Playing long balls into empty space since 2012.

Monday, 30 March 2015

JW Harrison, Melbourne's First Named Soccer Writer

JW Harrison: Mark Boric and I have been wondering what happened to him and why his reports dried up in the Winner. Sadly, I've found the answer. He died on June 3 1918. As Mark suggests that means he only covered one full season of genuinely competitive Melbourne soccer, in 1914. Moreover his coverage of second tier was not as broad as it might have been. His reporting of the top tier in that year was nonetheless exemplary, writing substantial articles that always conveyed passion and commitment for the great game.

This obituary was contained in the Weekly Times of June 8, 1918.
Mr J. W. Harrison, a prominent member of the Victorian Typographical Society, and for the last seven years amember of the reading staff of "The Herald" and "The Weekly Times," died on June 3. For some years he was onthe executive of the Typographical Society, and last year he was elected president. He was an authority on theEnglish "soccer" game, and contributed junior football notes to "The Winner" under his own name. Mr Harrison leaves a wife and young family, who live at 850 Brunswick street, Fitzroy.
As Paul Mavroudis points out, he was a printer, a unionist and a member of the soccerati -- a man after my own heart.

The ‘Chimera’ of Origins: Association Football in Australia before 1880

In the July of 1880, a movement in Sydney seemed to crystallise.1
A number of letters to the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald were published, advocating the playing of football under the English Association rules.

This long letter from John Walter Fletcher published on July 17, 1880 summed up the level of interest and took the important step of suggesting a meeting.


Sir, I was glad to see in your issue of this morning a letter advocating the introduction of the English Association game into New South Wales, and I am a little surprised that some old English player has not made the suggestion before. I have reason to think from conversations I have had on the subject that if the game could properly be started it would become very popular, not only with players, but with the public. Unfortunately, a very general misapprehension appears to exist as to the nature of the game, a great many people I have spoken to evidently confusing it with the Victorian Association game,2 whereas the two games have not a single point in common. As to its chances of popularity, let any one read in Bell's Life the accounts of International or club contests in Glasgow, Sheffield, London, &c. witnessed often by from 10,000 to 12,000 spectators. It is, I think, about twelve years since the game was first started in England, though its principle, that football is a game for feet and for hands, had long existed in the Eton and Harrow games. At the present time the football players of Great Britain, playing under Rugby and Association rules, are about equally divided, and the two games exist side by side without one interfering in the least with the other, save that of late the value of good dribbling has become universally acknowledged in the Rugby game. I feel that we are rather late in writing in advocacy of the English Association game, inasmuch as a large section of the football players of New South Wales, dissatisfied with Rugby rules, appear to have committed themselves to the adoption of Victorian rules. Nevertheless, there must be many old English and Scotch Association players, or old Eton and Harrow men, who would be glad to see their old game played here, and who would make an effort to introduce it; and I am quite sure that the principle of the game, which forbids the use of the hands, except by goalkeeper, and does away with scrummaging, collaring, mauling, &c, will commend itself to a very large section or this community. The game is essentially a scientific one, requiring, above everything else, unselfish and organized combination. I do not wish to attack the old Rugby game, which, properly played, is interesting and exciting to players and spectators; but must enter a protest against the introduction of the Victorian game, which, though certainly interesting and amusing to look at, is, I believe, rougher than the Rugby, and violates the fundamental principle of all games like football – I mean the law of off side. The very thing condemned under the name of ‘sneaking’ in the Eton game is here encouraged and applauded, and in fact may almost be said to be the chief art of the game. In the brief space of a letter it is impossible to say all that one would in behalf of the introduction of the rules of the English Association; but I hope that, since at the present time a radical change is demanded in the present code, football players and the public generally will give the matter a more thorough investigation than it has yet received before committing themselves to the Victorian game. I should be willing to communicate with gentlemen willing to assist in starting a club under the rules of the English Association, and perhaps it might be possible to convene a meeting to consider the whole question. 
I am, &c.,

J.W. FLETCHER.  

Union Club, July 14.3
This is a remarkable and important letter, one that has claims to be a kind of founding document along the lines of Tom Wills’ letter to the editor of Bell's Sporting Life in Victoria in 1858 in which he advocated the formation of a football club (or, failing that, a rifle club) in Melbourne. This moment is generally (though not universally) understood to be the wellspring of Australian Rules football.4
Fletcher believed a large participation and spectator base existed for Association football in New South Wales that was as yet untapped and unsatisfied. The potential contributors to the game came from the English and ‘Scotch’ Associations or Eton and Harrow. He also made it clear that the Victorian Rules (the game which developed into Australian Rules), despite the similarities that some had observed, were for him and his ilk an oppositional code with ‘not a single point’ in common with Association football.5 The letter picked no fight with Rugby, seeing the possibility of the two codes subsisting.
After what seems to be very little time, a meeting was convened for August 3 by Fletcher and J.A. Todd. Its purpose was ‘to consider and promote the introduction of football under English Association rules’. Therefore, all ‘football players and others who may be interested in the improvement of the winter pastime are invited to attend’.6

The plan was not to supplant Rugby but to benefit football generally by (1) introducing Association rules and (2) staving off the challenge from Victorian Rules. Two weeks later, the first game was played.
The first match in New South Wales played under English Association rules was played on Saturday last, by the newly formed club, against the King's School boys at Parramatta. The visitors had a very fair team, allowing for the fact that hardly one of them had played football for some years. This advantage was, however, balanced by the fact that the boys had not played these rules before. The game was well contested for an hour and a half, and terminated in favour of the visitors by five goals to none; the number of goals must not, however, be taken as a criterion of the play, which was remarkably even, particularly after half time, the boys on several occasions only failing to score on account of their want of familiarity with the art of passing and middling the ball. On the side of the English Association Club all played up well, but the play of D. Roxburgh as back was remarkably good and invaluable to his side, and Scott's goal-keeping deserves praise. On the King's School side the play of Fenwick was very fine, and he would make a grand Association player; all, however, played well. Mr Savage, an old International player, played with and coached Kings School. The names of the club players were – T.A. Todd (captain), W.J. Baker, J.W. Fletcher, C.E. Hewlett, C.F. Fletcher, Wastinage, W. Robertson, W. Simson, Chapman, D. Roxburgh, J. Scott (goal).
The article concluded by pointing out that a further ‘match has been arranged, under English Association rules, on Moore Park, for next Saturday, against the Redfern Club’.7

The new team did not yet have a name, a situation that was rectified at a ‘committee meeting of the newly-formed English Association Football Club’ on August 19 at which ‘The Wanderers’ were christened. A number of decisions were ratified at the meeting, along with the crucial ambition to obtain membership of the English Football Association. They were:
  1. 'That the club be called “The Wanderers”’.
  2. ‘That the uniform be white jersey and cap, with badge southern cross and blue stockings’.
  3. ‘That an account of the proceedings be sent to England to the secretary of the English Association, for publication’.
  4.  ‘That the club be enrolled (with permission) in the English Association’.8
The first game under the new name saw the team score another win, this time against a team from the Rugby club, Redfern FC.
The second match under the English Association Rules took place at Moore Park on Saturday last, and resulted in a win for the newly-named Wanderers by two goals to nil, both of which were secured in the first 10 min, after which the game was very even. Redfern Club, being strangers to the rules, played up well, ably assisted by W.J. Baker. For Redfern, J. Mulcahy and North played well, whilst for the Wanderers J. Fletcher, Harbottle and M'Donald were in grand form.9
About this well-co-ordinated series of events a conventional and robust narrative has emerged: a club with a name, colours and rules to play by; a series of games played and planned; a desire to affiliate with the F.A. in England and something resembling the founding document/moment so beloved of many football historians are all in place. Australian soccer had kicked off.
But the story is wrong. The narrative details may be correct but the idea of a starting point is wide of the mark. Unfortunately for the ‘Sydney-origin’ thesis, a similar series of events had occurred in the colony of Tasmania's main city, Hobart one year before, albeit on a smaller scale.

