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There has been much publicity about star footballers changing codes and signing on for huge pay packets in recent times.  Karmichael Hunt and Israel Folau were high profile figures in the world of Rugby League who became Australian Rules converts.It’s a good time to reflect on the career of a Western Australian player who switched codes over fifty years ago.The Rakich name is a pioneering one in the Swan Valley, and it also became a forerunner in multi football coding.  The audacity of  Vlada Rakich’s  entry into league football is hard to imagine in these days of high performance training and beep tests.At the age of twenty five, Vlada decided to give up a successful soccer career at Swan Athletic, during which he played at State level, to try out at Australian Rules. “I had no trouble in adjusting,” he recalled. “I didn’t find the different skills to be a problem, the hardest things were achieving better fitness and the increase in body contact.”Not one to do things by halves, he played just twice with Hills club Herne Hill before trying out at league level in 1963. As if the challenge of a novice at twenty five looking for a game of league football wasn’t enough, the door he picked to try to break down belonged to the all conquering Swan Districts, who had sensationally won two flags in succession, and boasted one of the most imposing sides  Western Australia football had seen. “I didn‘t tell them,” was the answer to our query as to the club’s response when informed he‘d played just the two games. The well built, six foot two Rakich was a natural ruckman, and that in itself presented another problem, with the presence of Keith Slater, Cyril Litterick, Fred Castledine, and Robin McVee at Bassendean. “I watched those blokes, and learned plenty,” he said.“It was a hard time to break in at Swans. Everyone was after a game.”A dislocated shoulder while playing in the reserves in early 1963 put the new recruit out of action for the majority of that year, in which the black and whites chalked up another flag. The defection of Slater to coach Subiaco saw Vlada’s dreams realised, not only in Slater’s place, but in his number twenty guernsey as well.   The high leaping and fast moving Rakich became a regular for Swan Districts in 1964, playing in a losing grand final in 1965 against East Fremantle, and he went on to notch up fifty one games before retiring to make a soccer comeback at twenty nine, having proved himself as a league footballer. Appointed captain coach of Swan Athletic, it was as if he’d never left, his form resulting in State squad selection as a thirty year old for a series in Asia, his height considered to be an asset at centre half back against the shorter Asian players. “It was a buggered up knee that eventually put paid to that,” he said. “I implored them to patch it up, but to no avail.”Rakich went on to give Swan Athletic fifteen years service, punctuated by his four season foray into another code.A former Manager of the Swan Viticultural Research Station in the Swan Valley, Vlada gave the Department of Agriculture forty years of service. He and wife Verna are now in retirement at Mandurah, where his talents are now focused on his woodwork, with many fine examples of his expertise on display.   Son Craig played reserves at Swan Districts.Rakich’s opposite number in the 1965 grand final, David Imrie of East Fremantle, was also one of his toughest opponents. “His height was hard to counter,”  along with Keith Slater. “All of them,” was his reply when asked about best team mate. Vlada Rakich played fifty one games with Swan Districts, but it was surely a magnificent achievement to break into a side like that star combination of the early sixties as a virtual twenty five year old novice. Team mate Peter Downey was also a State representative in both water polo and rugby union, but he was already a talented footballer in his college days, whereas Rakich was new to the code. Today the motivation in the AFL is money, but there was none of that around then, so why would a leading soccer player forsake four seasons to play another code?  “The challenge,” said Vlada.  “It was a privilege to have played with and against so many elite players in both codes” 

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