I've thought a long time about writing on soccer in my home town, Mount Isa. It's where I grew to love the game and where I came in contact with what seemed to me a breadth of ethnicities. These represent some notes towards a longer piece (as much of my stuff is). Whatever you do don't trust the information because it's largely memory basedWe arrived in Mount Isa in early January 1970. My dad had gone up earlier (in November) and the rest of the family went up (a three day bus trip from Wollongong) to join him in the middle of summer.We settled in to life in the town and come winter, Dad was encouraged by workmates talking about the local game to drag the family down to Wellington Oval to watch the local soccer.
While lacking in comparison with the Roker Roar, the Wellington Oval crowds were passionate and engaged and sometimes quite sizeable (often over 400 out of a local population of 20,000). Moreover they were culturally diverse in a way that was typical of big Australian mining towns. Its makeup was determined by whatever immigration policy had been in operation and indicative of the kinds of work being carried out on the mine-site. For example, booms in construction saw an influx of Italians. Scores of Finns brought their copper mine experience to the town. English, Welsh and Scottish men with coal mine experience found the transition to a metalliferous mine quite easy and were employed in their hundreds.
The 1970 soccer season was my first experience of following a competitive sport first hand. My memories are vague on so much about the year, but I do remember the teams, eight of them, each based on an ethnic identity.
- Anglo (claret and white)
- Irish (green and white)
- Scotties (navy blue and white)
- Concordia [German] (white and black)
- International [Italian] (all red)
- Blue Adriatic ['Yugoslav' largely Croatian] (light blue and white stripes, a beautiful strip)
- Scandia [Dutch + other Scandinavian ethnicities] (orange and black)
- Eiffel (cobalt blue and red socks)
|Sunday soccer at Mt Isa, 1970. National Archives NAA: A12111, 2/1970/33A/1|
Concordia v Eiffel, with section of mine site in background.
Notice the banked cycling track encircling Wellington Oval.
The photos below are from the same collection, possibly of the same game.
It's not that the teams were like silos. The ethnicities of the teams didn't prevent intermingling. The captain of International was a German (Fritz Oelling) who had played (possibly) for the German U21 team. He was an old-school, hard as nails centre back who was quite happy to believe the opposition forward was there to be run through. Affectionately known as Boxhead, one time he came off with blood streaming from the left side of his forehead. He was instantly dubbed Triangle by a dozen Balkans whose English was ordinary at best and whose accents were thick!
There were other players who, to this 10 year old, were world beaters. The antics of Blue Adriatic's goal poaching genius Vojo Paunovic and Scotties' striker Willie Walker still linger in my mind nearly 40 years later. Dad, whose views on such matters are less distorted by my young and impressionable naivety still believes they were good players. He reminds me that a lot of them had played high level football in Europe and had sometimes migrated out of necessity and not desire.
Welshman Dave Scutt was another hard man defender. It must have galled for him to be playing for the Anglo team. Nor did I understand why a Scotsman called Campbell Stuart played for Anglo.
I can't remember who won that year or much else about it for that matter. I will no doubt spoil the purity of memory by doing some actual research. I might also call my Dad.