Hobart 1879

The Hobart Mercury of April 28, 1879 reported on the City Football Club's AGM and its adoption of the ‘rules of the British Football Association’.
The annual general meeting of members of the City Football Club was held on Saturday evening at the Town Hall. Mr J.R. Betts took the chair. The attendance was good at first, but the proceedings being of a protracted nature, the members dwindled very much towards the finish. The committee recommended the adoption of a fresh code of playing rules, as the present code entirely prevented the club from meeting any foreign team. The rules of the British Football Association, with the addition of the drop kick, were recommended. The following officers were elected: Captain, Captain Boddam; vice-captains, Messrs, Molloy and Pitfield; secretary, Mr A.D. Watchorn; treasurer, Mr Lindley; committee, Messrs. Lovett, Finlay, and Paul.10
Captain Edmond Meyer Tudor-Boddam is a central figure in this decision. Boddam had arrived in Hobart via Sydney in May 1878 to take up a post as ‘Brigade-Major to the corps’, the main function of which was to control public works projects.11 An Anglo-Indian and noted cricketer and footballer, he adopted a position insisting that an English code of football be adopted for the winter months. He had played Rugby in Sydney and seemed concerned to adopt a football code that would enable a sporting commerce with England (and New South Wales) rather than Victoria. In this regard, he prefigures some of Fletcher's anti-Victorian sentiments. It is clear that many City members were unhappy with this decision and Captain Boddam soon found himself on the outer. Undaunted, Boddam moved over to the Cricketers Football Club of Hobart where he directly influenced its decision to adopt the Association code. The Cricketers voted 10–9 to adopt English Association rules at their meeting on May 5. Boddam and his seconder would have preferred Rugby but acknowledged that its rules were too complex. Both were derisory about Victorian Rules.12
Under his guidance, the Cricketers began their season with an internal scratch match on May 10, 1879. The sides were
picked by F.V. Smith and G.S. Chapman. The English Association Rules which have been adopted by this club were played. Chapman's side proved victorious by two goals to one, both kicked by B. Stuart, well judged kicks. H.B. Smith with a good piece of dribbling secured the goal for the other side. Besides the goal kickers, the most prominent players were Boddam, F.V. Smith, Chapman, R. Kirby, H. Prior, L. M'Leod and Davenport (the last three hailing from the High School club). The natural amount of inconvenience was felt by most of the players who essayed the novel rules for the first time, the mysteries of off and on side and the obligation to leave the hands idle proving almost insurmountable. After some practice no doubt those difficulties will be overcome.13
As if to foreshadow the sometimes dubious organisational skills of those running Australian soccer, it is reported that the ‘club played without goal posts; as Mr Briant who had promised to bring them, did not do so, coats were used to mark the goal instead’.14
On June 7, the Cricketers met New Town in a competitive inter-club match. ‘These clubs met for the return match on Marsh's ground, New Town, on Saturday afternoon, playing the English Association Rules. The result was a draw, no goals being kicked by either side’.15 The Tasmanian Mail also reported on the game, remarking on ‘Morriss for the New Town causing special amusement by playing the ball with his head’ – possibly the first in a long line of Australian media guffaws about the practice of heading. The writer also complains of the ‘absurdity’ of the keeper being allowed to throw the ball.16
One soccer match in Hobart in 1879 might be a rogue occurrence; two games a month apart intimate a pattern. Moreover, it is reasonable to interpolate ‘soccer’ practice in-between these dates. However, this was no sparkling beginning of the beautiful game in Australia from which it leapt and bounded, despite the indication that the players intended to keep working at the game. The perceived need for conformity and the weight of numbers ultimately meant the rejection of soccer for the time being.

Code Chaos

In early 1879, football rules in Hobart were in chaos and many felt they needed to be streamlined. The urgent need for conformity had been inspired by what was considered as an embarrassment at the local footballers’ unpreparedness to meet challenges from outside of the colony. In May 1879, Melbourne's Hotham FC (the present-day Australian Rules club, North Melbourne FC) had written to the City Football Club requesting a game. While this caused some excitement and anticipation, the Hobart club's committee decided that they could not ‘under present circumstances, respond favourably to the offer of the Hotham Club to pay a visit to this colony’.17 Football across Tasmania was in such disarray that local humiliation could be the only possible outcome from a contest between Hotham and a Hobart team.

Hobart football had been in a fitful slumber in the middle 1870s from which it was still awakening. The Mercury lamented the inevitable refusal of Hotham's request:
The resuscitation of football this winter … ought to have rendered a favourable reply possible, but the peculiar relation of the clubs will, no doubt, interfere. Such an attention, however, from Victoria will demonstrate the necessity for the formation of an Association [and] uniformity of rules.18
In early 1879 Hobart had no set, singular code of play. Of the four Hobart football clubs, Railway and City (post-English Association rules) insisted on playing under Victorian Rules. New Town had its own code which resembled the Victorian game, though with some important differences (like a tape between posts under which the ball needed to be kicked to register a goal and the absence of the free kick paid for a mark). As if to add to the complication, the outlying towns and settlements had their own codes as well.

In 1877 when Richmond hosted the City club, one reporter remarked, ‘It is only fair to say that [City] was at a great disadvantage in having to make the great concession to their opponents of not “running with the ball”’.19 A year later, the boot was on the other foot: ‘The Richmond team were evidently placed at a disadvantage by the novelty of the mark rule of which they made acquaintance for the first time’.20

Some Southern Tasmanian codes allowed running with the ball, some did not. Some paid the mark, some did not. Confusion reigned and the home club determined the rules under which the teams would play. Squabbles and protests were the way of things. Tremendous in-fighting also existed between the clubs based on colonial political loyalties. If some footballers, like Boddam, were holding out for the visit of an English football team, others were advocates of the Victorian game.
In late 1878, hopes were still being held for an English visit. A member of the City Club wrote to the Mercury: ‘Our colony, as compared with the other Australian colonies is but a small one, but, sir, I believe there are sufficient strong and active youths here to form a football association from which we could pick a team worthy to compete with our English friends’.21 The writer advocated the adoption of a ‘general code of rules throughout the colony’ that would facilitate footballing commerce with the English. It was felt that such a relationship would lead to other economic and political benefits. The initial adoption of Association rules by the City Club in early 1879 needs to be seen in this context.

While the promised visit of an English team failed to materialise, the Hotham letter brought home the realisation that extra-colonial football relations were most likely to be established with Victoria and, this being the case, Victorian Rules needed to be adopted by the recently formed Tasmanian Football Association. In the continued absence of a sign of visiting English teams, those pushing for the ‘British’ codes had little argument.

