An awesome piece by Mark Boric
Melbourne Soccer: Why I've Arrived Where I'm At: It was not until I was seventeen years of age that I played my first ever competitive game of football. The chief reason for this would prob...
Tuesday, 7 February 2017
This is a letter I sent to Ben Buckley in 2010. I sent other versions of the same letter 3 other times to previous and subsequent FFA functionaries. I was seeking acknowledgement, dialogue as well as the possibility of support. I am still waiting for a reply.
Chief Executive Officer
Football Federation Australia Limited
Locked Bag A4071
Sydney South NSW 1235
Chief Executive Officer
Football Federation Australia Limited
Locked Bag A4071
Sydney South NSW 1235
10 February 2010
Re: The Game that Gave its All
Dear Mr Buckley,
I lecture in writing at
University in and in 2009 completed a six-month
stint as Writer-in-Residence at the FFV in Darebin. I have been and still am
involved in the writing projects around the 125 years of football in Melbourne . Victoria
In the course of my research I have discovered an angle which I believe would be of great benefit to football in
were it to be developed and exploited to the full. Australia
While the historical record of football is patchy up until the First World War, it is a noble one of pioneers striving against great odds to introduce the game across
. They are bedevilled by
war and Depression as well as resentment and resistance from more entrenched
codes. Yet they keep on striving. A calamitous disruption to our game was of
course the First World War, in which a great many footballers enlisted – to
such an extent that the game went into recess across the nation in or around
1916, only to be resumed, fitfully, once hostilities ceased. Australia
There are many personal tragedies involved in this mass enlistment. A great many footballers were never to return. After only brief research it is clear that our game sacrificed much for the ANZAC cause. For example, the Caledonian club in
lost eight players. Tiny Irymple lost five of its eleven, one of whom was
killed at Gallipoli. The Broken Hill Club lost at least one member. It is a
story repeated across Perth
and it needs to be uncovered. Australia
There is immense value in documenting all footballers who played in
to 1916 with the intention of creating a database and analyses that demonstrated
the numbers of footballers who enlisted in the war. For example, 230 of the 340
men who had played the game in Australia
in 1914 had enrolled by 1916. I suspect we would find a story of great
sacrifice and commitment to the nation’s development within our game. From the
research I will publish a substantial book, the working title of which, The
Game that Gave its All underlines the message. Adelaide
It strikes me that football in
an uncomfortable relationship with its own history. That is understandable.
There is much that is unpleasant and embarrassing to be found in our annals.
What I suggest is a means of delving into an unquestionably honourable chapter
in our history that would have the benefit of demonstrating just how much
football is tied to the tragedy of ANZAC. It would lock us in as a vital
contributor to what is seen as the single most important moment in the
development of our sense of nation. Australia
I believe that once this research is completed and disseminated, the notion that football is some kind of new or foreign or unAustralian game could be done away with for good. With the centenary of ANZAC (2014) looming, the research would be well timed for outcomes in that year.
As an academic researcher I am well placed to do this work. As an ex-player, football supporter and soccer-dad I am committed to promoting and developing what is good about the beautiful game.
I would be happy to follow this up with a discussion should you be happy to talk further.
Dr Ian Syson
Posted by Ian Syson at 08:27
Monday, 12 September 2016
Australian soccer confronts three significant criticisms: it is unpopular; it is a newcomer; it is a foreign game. Yet it was played here 30 years before rugby league existed and primitive forms of the game occurred alongside the formation of Australian rules in Melbourne. Organised soccer is over 130 years old in Australia. After a few false starts across Australia in the 1870s, the first sustained competition started in Sydney in 1880 and quickly spread to other states.
Australian soccer history has ebbed and flowed, rising and cresting on waves of migration only to crash on the rocks of war, Depression and internal conflict. Before the First World War soccer spread around the country like wildfire on the back of strong migration flows. In Victoria in 1914 there were 1000 adult players, 800 of whom enlisted in the armed forces and effectively extinguished a burgeoning competition.
Historically, where there were coalmines a strong soccer culture followed. Hence Ipswich, the Hunter and the Illawarra bear a noble soccer heritage. Even in Wonthaggi in rural Victoria a strong competition existed within the town before the war.
After the war, a new wave of British migrants resuscitated the dormant game. Once again it expanded rapidly only to fail once more under the weight of internal conflict and active resistance from other codes. From the mid 1920s, councils became battlefields in these code wars and soccer was often refused adequate playing grounds. Under these pressures the 1930s Depression saw the game dwindle once more.
After the Second World War, continental European migrants changed the equation. They brought with them their love of the game and their desire for professionalism. Attendances at some club matches in Melbourne in the early 1960s were matching those in the VFL. Many soccer players were paid more than their VFL peers. This growth once more met with resentment and resistance from the dominant codes, the traces of which remain.
Today, soccer is in rude health. The professional competition (A League) is established in the mainstream of Australian sport. Nearly 450, 000 adult Australians participate in organised outdoor soccer competitions, higher participation levels than all the other football codes combined. When we add juniors the numbers nearly eclipse the other games. At its elite level, soccer is capable of generating massive television viewing statistics. A Socceroo game at the World Cup, for example, is one of the high-water marks in Australian televised sports viewing. One star player like Ronaldo can fill the MCG for an otherwise meaningless friendly game. The Socceroos are the only national football team with strong support across the country. While soccer tends to be the second football code wherever it is played, it nonetheless has the kind of demographic coverage that the other codes envy. Soccer’s numerical strengths are indicated by its status as the ‘go to’ game for Australia-wide advertising narratives that represent children at energetic play.
Yet soccer remains an ‘unpopular’ game, not in the hard facts of participation statistics but in the woolly mythologies that inform our national imagination. Television deals, council ground allocations and media biases are all guided by the reported numbers of bums on seats watching but not the feet on the ground playing sport.
Australian soccer has recently demonstrated its further potential with a new competition. The FFA Cup, now in its third year, has matched professional and semi-professional teams from across the country in exciting contests producing the kinds of thrills, upsets and heartbreaks that no other football code can emulate. Soccer has shown itself to be a truly Australian game in terms of breadth and grass roots popularity. Will the other kind ever follow?
An edited version of this article was first published in the Big Issue 12/9/2016 p.21.
Posted by Ian Syson at 10:17
Friday, 5 August 2016
South of the Border - a South Melbourne Hellas blog: Book review - Roy Hay's 'Football and War: Austral...
Mav reviews Hay
South of the Border - a South Melbourne Hellas blog: Book review - Roy Hay's Football and War
Book review - Roy Hay's Football and War: Australia and Vietnam 1967-1972
To coincide with the opening of a new exhibition at the National Museum of Canberra focusing on the 1967 Socceroo tour of Vietnam, the doyen of Australia soccer scholarship Roy Hay has a released a companion book.
South of the Border - a South Melbourne Hellas blog: Book review - Roy Hay's Football and War
Posted by Ian Syson at 10:08
Tuesday, 26 April 2016
South of the Border - a South Melbourne Hellas blog: Trouble Every Day - South Melbourne 1 Melbourne Victory Youth 0
South of the Border - a South Melbourne Hellas blog: Trouble Every Day - South Melbourne 1 Melbourne Victory Youth 0: n seems to be struggling to find a spot in this system ?- didn't see much of him at
Posted by Ian Syson at 15:06
Tuesday, 19 April 2016
This piece is now at least 6 years' old. Yet I think it retains a freshness and perhaps a timelessness that is important. It is by far the most popular article on this site and I'm sure people keep coming back to read it. It formed the basis of 9000 word piece "Fronting Up: Australian Soccer and the First World War" published in June 2014 in the International Journal for the History of Sports.Each year on Anzac Day members of the Australian soccer community wonder, sometimes aloud: does this day have anything to do with our game? Where do we fit in the Anzac picture? 'No,' and 'Nowhere,' are the usual answers.
Considered by many a 'foreign game', soccer can seem so out of place and time in any story about Australian national development, growth and maturity. So surely the game played by Sheilas, Wogs and Poofters (and Poms and children, two categories missed by Johnny Warren) has no place in the tales of our warriors and heroes at Gallipoli and elsewhere? It just doesn't quite sit with the received legend. Perhaps these attitudes are breaking down today but there is long history of excluding soccer from the 'legend'.
