JJ Liston, powerbroker and diplomat
JJ Liston is a curious figure. Well known in VFA circles, his soccer commitment is much less known. He was president of the VSFA from the mid thirties until his death in 1944 and took a particularly ecumenical view on sport. While Australian rules was his number one he also admired and enjoyed soccer. His primary role was as a thorn in the side of VFL (from both VFA and soccer perspectives) and his ire took him to the point where he threatened to amalgamate VFA and soccer.
There is a great silence on Liston's marginal views and his story is worth tracing. For one thing it will tell us a lot about Victorian soccer in the 1930s.
LISTON STOOD FOR UNION
Football Has Lost Leader
By H. A. de LACY
In the death of J. J. Liston football has lost a leader. He loved a thrilling sporting bout and football held the highest place in his affections. He took a leading part in the politics of the Australian game. I can vouch for his sincere desire to do the greatest good for the game itself, irrespective of pre-established ideas and constitutions. Re was prepared to kick his way through any conservatism that the greater good of the game could be served.
MR LISTON was president of the Victorian Football Association, the Victorian Soccer Association, and a Trustee of the Melbourne Cricket Ground. In football he was known throughout Victoria as "J. J." He was the sponsor of the senior representation in football of the outer ring of municipalities. Early he allied himself with the Williamstown Football Club—one of the oldest football cubs, became president of that club, and later president of the Victorian Football Association. It was in this office that he took up the fight for the newer municipalities; places where the popuitaion was growing. He wanted Victorian football graded, with promotions and relegations. In sponsoring this view he mostly sat on the opposite side of the table to the League officials. He was fearless in his advocacy and often bruised shins and trod on corns. But he was respected for his ability and fighting qualities.
He was a power in the sporting world. When he spoke he did not waste words. There was the occasion when the League hoped for representation on the board of trustees of the Melbourne Cricket Ground. However. It was "J. J." who was appointed. He became president of the Victorian Soccer Association as well as of the V.F.A. His opponents criticised him for taking such an office, asking how a man who was president of an Australian rules body could also be president of the State Soccer body. He scorned criticism. "Are they at war with Soccer," he retorted. "If they are. I am not. There is room for all good healthy games, and Soccer is a damn good game. It would serve us better to get down to knowing something of the good management of Soccer throughout the world. We could learn something."
From a state bordering on bankruptcy in 1937, he battled on till before the outbreak of war. The Association clubs were bidding high prices for League stars and getting them. But even this success was not altogether to "J.J.'s" liking. Hestill wanted graded football under a State council. He knew that the trafficking could not do the game the greatest good and often said: "It will make our opponents recognise our strength, but It will not advance Australian football." Immediately prior to his death he was using his influence to bring about a conference of the League and the Association with an eye to uniting the two bodies. Football has lost a statesman.