Playing long balls into empty space since 2012.

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Review of 'The Game that Never Happened'

 McDonald (taken from Goodreads
There are certain books that I believe should be kept by any Australian soccer/football fan. One is Johnny Warren's Sheilas, Wogs & Pooftahs, as is the Hay & Murray History of Australian Football, That Night from Adam Peacock and The Death and Life of Australian Soccer by Joe Gorman.
Ian Syson's The Game That Never Happened can be added to this canonical collection, and both complements and supplements much of the historical constructs and cultural observations written of in those books I have mentioned. A monograph that is erudite and argumentative, in the best historical writing tradition, this book does more to advance an understanding of the problematic circumstances of Australian soccer's 'birth' than any other title out there.

There are numerous aspects of the book that I would like to comment upon, however before I do so I must state that I have some bias as Ian has been an online amicus of mine for a few years now, and I have a high regard for what he has been doing with Australian soccer historiography outside of this book for a similar time. So feel free to take my comments with a sizeable grain of salt.

Now, onto my specific observations and comments. It is most rewarding to see Syson take the time and intellectual care to explicitly outline the purpose of his book early on, as well as the terms of reference for how soccer and the other football codes were mired in a chaotic web of opaque identities, rules and reporting in the mid to late 19th Century. Unlike the naive and superficial historical certainties offered by propagandists of Australian Rules (aka VFL/AFL) Ian Syson has taken great care to reinstate the confusion that surely existed in the early years of football sports in Australia, with their lack of uniform codification.

It is also important to recognise that Syson has taken some care to discuss early in his monograph that the sources he relies on for the emerging years of Soccer, Australian Rules and the two Rugby codes are problematic due to issues such as vague reporting, bias and lack of illustrations. The author has made excellent use of the newspapers that were reporting on football games played across Australia in the period 1860-1890 yet he has the academic sensibilities to make critical observations on the issues these media sources have as 'definitive' historical documents.

I am also 100% on board with the polemical position that Syson takes regarding his study of Australian Soccer's "pre-history". The emphasis on the hegemonic influences that have been exerted against the code in this country is readily justified by the author's research and resultant historical conclusions. His main discourse, focused on Soccer's battle for social, cultural, political and national identity in Victoria, follows through on this argument and delivers important judgements on how precarious Soccer's position was due to such antagonistic forces exerted by the Victorian code's proponents. There are also some major insights offered through such an analysis by considering the past prevailing paradigms that were tantamount to xenophobia, or an aversion to anything that didn't fit into the emerging national mythology. Syson has provided significant and undeniable historical proof for the cultural cringe that has dogged Australian Soccer for decades, including times long before the advent of the non-Anglo migrants from the 1950s onwards.

There are plenty of other positive aspects of the book I'd like to cite. For example, the role of British teachers in the propagation of Soccer in Western Australia is a great nugget in the rich seam of mining Soccer's past in that state (and one that perhaps offers more elsewhere in Australia, with teachers in public schools instructing children in the sport or playing it at institutes of higher learning). Syson does well to pull apart the skeins of confusion over where the first organised games of Soccer were played in this country, then does a similar job surveying the later emergence of the code in regional Australia.

The chapter on Australian Soccer and World War One is a seminal work in itself, and Syson is to be commended on not just re-configuring the history of sport and the 'digger' so that the round ball game is given far more respect than previously accorded, but also by making the telling point that a good portion of our ANZAC mythos has been warped by forgetting not just Soccer, but the migrant origins of so many members of the AIF. Syson has done what any good historian should do; he has taken apart received or sanctioned 'truths' and deconstructed them thanks to a combination of credible research and cogent arguments.

I could go on enumerating more and specific examples of the worthiness of Syson's historical work, however I shan't go further regarding his use of evidence and examples to support his arguments. I will however commend him on his prose; it is almost always clear, concise and highly readable. There are occasions when he plays with some very enjoyable metaphors and allusions, which reflect upon his skills in his 'daytime' job as a lecturer in literary studies. For all the academic rigour applied to the monograph, Syson has not let academic jargon impede the book's clarity.

