Playing long balls into empty space since 2012.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Soccer at the Fitzroy Cricket Ground

Fitzroy Cricket Ground, c. 1925-1935

The Scotland team
The England team
It's probably a little-known fact that the Fitzroy Cricket Ground (known today as Brunswick Street Oval) has hosted many soccer matches in its time. The images right and below are from page 32 of the Melbourne Leader on 17 August 1912. They depict the 1912 match between teams representing 'Scotland' and 'England'. Scotland won 3-0. This tradition goes back to 13 September 1884 with the first so-called 'International' being played in Albert Park.

The crowd for the 1912 game is not mentioned but the photograph below suggests a decent number. A year later the Argus claimed a crowd of 4000 attended the 1913 game. Using this figure and the image as evidence, we might assume that 4000 is a 'normal' crowd for the Melbourne soccer community's game of the season. Though the purported 1921 attendance of nearly 9000 should warn us against underestimation.

Many (perhaps as many as 40) high level club, cup, interstate, 'local' international and 'genuine' international matches were held at Fitzroy in the first half of the 20th century. Most attracted a substantial crowd. The highest was the 12,000 that turned up to watch a touring Chinese team play there in 1923.

The Fitzroy ground was crowded on Saturday, when the spectators, including a large
percentage of Chinese residents, watched a keen game
between an Australian
"soccer" team and the visiting Chinese players. Incidents in the play are depicted.

The England v Scotland games are games between English and Scottish born players in Melbourne and represent a significant tradition in early Melbourne soccer. These games appear to be relocated (from Middle Park) to the Fitzroy Cricket Ground in 1911 and are moved again after 1926. I can't find a 1927 game. From 1928 the games are played at the Motordrome.  

Perhaps this report from the Argus (11 June 1927) clarifies things a little. It expresses the VFL's displeasure at Fitzroy Cricket Club's hiring out its own ground out to soccer bodies.
Resisting Foreign Code.
At the ordinary meeting that followed further reference to the action of the Fitzroy Cricket Club in allowing a soccer match on a Saturday, which meant that the [Fitzroy FC] second 18 had to make other arrangements, was made when the Fitzroy Club wrote that the arrangements had been made between the bodies concerned, and there was no intention on its part to foster a foreign code.  

Even though the cricket club found an alternative ground for the 2nd 18, it was still subjected to humiliation and bullying by the VFL who requested that "a clause be inserted in the agreement that the ground be available for the Australian game during the whole of the season." Despite VFL objections the Chinese game against Australia went ahead but soccer appears to have been immediately exiled from the ground. The VFL's objections are outlined further in an article published in May 1927.

The next game is the Test against New Zealand which was played at the ground in 1954, nearly 30 years later. In more recent times the ground also hosted one NSL game when Heidelberg/Fitzroy Alexander took on Brisbane Lions in 1977. In the 1970s and 1980s over 70 State and lower league matches were played on the Fitzroy cricket ground.

Incomplete List of Games on Fitzroy Cricket Ground (revisit for updates) 

The list below contains the date, game, score and crowd in that order for each game identified. The crowd figure is bolded. Notes and hotlinks are also provided where useful. 

The South China Athletic Association and Chinese University teams were usually described as 'China' in the press coverage when they were in fact club or student teams.

The crowd figures are taken from newspaper reports. When sources are divergent both figures are given. If no figure is available then a qualitative assessment is given.

Airbrushing soccer history or just an oversight?

This list of over 100 games is impressive, especially when we factor in games still to be included. Therefore it was a bit of a shock when I came to read Mark Fiddian's Forever Fitzroy: a history of the Brunswick St Oval (published 2004) to find that of the sports played there only Baseball, Australian Rules and Cricket had been deemed worth mentioning. Soccer is the game that never happened on Brunswick St Oval. The dullness of this book might have been excused had it been appropriately encyclopaedic. Unfortunately, its only mention of soccer is to point out to readers that Fitzroy Alexander Soccer Club was the tenant at the time the grandstand (on the left in the 4th picture above) burnt down. Wogs eh? If they don't have knives they have cans of petrol!

An interesting counterfactual exercise would be to speculate on what might have happened if the grandstand hadn't burnt down and Fitzroy had kept its tenure throughout the NSL and beyond. Would it have modified the ground more in keeping with the requirements of the NSL and soccer in general -- much like what happened at South Melbourne Cricket Ground when South Melbourne Hellas created Bob Jane Stadium? It would have changed the inner-city sporting landscape markedly.

Soccer Action July 1976. Alexander v Hellas on Fitzroy Cricket Ground, if front of a crowd exceeding 10,000.
Thanks to Les Street for the image.

Soccer Action July 28 1976. Gary Cole for Alexander shoots and misses against Mooroolbark on Fitzroy Cricket Ground.
Thanks to Les Street for the image.

Another great image found by Les Street
Sport history is an important record of our culture. If historians are unable or unwilling to record games of association football in their stories then they need to have a good hard look at why they are writing their histories and the effects their histories have on readers.

Fortunately, few people take Mark Fiddian's book seriously. Unfortunately those who do get a distorted picture of a rich and diverse history.


  1. 14 Aug 1954 Australia v New Zealand ?-? the score was 1-2 according to this:

  2. Many thanks Albert. I intend to get around to the other missing details as well but if readers can do the job for me that's great!

  3. Marc Fiddian eh.... very incongruent recollections on football history. I can only presume the book provided references.


  4. I am sure Fitzroy United Alexander (now Heidelberg United Alexander) played many seasons there in the 1970's.

    Savvas Tzionis

  5. Sawas. Yes I know. I am just waiting to get access to results lists. Though maybe I'll have to do it myself.

    Interestingly, the Alexander v Lions game in 1977 was the first game to be played at the ground in a national club football competition of any code.

  6. Nice bit of reclaiming history Ian.
    One reason that may explain why so many soccer games were played at Brunnie St. is that the Fitzroy Cricket Club actually had management responsibility for the ground through a lease arrangement with the Crown (as it was Crown Land). The Fitzroy Football Club had to bend to the whim of the FCC regularly and at times there were considerable tensions between both clubs. Adam M

  7. Thanks Adam. There was some dosh to be made for FCC renting out the ground for these money spinners. I think the VFL starts to get tired of this and starts to sound threatening. The cricket club would have been wary of losing their main tenants.

    Found another 20 odd from 75-76. I'll put them up asap.

    That top photo brought back some memories!!

  8. With the 1954 match against New Zealand (an 'A' international), OzFootball says that it was played at the Melbourne Showgrounds, whereas the article you cite only has it as scheduled to be played at Brunswick Street.

    Bill Fleming's match report concurs with OzFootball's reckoning. Why the game was moved I'm not sure - I haven't looked hard enough to find a reason for it.

  9. Thanks Paul. Given the date (ie mid-50s) it's entirely likely that smell-the-fear is in operation