In 1931 a most extreme example of this exclusion was published in Hobart where soccer authorities sought access to the North Hobart football ground, normally reserved for Australian rules. They requested its use for representative games on the two days of the season when it was not needed by the STFA for first grade matches. Typically there were expressions of resistance to this desire, one of which was a letter to the Mercury penned by ‘Derwentside’. He argued that
“Soccer” players and followers in Hobart are in a minority only a self-centred, and, which is worse, a selfish, player or supporter, would deny. Whatever merits “Soccer” has as a winter game, it has not here the following, status, or genuine sportsman-like appeal to the average Australian as the game which some fifty odd years has evolved under the name of Australian football. The proper development of a nation’s national pastimes, particularly the winter ones, does more to build up a virile nation than attempts to foster - or is it foist? - an exotic pastime upon them. Among the many thousands of Australians who manned so doggedly the trenches and trudged the fields of France and Flanders - to say nothing of the Gallipoli campaign - not a small percentage got the qualities which made the A.I.F. world renowned from the fields in at least four States devoted in winter to football played under Australian rules.This is one more letter published in relation to one more moment in the interminable squabble for playing space in Australian sport. And it articulated many of the sentiments that had come to take hold in the Australian sporting imaginary: soccer is low, unpopular, unestablished, minor, foreign (“exotic” in fact) and is being imposed/foisted on Australians by selfish and self-centred agents of foreign influence. More significantly here, it excludes soccer and its culture from the realm of Australian miltary history, particularly Gallipoli.
Yet soccer does have its place in the story. Indeed, soccer was at Gallipoli, and not merely in spirit. It was played there. The stunning image below of a soccer match being played at Gallipoli is the kind of picture that leaves nothing to be said. An organised game of soccer was played between Allied troops and they were being cheered on by hundreds of others. At Gallipoli.
|The image is located at 5.49-5.52 in this public domain video. The game was |
conducted as part of the illusion that the Allies were carrying on as normal when
in fact plans were being made to evacuate the Gallipoli Peninsula.
While more evidence is needed to connect this image directly with Australian troops, they certainly played soccer on Lemnos in December 1915. Lemnos was loaned by Greece as a base "for operations on the Gallipoli Peninsula" and the following image shows members of the 6th Battalion playing there against a team from HMS Hunter. The men were likely en route to Egypt after participating in the Gallipoli campaign.
|The team from the destroyer HMS Hunter playing a game of soccer against a 6th |
Battalion team at a camp on the Aegean island of Lemnos. Australian War Memorial.
More symbolic and potent evidence of the Australian game's intimate connection with Gallipoli lies in the remarkable story of the Soccer "Ashes". They were conceived in 1923 during New Zealand's tour to Australia.
Mr. Mayer (manager of the New Zealand soccer team) took back to the dominion the ashes in a box with a history attached to it. Mr. W. A. Fisher (secretary of the Queensland association) possessed a silver safety razor case presented to him when he left for the war, and it was with him when he landed with the Anzacs. He presented it to Mr. Mayer, and it contains some of the soil of Queensland and New South Wales, whose representatives played in the test matches. Mr. Mayer intends to have it mounted in New Zealand woods so that it may be a prized memento in connection with international matches between Australia and New Zealand. (The (Adelaide) Register, 10 August, p7)
The "Ashes" tag appeared to be a typical symbolic nod to the cricketing Ashes until it was revealed by the Sydney Morning Herald 13-years later that the case literally contained ashes.
The "Ashes," incidentally, are a genuine trophy. They are a relic of the New Zealand team's visit to Australia 13 years ago, when the ashes of cigars smoked by the captains of the New Zealand and Australian team were placed In a plated safety-razor case, which, in turn, was enclosed in a casket of New Zealand and Australian timbers, honeysuckle and maple, suitably ornamented and inscribed. This trophy bears a record of the test games between the two countries since 1922, and was won three years ago by Australia, which beat the visiting New Zealand team in every test. (3 July 1936)
|The Sydney Sun-Herald (5 Sep., p 41) reiterates the story of the |
Australia-NZ soccer "Ashes" during the 1954 New Zealand tour of Australia.
|The 'Ashes', courtesy Ozfootball|
But it is not so simple. Soccer is a game whose high points and poignancies are explained as statistical spikes or historical curios whereas its low points are seen to be the norm; its joys are accidental and its miseries systemic. The burden of proof for the soccer historian is eternal in its recurrence. So the soccer historian needs to work harder than most to have their stories even registered.
Four examplesThere are many other examples of soccer being present in Australian military contexts in the First World war. The four presented below are not particularly special or significant. Indeed, they are presented precisely because of how low-key and mundane they seem.
1. A wartime awards ceremony in which a team receives winners' medals in an inter-company soccer competition.
2. Another decorated wartime soccer team, runners-up in a divisional competition.
3. Soccer balls ordered for the troops.The Euroa Advertiser reports in July 1916 seeing
. . . a cable from Cairo to headquarters, 'Send immediately six tents, 10 small pianos, 5,000,000 printed letter paper and envelopes, 50 sets of cricket material, 50 soccer footballs [my emphasis], 50 association footballs [presumably Sherrins]'.
4. HMAS Sydney's soccer team, October 1918
These four moments, along with scores of others that could be identified and presented here, speak for themselves. And for most historians such a collection of evidence could begin to suggest a pattern. Yet the soccer historian struggles against the idea that that is all they are: a collection of instances; random, special cases that defy and deny the truth of the overarching myth that soccer, even if it was there, was never really there.
Yet it was there.
Soccer into the warPrior to the First World War soccer had undergone something of a renaissance in Australia. After fitful beginnings in the 1880s, organised soccer spluttered into life in the first decade of the new century. Recovering from the depression and energised by waves of migrants, the game bloomed around Australia. Sydney, Brisbane and Hobart had thriving competitions. The 1912 Townsville competion, for example had 8 clubs in a population of just over 10,000. In large country towns like Rockhampton and Toowoomba, the game emerged and re-emerged like migrant-fuelled spot fires. In Victoria, the Dockerty Cup commenced in 1909 and became a central plank in the game’s re-growth. Club fixtures were regular and 1913 saw the reinstatement of the NSW-Victoria clash after a 25-year break.
War brought much of this expansion to a grinding halt. The Hobart Mercury recollected prior to the resumption of the interstate rivalry between Tasmania and Victoria in 1921:
The last occasion on which a Victorian team visited Tasmania was in August, 1914, and it was at Hobart when war was declared. Seven of the team volunteered for active service immediately on return to Melbourne. They beat the Tasmanian team on that occasion by two goals to nil, and earlier in the season at Melbourne had won by six goals to nil. Victoria have an exceptionally strong team, and Tasmania is also well represented, three members of the team, J. H. Honeysett, Stonor, and Beattie being in the team which was defeated by Victoria in 1914.Like their Melburnian brethren, soccer players across the country were enlisting in droves. Each state felt the slashing of player numbers to the point where competitions were starting to look unviable. The Mercury claimed that "Soccer football stood out as a fine example to all sporting organisations in Tasmania. The Elphin Club had sent every one of its playing members to the war." (31 March, 1915) In South Australia player losses were also mounting. In April 1915 the Sturt Club reported losing "the services of eight of last year's players, who have enlisted in the Expeditionary Forces, and are now in Egypt, but several new men having been secured the prospects are bright." (The Register, 1 April)
While these departures were causing the game to wane, the clubs 'happily' sent their members off to war with a sense of duty and pride, as well as a semblance of ownership. The Adelaide Tramways team placed its enlisted members in a prominent position in its 1914 team photo (below).
The annual international match between teams representing England and Scotland, under the auspices of the Victorian Amateur British Football Association took place on Saturday on the Fitzroy Cricket ground the authorities of which on this occasion granted the free use of the ground as net proceeds from the match were to be handed over to Lady Stanley's fund for Wounded Australian Soldiers.Yet it was clear that the inescapable war was taking its toll. The Argus goes on:
Four of the players who took part in last year’s match are on active service, namely Lowe, Golding, Guthrie and Hyde, the latter of whom is at present in hospital at Plymouth, England, wounded. Of those who took part in Saturday's encounter 13 of them represented their various countries last year - seven for England and six for Scotland. Three of England’s representatives and two of Scotland's have enlisted and were relieved by their respective commandants to enable them to take part in Saturday's match.The massive commitment made by soccer players to the war effort meant that the game was being played on borrowed time. And by 1916 the Melbourne competition was suspended, not to be resumed until after the war. According to the Argus, when soccer did resume, in 1919:
At the first annual meeting of the British Association, on June 16, the report covering a period of four years commencing 1915 disclosed the interesting fact that 90 per cent. of the players had enlisted for service abroad or at home. No competitive football had been played during the war.In Toowoomba (then a town of 13,000 people) the commitment was remarkable. On the resumption of soccer in Toowoomba in 1919:
At the annual meeting of the British Football Association it was reported that 140 members of the association had gone to the Front . . . During the evening the Chairman extended a hearty welcome home to the returned men present, and Mr. S. Morgan responded on behalf of the returned men. The secretary stated that the British Football Association ("Soccer") was the only football association that had an honour roll in Toowoomba. The names of Syd. Cousens, Lit. Groom, (both pictured below) A. Dundasch, Colin Groom, W. Bury, and J. McManus were recorded in the minutes as having paid the supreme sacrifice in the late Great War. (Brisbane Courier, 4 April, p11)
|Private. Littleton Campbell Groom. 42nd Bn. Australian Inf. Killed in action |
10th June, 1917. Age 28. Son of Frederick William and Fanny Matilda Groom,
of Lorriane, Herries St., Toowoomba, Queensland. Australian War Memorial
Irymple and the CaledoniansPre-war soccer had not only grown in the metropolitan and larger regional centres. It had taken root in the country as well. Small towns like Broken Hill, Charters Towers and Renmark had bustling soccer cultures.