Before I close I must say that this is not a perfect book, and whilst it has some sins these are more from omission than commission. Firstly, the lack of a detailed and considered study of the early years of Soccer in New South Wales and the code's relationship with both Rugby Union and Rugby League is rather glaring. To be fair to the author, Syson states categorically that he uses Victoria and Australian Rules as the key points of reference for his study of anti-Soccer antagonism. This is due to the extreme strength and volatility of this resistance, hence Syson examining an in extremis situation. Perhaps the relationship between the two Rugby codes and Soccer does not serve as well in this context. Or perhaps it just comes down to space, time and available sources.

A minor quibble, and one that reflects more on my own priorities than those of others who would read this book, or on Syson himself, is the lack of consideration for military and naval influences on the growth of Soccer in 19th & early 20th Century Australia. There are mentions made of some games between Royal Navy ships' crews and Australian teams, and of course the WW1 experience is well documented. However I am curious to see if these forces are more than just ephemeral historical influences on Australian Soccer. Also, and this is a subjunctive issue to that of military forces and Australian Soccer, is the phenomenon of interned 'enemy' Aliens in WW1 and their preference for the code. Perhaps this could be an area for consideration in an expanded edition of Syson's book, or a separate journal article.

In closing, I have no hesitations in recommending 'The Game That Never Happened' to any and every Australian Soccer/Football fan, and by extension anyone who wants to try and comprehend how this nation has historically created its identity (more often than not by marginalising and 'forgetting' those that don't fit the 'approved' narrative). Ian Syson has written the most effective history of Soccer's troubled birth in this country and shown with great effect that aside from the code's own efforts at self-immolation (which occur with frustrating regularity) what we see today from the 'sokkah haters' is not just a recent invention; it goes bone deep in so many of our compatriots and the nation we live in together.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

The Game That Never Happened is about to happen

What follows is some information on my book. It is about to be published at long last.

The Game That Never Happened:
The Vanishing History of Soccer in Australia

ISBN 9780994601933
Ian Syson
Category Football (Soccer, Association football)
Pages 192
Published 01/08/2018
Binding P/B
$ARP $29.95
ISBN 9780994601933

The Game That Never Happened finishes where many other histories of Australian soccer have barely even started. It begins in the mid-nineteenth century and concludes between the two world wars, when the game suffers from a massive and perhaps crippling collapse. Australian soccer’s prehistory and early history are vital but forgotten stories. If we are ever to domesticate what is still seen as a foreign game by many important historiographical, cultural and media narratives, this story needs to be told. The lie is that soccer is the game that never happened in Australia. That lie needs to be demolished.

The book is published by Sports and Editorial Services Australia 
and is distributed by Dennis Jones and Associates  
phone:  +61 3 9762 9100 email:

Thursday, 7 June 2018


Simon Hill put this up on Facebook and I have decided to put it here in case someone with any brains decides to delete it forever. No idea who put the release out but it is cringe of the highest order. Maybe it's a parody . . . 
News Release
Sydney, June 7, 2018 – It’s officially fling season, with millions of Australians ready to put their first loved sport on hold for a passionate, short love affair with the greatest sport of all, Football (soccer).
Cricket legend Damien Fleming, Rugby champion Wendell Sailor and current Aussie Rules hero Luke Hodge will help FIFA World Cup major sponsor, Hyundai, flip some of the country’s most iconic swimming, AFL and NRL venues, into official match screening venues for key Socceroos games.
Our sport-loving nation holds its affection mostly for Rugby League and Aussie Rules, which are also our two biggest sporting codes during the winter. However, patriotism will soon kick in and Australians will get behind the Socceroos in the world’s most widely viewed sporting event.
Australia’s fling rate with FIFA World Cup is on the rise with 40% more Australians tuning in for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil compared to 2010. The number of flings is expected to increase again this year.
Some of our greatest heroes, whilst reluctant to admit football is a better sport than their own codes, agree the FIFA World Cup’s fling appeal is its sheer scale, with 32 countries battling it in out the finals after two years of qualifiers among more than 210 nations.
Damien Fleming, former Australian cricketer and commentator, highlighted the one thing the FIFA World Cup has over Cricket:
“What makes the FIFA World Cup such great fling material is the opportunity it gives to so many people and nations around the world, which creates an exciting event for people to get behind. Cricket has a world cup next year and only 10 teams are competing in that, which I think is too small!”
Rugby legend Wendell Sailor is one of the 56% of Football fans who are also fans of Rugby League. He happily conceded there is one other thing Football has over NRL
“The one thing better than my code is the penalty shoot outs and sudden death. You can’t beat that. You’re literally sitting on the edge of your seat!”

