Here's a bit of fun! This is a work-in-progress so I'd be interested in feedback, especially if you think there are any reasons I've missed. I'd be happy to supply archival proof for any of the dot points if required.
I’ve spent the past four years examining the digital newspaper archive in the NLA’s Trove collection. I have been interested in the newspaper reporting of soccer through the years, particularly in Melbourne and the other states colonised by Victorian rules in the late 1800s. I am working towards a history of spin (positive, negative or neutral) used to describe the game over the past 150 years.
The material presented here is derived from a limited archive in terms of dates (up until mid-1950s) and variety. Only the Argus (and a few suburban papers) in Melbourne have been digitised.
The newspapers regularly articulate a cultural rejection of Soccer as an appropriate game for Australians. This is conveyed via notions that echo down through the years, many of which go back to the first flowerings of soccer in Australia – something that might be reflected on by contemporary utterers of such criticism. They belong to a long tradition, one which has continually figured soccer as a new and foreign game for the past 130 years.
The rhetoric of refusal comes in 4 phases:
1. Initial response (1883-1914)
4. Degenerate and enfeebling
6. Sneakily violent
These are limited technical criticisms and observations of the game. They are also judgements about the kind of people who play it. There is a sense in much of this criticism that this feeble game is not worthy of expending too much journalistic energy on. Let them play their game. They’re not troubling anyone.
2. Cultural-political (1905-1939)
13. Culturally inappropriate or unnatural
14. Run by foreigners, notably British headmasters and/or civil servants
15. Brainwashing of children
17. Occupation of our land
18. Cultural invader
19. Threat to our way of life
20. Limiter to our “manifest destiny”
22. Betrayal of our armed forces
The second phase of reception tends to be much tougher in its criticism. Layered onto the attitudes of phase 1 are cultural-political tropes. Generally, soccer is seen as a “wicked foreign game” as Roy Hay has noted. Crucially, the rise of these criticisms also co-incides with the rise of ground allocation stress, initially in Perth and then spreading to the rest of the Australian rules states after ww1.
3. Post ww2 xenophobia (1950-1970)
25. Facilitator of unAustralian crowd violence
26. An invader with massive external financial support
27. Stealer of our land
This is a period of massive influx of European migrants during which an at times xenophobic community is confronted by significant cultural and sporting difference. These tensions come to a head in the 1950s in Melbourne with a serious moral panic created around soccer’s presumed intensions to smash footy and steal its ovals. No longer is it “let them play their game”, it’s “let them play in the gutter.” For many people it is a kind of war.
4. Post 70s
28. A sport to keep mums happy
29. Sheilas, Wogs and Poofters
30. Storehouse of ethnic hatreds
31. Misuser of public funds
34. Vehicle of globalisation
35. Corrupt game
In this phase soccer is no longer a dirty ‘secret’. The broader community is aware of the game as never before
- Participation figures are rising
- First World Cup Qualification
- Broad consumption of English football via television
- NSL is the very first national league in any football code.
38. Not Australian rules football/Rugby League
The final three points are ones that can be distilled from the 35 previous ones. Soccer is unestablished (even when it is established) and unAustralian (even when played by Australians). Ultimately soccer's greatest sin is that it is simply not Australian rules football or Rugby League.