One of those leading the charge for Victorian Rules was W.H. Cundy, who was interviewed by the Mercury 50 years later in 1931:
When I first came to Tasmania as a youth … there was really no established code. Rugby, soccer, and a sort of hybrid game were being played, and it can well be imagined the chaos that existed. I had played what was then known as the Victorian code in Melbourne … but at first was unable to induce other teams to adopt the Victorian rules. I had brought over a book of rules, and had 50 copies printed for distribution, and a meeting was later called at the old High School, now the University, to discuss the position. The … meeting could not come to a decision to concentrate on one code, so it was decided that for a season the teams should play the Victorian rules game, soccer and Rugby turn about, and at the end of the year decide which should be adopted, when all were fairly conversant with the codes. When the vote subsequently was taken, the Victorian rules won. I believe, by one vote.22
A further recollection reported in the Mercury on September 15, 1936, 3 years after Cundy's death repeated and reinforced the story.
Few Tasmanians know that the national code of football, now the predominating code of football in Tasmania, was introduced to the State by one vote only. Major W.T. Conder, President of the Australian Amateur Football Council, told members of the Northern Tasmanian Football Association last night that when the late W.H. Cundy came to Tasmania in the 1870s, the Australian game was not played In Tasmania. The football played consisted of Soccer, Rugby and a cross between the two games known as the Tasmanian game. In 1879, those in control of football in Tasmania decided by one vote to play what was then known as the Victorian game and is now the national game.23
Cundy's memories testify to the diversity of Hobart football in early 1879 and the level of disagreement about the way to unify the game in the colony. Nonetheless, by the end of the 1879 season Victorian Rules (with modifications) were established as the dominant football code in Hobart. Hotham's letter was central in that process.

Two short years later the locals managed to beat the Victorians at their own game, in the process confirming Victorian Rules as the primary winter game in Tasmania. In 1881, with the Victorian Rules in place, Tasmanian football was able to return a belated acceptance of Hotham's challenge. The Hobart game on July 5 was a major event for the Southern community. Over 1500 spectators turned out to what the Mercury described as ‘one of the most exciting games that has ever been played in Tasmania’.24 The combined Southern team overcame a spirited Hotham, by 3 goals to 2.
Despite their victory, the locals knew they had faced a superior foe. The Mercury reported that it was ‘pleasing to see that our footballers are not too proud to take a lesson in play from a visiting team’. Immediate footballing improvements were noted, especially in relation to ‘little marking, … the smartness of the Victorians in this respect being copied by the local men’.25

When Hotham revisited in 1887, the Launceston Examiner reminded its readers that the ‘visit of the Hotham team about 6 years ago marked the beginning of a new era in football in this colony’.26 Generally, their first visit was credited with spreading the gospel of Victorian Rules throughout Tasmania.

The Victorian Ascendancy

It is worth pausing on three aspects of the ascendancy of Victorian Rules in Hobart in 1879. First, it occurs after a tussle between a British imperialism represented by Boddam and his ilk and the Victorian imperialism of Cundy (who had gone to the trouble and expense of printing up 50 copies of the Victorian rules) and the VFA, which at this stage was in a heavily missionary mode. Hess et al. claim in their history of Australian Rules, A National Game that the VFA ‘adopted an evangelical approach to the advancement of the game, and its member clubs received every encouragement to play matches in provincial areas and beyond’.27

The development of Victorian Rules around Australia in this time is not so much an inevitable development ‘out of the soil’ but is a product of patterns of politicised advocacy, evangelism and imposition. The fact that the game was being exported from ‘neighbouring’ Victoria made it no less a product of cultural imperialism in Tasmania or wherever else it was taken up.

Second, the ascendancy of Victorian Rules was not complete. Controversially, the Hobart association kept the crossbar: ‘to these (goal) posts shall be attached a horizontal bar, 10ft from the ground, over which the ball must be kicked to secure a goal’.28 This was a nod to English codes of football and a sign of a residual resistance to the Victorian code. While the crossbar was bolted to the uprights, there was still the vain hope of enticing a British team to Tasmania.

As the Mercury reported on June 16, some felt this decision made
the so-called adoption of the Victorian code a mockery and a delusion, the innovation being of so glaring a character as to entirely change the form of the play, and to rob it of its principal points of interest. The post of goal keeper, to which one of the coolest and steadiest was ever appointed, and which has been an object of aspiration as a place of trust, is at once swept away, while the occupation of the goal sneak – the quickest, sturdiest and most alert of the forward players – is also gone. The changes consequent on the adoption of this single excrescence from the Rugby Union code are, however, too numerous for noting in detail.29
The association executive was accused of being a ‘star chamber’ that had added this rule after the general meeting had decided to adopt Victorian Rules. And while that seems a fair criticism, this argument had its chance to be ironed out at subsequent meetings.

It is telling that the Hobart footballers kept their crossbar until as late as 1884. In 1883, for example, the association's secretary ‘reported that he had written to all the town clubs relative to altering the rules relating to the use of the crossbar and pushing and had received replies from the whole of them, it being agreed by 136 members to 91 to keep the rules as at present’.30 In 1883, the Tasmania delegates to the intercolonial rules conference held in Melbourne argued for the installation of the crossbar in all colonies. Perhaps surprisingly, according to the Mercury, they were defeated by only 9 votes to 6!31

A third and final point relates to the idea of what game the participants thought they were playing. Had they adopted ‘a game of their own’?32 Were they (reluctantly or otherwise) playing a Victorian colonial imposition? Did they care one way or the other? It is difficult enough to establish the facts, never mind work out what was in the participants’ heads – though the following is suggestive.
At the end of the 1879 season a celebratory dinner was held in Hobart on 27 September. The footballers had settled most of their differences and unbeknownst to them were at the beginning of a long historical thread that continues today. The Mercury reports a number of speeches given that night:
Mr GIBLIN proposed the toast of the evening, ‘Success to the Tasmanian Football Association.’ (Loud and prolonged cheers.) There was not the least doubt that the game of football had taken such a hold of the young men of Hobart Town that season such as none of them could remember before. (Hear, hear.) It was a grand winter game. Many of them loved cricket with an intense love, but in our climate cricket could not be played all the year round, and there was no game to be compared to the manly old English game of football. (Cheers.)33 [emphasis added]
Giblin, it seems, was fairly confident about the nature of the game in which they were participants. The response suggests that many others agreed with him.

Soccer in the Shadows

After 1879, Association football appears to have retreated into the Hobart background until its re-emergence in 1898, and firm establishment in the early 1900s on the back of migration from the British Isles. The possible continuity of soccer in this period should nonetheless be entertained, even if imagined merely as the informal kicking-around of the remaining surplus round balls that were widely available and sold in the early 1870s.34

While those first games of soccer very much happened, they failed to happen historiographically. Archivally buried and misremembered, their status as two of the very first games of organised soccer in Australia has been lost. And they remain lost because, their discovery has had little purchase, despite the fact that one of them is the first recorded competitive inter-club game of soccer with premiership implications. Curiously, it is not even remembered by those who might be seen to have an interest in doing so, the various soccer governing bodies in Australia.35 It is barely remembered as just one game of the 1879 Hobart football season, thereby keeping in the shadows the story of the Cricketers’ cameo role in the grander narrative of soccer's early Australian rumblings.

The received history is that Australian Rules (via Melbourne Rules and Victorian Rules) football was played in Hobart from the beginnings of organised football in Tasmania. It is historically inaccurate but remains a culturally powerful truism. It is an error that is repeated and compounded by mythologisers who have their purposes and historians who should know better.