Launching 'The Pearl' by John Harms

State of Origin in Melbourne jogged this in my memory. It's the launch speech I made for John Harms' The Pearl, his bio of Steve Renouf, at the North Fitzroy Arms in 2005. People might be interested in how much I characterise myself as a rugby league supporter. I was certainly surprised. I'll ponder more about this.
John invited me to speak today possibly because I’m one of the few people he knows in Melbourne who cares passionately about both Rugby League and writing. We’re possibly a rare breed anywhere. But definitely so in Melbourne.
Coming to Melbourne after living most of my life in Queensland was a great move for me. I could go on about the positives: but there was one great negative: the absence of Rugby league – whether live, on television and radio, in the print media. My main winter sporting interest was relegated from pre-eminence to the bottom of the pile. Even when I lived in New Zealand in the early 80s I had been able to keep in better contact with the fortunes of my team, St George than I was able to in Melbourne in 1994.
As a result I’ve lost a little contact with Rugby League. I occasionally go to watch Melbourne Storm but I feel as if I’m watching something alien to what I loved about the game in the 70s, 80s and early 90s.
Hopefully, this helps to explain why I read John’s book in one day. A couple of months back I was off work sick and received John’s book in the morning mail. I finished it that night.
I’m a sponge for writing about Rugby League – especially when it’s well-written and thoughtful with a good sense of the game’s history.
But it was more than just the Rugby League content that kept me riveted. There are at least four things I admire about this book.
1. John Harms is a bloody good writer. He writes with a lightness of touch and a clarity that is truly enviable. He’s funny. He’s not afraid to be child-like and vulnerable in the way he expresses himself either.
A few weeks ago he had a terrific piece the Age about two contradictory aspects of Australian Rules Football.
I had footy in me, but not in the way the tough kids had it in them. Theirs was Clockwork Orange football, whereas mine was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
But I think the most admirable quality of his writing in this book is his creation of a mood or a tone that captures the Brisbane I remember to a tee – an atmosphere of brightness and freshness undercut by a deep inferiority complex and ideas of persecution. In relation to sport this became a brash confidence never quite confident enough to spill over into arrogance. When we win we win because it’s only right.
2. This book is the story of a great player’s life told well. John has done the research; he’s become acquainted with Steve and his family and has revealed a life that is interesting in itself. He has also revealed a character who seems unclear about his role in life after football – especially his role in Aboriginal politics.
3. It’s a book that recognises the importance of Aboriginality in Australian sport and society. The book charts the changes in attitudes of the media and sports administrators to Aboriginal sportsmen over the past two decades. John reminds of the disgrace of the treatment of Eddie Gilbert and how much things have changed. But he also demonstrates how far there is to go on this issue. Steve’s wife Elissa makes this contradictory defence of her parents’ attitude towards Steve. “It was just because he was an Aboriginal bloke. They weren’t prejudiced or anything, they just didn’t want their daughter to be going out with an Aboriginal.”
John’s contrast between Anthony Mundine and Steve’s attitude towards Aboriginal politics is a highlight of the book.
4. The book has some great Rugby League writing in it. A passage on p194 is particularly memorable. But perhaps the moment that convinced me how good this writing is is his description of Steve’s try in the 1992 Grand Final on p 124.
Reading this I was gripped and transported and willing Renouf over the line. For a St George supporter, that’s something akin to treachery, though I’d prefer to see it as reconciliation.
Finally, I am pleased to say that John Harms has outed himself with this book. Outed himself as a passionate Rugby League fan. He couldn’t have written this book if he wasn’t.
When John first came to Melbourne a couple of years ago I thought in a more cynical moment (just what we need: a Queenslander spruiking for AFL). Reading this book has made me realise that John is much more than this. While he clearly is a lover of AFL and his perennially underperforming team he is more than this; he is a sportswriter of the highest order.
If you haven’t read John yet, buy a copy of this book and find out why. If you have read him you won’t need me to convince you.