Mildura's developing two-team competition in this period rescuscitated a game that had flowered there briefly in the mid-1890s (curiously, at a time when the game virtually vanished in Melbourne). Weekly matches were played between clubs based in Mildura and the neighbouring town of Irymple. This microcosmic competition provides its own story and gestures towards the general tragedy of war. Of the 11 players pictured in the Irymple team of 1913 (below), at least seven enlisted. Of this number, five lost their lives.
|Irymple FC 1913 (note the asterisks next to the names of those killed in action). |
Mildura and District Historical Society
Yet the scale of this tragedy is sadly exceeded by the example of the Caledonian team in Perth. Eight members of the club lost their lives in active service. The following image depicts, in uniform, the club's first XI and marks its six members who died. John Williamson's Soccer Anzacs (from which the image is extracted) documents the Caledonian story from origins to the club's final demise.
Commemorating Anzac Soccer?The Toowoomba, Irymple and Caledonian tragedies (among so many others) underline a question that many in the soccer community have asked: "Why don’t we honour the Anzac legend with a commemoration similar to those arranged by other codes?"
Perhaps the failure is for good reasons - like not wanting to get caught up in a perceived jingoism or not wanting to rain on someone else's parade. But perhaps it's because soccer doesn't actually know its own history.
And it's not as if the game has never seen a role for itself in the remembering of Anzac.
SOCCER FOOTBALL.It's just that soccer no longer seems not to know how to approach Anzac. In 2009, Football Federation Victoria tried to institute an Anzac match between Hume City (Turkish) and South Melbourne (Greek). It produced neither the desired symbolism nor the expected fireworks. After three years, the idea appears to have been shelved.
Charity Match at Moonee Valley. Under the auspices of the Metropolitan and District “Soccer” Association a match for the benefit of the Anzac appeal will be played on the Moonee Valley racecourse. Moonee Ponds United will play Metropolitan and District Association. (Argus, 9 April 1927, p25)
Personally, I'm not sure I would want to see a blockbuster Anzac soccer match develop - though in the unlikely event that it could be arranged, a game between Australia and Turkey might be appropriate. I think there is already too much hoop-la around what should be a solemn and sacred occasion. But the soccer community needs to work harder to make the broader community conscious of the game's role in Anzac and military history in general, whether that be seen in a positive or negative light. We need to understand why and how it came to be that a game so 'foreign' in the popular imagination participated so thoroughly in a campaign that for many is a founding moment in a vital Australian legend, or myth. We owe it to the memories of the men who formed the Returned Soldiers team in Brisbane to remind people they were there and then returned. After all, their team's very foundation was an assertion of memory.
We must remember but we must remember well. Lest we forget, indeed.
Posted by Ian Syson at 01:30
Monday, 14 March 2016
The International Journal of the History of Sport, 2014 Vol. 31, No. 18, 2345–2361, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09523367.2014.911730
College of Arts, Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia
Soccer is rarely remembered as a vital part of Australia’s military history and the Anzac legacy. Yet, soccer contributed greatly in the First World War. In terms of moral support, enlistment, participation and ‘sacrifice’, soccer was at the forefront of sporting-body commitment. Using recently digitised newspaper archives, this paper will outline soccer’s place in the Australian armed forces during the First World War, especially in relation to the Australian Rules states of Western Australia and Victoria, as a part of an overall project intending to reveal soccer’s place in Australian culture.
Keywords: Australian soccer history; soccer and military history; Australian Rules football; football and war; Anzac legend
This paper emerges from my interest in the cultural representation of soccer, along with the rhetorical, journalistic and historiographical practices that have contributed to the game’s assumed position on the edge of Australian culture and society. This interest is attuned to the cultural and political struggles between football codes and is focused largely (though not exclusively) on the states in which Australian Rules football has become a powerful and hegemonic football code.
The paper is also one of a new kind, the post-digitisation research paper which, given the widespread availability of searchable and digitised newspaper archives, is more easily able to identify and capture archival material than in previous times. This capacity is both a strength and a weakness of such research. The technology facilitates and promotes the quotation and assimilation of a great volume of primary text into the body of the paper. This is advantageous to my interests because it enhances the texturing of the paper using the language of the period in question. It enables the easy representation of both the content and the form of the material being cited. Given that the rhetoric of inclusion and exclusion is one of my central themes, this new-found efficiency of capture is a boon.
The weakness of this technology is that it can enable a departure from more conventional historical research methods. If the tendency is to quote material and let it ‘speak for itself’ rather than explicate such material, then a new form of unconventional historiography is generated. My task is to balance my interests in displaying the rhetorical and stylistic with those of the reader interested in a more generalised story.
In 1931, soccer authorities in Hobart sought access to the North Hobart football ground, normally reserved for Australian Rules. They requested its use for representative games on the two days of the season when it was not needed by the Southern Tasmanian [Australian Rules] Football Association for first-grade matches. Typically, there were expressions of resistance to this desire, one of which was a letter to the Mercury penned by ‘Derwentside’. He argued that:
‘Soccer’ players and followers in Hobart are in a minority only a self-centred, and, which is worse, a selfish, player or supporter, would deny. Whatever merits ‘Soccer’ has as a winter game, it has not here the following, status, or genuine sportsman-like appeal to the average Australian as the game which some fifty odd years has evolved under the name of Australian football. The proper development of a nation’s national pastimes, particularly the winter ones, does more to build up a virile nation than attempts to foster – or is it foist? – an exotic pastime upon them. Among the many thousands of Australians who manned so doggedly the trenches and trudged the fields of France and Flanders – to say nothing of the Gallipoli campaign – not a small percentage got the qualities which made the A.I.F. world renowned from the fields in at least four States devoted in winter to football played under Australian Rules.1
This is one more letter published in relation to one more moment in the interminable squabble for playing space in Australian sport. And it articulates many of the sentiments that had come to take hold in the Australian sporting imaginary: soccer is low, unpopular, unestablished, minor, foreign (‘exotic’ in fact) and is being imposed/foisted on Australians by selfish and self-centred agents of foreign influence.2
The letter also raises an interesting and new basis for exclusion. ‘Derwentside’ claims that Australian Rules supplied many of the troops who fought in the First World War and his necessary implication is that soccer did not. Accordingly, Australian Rules should have prior claim on whatever sporting fields over which it has established patterns of usage. Australian Rules paid for this access with the blood, sweat and sometimes the lives of many of its adherents who enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). While the validity of the argument is questionable, it has been a persuasive one, then and now.
Four years earlier, in 1927, a letter to the editor of the Sunshine Advocate in Melbourne also invoked the Anzac3 spirit. ‘Dinkum Aussie’4 revealed:
It was stated by two returned soldiers, and reported in your paper, that an attempt is being made by some Johnny-Come-Latelys to supplant our national game of football with an importation. On making inquiry, I find that a local school teacher is working might and main against the national game, and I am told that at least one of the local soccer team is an Australian. I should like to suggest that the local football club report the matter to the head office in town, so that it may be brought before the Minister. If Victoria is good enough to live in, its games should be good enough to play.5
Many of the usual tropes are deployed: the national is game being supplanted by a ‘Johnny-come-lately’. The ‘when-in-Rome’ argument is invoked. And those pesky ‘Pommy’ schoolteachers are up to their usual tricks.6 Moreover, we get a hint of treachery insofar as an ‘Australian’ lad has been tempted into tasting the forbidden fruit. Amplifying this is the prefatory fact that it was reported by two returned soldiers, as if their being moved to comment proves the outrage.