The website ‘Tasmania AFL: It's Time’, devoted to the ongoing attempt to establish a Tasmanian team in the AFL (the national Australian Rules competition) understandably appeals to ideas of the historical depth of Australian Rules in Tasmania and the state's cultural commitment to the game. It notes that ‘Tasmania has a long and proud football history, dating back to the 1860s. Ours was the first state outside of Victoria to play the game, with football clubs established in New Town, Derwent and Stowell in and around 1864.’ It happily claims these clubs for Australian Rules, skirting around the historical complications, and asserts, nonetheless correctly:

A number of clubs came and went and by 1879, the Tasmanian Cricket Association had officially formed a club (called the Cricketers) and Hobart had four senior football teams. Arguments about the rules of the game were solved at a meeting of club secretaries on 12 June, 1879, which formed an association and decided to adopt Victorian Rules with slight modifications.36

Given the nature and political project of the organisation making the argument, its use of this shorthand mythology is entirely expected and not particularly unreasonable.37

For a professional historian, such errors are less forgiveable. Geoffrey Blainey's A Game of Our Own is one of the influential and most respected histories of Australian Rules football. Its section on early football in Tasmania, while acknowledging the uncertainty of codes in the colony, nonetheless constructs Melbourne Rules as the norm against which other codes butted. Blainey writes on a football game in Launceston in 1875, intended to be 11 versus 11 but which ended up as 11 versus all comers:
This particular match was closer to Rugby than to the football normally played in Melbourne, for the players on various occasions obtained a ‘touch down’ and with it the right to kick for goal. Four years later football in Launceston, unmistakeably, was played according to the Australian rules.38
Rhetorically, Blainey presents the Launceston game as a departure from the norm. Despite quibbles that could be made about the fact that ‘touch downs’ were performed in many forms of football other than Rugby and that the ‘Australian Rules’ did not exist in 1879, the important error here is the inadvertent deception of constructing Tasmanian football as Victorian Rules in embryo. This is compounded by an illustrating photograph, anachronistically representing the post-ascendancy Southern Tasmanian football team from 1890 (with its characteristic sleeveless playing vests, bulging biceps and brimming confidence) as a pictorial example of a moment 11 years earlier when Tasmanian football is actually in disarray. Blainey's subsequent mentioning of Tasmanian football is to Hotham's visit in 1881 – when the code war is over and Victorian Rules is established as the Tasmanian winter game.

Most historians (amateur and professional) allow for the fact that a lot of the football played around Australia in the 1850s and 1860s was often an undifferentiated and usually locally ‘flexible’ set of behaviours. Many, however, are in error because they fail properly to trace the shift to codification. Sometimes a convenient look away (in the vein of a professional wrestling referee) allows Australian Rules to be there in place smiling innocently when the historian returns to the narrative. Almost all amateur histories do this; as do some professional accounts. Series of tussles, arguments and code wars get effaced in this process, whereby competing codes and claims are written out of the narrative. David Young, for example – whose Sporting Island, a history of Tasmanian sport is spatially generous towards soccer39 – nonetheless commits this kind of error. Despite the momentary formal adoption of Association rules in 1879, which Young acknowledges, soccer is only ‘introduced’40 like a species foreign to Tasmania in the late 1890s, whereas Australian Rules ‘rises’41 like a tree from the soil. The indexing convention adopted for the book also embeds a particular narrative. Soccer and the rugby codes are given their own entries, whereas Australian Rules sits within the generic entry on football (alongside all references to pre-codified forms of the game).

The same kind of flaw applies to many of the histories of Melbourne football, with some notable exceptions. Other codes are excluded from historical consideration by the invention of a great Australian Rules tradition which, having acknowledged (or asserted) its contemporary social dominance, looks back over history and colonises the lot for itself.42 The circular logic runs: if there's a reference to a game of football in a Melbourne newspaper in the 1850s then it must be to Australian Rules football because all football games in colonial Victoria lead inevitably to present-day Australian Rules. An example of this can be found in Phil Roberts’ history of the North Ballarat Roosters. Citing an example of an eleven-a-side game in Melbourne in 1850, Roberts suggests that whether ‘this was an “Aussie Rules” game is open to question, but it is an evidence of the start of Melbourne's football’.43 It is simply not open to question because it could not have been Australian Rules. But the rhetorical trick has already been taken. Merely raising the question introduces the notion that even if it is not Australian Rules per se, because it occurred in the city that came to be dominated by Australian Rules it is therefore Australian Rules in embryo.44

Hess et al. attack this kind of logic head-on. They are very careful to argue that the game inaugurated by Wills and his fellows in 1858 is an English game introduced to the colony and not some inevitable genealogical progression from pre-existing games. They point out that ‘Wills and others made it known in the press that they had introduced a new code of football into the colony – not that they had adopted and reshaped a game that was already in existence’.45 The Australian-Rules-in-embryo argument is ruled out by this reasoning. Games played resembled the Melbourne rules to come, but they also had many differences.

Soccer historians also need to take this argument on board. It would be ahistorical to look for organised soccer prior to the game's codification in England in 1863. Yet attentive historians nonetheless need to keep their eyes and minds open for games resembling soccer being played well back in Australian history. As Roy Hay has claimed, ‘Football probably more closely akin to the association football rather than what became Australian Rules was being played in and around Melbourne in the mid-nineteenth century’.46

Evidence suggests that Warrnambool Football Club was established as an ‘English Football’ club in 1861. According to the club's web site, on 4 June 1861
Warrnambool was the scene of a game of ‘English football’ in which two goals were scored. Shortly after the second of them the ball burst, bringing a premature end to the proceedings, with no victor declared. However, the sport itself appears to have been a winner, and today's Warrnambool Football Club traces its origins all the way back to that winter of 1861, making it among the oldest football clubs in Australia.47
Warrnambool FC is one of the oldest football clubs in Australia and it has been an Australian Rules club for almost all of that history. But a game more resembling soccer might well have been thereabouts at its origins. It has already been shown that Hobart's New Town FC (an earlier incarnation of present-day Glenorchy Magpies FC) played soccer before they played Australian Rules.

But these foundation narratives are hegemonic and soccer counter-narratives are rarely taken seriously. Because of this entrenchment it is not just a simple matter of correcting foundation errors and allowing the truth to unfold. Like fallen boulders that have caused the damming of a creek and whose removal has no consequence once the dam is established, their consequences need to be dismantled and unravelled. Such errors have been a deep impediment to attempts to write other histories.

When Chris Hudson came to compile his comprehensive history of soccer in Tasmania, A Century of Soccer, 1898–1998, he began with the claim that ‘British Association Football first came to Australia in 1880’,48 repeating the three intertwined myths: soccer's late importation; Australia's soccer origins in Sydney and Australian Rules’ Tasmanian universality. Guided and blinded by these narratives, Hudson inadvertently ignored a crucial part of his own state's history. This is no slight on Hudson. The corrective documents are buried in the archive and hard to find. And it would have required a wilful disregard of, and resistance to, the established narratives to allow him look for a game so early on.49