Monday, 8 January 2018

In Search of Jock Murray

Paul Nicholls

As so often happens, this tale, about footballer “Jock” Murray, came about while I was searching for something else. It was just a snippet in a newspaper that caught my eye. About a sportsman whose life was cut tragically short. Soon I felt compelled to follow the lead.

My search for Jock Murray reveals as much about community and family as it does about football. I hope this story can do some justice to the memory of Jock, who played for the St George club in Sydney in the 1920s.

John Percival Carr Murray, was born in Roslin, Scotland, in either 1896 or 1897. The family emigrated to Australia just before the outbreak of the first world war and settled in the southern Sydney suburb of Hurstville.

Like many Scottish migrants, the Murrays brought with them a love of football.

Jock first made an impression at his junior club, Balmain Thistle. In 1920 he joined Dulwich Hill, playing as a fullback. In a game against St George he came on as an injury reserve and scored two goals. The victory must have been made all the sweeter since his younger brother Bob was playing for the opposition. Dulwich Hill went on to win the Charity Cup that season.

The following year, Jock and Bob turned out for Hurstville United. With Jock at centre-forward and Bob on the wing, they terrorised opposition defences. Jock scored in almost every match including four in one game against Arncliffe.

In a cup tie against Balmain Gladstone, the brothers were unstoppable. One reporter said, “He (Jock) was responsible for the whole of the three goals on Saturday. Bob, his brother, played with his usual dash, and by his accurate centres, helped Jock to finalise on two occasions.”

Hurstville won the 1921 Metropolitan junior premiership and the club considered amalgamating with St George in an attempt to push for First League status. Jock was a vocal supporter of the idea but the amalgamation didn’t happen and he joined the Balmain Gladstone club who had been promoted to the First League for the 1922 season.

It was Jock’s first taste of top flight football in Sydney. He went back to his old position of fullback but the competition was a step up in class. Although he did score in a game against Granville, Jock often found himself on the reserves bench.

The following year Jock moved to his local district club, St George, who were currently playing in the third tier of Sydney football.

St George was a great family and community club with its share of colourful characters. The half-back line consisted of three Chiswell brothers and the two fullbacks were Smarts. Describing George Smart, a reporter said, in the picturesque language of the day, “he has the physique of Jack Dempsey and kicks like a Gallipoli mule.”

St George won the competition with an unbeaten record and were promoted to the First Division second grade – effectively the second tier league.

In the 1924 season Jock had a great year for St George. He showed his versatility in one match when he substituted for the goalkeeper who came off with an injury. In another game he scored from the penalty spot. He was a hard working fullback who, “defended like a trojan.”

At club functions, Jock was the life of the party. He always had the MC duties and arranged the music and the dances. He was said to be the most popular player at the club.

A reorganisation of club football meant that St George would play in the First League in 1925. Jock was back in the top tier of Sydney football.

This time Jock would be a regular. Things got even better for the Murray family when Jock’s wife gave birth to their second child just as the football season commenced.

A Sydney football scene from the 1920s. Sydney Mail 26 May 1926, p. 21.

On 22 August 1925, St George played Canterbury at the Canterbury sports ground.

Jock had a good game and almost made the score sheet. According to a match report, “Hayes, when close to goal, gave Murray a capital opportunity but Bailey ran out and saved.”