Both writers suggest that soccer was a marginal game in post-war Australia. Moreover, it can be inferred that they think it is a game with very little to do with the Anzac history or spirit. A vital question is the extent to which the sentiments expressed by ‘Derwentside’ and ‘Dinkum Aussie’ represented significant popular thought and the extent to which they have stuck in Australian cultural memory.
Australian soccer neither was nor is a marginal game in participatory terms, having been popular and widely played for over 100 years. The cross the game has to bear is that it is often considered marginal and foreign, for a vastly complex set of reasons. Ultimately, soccer is absent from most of the positive stories Australians tell themselves about themselves and has failed to embed itself as a component of the national cultural- mythological discourse, especially when it comes to military history.7
These arguments are important because in contemporary Australia sport and war have obtained a close emotional connection. Relying on assertions of their cultural centrality and intimations of their contribution to war service, the two dominant football codes have assumed the right to put the sport/war connection front and centre. The Australian [Rules] Football League and the National Rugby League each conducts intensely publicised and popular Anzac Day matches.8 It is a tradition to which supporters of both codes have been drawn in large numbers and which coincides with the rejuvenation of the Anzac legend in Australian cultural life over the past 20 years.9
Through this connection, the dominant football codes have been able to insert themselves into mythologised narratives of the past and the present. One implied narrative is that Rugby League players from NSW and Queensland and Australian Rules players from the rest of Australia made up large sections of the fighting force, to the extent that in mythological terms the spirit of the soldiers and the footballers have crossed over and merged.10
Yet any present-day understanding that the two codes dominated military preparation stems ironically from the poorly subscribed Sportsmen’s Battalions, a push that effectively covered up the apparent tardiness in the enlistment of Australian Rules and League players.11 Murray G. Phillips points out that:
Several sports, like rugby league, boxing and Australian rules football, used the military units of sportsmen to rebut criticisms about continuing their activities during war time; other sports, which ceased their programmes, were involved because they considered it was their patriotic duty.12
Some contemporary retellings of the role of football in war also help to cloud the issue. Dale Blair’s ‘Beyond the Metaphor: Football and War, 1914 – 1918’, published in 1996, conveys the sense that Australian Rules was the most significant sport played by Australian troops.13 Blair’s article is based on the sound premise that ‘Sport and war have long been synonymous with Australia’s national identity and the “ANZAC” legend provides one of the great pillars upon which that identity has been built. Of equal, if not greater standing, is the nation’s penchant for sport’. He also makes the important observation that given ‘the extent to which Australia’s First World War experience permeates the national psyche, it is somewhat surprising that the implications of and influence of sport during this period have been largely neglected’.14
However, while Blair acknowledges ‘the various football codes’ and gestures towards the complex geneses of football in Australia, he nonetheless makes a too-easy transition from the generalities of sport and football to the specificities of Australian Rules without properly negotiating the minefield of exclusion and forgetting what such a move involves. Sometimes he transitions from one generalised discussion of Australian Rules football to the next by citing specific evidence of a game or a practice that had no necessary connection with Australian Rules. For example, he discusses the practice of ‘mobbing’:
The lack of proper playing fields, particularly of the large size required for Australian football, was always a problem. The 40th Battalion, a Western Australian unit, resolved the problem by devising their own game which they called ‘mobbing’. It was played with a hessian bag filled with straw, and the game had no rules other than that the bag could not be kicked. The basic object of the game was to force or throw the bag through the opposition’s goal. The beauty of the game was that it could be played ‘on any old ground’.15
Assumptions run deep in this passage. Blair seems not to countenance the possibility that the soldiers were not looking for a next-best activity to Australian Rules but were creating a game, from scratch, out of the equipment and conditions that were available to them. He possibly assumes that because they were a Western Australian Battalion they were Australian Rules footballers by default. Blair’s elisions are symptomatic of a whole range of cultural practices through which hegemonic football codes assert and justify their contemporary dominance while rewriting the past in their own image.
Sporting contests were significant activities within the AIF during the First World War. Members of the armed forces gravitated to them in great number, whether as participants or spectators. Military authorities saw these contests as an important means of maintaining good morale and letting off steam, and the AIF went to great lengths to facilitate competition and even recognise sporting excellence with awards and trophies. Blair suggests that ‘the Army patronised sport in many ways – including creating facilities and ovals and organising regimental teams and competitions – because sport enhanced fitness, boosted morale, provided a physical outlet and countered boredom’.16
There are a number of means through which this assertion can be sustained. Substantial official reports, and photographic and officer-diary records are housed at the Australian War Memorial.17 These demonstrate a virtual Olympiad of sport across the theatres of war.
A significant indicator of sport’s general role in the overseas AIF is not contained in detailed formal and informal accounts but in a simple brief list published broadly across Australia. Among many other newspapers, the Camperdown Chronicle contained a report in May 1916 claiming to have seen ‘a cable from Cairo to headquarters’. The cable had urged: ‘Send immediately six tents, 10 small pianos, 5,000,000 printed letter paper and envelopes, 50 sets of cricket material, 50 soccer footballs, 50 association footballs’.18
An underutilised but particularly valuable source of information about how servicemen identified with this culture of military sport is contained in the many ‘From the Front’ letters published in the Australian press during the war. The recent digitisation of Australian newspaper archives has made the discovery and collation of this genre a relatively easy matter.19
A typical letter ‘From the Front’ contained much discussion of sport, particularly football, played or observed by the author. Or it spoke glowingly of a footballer who had performed heroically and sometimes a strong correlation was constructed between prowess on the football field and in battle. The Adelaide Register noted that a number of letters:
from soldiers at the front state that Pte. Stanley F. Carpenter has been recommended for the Victoria Cross. He is a native of Newcastle, and one of the best-known footballers in New South Wales. He has been playing football for 20 years, although only 36 years of age, and has represented New South Wales and Australia in interstate and international matches. He has always played with the East Newcastle Club and is a life member of the New South Wales Rugby League.20
Soldiers from the northern states were often identified as Rugby players or advocates. The following letter published in the Warwick Examiner and Times in February 1917 uses a group of Australian soldiers’ familiarity with Rugby to explain their poor performance against an English soccer team:
We all went down to a Tommies’ camp recently and played a football match with them. They played ‘soccer’. Of course Rugby is our game so the Tommies scored an easy win. We enjoyed ourselves very well looking on, as some very good players were on the field.21
The Barassi line22 is often drawn in the letters, with those from the northern states naturalising the rugby codes and those from the south and west naturalising Australian Rules. Some of the letters of soldiers from the Australian Rules states refer to the good- natured rivalry they have with advocates of the rugby codes.
