the head coach on that tour and reflects on the role he played on the team. As a seasoned 30-year-old woman, “Sash proudly represented Victoria in both of our victories. She was a confident character and a leader.”

Gold medal
After finishing in the Top 3 three times, Becvinovski finally won the Gold Medal in 2006.

His final season in the Premier League in 2007 would prove notable as Becvinovski scored his 200th goal in the Victorian top flight, a 66th-minute equalizer against Preston Lions at Paisley Park. Given the absence of official records at the time, he was received with little fanfare. Becvinovski dropped down to the second tier in 2008, mentoring a young Mathew Leckie at the Bulleen Royals and scoring 17 goals en route to another Golden Boot. He finally concluded his playing career with Pascoe Vale in the same competition in 2011, aged 39. years and with 239 goals scored in the NSL and the top two levels of Victorian football. His 205 goals in the Victorian top flight put him far above any other player in the post-war era.

The final word on a decorated playing career rests with Sash Becvinovski himself: “I am very proud of what I achieved. There were great people in Victorian football who pushed me to the limit and encouraged me to always try to be the best that I could be.

Sash Becvinovski turned 50 in April, and in a year in which the men’s Gold Medal will be awarded for the 50th time, few would envy his place in history.

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