On the other hand, fortune might have smiled upon him. Had he happened upon the elements of the earlier discussion in relation to W.H. Cundy from 1931, his project would have been altered fundamentally and positively. While probably not representing veracious history, Cundy's recollections are a fascinating warning bell to the historian bent on citing origins. Cundy makes the verifiable claim that Southern Tasmania only just adopted Victorian Rules football by one single vote. While soccer had its disciples at that time, it did not have enough to carry the day.
Discovery of the following letter from James Sprent to the Mercury on July 3, 1926 would have caused an even more serious rethinking by Hudson. Possibly error-ridden itself, the letter is nonetheless usefully suggestive of leads to follow. The final sentence urges a major re-conceptualisation of both the content and the method of Hudson's study.
‘Referee’ states that Soccer was first started in Tasmania by the late Mr J. B. B. Honeysett in 1912. Re-started would be more correct, as the game was played regularly in Hobart during 1900, 1901 and 1902. Australian Football in this State being under a cloud at the time several old Soccer players combined to introduce the game, and the chief credit must be given to the Rev. F. Taylor, of Holy Trinity, now of Longford. He had played for Durham University, and had, I think, captained the team. Rev. H.H. Anderson, of Hutchins School, was another old player: in fact, the first practice was held on his ground. T.F. Hills, of Friends’ School, a gigantic centre forward had also played in good company at Home. Three teams were formed, University, Gunners, and Sandy Bay, the two latter being from the volunteers. Regular matches were played for three years, and if the skill of the new recruits was not great, we nevertheless had a lot of fun. Later the Australian game regained its popularity, chiefly owing to the efforts of the late W.H. Gill, and the University declared for the old game again. So for a while Soccer was neglected. But if ‘Referee’ cares to do a bit of research work as to the origin of the game in Tasmania I can give him the address of an old friend, who swears that a round-ball game was played regularly on the Domain over 50 years ago.50 [emphasis added]
Sprent's letter intimates an important point: the latent potential of soccer rapidly to move into spaces vacated by dominant codes when they make way, either voluntarily or reluctantly. It is not known whether ‘Referee’ ever got around to visiting the ‘old friend’. In all likelihood his stories died with him. But if Sprent was correct soccer was played in Hobart in 1876 or earlier.

The following reflection from 1876 relates to a particularly violent game of football in Hobart, one which created a deal of public rancour and press correspondence. The game was probably not soccer, but the response seems to be a clear expression of one individual's impulse towards the kicking game:
SIR, I am a Lancashire man, but to be more precise in locality ‘a Bolton Felly.’ Any townsman of my age cannot but remember the seven clog shin kicks (or purring) of those days. The opposing sides generally kicked in Bradshawgate or Church gate. It was a warfare of English v. French, and football has long to be remembered by those engaged in, I may say, these Waterloo contests.
At a match like this, which includes legs and arms and objectionable exclamations, temper is hard to keep. The recent contest in Hobart Town between the City and New Norfolk Clubs, calls up to memory the scenes I witnessed half a century ago; but without a bias, I would recommend to all clubs, more of the feet and less of the fists and jaw.
Yours truly. 
BOLTON FELLY,
August 5th.51
Do Sprent and ‘Bolton felly’ point to a soccer sensibility of long residence in Tasmania and, by extension, Australia? It is a vital question because an affirmative answer explodes a number of origin myths.

Brisbane 1875

It is not necessary to speculate about cultural silences and faint archival traces to assert that the Sydney-origins thesis has been dismantled. But nor will it do to replace the Sydney thesis with an earlier Hobart variation. The Hobart Cricketers’ two matches were not the first games of soccer (codified or otherwise) in Australia. A number of earlier games were also played.

One took place on Saturday August 7, 1875 in Woogaroo (now Goodna) just outside of Brisbane. The Queenslander reported that the Brisbane FC met the inmates and warders of the Woogaroo Lunatic Asylum on the football field in the grounds of the Asylum: ‘play commenced at half-past 2, after arranging the rules and appointing umpires; Mr Sheehan acting as such for Brisbane, and Mr [Jaap] for Woogaroo. One rule provided that the ball should not be handled nor carried’.52 In itself this description is not enough to justify the claim that the game is Association football. The clinching evidence comes from the Victorian publication The Footballer in 1875 which notes in its section on ‘Football in Queensland’ that the same ‘match was played without handling the ball under any circumstances whatever (Association rules)’.53

A fascinating story is waiting to be told about why the Woogaroo Asylum played soccer when all other clubs in the region were playing Rugby or a Queensland variation on the Melbourne rules.54 It may well have boiled down to the preference of an authority Figure (in this case the Asylum's superintendent, John Jaap) or even the players themselves.55 Jaap was the superintendent of the Asylum between 1872 and his death at 39 years in 1877.56 He graduated from Glasgow University with an MD in 185857 and probably resided in Britain until he was married in London 1869.58 In January 1871 he was living and working as a doctor in Warwick, Queensland, prior to taking up the post at Woogaroo.59

Jaap was noted for implementing humane methods and programmes at the Woogaroo institution. He ‘employed patient labour to establish a piggery and farm pursuits, which were a feature of the asylum for many years. Jaap drew attention to the overcrowded conditions at the asylum, a perennial problem which plagued the institution for most of its existence’.60 He also supervised the implementation of a sports programme. For example, in November 1873 the Asylum held a sports day and ball.

Following the humane and indulgent treatment which characterises the modern system of dealing with the insane, the Surgeon superintendent of the Woogaroo Lunatic Asylum (Dr Jack) afforded the patients in that institution an excellent day's amusement on Saturday last, in the shape of athletic sports, &c, with a ball in the evening.61

Football can be seen as part of a continuum of ‘improving’ activities established by Jaap, who would very likely have been in favour of Association rules, given that he learned his organised football at Glasgow University. David Murray notes that the game there was
a dribbling one, the ball must be kicked and could not be carried or handled, no collaring or hacking was permitted and there was little rough play. If the ball was caught in the air a free, that is an undisturbed, kick was allowed. The player who held the ball dropped it from his hand and kicked it as [it] fell. The game was practically the same as Hand Ball as regards numbers and manner of playing; in the one case the ball was struck with the hand and the other with the foot.62
There were at least two other games of football under Jaap's supervision, an earlier one against Brisbane FC on July 19, 1873 and one against Rangers FC on June 24, 1876, though there is no indication of the code used in those games. Were the 1873 game found to have been played under Association rules (as might have been likely under Jaap's direction) it would be the earliest codified game on record in Australia.

The Chimera of Origins

But nor would this be the very first game of soccer in Australia. There is little doubt that there were earlier games, less formal, less structured perhaps and which escaped the notice of the press. Hay's recent work on football in Australia in the 1850s, influenced by Adrian Harvey and others, has begun to gather the unearthed traces of rule-bounded small-sided games brought to Australia from Britain and Ireland well before the codification of Australian Rules.63 Some of these would have been games with a strong developmental link to present day soccer in Australia.64

The nearly disabling problem for this kind of research is that as researchers venture archivally backward in time the images become more blurred and the distinctions between codes become harder to make. Even as potential origin points become temporally closer they recede into the shadows of archival absence. Gavin Kitching suggests that football historians need to look at how football codes develop rather than discover when they begin.65 Kitching also cites personal correspondence from Tony Collins who makes the vital point that
the problem with looking for the ‘origins’ of football is that it almost inevitably reads history backwards – almost all historians of ‘football’ look at history through a teleological lens, projecting current concerns and configurations backwards onto the past. At its simplest level this can be found in the assumption that ‘football’ is a synonym for their favoured modern code of football.66
Yet the dilemma for football historians lies in the necessity of engagement with the established origins that lie at the heart of the professional and amateur historiography of all major sports, origins that both orient and limit debate. Moreover, present-day administrators compound the problem by using anniversaries of origin to generate publicity. They help to get stories rolling: ‘Once upon a time Wills or Webb Ellis or Doubleday did something so special that they got a great game started’. Aside from often being simply incorrect, origin theses tend to nurture hegemonic narratives that by their very nature rule counter-narratives out of bounds.

The great historian of the counter-narrative, E.P. Thompson, famously claimed the English ‘working class did not rise like the sun at an appointed time. It was present at its own making’. With apologies it might be argued that ‘Soccer did not arrive in Australia at an appointed time. It was present at its own arrival’. Even as soccer was ‘getting off the boat’ in its organised Brisbane, Hobart and Sydney articulations, soccer was already here in the ghostly presence of its pre-figurative forms and isolate kickists. To borrow once more from Thompson, football historians cannot allow either to suffer from the ‘enormous condescension of posterity’.67 Recalibrating the study of football origins to better register the processes of development and innovation68 is a fine start.