Servicemen from the southern and western states sometimes expressed their frustration that games of Australian Rules were hard to come by in England. Similarly, they voiced a longing to see games at home. Private ‘Jack’ Brown wrote such a letter from Gallipoli on August 17, adding the rider that the footballers at home might be better placed in the armed forces:
We get great instructions in case gas comes here, but so far they are playing the game. Good old North Launceston! Guess they will nearly be premiers this season, though it’s time they gave up football and came along here. The more that come the sooner we will get home.23
The Emerald Hill Record, a newspaper that ran only for the duration of the war, was a vehicle for many such letters. Published in and to the South Melbourne district, it kept tabs on the South Melbourne Australian Rules footballers at the front. In 1917, it published a Roll of Honour for the club listing those players who had served and noting those who had been killed.24
A number of these players wrote letters home ‘from the front’ and were published by the Emerald Hill Record. Wal Laidlaw was published around 15 times in 1917 and 1918 and invariably mentioned football:
A few more lines to let you know that I’m well. I am still receiving the [Football Record ] regularly, which is most welcome. I was sorry to hear poor Bruce Sloss was killed. He was one of the best, but these things must be expected ... Things were fairly quiet a week ago, so we had a football match between a couple of picked teams. We played in mud about six inches deep. One side played in sheepskin jackets and the other in shirts. After the first quarter it was hard to distinguish the difference between the players, as all were caked in mud. Our side won by seven points after the hardest day’s toil I’ve ever done.25
I will be looking forward to future papers for the results of the football. We are having a short rest, and we concluded our football season after playing eight matches, losing two.26
In the main the Emerald Hill Record’s focus is on Australian Rules football, though other codes and games get an occasional mention. Laidlaw wrote again: ‘We have finished football, and were undefeated after playing twelve matches. Sport was booming through the winter, and our brigade had the champion Rugby and Australian team, besides the heavy weight boxing champion, so we did well’.27
The Record’s function of keeping track of the South Melbourne players at the war is exemplified in the following letter from Private Frank Arnold, who had played for South Melbourne Football Club in the 1890s:
I witnessed a football match between two battalions. It was a match well worth going to see. It was in the danger zone, but that did not make much difference. Tich Bailes was playing. He kicked four goals, but he is not the Tich of old. The —th had not been beat for two years. It was a terrible shock to them. One of our prominent officers took £30 to £90, and the rank and file all had their few francs on. I captained the —th Battalion. We won by a point just on time. This was when we were training on Salisbury Plains. Poddy Hiskins is not very far from where I am camped. I saw poor Bruce Sloss’s grave. I would, very much like to send you a photo of it. I will do my best to do so. I have two of the old South footballers with me – Joe Lowrey and Bert Mills. Both wish to be remembered to you and all the old boys.28
A few months later, Wal Laidlaw regretted to say: I haven’t come across any of the boys yet. At the present time it is difficult to get in touch with any of them. I suppose you will be thinking of the football season by the time this reaches you. I hope you have better luck this year. Kind regards to all.29
Soccer obtains some direct mention in the letters. Private Marshall Caffyn was another ex-South Melbourne player, published a number of times in the Emerald Hill Record. Here, he reports on his own participation in a game of soccer:
I had a game of footer the other Sunday – soccer. They put me in goals, and thought I was a marvel when kicking off – I used to put the old round ball half way up the ground every time – the game is not much good. Give me the good old Australian rules every time. I have also played rugby over here. The games aren’t to be compared.30
Les Turner, also a South Melbourne player, wrote from Scotland, ‘I went to see a British Association football match last Saturday. It was a good display of their football and I enjoyed it, but give me our game every time for top place’.31
This was an echo of a letter from Laidlaw, two years previously. He had been ‘to see an English soccer football match’. He thought the game was ‘interesting to watch’, and that ‘both teams were evenly matched. They had some top-notch men, and the game was played at great speed’. But, in the end he felt ‘there is nothing like our Australian game’.32 Soccer is acknowledged and enjoyed to an extent but the letters display a felt need to remind readers that it is an inferior, replacement activity for what they would rather be doing. It is an interesting prefiguring of a significant mode of the Football Record’s anti-soccer rhetoric in years to come.33
As Stan Hiskins writes, some bluntly refused to participate: ‘Every Sunday we have a game of soccer. We enjoy it too, although most of our boys won’t have it on any account’.34 It is notable that a Victorian Football League (VFL) footballer is happy to try the game and enjoy it, whereas some of his less-accomplished comrades refuse. Perhaps they would not ‘lower’ themselves; or perhaps their self-image as sportsmen would be compromised in the likely event that they were to play soccer badly.
Other sportsmen also took the opportunity to play soccer, while expressing a yearning for their main sport at home, in this case cycling in Queensland:
I am O.K. Still in the same old place, and not likely to shift yet. I often get ‘Sports’ and read up the cycling. I suppose the racing season is starting again in Brisbane. The only sport we are able to take up is football, and we had a good game of soccer today.35
When soccer is discussed fully it is sometimes as a curiosity. The following piece from Turner reports positively on a game he observes but is written with a sense of the shock of the new:
I saw a great football match here the other day between an Egyptian and a British army team. Football here is very different to Australian. It is purely foot-ball – hands are not allowed to touch the ball, which is perfectly round. I can see it is a far more scientific game than ours, and the Egyptians are particularly clever with their feet, and very active. The game is called soccer, and was introduced by the British 10 years ago. As it happened the British team won, but there was very little difference between the two teams.36
While Turner is complimentary towards, the game he nonetheless sees soccer as exotic. His writing exemplifies the way that soccer has a curiosity status in many of the letters and, while it was often played by Australian troops, it is seen as a game to be played for secondary reasons. It is what the locals played; it was the best available, but second-best to Australian Rules or a version of Rugby – and so could be enjoyed on that basis. Some letters also make it clear that when an opportunity to play their preferred code presented itself, soldiers took it with glee.
If the evidence presented in many of these letters constructed soccer as a necessary yet tolerated secondary indulgence, another stream of letters made a different point. They spoke to soccer’s ordinariness (or unextraordinariness) in the military context.
Sometimes when Australian servicemen attended soccer matches they referenced a familiar ‘home’ code but came away with less certainty about the superiority of that code and felt less inclined to offer judgements. Private Edward J. Ryan wrote to his uncle in 1916:
Well, I can tell you that football does not worry me much at present, but I went to look at a game of ‘soccer’ while I was in Edinburgh, and I wouldn’t like to pass my opinion as to which is the best game – Australian or ‘soccer’.37
One soldier’s letter to the Euroa Advertiser alludes to home football colours (probably to Euroa Magpies Australian Rules FC) but fails to cast a judgement on what he had observed – apart from the inferred mild disappointment that his adopted team lost – ‘Had a stroll through the glorious gardens and saw the teams from the H.M.S. Swiftsure playing soccer, and as one side appeared in black and white I got a bit excited. The red team won’.38
Many of the letters ‘normalise’ soccer without comparative reference to any other code. A soldier in Egypt in February 1915 describes soccer as explicitly un-exotic: ‘They then started their football match. They played English soccer, so it wasn’t anything novel’.39 A letter from HMAS Australia bandsman, Jack Richardson, in September of the same year speaks with the fatalism of a genuine supporter about his team’s prospects in an upcoming game: ‘We are going to play them at soccer, but I think they will win, and give us a hiding as they are the best band team in the Navy’.40
Farrier Bob Anderson, who played soccer for Moonyoonooka (outside Geraldton) before the war,41 was published in the Geraldton Guardian in March 1916:
We have plenty of football (soccer).42 We have formed a team out of this company, but it’s the same old story only about half of us know the game. We have had three matches and haven’t been beaten – two wins and a draw. Duncan got a team out of the 11th. He also got the old Queens Park centre (Swan) to play for them. He didn’t play himself but he had a better football team than ours. However, it is not always the best team that wins, and they were very lucky to get a draw. They only scored in the last five minutes. Our goalkeeper thought the ball was going past, but it struck the post and went through. I was playing back and had plenty to do. I stopped Swan a few times. No doubt he is a good player and a dandy shot, but I think he is a bit rough. We will be playing next Saturday, so we may get knocked. I’m captain of this lot, and it’s not too easy a job, as sometimes the best men either go to town (Cairo) or are out on duty. News is scarce, and a man can’t say too much, as all letters are censored now. I met McPhie. He came over a week or ten days ago. I hope this finds all of you Geraldton boys in the pink. Give one and all my kindest regards. I’m afraid I won’t be back in time for the football this season, so au revoir.43
Anderson indicates a flourishing soccer culture within the armed forces, even if not all of the participants were from soccer backgrounds. While Anderson complains that half do not know the rules, he might have rejoiced in the fact that half did know the rules.
Anderson’s letter also raises the suggestion that the Australian teams are at least competitive. Lance-Corporal Gates reported that ‘Our soccer football team lost to a team from an English regiment, by one goal to nil’.44 Mr T. Jones, YMCA secretary with the troops ‘who had both “Tommies” and “Kangaroos” in his charge’ on the Sinai Peninsula, reiterated the familiarity many had with soccer. He wrote that ‘Football matches are arranged about twice a week, both “Soccer and Rugby”, and the excitement displayed is intense, and reminiscent of the old days at home’.45
In May 1916, Unomi wrote that he had:
received letters from several soccerites on active service. Courcey O’Grady, Jimmie Cutmore, and Bert Shellat are all late officials of the J.B.F.A. They were all well at date of writing and desire to be remembered to their many soccer friends. Needless to add, they have been taking an active interest in football, particularly O’Grady and Cutmore who were members of an Egyptian team that did well in competition.46
Suggested in this latter gathering of letters is an extensive and coordinated soccer programme within the AIF.