During the match Jock slipped and fell and split open his finger. The wound was cleaned up and he continued playing.

On the Monday, Jock was persuaded to see a doctor who inserted three stitches in his finger.

But the Canterbury Sports Ground had until a few years before been a market garden. The nutrients from fertilisers such as animal manure made the soil good not only for growing cabbages and carrots, but also for bacteria.

The wound became infected. The following Sunday he was admitted to the Coast Hospital suffering from tetanus. By Friday, Jock Murray was dead.

It was a massive shock to Sydney’s football community. Over 200 mourners turned up at the graveside at Woronora cemetery. Football officials, players of rival clubs as well as supporters and players from the district attended, such as the Chiswells and the Smarts. And of course, Bob, Jock’s younger brother, great mate and occasional strike partner was there.

The death was felt throughout the St George district. A wreath was presented by the Hurstville United Rugby League club. JJ Cahill, the local member of state parliament attended the funeral as did Clarrie Tye, the vice-captain of the St George Rugby League team.

Also at the graveside was Jock’s shattered wife, holding onto their two children; a two-year old and a four month old baby.

What a sad old day that must have been. It appears that Jock Murray, the grafting, hard-working footballer for the St George club touched many hearts. He was just 28 when he died.

Well laddie, my search is over. In some small way I’d like to think I’ve found you.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Look how far we’ve come

Greg Downes

As reports of the Matildas’ historic victories over the USA, Japan and Brazil at the recent inaugural Tournament of Nations began to trickle home, I joined the many well-wishers in congratulating them. I did the contemporary thing and got on social media. I immediately tweeted “look how far we’ve come.”

As Australian women’s soccer starts to receive the media attention it deserves, I have begun to think more about this phrase. It seems to sum up the journey women’s soccer has taken.
Record attendances, television viewers and online supporters caused me to reflect on my time researching the history of women’s football in Australia, particularly the role of the pioneers in the development of their game. I followed my tweet with another, ‘the pioneers of the women’s game are cheering’.

Warwick Daily News 26 September 1921, page 5.
Sourced from Trove
Australian women’s football can be traced back over a century. They played informal games during WWI, the Great Depression and WWII. Organised games were reported in NSW and QLD during the early 1900s; in 1921 a Gabba crowd of 10,000 witnessed a game between North and South Brisbane. Yet it wasn’t until the 1970s that women’s football took on a more structured form. This was the decade in which women’s football began to take a foothold worldwide. During this period the Matildas took their name. 

Australia entered its first international competition in 1978 at the World Women’s Invitational Tournament in Taiwan. The first international women’s competition to be officially recognised took place in October 1979 when New Zealand agreed to compete over three tests for the Trans-Tasman Trophy in Sydney and Brisbane.

Now, some 39 years later, the Matildas are celebrating a long and proud history in international football, in FIFA Women’s World Cups and Olympic games. Yet, until the recent flurry of attention, women have played with little fanfare. A near total lack of media attention did not help. Australian Sports Commission (ASC) identified this as one of the contributing factors to the difficulties faced by all sportswomen in their fight for equality.

How times change.

The Matildas returned to Australia in September to face Brazil in two international friendly games held in NSW. Both events sold out with crowds of 31,000 collectively. The Matildas won both games and are now on a winning streak of seven games. They have attained a world FIFA ranking of 5th.

Sam Kerr celebrates her recent goal against Brazil. Courtesy Foxsports
Unprecedented media attention is now focused on the Matildas. They are being heralded by some as the nation’s top sporting team. How did this happen? Matildas’ coach Alen Stajcic believes the victories over Brazil were a watershed moment. Perhaps the victories mark the day the Matildas officially became mainstream. Ambitious talk of winning next year’s Asian Cup, a World Cup victory and staging the 2022 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia seems no longer a pipe dream. Women’s sport seems to be the flavour of the month. Cricket Australia and the AFL are promoting their women’s competitions and negotiating much deserved salaries.