Endnotes can be found via the  International Journal of the History of Sport.


Friday, 27 March 2015

Melbourne Soccer: I'm Not A Racist, But....

Melbourne Soccer: I'm Not A Racist, But....: During the week an item on the FFA Cup website heralded the arrival of a new club called Shamrock Rovers Darwin. Quite how this club formed...

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Australian soccer teams from World War 1

These are randomly selected photographs from the Australian War Memorial collection. They represent teams of Australian soccer players or games of soccer being played by Australians during World War 1. I selected them from among a number of other football photographs (rugby and Australian rules) and have ignored photographs where the code was not clear. I have also left out the substantial number photographs of interned German players in Australia.

The AWM database information is included.


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. The Greek government lent the island to the Allies as a base for operations on the Gallipoli Peninsula. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C01191/



Australian Flying Corps Christmas Day Sports. Football match. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C03957/


The Australian Army 12th Training Battalion football team at an unidentified camp. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/H18925/


Outdoor portrait of two Allied Prisoner of War (POW) football teams and officials at Soltau POW camp near Hanover, Germany. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P08218.008/


Outdoor portrait of an Allied Prisoner of War (POW) football team of eleven members and two officials at Soltau POW camp near Hanover, Germany. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P08218.007/


An outdoors group portrait of unidentified members of the Soccer Football team of the 1st Australian Pioneer Battalion. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/E04098/


Group portrait of the football team from the destroyer HMAS Huon. The Huon was headed for patrol work around Malaysia, with a base at Sandakan in British North Borneo. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/EN0192/


Outdoor group portrait of twenty-one unidentified allied prisoners of war (POW), probably a football team and associated personnel, at Güstrow POW camp, Germany. The soldier sitting in the front row, second from the right is holding a football with "1918" written in white. One of a series of 157 images from the collection of 4199 Sergeant William Charles Groves, 14th Battalion, an Australian prisoner of war held at Güstrow POW camp in Germany. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P09591.106/


The 1st Pioneer Battalion football team with supporters standing behind the team. The men are probably reinforcements for the 1st Pioneer Battalion at the Pioneer Training Battalion. The Australian soldier, wearing a slouch hat and standing just to the right of the footballers, has been identified as 2130 Private John Jonas, an Aboriginal serviceman who was attached to the Pioneer Training Battalion between 13 August 1916 and 2 November 1916. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P00960.003/


Group portrait of unidentified members of No 1 Command Depot, Sutton Veny, Soccer Football Team, who were the 1918 Premiers. Lieutenant Colonel W O Mansbridge DSO, 44th Battalion is seated in centre of second row. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/A03388/


An outdoors group portrait of the Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel William Reginald Ffrench DSO MC and unidentified members of the soccer football team of the 1st Australian Machine Gun Battalion sitting on a field. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/E04151/


Group portrait of the football team from HMAS Sydney. Third from the left in the middle row is probably Boatswain Alfred Moule Martin. On his left is Captain John Collings Taswell Glossop, RN. Along with HMAS Melbourne, the Sydney was engaged in patrols of the North Atlantic off Long Island and of the Caribbean, with bases in Halifax and Jamaica respectively. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/EN0191/



Group portrait of unidentified members of the 2nd Australian Pioneer Battalion soccer team. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/H00537/


Feuquieres, France. 3 January 1919. Presentation of medals by Commanding Officer (CO), 35th Battalion to C Company (Coy) "soccer" team, winners of inter-company football competition played at Merelessart Chateau, on steps of the Mairie [Town Hall] in the village square. Left to right: Major H. J. Connell DSO MC & Bar, Second in Charge; Lieutenant Colonel H. F. White DSO Croix de Guerre, CO; Private (Pte) D. Lee; Captain R. V. Lathlean MC & Bar, OC C Coy; Corporal (Cpl) H. Randall; Cpl L. Whittaker; Pte Yarrow; Lance Corporal J. Mitchell; Pte J. Thraves. At left, foreground, is "Chick" the mascot of the Battalion transport section presented by a Flemish woman in January 1917 at Pont De Nieppe. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C04112/


Group portrait of an allied Prisoner of War (POW) football team, possibly at Dulmen POW camp, Germany. The team consists of five Australians, two Canadians, four Englishmen and two Frenchmen. In the background are two Russians and one Italian. Identified standing in the back row of the group, second from the left (and marked with an x) is 3388 Private (Pte) Frederick William Nichols, 3rd Battalion, from Junee, NSW, who enlisted on 29 June 1915 at the age of 18 and embarked for overseas on 2 November 1915 aboard HMAT Euripides. Identified standing in the back row fourth from the left (and marked with an x) is 3288 Pte Thomas Harrison Dobson, 1st Battalion, from Auburn, NSW, who enlisted on 18 July 1915 at the age of 21 and embarked for overseas on 5 October 1915 aboard HMAT Themistocles. Identified kneeling in the centre row (and marked with an x) is 3467 Pte Herbert Alfred Wilkins, 3rd Battalion, from Howlong, NSW, who enlisted on 20 July 1915 at the age of 24 and embarked for overseas on 2 November 1915 aboard HMAS Euripides. Identified sitting in the front row on the far left is 4151 Pte John Joseph Costello, 54th Battalion, from Sydney, NSW, who enlisted on 20 August 1915 at the age of 23 and embarked for overseas with the 2nd Battalion on 20 December 1915 aboard HMAT Aeneas. Identified sitting in the front row, second from the left is 3112 Pte Stephen Soper, 53rd Battalion, from Sydney, NSW, who enlisted on 8 July 1915 at the age of 21 and embarked for overseas on 8 October 1915 aboard HMAT Warilda. All of the five Australians were captured at Fleurbaix, France, on 20 July 1916 and held as POWs in Germany until repatriated to England on 29 November 1918. They all arrived back in Australia the following year. The postcard was sent to the Australian Red Cross in London by 4512 Pte Percy Arthur Haslam, 54th Battalion, from Newcastle, NSW, who enlisted on 28 July 1915 at the age of 24 and embarked for overseas with the 13th Battalion on 16 February 1916 aboard HMAT Ballarat. He was captured at Laventie, France, on 20 July 1916 and held as a POW in Germany. On 14 October 1917, he wrote from the POW camp at Dulmen "The advice of the despatch of the Boxing Gloves was hailed with delight by the boys. Would you send a couple of packets of playing cards and a few parlour games to help pass the time during the winter nights. The football which has provided such good sport for us will soon have to be put aside for milder weather conditions as the winter is very severe." Pte Haslam was repatriated to England on 5 December 1918 and arrived back in Australia on 29 February 1920. One of a series of over 400 photographs sent by Australian POWs in German camps to Miss M. E. Chomley, Secretary, Prisoners Department, Australian-British Red Cross Society, London. Original album housed in AWM Research Centre at RC00864, Album image number 348. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P03236.289/