As a whole, the letters ‘From the Front’ reveal that soccer was available for Australian servicemen to play and/or observe – and they did one or the other, in their thousands. However, there are three tonalities in these letters: soccer subdominant, soccer neutral and soccer dominant. Further research will help to ascertain the regional factors in these tonalities and answer the vital question of whether Australian troops participated in soccer as a second-best to their preferred sport or as their preferred option.47
A significant and potentially contradictory point lost in the contemporary mythologisation of Anzac is that many of those in the very first Australian troopships were British-born, a good number of them recently arrived migrants. E.M. Andrews, in The Anzac Illusion, argues that the ‘AIF had a large minority of British-born in it’. With C.E.W. Bean and other ‘purveyors of the Anzac legend’ very much in his sights, he suggests that a ‘fact often overlooked’ is that the British-born made up:
13.3 or 15.65 per cent of the Australian population, but either 18 or 22.25 per cent of the AIF for the whole war, depending on whose figures are taken. They were more numerous in some formations, however, being 27 per cent of the first contingent, and 50 per cent of the 28th Battalion, from Perth ... Whatever figures are accepted, the British-born clearly volunteered in higher proportions than the Australian-born, and considerably higher in the opening days of the war.48
Bean concedes that many of those who enlisted were British-born, but suggests that their relative numbers were severely whittled down prior to embarkation. The following reads like a bad-faith rendering of statistics, over-determined as it is by Bean’s idea of the superiority of the Australian bushman:
Since the only places for enlistment were in the capital cities, many men had been recruited who would not have been taken had the time been longer. The floating population of these towns probably secured too large a proportion of the acceptances. Immigrants from Britain who happened to be about the cities showed an extraordinary preponderance in the earlier stages – Colonel MacLaurin left it on record that at one period 60 per cent of the recruits for his brigade were British born; before it sailed, 73 per cent of the men in the first contingent were Australian born.49
And Bean suspects that many of the remainder would be as near as good as Australian- born, their having ‘lived in Australia since childhood’.50 It is not clear what Bean makes of the fact that of the first 58 to fall at Gallipoli (from the 11th Battalion) only just over half
(31) were Australian-born or had Australian domiciled parents. Most of the remainder were recently arrived, British-born, adult migrants.51
The widespread enlistment of British-born soldiers invites the question of the percentage of the British-born enlistments who were also soccer players, given the extent to which these migrants represented the overwhelming majority of Australian soccer players. John Williamson in Soccer Anzacs – a book that tells the story of the Perth Caledonians’ contribution to the war effort – claims a direct nexus between the British- born, soccer and enlistment. Citing P.S. Reynolds’ report, The New History of Soccer, he claims that ‘300 players and officials enlisted from the Western Australian soccer community and this is not surprising in light of the high proportion of Anzacs who were born in the United Kingdom’. It is possible that this figure sells WA soccer enlistments short.52
Exemplifying Williamson’s point is the following excerpt from the Daily News in April 1915, prior to the Gallipoli landing. The Perth YMCA:
Soccer Club has responded splendidly to the call for men to serve our King and country abroad. By about the end of January the following members of the team had volunteered: Harry Amos, J. W. Balsdon, Herbert A. Bell, Frank M. Gill, James F. Jack, Cyril Jeans, J. S. Neale, A. Sage, Sid. Stubbs, P. Wrightson. Three are in Egypt, five are still in camp here, and two are waiting to be called up by the military authorities. The club is proud of the large number of soccer boys who have enlisted, and we are looking forward to seeing them return safe and sound. An interesting letter is to hand from Frank Gill, now in Egypt. He is fit and well, but anxious to get to the front. He says he has climbed the Pyramids.53
A willingness to enlist was a prevalent attitude found in soccer clubs in Western Australia and beyond – a commitment that had significant long-term ramifications for both the Caledonians Club and for the game across Australia.
In October 1915, Perth soccer journalist Unomi was able to report some astounding figures from WA:
The European war has played havoc with all winter pastimes, for every branch of sport has nobly responded to the country’s call, and Westralian soccerites in particular have well maintained their name of sportsmen by giving of their best to the army at Gallipoli, as a glance at the list hereunder will testify. On looking back on the past year, the uppermost feeling of the soccer community must be sadness with a measure of pride. Pride in the knowledge of the self-sacrifice made by many of our comrades in answering the appeal of the nation, and regret at the pitiless sacrifice of life. A number of those who were with us this time a year ago will no longer play the game. They fill honoured graves on the heights of Gallipoli, and much as I would like to write an appreciation of their courage and devotion of their country I do not feel equal to the task. From time to time the names of those players who enlisted have appeared in this column, it may therefore be fitting to give the number that has gone, or about to go, from each club. In doing so, however, it is not with any spirit of boastfulness, nor is it with the object of inviting comparisons, but in view of the somewhat disparaging statements made some time ago about football, I think it only my duty to show that soccer has done its bit and has nothing to reproach itself with. The list, which includes both associations, is:
Club Enlistments Wounded Killed
Total 241 32 3354
On the resumption of soccer in Geraldton in 1919:
Mr J. G. Scott, Hon. Secretary, in an interesting report to the meeting of the British Football Association, referred to the difficulties under which the last playing season, 1915 was concluded, owing to so many of the players going to the war, and which caused the game to be suspended the following seasons. From the lists he had been able to secure he found that 62 of their players went to the front, and 16 of these had made the supreme sacrifice in defence of the Empire.55
In 1933, informed by Scott, R.C. Webb, then president of the Geraldton Soccer Association, revised these figures upward, claiming that 80% of its players had enlisted:
At a recent club meeting Mr. J. G. Scott, past president of the Association, in speaking of the formation of the soccer code in Geraldton, mentioned that in 1914, at the outbreak of the Great War, there was just over one hundred players on the books of the Association. Over eighty of these men answered the great call and saw active service.56
Like their Western Australian brethren, soccer players across the country enlisted in droves, many of them prior to the Gallipoli campaign. Harry Dockerty, president of the Victorian British Football Association, claimed in February 1915 that ‘his organisation, numbered 500 members, and 200 had already gone to the front’.57 These numbers are questionable given that in July, after the Gallipoli campaign began, it was claimed by another representative that ‘they had a total of 170 out of 550 players (30%) serving with the colors or out at Broadmeadows’.58
Despite the Emerald Hill Record’s tendency observed above to focus on Australian Rules footballers, it sometimes acknowledged the commitment of soccer players to the enlistment process. It reported the day before the Gallipoli invasion:
Considerable difficulty has been experienced by the council of the ‘Soccer’ clubs in providing a satisfactory competition for the forthcoming season, and it is only quite recently that they have been able to draw up a complete fixture list. As is generally known, the chief reason of this is the fact that so many clubs have been hard hit by the large number of players who have joined the Expeditionary Forces that it has been extremely doubtful whether some of them would be able to raise a team of any description.59
In July 1915, it reported (going so far as to break standard practice and name individual soccer players) that more ‘than a dozen players of the Thistle club have joined the forces this week, and the senior team had to take the field without the services of Goodson, Hogg,
G. Brown, and Raitt’.60
According to the Argus, when soccer resumed in Melbourne in 1919:
At the first annual meeting of the British Association, on June 16, the report covering a period of four years commencing 1915 disclosed the interesting fact that 90 per cent. of the players had enlisted for service abroad or at home. No competitive football had been played during the war.61
The Hobart Mercury recollected prior to the resumption of the interstate rivalry between Tasmania and Victoria in 1921: ‘The last occasion on which a Victorian team visited Tasmania was in August, 1914, and it was at Hobart when war was declared. Seven of the team volunteered for active service immediately on return to Melbourne’.62
In March 1915, the Mercury claimed that ‘Soccer football stood out as a fine example to all sporting organisations in Tasmania. The Elphin Club had sent every one of its playing members to the war’.63 Fifty players from the top 10 soccer clubs in Tasmania, north and south had enlisted by April 1, 1915.64
In South Australia, player enlistments were also mounting. In April 1915, the Sturt Club reported losing ‘the services of eight of last year’s players, who have enlisted in the Expeditionary Forces, and are now in Egypt, but several new men having been secured the prospects are bright’.65
While these departures were causing the game to wane, the clubs ‘happily’ sent their
members off to the AIF with a sense of duty and pride, as well as a semblance of propriety. The Adelaide Tramways team placed its enlisted members in a prominent position in its 1914 team photo.66
In the Queensland town of Toowoomba (population 13,000 in 1914) the commitment was remarkable. On the resumption of soccer in Toowoomba in 1919, at ‘the annual meeting of the British Football Association it was reported that 140 members of the association had gone to the Front’.67
In NSW the soccer enlistments were vast. Typical of the Sydney clubs, the Granville Magpies contributed heavily to the war effort. In total, 17 out of 22 Magpie players in 1914 could ‘be accounted for as having done or are doing their bit for King and country in foreign parts’.68
Australian soccer players were as (if not more) keen as the players of other codes to do what they perceived as their duty. The next question is to ask how well the players were ‘embedded’ in the mechanics of war. Were they there?