With so much media attention, it is easy to forget about the Australian history of the game. The success of the current Matildas has provided the pioneers with an opportunity to celebrate their untold achievements. It was great to see a group of past Matildas on the field at the half time break of the Newcastle game being applauded by the large crowd. Social media was once more full of congratulations, this time including the rejoicing of past players at functions after the game. Old teammates and friends celebrated both the latest Matildas victory and also the role they played in the development of the game.

Football Federation Australia (FFA) and the Victorian Government recently announced that Victoria is next on the list to host an international series involving the Matildas. In the coming week the Matildas will play two matches against arch-rival China with games planned for Melbourne and Geelong.

This will provide another opportunity for the Victorian pioneers, and there are many, to get behind the Matildas and to bask in the joys of victory knowing that they have all played an important part in the development of women’s football in this country.

Greg Downes' main area of research interest is in  the history of women’s soccer in Australia.
He was awarded his PhD by Victoria University (2016) for his thesis on the
'oral history of women’s football in Australia’.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Melbourne football poem, 1858

There are very few examples of match description in the early days of Melbourne football. However, this poem, written in 1858 and published in Melbourne Punch (30 September) gives us a very good sense of the way football was played in Melbourne in its early organised form.
If the poem (written by a local journalist about identifiable historical facts and figures) is to be believed, early Melbourne football involved a hell of a lot of kicking and not much catching or running with the ball.
Aiming at iambic pentameter but usually getting only as far as doggerel, the poem is a remarkable document that has escaped notice—perhaps because of a prejudice against poetry as an inadequate form of documentary. This is a shame because the verse is as thorough as any other contemporary match description.

Harp of the South, whose mildewed chords unstretched,
All idly and ingloriously have dangled
Since erst the sporting minstrel boldly fetched
Those chords a wipe, and softly disentangled
Melodious strains, sweet woven, quaintly fangled,
Singing how Ireland raced with Frank the fleet,
A race that o'er their laurelled brows bespangled
Pedalian glories—once again we'll beat
Thy tuned-up strings in praise of nimble-footed feat.
By Walsh's clock 'twas half-past two
And the bard had nothing on earth to do,
But grateful felt that laggard loon
For the idle Saturday afternoon,
And drowsy, dreamy, dull, and drony,
That literary lazzarone,
Sipping his pale Martell and water
Long pondered how the time to slaughter;
Then sauntering down the street, he lags
Awhile about the Collins flags,
Where drapers lure with artful tale
Of dreadful sacrificial sale ;
(Poor souls, how sorely it must ring 'em
To immolate their silks and gingham,)
He marks new photographic faces
Unkindly gibbeted in cases.
Round goldsmiths' shops he flirts and flickers,
Takes inventories of the tickers,
With power observing strongly schooled in
He notes the holes each watch is jewelled in.
At last nose-led by ruling star
He nears the hail of Richmond car,
The driver speedily divined
The yearning of the minstrel mind,
For new sensation—" Sir," said he,
The kicking match begins at three,
I know you're going, jump up quick,
« I'm right away, the fare's a kick."
The bard he pictured lively image
Of larks about a football scrimmage,
A moment, and his hands were busy
To make quite sure he'd got a tizzy,
When finding that he was'nt stumped,
Upon the crowded car he jumped,
And squeezed as tight as barrelled haddock
Was driven to the Richmond paddock.