Outdoor portrait of Prisoners of War (POW) and their German guard at POW camp Munster 3, Germany. The POW sitting in the centre is holding a football inscribed "432 F.C. 1918" and the two sitting in front are holding a dog and a rabbit, probably mascots. Identified standing in back row, second from right is 3219 Private (Pte) Raymond Edward Stevens, 54th Battalion, from Bega, NSW who enlisted at the age of 21 on 2 August 1915 and embarked for overseas on 20 November 1915 aboard HMAT Suevic. He was captured at Fleurbaix, France on 20 July 1916 and held as a POW until repatriated to England on 14 December 1918. Pte Stevens arrived back in Australia on 4 March 1919. Identified standing in back row on far right is 3536 Pte Charles Joseph McCue, 53rd Battalion, from Manly, NSW who enlisted at the age of 20 on 18 August 1915 and embarked for overseas on 2 November 1915 aboard HMAT Euripides. He was captured at Fleurbaix, France on 20 July 1916 and interned at various German POW camps. He was repatriated to England on 14 December 1918 and arrived back in Australia on 26 March 1919. He re-enlisted in the Army in the Second World War and served from 13 December 1939 to 29 September 1943. Identified sitting in second row, second from right is 3067 Private (Pte) James McCullock Galloway, 55th Battalion, from Balmain, NSW who enlisted at the age of 20 on 4 August 1915 and embarked for overseas on 20 December 1915 aboard HMAT Suevic. He was captured on 20 July 1916 during the fighting around Fromelles on the Somme, France. He was held in German POW camps until he was repatriated to England in December 1918. Pte Galloway embarked to return to Australia on 2 March 1919. Identified sitting in second row on far right is 3339 Pte John Francis Killalea, 53rd Battalion, from Surry Hills, NSW who enlisted at the age of 43 on 15 August 1915 and embarked for overseas on 2 November 1915 aboard HMAT Euripides. He was captured at Fleurbaix, France on 20 July 1916 and held as a POW in Germany. Pte Killalea was repatriated to England on 14 December 1918 and arrived back in Australia on 26 March 1919. Identified sitting in front row, holding the rabbit, is 3563 Private (Pte) Herbert George Lohmann, 54th Battalion from Balmain, NSW who enlisted on 2 November 1915 and embarked for overseas on 12 December 1915 aboard HMAT Berrima. He was captured at Laventie, France, on 20 July 1916 and was interned in at least two POW camps in Germany. He was repatriated to England on 14 December 1918 and arrived back in Australia on 26 March 1919. One of a series of over 400 photographs sent by Australian POWs in German camps to Miss M. E. Chomley, Secretary, Prisoners Department, Australian-British Red Cross Society, London. Original album housed in AWM Research Centre at RC00864, Album image number 194. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P03236.164/


An outdoors group portrait of unidentified members of the 1st grade soccer team of the 9th Battalion and an unidentified officer, on a playing field. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/E04227/


Outdoor group portrait of members of the Scottish-born soccer team on the occasion of a match between Scottish and English-born players at Fremantle, 1914. The Scottish team, dressed in the Caledonian Soccer Club strip, won the game, one goal to nil. Identified in this photograph are players from the Caledonian Soccer Club who later served in the AIF. Back row standing are: third from left, 421 Private (Pte) James Durward, 11th Battalion, D Company; fifth from left, 28654 Gunner (Gnr) Alexander Marr, 10 Field Artillery Brigade; seventh from left, 25977 Driver (Dr) Robert Brodie Dewar, 3 Divisional Ammunition Column, 2nd Reinforcements. Middle row, seated, are: far left, 2705 Pte James Simpson, 16th Battalion, 8th Reinforcements. Pte Durward (later Sergeant), Gnr Marr and Dr Dewar all returned to Australia following the war. Pte Simpson, who was transferred to the 48th Battalion in March 1916, was killed in action near Pozieres on 7 August 1916. Pte Simpson has no known grave; his name is recorded on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial, France. This photograph also appeared in the Western Mail, Friday 1 May 1914, and is part of a collection of eight photographs relating to the Caledonian Soccer Club, Fremantle, WA. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P08210.008/

Group portrait of the soccer team representing the crew of HMAS Sydney. Two of the men have tattoos on their forearms. On the far right of the back row is an unidentified midshipman. HMAS Sydney was at the southern naval base of the Royal Navy's Grand Fleet, near the Forth of Firth, Scotland, during a break from patrols of the North Sea with the 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/EN0334/




Tuesday, 24 March 2015

I Am Not a Professional Historian: I’m a Human Being

I am not a professional historian. Yes, I get paid to research and write. And yes, I write history. But I am not a professional historian.

I came to my history work through the back door. More interested in rhetoric, literature and the politics and poetics of language (with a PhD in Literature), I married these to my love of sport – particularly soccer and cricket. I started to notice and analyse the way language was used in sporting media discourse in order to make preferences and discriminations in favour of certain sports and against others.

I also started to get a sense of how these discriminations happened historically. In 2009 Paul Mavroudis I interviewed a series of figures within Melbourne soccer and they all related this peculiar story of the time in November 1964 that the Slavia team played soccer against a team of VFL stars – and smashed them. Variations of the piece were published in a number of places and in on my blog as ‘When Ron Barassi Played Soccer’ http://neososmos.blogspot.com.au/2012/04/game-that-never-happened.html

But in Melbourne popular consciousness the match had been forgotten. Even one VFL star who had played in the game had no recollection of it! And Ron Barassi refused several requests for an interview. As is my wont I saw a conspiracy of silence and came up with the title, ‘The Game that Never Happened’ – the same title that was used by Greg Baum when he borrowed from my story in the Age. The more I thought the more I realised that the title applied to more than just this game. In a sense it applied to the whole history of Australian soccer. It was the game that either never happened or, if it did, disappeared from notice very quickly. This is now a trope that runs through all my soccer writing.

Another vital moment was when I discovered Trove, the magical Aladdin’s Cave at the National Library of Australia (http://www.nla.gov.au) that contains seemingly endless archival records. Anyone who hasn’t visited needs to have a quick look. Those of you with the slightest interest in soccer history will become entrapped by its charms.

I was first captivated by the photos. All these soccer teams going back to the 1890s or even further. Happy, fit soccer players and officials smiling for the camera, conveying a sense of solidity and belonging not recorded in the conventional narrative of soccer’s place in Australian sports.

Then perhaps the major discovery: the Irymple (near Mildura) team of 1913. (http://www.picturevictoria.vic.gov.au/site/mildura/images/14522.jpg)



In a mix of awe and horror I noticed that five of the players (the ones asterisked) were killed in the First World War. It was confusing because in the stories of sporting sacrifice, soccer enlistments and deaths are rarely mentioned. Other sports that make a bigger deal of Australian war dead leave soccer in the shade on ANZAC Day.

This discovery set me on a new track on which I am still working. It struck me that soccer may well have contributed a great deal of manpower to the First World War without getting due cultural recognition for having done so. After all, the game that never happened could hardly have been at Gallipoli, could it?

Well the facts are, it was at Gallipoli -- both in terms of players and games played there or in transit. Only the extent is yet to be determined. For example of the first 58 Australians to fall, about 25 were recent immigrants born in Britain. My guess is that a good portion of these were soccer players. We’ll see.

At present I am constructing a database of Victorian soccer players in 1914 and 1915 to determine how many there were and what proportions enlisted and lost their lives. At present the respective figures look the will end up something like 600: 500: 60. Again time will tell.

The digitised newspaper section of Trove is vital in this research process. While it doesn’t contain every newspaper published in Victoria during the war it holds many of them, including The Argus, The Age and The Winner (the sporting paper). These provide reasonable coverage of soccer (British Association football) during the period. Using the site’s brilliant search function, I have tagged every soccer article from the period and am now combing through each report to find team lists, goal scorers and best-player lists in order to compile club player listings. The newspapers of the time were also keen to publish stories of players going to war so this helps us in compiling our enlistment figures. The grisly accounting of war deaths is also helpful because a dead serviceman’s newspaper biography usually includes his sporting affiliations.