For good or ill, Gallipoli is at the centre of the Australian story of sport and war. As the first major site of Australia’s participation in the invasion of Turkey, it is commemorated as a tragic and courageous beginning of Australia’s war campaign. As suggested earlier, it is also a location for a powerful contemporary imagining of Australian nationality and cultural development. If ‘ANZAC’ can convey a general sense of Australian spirit, then ‘Gallipoli’ is the place of that spirit’s founding.
And soccer was also at Gallipoli, and not merely in the actions of the soccer players (Allies and Australians) who fought and died there. It was played there. The image of a soccer match being played at Gallipoli69 is the kind of picture that leaves nothing to be said. An organised game of soccer was played between Allied troops and they were being cheered on by hundreds of others.
While more evidence is needed to connect this visual image directly with Australian
troops, they certainly played soccer on Lemnos in December 1915. Lemnos was loaned by Greece as a base ‘for operations on the Gallipoli Peninsula’. An image collected by the Australian War Memorial shows members of the 6th Battalion playing there against a team from HMS Hunter.70 The men were likely en route to Egypt after participating in the Gallipoli campaign.
Former Geelong VFL footballer Leo Healy reported on his recuperation in Lemnos after having a tumour removed from his leg – resulting from an injury at Gallipoli. Healy described ‘Lemnos as quiet, but the natural harbour is beautiful. The men chiefly amuse themselves playing cricket and Soccer football’.71 Not only was soccer played at Gallipoli, it was used as a means of refuge, recovery and relaxation by Australian troops in the aftermath of the events that created the legend of Anzac.
More symbolic evidence of soccer’s intimate connection with Gallipoli lies in the remarkable story of the Soccer ‘Ashes’. They were conceived in 1923 during New Zealand’s tour to Australia:
Mr. Mayer (manager of the New Zealand soccer team) took back to the dominion the ashes in a box with a history attached to it. Mr. W. A. Fisher (secretary of the Queensland association) possessed a silver safety razor case presented to him when he left for the war, and it was with him when he landed with the Anzacs. He presented it to Mr. Mayer, and it contains some of the soil of Queensland and New South Wales, whose representatives played in the test matches. Mr. Mayer intends to have it mounted in New Zealand woods so that it may be a prized memento in connection with international matches between Australia and New Zealand.72
The ‘Ashes’ tag appeared to be a typical symbolic nod to the cricketing Ashes until it was revealed by the Sydney Morning Herald 13 years later that the case literally contained ashes:
The ‘Ashes’, incidentally, are a genuine trophy. They are a relic of the New Zealand team’s visit to Australia 13 years ago, when the ashes of cigars smoked by the captains of the New Zealand and Australian team were placed in a plated safety-razor case, which, in turn, was enclosed in a casket of New Zealand and Australian timbers, honeysuckle and maple, suitably ornamented and inscribed. This trophy bears a record of the test games between the two countries since 1922, and was won three years ago by Australia, which beat the visiting New Zealand team in every test.73
The Sydney Sun-Herald reiterates the story of the Australia– NZ soccer ‘Ashes’ during the 1954 New Zealand tour of Australia:
Ashes of two cigars, smoked in 1923, have become the Soccer Test ‘Ashes’, won by Australia yesterday.
The cigars were smoked at a Soccer dinner by the Australian captain, Alec Gibb, and the New Zealand captain, George Campbell, after New Zealand had won the 1923 Test series. They are contained in a silver safety razor case which was carried in the landing on Gallipoli by a New Zealand soldier.
The razor case is set in a casket made of Australian and New Zealand woods inscribed with a kangaroo and the New Zealand fern leaf. The ‘Ashes’ were presented to the Australian team at a dinner in honour of the New Zealand side last night.74
Frequent test series for more than 30 years between the two Anzac nations, playing for a trophy that ‘witnessed’ action at Gallipoli and is inscribed with powerful cultural icons, seems to be clear evidence of a deep and abiding relationship between soccer and the Anzac story. Richard Cashman wonders why this tradition died out in 1954 without ever stopping to marvel that it lasted as long as it did or ponder the mechanics of its gestation.75
Indeed, this is a vital question because even as Australian soccer’s quality, profile and professionalism were starting to rise in the 1950s, the game’s connection with the Australian past and its status within legend and mythology were undergoing erasure.
The final grisly question is to ask: what sort of toll did the fighting take on Australian soccer players? In May 1915, Unomi wrote ecumenically about the unfolding tragedy of the war and its impact on local Perth soccer:
At the great match now raging in the Dardanelles the enemy is no respecter of codes. It is all the same to them whether their bullets find billets in an adherent of the Australian, Rugby or Soccer games. Therefore, with so many of our players at the front British Associationists must expect to contribute towards the blood toll now being exacted. That we are doing so is evidenced in the fact that since the declaration of war no less than five have passed hence. Two, Private Courtney and Major Parker through illness, and three in action – namely Private Amos (Referees’ Association), Major Carter (Perth Club), and Private Algy Hale (Claremont Glebe). At the usual meeting of the association on Wednesday last, reference was made to the loss sustained, and a motion to the effect that letters of condolence be sent to the relatives of the deceased was passed. Amongst those reported on the injury list is Lieutenant Rockliffe. Old timers will remember Mr. Rockliffe as being the first secretary of the Junior Association and also a great enthusiast in schools football. I am sure every soccerite will wish him a speedy recovery.76
Ultimately, the most powerful (and harrowing) evidence of soccer’s ‘being there’ lies in the bodies of the men who ‘stayed there’, those who died in the carnage. When the Toowoomba British Football Association re-gathered in 1919, they noted their own toll:
During the evening the Chairman extended a hearty welcome home to the returned men present, and Mr. S. Morgan responded on behalf of the returned men. The secretary stated that the British Football Association (‘Soccer’) was the only football association that had an honour roll in Toowoomba. The names of Syd. Cousens, Lit. Groom, A. Dundas[ch], Colin Groom, W. Bury, and J. McManus were recorded in the minutes as having paid the supreme sacrifice in the late Great War.77
Pre-war soccer had not only grown in the metropolitan and larger regional centres. It had taken root in the country as well. Towns like Broken Hill, Rockhampton, Charters Towers and Warwick had established bustling soccer cultures that were all inevitably truncated by the war effort.
Mildura’s developing two-team competition in this period resuscitated a game that
had flowered there briefly in the mid-1890s. Weekly matches were played between clubs based in Mildura and the neighbouring town of Irymple. This microcosmic competition provides its own story of the war’s impact on small towns and sport. Of the 11 players in the Irymple team of 1913, at least seven enlisted. Of this number, five lost their lives.
Yet, the scale of this tragedy is sadly exceeded by the example of the Caledonian team in Perth. Eight members of the club (six first team players) lost their lives in active service. John Williamson’s Soccer Anzacs documents the Caledonian story from origins to the club’s final demise.
Williamson concludes poignantly, making a claim for soccer’s centrality to the legend of Anzac and radically defining Australian heritage in terms of actions and commitment rather than birthplace:
Few sporting clubs in Australia were so decimated in the War’s bloody battles as the Caledonian Soccer Club. Practically every player and official enlisted and served under the Australian flag in the First World War. They took part in battles that are remembered throughout Australia every year on 25th April – battles burnt into the Australian psyche.
These Caledonians were Anzacs and what started off as a Scottish strand was woven into the fabric of Australia society by the deeds of its gallant youth. If we reflect on the sacrifice of this team we realise that it paid in blood for the right to use the name Caledonians and be accepted as part of our Australian heritage.78
How might ‘Derwentside’ have responded to such a claim?
Australian soccer historians rarely write about the First World War. It is usually a mere lacuna in their narrative. Yet as I hope to have shown, it needs to be far more than that. It is, first, the place of another dislocated kind of rich soccer history that reveals a game far more central to Australian stories than has been hitherto acknowledged. Australians played and observed games of soccer during the war and many were newly introduced to the game solely because of their participation in the war. Second, the war is that which prevents, perhaps more than any other force, the game’s then seemingly inevitable rise to a degree of prominence across Australia. After the war, with more migrants and with renewed enthusiasm, soccer set off once more on its merry course of rebuilding. But this time the enemies within the other football codes were forewarned and forearmed.
The migrants of the 1920s were greater in number but perhaps lesser in commitment to spreading the ‘British game of football’. History was once more unkind79 and despite the seemingly better organised streams of migration, it was not until after the Second World War that the kind of ferocious passion for soccer generated by a migrant boom was seen again.80 Future research may well reveal that this 30-year break was a great developmental blockage for the game of soccer in Australia. It may also reveal that the elision of soccer and its British-born adherents in the construction of the Australian legend of the First World War was a significant factor in this limit to soccer’s growth.