A score of swells were garbed in blue,
As many more in motley blue,
The first, South Yarra's careful pick
The other Melbourne's men of kick
    And on the ground they pitched
A wondrous spherical affair
Of India-rubber filled with air,
    In leather neatly stitched,
Right startling fact for human ken
How there did fifty gallant men
Their hopes and passions altogether
Concentre in a lump of leather,
Two goals at either side they fix,
Two simple unpretending sticks,
A cotton fogle torn to rags
Supplied those sticks with four small flags
    And strongly it behoves
That azure-shirted fellows should
Defend their own two bits of wood,
    And that the other coves,
The party-colored mob, should fight
With all their calcitrating might—
Each twenty men with forty soles,
Safe guarding their respective goals.
And now the kicking fun begins,
The battle of the toes and shins ;
Down went the ball, and, crushing thick,
The strife was great for primal kick,
Long scuffled then the blue and motley,
Long waged the battle fierce and hotly ;
The patience of a very Job
Was tired to get that leather globe,
Well free from strife of blow and bru'se,
And wilderness of boots and shoes,
And when at last the ba'l emerged,
Amidst their heads it skyward surged,
    Bobbing around around,
Till some one gave the thing a hoist
(In kicking skill that man rejoiced,)
    And sent it out of bound.
But swift again the springy sphere
Did midst the warrior host appear
    That host of skilful legs.
If one blue clansman's swift attack
Far sent the ball with pedal whack,
A motley foeman kicked it back,
As sure as eggs are eggs.
And as the storm of football tricks
    In wild confusion mixes,
Did many a kicker slant his kicks,
In other people's kicksies.
With varying prospect sped the day,
As blue or motley's changeful sway,
    Compelled the lively ball.
The betting ran upon the blues,
They had the heaviest pairs of shoes
    At their commander's call;
But midst the party-colored swells
There was a party, rumour tells,
    Whose well directed toes,
Unless 'tis an ex par'e statement.
To be received with some abatement,
    Were worth a score of foes,
Which seems a boastful tale, but then
It might mean either toes or men.
Now thrice the blues were nearly licked
For thrice the Melbourne men had kicked,
The ball, where rightfully afraid,
South Yarra firmed a barricade
Of chosen kickers, men in rows,
With stout resolve and stalwart toes ;
    When Wills, the Melbourne chief,
With picked-nut men of lively shin,
Banded to make a rush and win,
    And bring the blues to grief.
The rush was made, with boots embrued,
In mud, the motley men pursued,
    The nimble-bounding ball;
South Yarra's fortune then and there
Hung trembling on the merest hair,
    A fate that might appal.
The stoutest heart—'twas touch and go—
"A Fellows to the rescue ho !"
    And lots of fellows rushed.
Perspiring in cerulean shirt,
And trousers dashed with trophied dirt,
    They struggled, fought, and crushed.
But men on whom South Yarra pinned
Their faith, proved rather short of wind';
And, not to tell the truth by halves,
Some blue men kicked each other's calves;
Which muscular employ, of course,
Was wasteful exercise of force.
However, as the story ends,
The Melbourne mob out-kicked their friends,
And fair within the fatal stick,
With one triumphant joyous kick
And mad delight, still waxing madder,
They sent the India-rubber bladder.
The goal was passed, the day was won
South Yarra was completely done;
And each blue-coated player wins
A brave repute and plastered shins,
And every motley-colored kicker
Betook him to a special liquor.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

"The definitive work on the history of soccer in New South Wales"

Philip Mosely, Soccer in New South Wales, 1880–1980, Sports & Editorial Services Australia with The Vulgar Press, Bannockburn and Melbourne, 2014, xvi + 392 pp.., $39.95 (paperback), ISBN 978-0-9751970-9-7

In 1987, Philip Mosely completed a Ph.D. thesis at Sydney University entitled ‘A Social History of Soccer in New South Wales, 1880–1957’. Such was the state of affairs back then that he could not find a publisher to make it available to a broader audience. In much the same way that sport is a major force driving television viewing, it has also recently assumed growing importance in the world of publishing. Sport sells. Soccer scholar Ian Syson recently came across Mosely’s thesis and asked him why it hadn’t been published? Following discussions with stalwart Australian soccer historian Roy Hay, a decision was made to bring his old thesis into the light of day.