I figure that this project is giving due honour to Australian soccer players whose sacrifice has gone unnoticed, especially at the collective level. It also locates the game itself more centrally in an important Australian legend. When Peter Weir in the movie Gallipoli decided to depict Australians at play in Egypt, why did he choose Australian rules as the sport? It was just as, if not more, likely that Australians would be playing soccer in such circumstances.

While I enjoy the challenge of the research and the outcomes being achieved, I am troubled by aspects of it. First, politically I am of the opinion that the First World War was avoidable and not a good thing and that enlistment was also not a good thing. While I resent the fact that sports like NRL and AFL make cultural capital out of commemorating a war to which they had questionable commitment at best, I applaud the players and communities of the time who refused to do the empire’s bidding and kept their games running. I just wish these organisations would celebrate their refusal instead of someone else’s sacrifice.

So while I collect the soccer war dead, I do not do so to increase the empire’s glory but to focus on individuals, families and clubs broken by the war. Some will say (some have already) that this contradiction disables my work. I hope not but I do need to be wary of this possibility.

Another contradiction is that when I find another dead soccer soldier, my heart sinks even while I perform an intellectual fist-pump, “Yes. Another one!” Some days I have found so many dead Australian soccer soldiers in Trove that the feeling of depression has curtailed my work and I have had to move on to something else. It is draining.

In the end I comfort myself with the fact that I am researching a story that comes as an absolute surprise to those to whom I tell it. I also believe that I am doing honour to the personal sacrifices made by the individual soccer soldiers who made choices for reasons we will never know. But then again, what would I know? I’m not a professional historian.

This piece was first published in Leopold Method.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Soccer reporting in 1915 Melbourne

This is a nice example of the calibre of soccer reporting produced by one element the Melbourne press in 1915. J.W Harrison in the Winner produced some terrific articles that gave broad coverage to the game and the culture and politics around it. The article is from 19 May 1915 p 7


SOCCER
FOOTBALL FAMILY FIGHT FOR THE FLAG
HOW CLUBS ARE FARING
BY J. W. HARRISON

Britishers are immensely proud of the ready response which field sportsmen made when first the 'call to arms' sounded. It is only in keeping with the true British spirit that our athletes should eagerly volunteer for the defence of King and Empire, and when the roll of honor is published in detail of those who forsook their football uniform for the khaki and the handling of the rifle, players and followers of the soccer code will be among those who hold pride of place in the football world. And in that category the Victorian Amateur British Football Association will be numbered.

FAMILY OF SOLDIERS
In this connection a family of footballers is well worthy of mention. I refer to the three brothers Lowe, of the St. Kilda Club, all members of the Australian Expeditionary Force, whose portraits are published in this issue.The family record is one to commend itself, seeing that the trio of brothers so readily forsook their home and playing fields for the stern realities of war.Victorian soccerites are proud of them,and rightly so.

PRIDE OF ST. KILDA
The three players — T. E., A. H., and H. M. Lowe, respectively — had done yeoman service for the St. Kilda club, and that organisation rendered them all possible honor prior to their departure for active service. The Lowe family arrived in Melbourne some 14years ago from Aberdeen, the granite city of Scotland. T. E. Lowe, familiarly known as Tommy, began his career with the St. Kilda club six years ago, and became so popular that in the following season he was appointed captain of the seaside organisation. His two brothers came into prominence with St. Kilda somewhat later. Some two years ago A. H.Lowe was appointed treasurer and assistant secretary of the club, and also kept goal for the club in that period. The two abovenamed are, at the time of writing, on the high seas with the Australian Expeditionary Force, following in the wake of H. M. Lowe, who is already at the front with his brother Australians at the Dardanelles. H. M. Lowe was a promising young footballer in St. Kilda's second team. A fourth brother — Bert. — Is also in the ranks of that club.

LEST WE FORGET !
One and all were sorry to hear of the death in Egypt of Private R. Martin, formerly secretary of the Northumberland and Durham United club; and later still of the wounding of Private Waterhouse, a playing member of the St. Kilda organisation. An illuminated photograph of the Northumberland and Durham team, with an inset of the late Private Martin, has been sent to his bereaved parents. It was the gift of Mr. Bergin, a member of the N. arid D. club, who sailed on the steamer Beltanaon Saturday last on a visit to England.

WEEK-END GAMES.
The inclement weather of last weekend played havoc with the 'Soccer' programme, equally with that of other field sports. In fact, the Spotswood v. Footscray Thistle fixture had to be abandoned owing to the playing arena being flooded, and Yarraville v. Albert Park was also a game not proceeded with. It is only on rare occasions that I have known Soccer games to have to be abandoned, and invariably King Frost has been the culprit, though, of I
course, that was in another part of the world.

SAILOR SPORTS.  
The advent of the new club representing H.M.A.S.. Cerberus into the ranks of the Victorian Amateur British Foot-ball Association is being watched with interest. Though the Jack Tars struck a 'bad patch' as it were, when opposing Northumberland and Durham United on Saturday. I hear excellent re-ports of their spirit of sportsmanship which was in evidence in the whole progress of the game.

WONDERFUL GOAL-SHOOTING.
The most wonderful piece of work in Saturday's Soccer programme was the goal-scoring of W. Kilty for the North of England representatives, that player putting up four goals — all the points registered in the match. No wonder that his team members and opponents alike congratulated Kilty upon his meritorious performance. I am told that the game was one of the 'cleanest' ever seen on the N. and D. enclosure, and that the naval men would make things hum if they could get combination by playing' the same set of men week by week. Those, however, who know anything of 'the Service' realise that that is almost an impossibility.'

'NIPPY' FORWARDS
Cerberus soccer eleven proved themselves to be possessed of 'nippy' for-wards, and when they made tracks for goal took a lot of holding back. And I am aware that N. and D. know some-thing of defensive tactics! Finch, at centre forward, played a great game, and made no mistake when the opening came by placing the ball out of the reach of N. and D's, 'star' goalkeeper, Robison. For the winners, in whose ranks D. Jeffrey reappeared from retirement, owing to J. Grieves having an injured hand, Helas and Soames played their usual sound game at back. J. Ford also put up. A great game in the forward line, but H. Marsden, who was given a trial, was somewhat disappointing. Referee Dempster handled the game well.

OTHER GAMES
In Section B. of the League, a close contest was that between Birmingham and Thistle, and, after their defeat at Preston the week previous, the Brums' victory over the Scotsmen by 2 — 1 must have brought solace in its wake. Allen and Hogg were the scorers for the victors. Thistle's goal coming from the foot of A. Wood. I am wondering if the Thistle representatives are suffering from want of combination, though perhaps the season is too young to weigh form properly. 
Preston, who pleased their supporters the previous week, in their initial match at home, failed to retain their reputation when opposed to St. Kilda,a team of great promise. Nevertheless, Captain T. Bailey's eleven is capable of improving upon last week-end's performance. Church and Lamb put on the two goals for the winners in the first portion of the game.
I congratulate Prahran upon their victory over Sandringham, which should prove a stimulus to them in their future engagements. 
The new club— Brunswick — found Hawthorn too smart for them at almost all points of the game, though it maybe aptly put forward as an excuse that the lads of Brunswick have not had time to get that combination necessary for success. The near future may put a different complexion upon their prowess. And I am told that the team referred to have no reason to lose heart at Saturday's non-success.