I would like to thank Paul Mavroudis for his vital assistance in pulling this paper into shape, Roy Hay for his general inspiration and Damian Smith for his exemplary commitment to the project of researching Australian soccer soldiers.
Ian Syson is a senior lecturer in literary studies at Victoria University. He is writing a cultural history of soccer in Australia.
1. Mercury, April 3, 1931, 8. The name ‘Derwentside’ is derived from the Derwent, Hobart’s main river.
2. These issues are canvassed by Hay in “‘Our Wicked Foreign Game’.”
3. Anzac stands for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and in Australian mythological terms often stands metonymically for the entirety of Australian military history. Moreover, the term is sometimes deployed as a symbol of ‘Australian spirit’ in general.
5. Sunshine Advocate, November 5, 1927, 1. This letter is so extreme that it is possible that it was a hoax – what might be called trolling today.
6. ‘Pommy’ is the derogatory Australian slang for ‘English’. English schoolteachers were seen as especially proactive in illicitly introducing soccer to Australian schoolboys. Prior to the war, this tension came to a head in Perth, Western Australia. A retrospective on the death of J.J. Simons, the founder of the Young Australian [Football] League mentions this attitude in relation to 1905: ‘Soccer was firmly established in the schools, but Mr Simons fought for the national game until he had overcome the prejudices of English schoolteachers’. Daily News, October 25, 1948, 6.
7. Philip Mosely and Bill Murray put it another way: ‘it has not entered the Australian soul’. Roy Hay claims that ‘there has been a failure to make the game Australian’ on the part of its custodians. Mosely and Murray, “Soccer,” 214; Hay, “‘Our Wicked Foreign Game’,” 172.
8. Since 1995, Collingwood and Essendon have battled for AFL Anzac supremacy at the MCG. St George and Eastern Suburbs commemorate the day in the NRL. In recent years, a cross- Tasman NRL game between Melbourne Storm and New Zealand Warriors has also been added to the Anzac Day mix. In 2013, AFL club St Kilda FC played their inaugural Anzac Day game in Wellington.
9. See Lake, Reynolds, and McKenna, What’s Wrong with Anzac? for a thoroughgoing history and critique of the rise of Anzac Day in this period.
10. Green, “Anzac Day.” Green sees a great deal of transference involved in the sporting co-option of Anzac:
The deeds of our veterans are at once honoured and dragged down to the humdrum of ordinary life through constant acts of easy equivalence. The further we travel from those great wars that saw the mass involvement of ordinary men and women, the more we see their sacrifice, their often terrible sacrifice, as analogous to the recognisable struggles of our modern lives: the valor of footballers, something as universal and banal as ‘mateship’.
11. Less than 1% of Australia’s fighting force was recruited via the Sportsmen’s Battalions. Booth and Tatz, One-Eyed, 100.
12. Phillips, “Sport, War and Gender Images,” 81.
13. Blair, “Beyond the Metaphor.”
17. A term search for ‘sport’ limited to the First World War in the Australian War Memorial’s web site http://www.awm.gov.au/ obtained 691 hits, the vast majority being photographs.
18. Euroa Advertiser, July 21, 1916, 5; see also: Horsham Times, June 21, 1916, 3; Warrnambool Standard, July 29, 1916, 8; West Gippsland Gazette, July 25, 1916, 4; Traralgon Record, July 21, 1916, 6; Bairnsdale Advertiser and Tambo and Omeo Chronicle, July 22, 1916, 6; Prahran
Telegraph, May 27, 1916, 5; Camperdown Chronicle, April 20, 1916, 2; Cumberland Argus
and Fruitgrowers Advocate, May 16, 1916, 3; West Australian, October 3, 1916, 8.
19. Perhaps the long-standing historiographical prejudice against history from below and a healthy distrust of editorial practices during wartime have also militated against the widespread and systematic use of these letters.
22. The ‘Barassi Line’ is an imaginary line drawn across Australia that divides the country culturally into Australian Rules and Rugby zones. A good outline is available in Fujak and Frawley, “The Barassi Line,” 94.
33. See, for example, the Football Record 8, June 4, 1928, 3. This edition contained the following statement from ‘Chatterer’:
Australia’s game is recognised by people from other lands who have followed the codes of those countries as the most spectacular of any winter game of the kind, and the Soccer and Rugger lads who have settled among us and have taken to Aussie’s football will tell you that it is the best of all.
41. A player listed as B. Anderson played for the Moonyoonooka soccer team in 1914. Geraldton Guardian, May 21, 1914, 3.
47. In my research so far, soccer dominant letters seem at this stage to come mainly from Western Australia, with some from Queensland and NSW. Soccer subdominant is very much the tonality from Victoria. Further work needs to be done to establish patterns and emphases.
48. Andrews, The Anzac Illusion, 44.
49. Bean, Official History of Australia.
51. These figures are drawn from the ‘First to Fall’ web site: http://www.anzacsite.gov.au/1l anding/first-to-fall/11battalion/index.html.The remainder were made up of English (14) and Scots-born (6), with 2 Irishmen, 1 Englishman born in Brazil, 1 Maltese, 1 man whose parents were domiciled in India. All those without a given place of birth and with next of kin domiciled in Australia have been attributed Australia-born status.
52. Williamson, Soccer Anzacs, vii. It is not clear whether the Geraldton numbers are included in this figure.
54. West Australian, October 16, 1915, 9. These figures are by no means accurate or up to date at the time. The Caledonian figure is clearly incorrect given their tragic story.
66. State Library of South Australia, “The Adelaide Tramways British Football Club, 1914 team photo,” http://images.slsa.sa.gov.au/mpcimg/35750/B35670.htm
69. Youtube, “World War I: Gallipoli Campaign 4/4,” see the image at 5.49 – 5.52 in this video, http
://www.youtube.com/watch?v¼ SQsCQ4k8WTA. The game was conducted as part of the illusion that the Allies were carrying on as normal when in fact plans were being made to evacuate the Gallipoli Peninsula.
70. The team from the destroyer HMS Hunter playing a game of soccer against a 6th Battalion team at a camp on the Aegean island of Lemnos. Australian War Memorial, http://www.awm. gov.au/view/collection/item/C01191/.
74. Sydney Sun-Herald, September, 1954, 41.
75. Cashman, Sport in the National Imagination, 109.
78. Williamson, Soccer Anzacs, 113.
79. Hay and Syson, The Story of Football, 10 – 11.
80. This ‘boom’ is discussed in-depth by Kallinikios, Soccer Boom.
Bean, C. E. W. Official History of Australia in the War of 1914 – 1918 – Volume I – The Story of ANZAC from the Outbreak of War to the End of the First Phase of the Gallipoli Campaign, May 4, 1915, 11th ed. 1941, http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/records/awmohww1/aif/vol1/ awmohww1-aif-vol1-ch5.pdf.
Blair, Dale. “Beyond the Metaphor: Football and War, 1914 – 1918.” Journal of the Australian War Memorial, Apr. 28, 1996, http://www.awm.gov.au/journal/j28/j28-blai.asp.
Cashman, Richard. Sport in the National Imagination: Australian Sport in the Federation Decades.
Fujak, Hunter, and Stephen Frawley. “The Barassi Line: Quantifying Australia’s Great Sporting Divide.” Sporting Traditions 30, no. 2 (Nov. 2013): 93 – 109.
Green, Jonathan. “Anzac Day is About Their Deaths, Not Our Lives.” The Drum, Apr. 25, 2012, http
Hay, Roy. “‘Our Wicked Foreign Game’: Why Has Association Football (Soccer) Not Become the Main Code of Football in Australia?” Soccer and Society 7, nos 2 – 3 (2006): 165 – 186.
Hay, Roy, and Ian Syson. The Story of Football in Victoria. Melbourne: Football Federation Victoria, 2009.
Kallinikios, John. Soccer Boom: The Transformation of Victorian Soccer Culture 1945 – 1963.
Lake, Marilyn, Henry Reynolds, and Mark McKenna. What’s Wrong with Anzac? The Militarisation of Australian History. Sydney: University of NSW Press, 2010.
Mosely, Philip, and Bill Murray. “Soccer.” In Sport in Australia: A Social History, edited by Wray Vamplew and Brian Stoddart, 213 – 230. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
Posted by Ian Syson at 16:41