Soccer in New South Wales, 1880–1980, besides the original thesis includes two chapters from Mosley’s Ethnic Involvement in Australian Soccer: A History, 1950–1990 (National Sports Research Centre, Australian Sports Commission, Canberra, 1995) and ‘A Biographical Sketch of John Walter Fletcher’, who turned out for The Wanderers in the first ever game played in New South Wales against the King’s School rugby squad on Saturday 14 August 1880, and was New South Wales’ first leading soccer administrator (Appendix A, 291–300). This volume is a further reflection of the scholarship and writings on soccer that has recently blossomed in Australia, such as Roy Hay and Bill Murray’s A History of Football In Australia: A Game of Two Halves (Melbourne, Hardie Grant Books, 2014); and worldwide with the increasing number of soccer (or football) books being published.

Soccer in New South Wales, 1880–1980 is a monumental study, an example of unparalleled scholarship. Its first strength is the breadth of its research. Mosley has consulted a wide range of sources, turned over thousands and thousands of pages in doing the fundamental work necessary to understand the serendipitous course of soccer in New South Wales. The text is also liberally spiced with contemporary photos of various persons, teams and memorabilia associated with the progress of the game. Second, Mosley writes with a clear and engaging style which makes the material easily accessible for both popular and academic readers. He is to be congratulated in how he manages to weave so many different strands into a coherent whole which makes for fascinating reading.

Mosley’s account begins with the first match played at King’s School as identified above. Having such a game at one of Sydney’s prestigious private schools is indicative of how the game in New South Wales was introduced by the educated upper classes usually associated with the emergence and growth of Rugby. The game quickly became more democratic as worker immigrants from the ‘old dart’ formed local clubs and searched for nearby teams for competition. This was particularly true with the emergence of soccer in Newcastle, with miners turning to soccer as a major forum for both sporting and social interaction. Newcastle has long been a stronghold of soccer in New South Wales.

Mosley also documents the emergence and growth of soccer in other regional areas, its take up by different religious groups, factory teams, mid-week leagues and after the Second World War and the influence of immigrant groups from different parts of Europe. He also situates the discussion of soccer’s progress as it competed against rival football codes, Rugby League, Rugby and Australian Rules Football in establishing a foothold in schools (private schools favoured Rugby Union, Roman Catholic schools favoured Rugby League and state schools favoured soccer), access to grounds and stadia and press, and later radio coverage. He also documents the various splits and confrontations that occurred at the administrative level. Australia has been an immigrant society. Prior to the Second World War, most of these immigrants came from Britain, after the War from Europe. Different generations of the ‘old brigade’ found themselves being challenged by ‘new chums’ who formed their own teams and believed they had a superior style of play to Australian locals and wanted to find their place in the sun. Major administrative splits occurred in 1914, 1928, 1943 and 1957.

Mosley examines in some detail the emergence of so called ethnic clubs associated with European migration after the Second World War. Besides the split of 1957 which this engendered, he provides information on the important transitional role that these clubs played for so many new arrivals, the antipathy expressed to New Australians after the War, explanations of the violence that sometimes occurred between both players and supporters of rival ethnic groups, how the ‘Continentals’ improved and broadened the quality of play and spectator interest, Australia being banned by FIFA for the non payment of transfer fees for 31 European players from 1959 to 1963 which was associated with a boom in attendance, and how once European immigration dried up after 1961, most ethnic clubs were forced to employ English and Scottish players with an attendant loss of spectator interest in the local game.

Mosley also provides information on tours by overseas teams, and how these were used to drum up enthusiasm for the game in New South Wales and Australia more generally. He also has material on how the game was played, changes in style which mainly followed British influences until the arrival of the Europeans, and various experiments with rule changes and attempts to make the game more popular. While Mosley is interested in the commercial success of soccer, he also wishes to emphasize that for the majority of its participants, it was a vehicle for recreation and social interaction. Playing soccer, for him, is something that was just great fun.

We should all be thankful for Ian Syson and Roy Hay for inducing Philip Mosley to make his Ph.D. thesis available to a wider audience. His research of almost three decades ago has aged well. This book will be regarded as the definitive work on the history of soccer in New South Wales for many years to come.

Braham Dabscheck
Faculty of Law, University of Melbourne
First published, Soccer & Society, Vol. 18, No. 4, July 2017, Pages 593-594
Book can be ordered from Dennis Jones and Associates