Playing long balls into empty space since 2012.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Soccer at the MCG

We don't get much soccer at the MCG these days. Though I'm not too worried about that. It's not the greatest venue for the game. Steve Bracks wanted "one blockbuster a year" but we are lucky if we get that. There have been some great games there though, including the one that will not be mentioned.

Here's a game from 20 May 1925 when Victoria took on the visiting English side and lost 7-0. The Argus published this terrific photo. Don't you love the white Vs on the Victorian players' backs? Though I'm not sure the caption actually captures what is going on in the frame. I reckon it's a goal.

BRITISH ASSOCIATION FOOTBALL AT M.C.G. For the first time an all-England team of British Association ("Soccer") footballers is visiting Australia, and keen interest was taken yesterday In the first match against a Victorian team on the Melbourne Cricket-ground. An English forward (white jersey) in a spirited tussle in front of the Victorians' goal beat his opponent for a shot at goal, but Robson, the Victorian goalkeeper, turned the ball round the post.

The crowd for the game was a respectable 5600 (receipts £463). Its number must have befuddled the Melbourne journos, whose soccer coverage in this time was always meagre. The arrival of a British team however, forced their hands somewhat. This article appeared in the Argus on the morning of the game (note the dots explaining the positions):

The Argus, Wednesday 20 May 1925, page 24

An updated version of this kind of map was printed in 1951 prior to a test against England at the MCG (note the 5-5 formation!).

Updated version, the Argus, Wednesday 6 June 1951, page 12

This thin coverage was maintained for the subsequent game, a 'test' between Australia and England, at the same venue on Saturday 23 May (relegated to 'B' international status by the FA). We get a sense of the journalist previewing the game having had to brush up very quickly on his soccer information. The Argus writer has trouble coming to grips with the transition from the idea of the Victorian state team to the Australian national team and demonstrates little practical or local knowledge of Australian soccer.


Australia v. England.

Both England and Australia have made seven changes in the teams that will meet at the Melbourne Cricket ground this afternoon. Robison (goal-keeper), Aiken, Ritchie, and Orr (who played on Wednesday) the only men who retain their position in the Australian team, the new members being Maunders and McNaughton (from New South Wales). Mitchell (from South Australia), Honeysett (from Tasmania), and Bristow, W. Raitt, and Morrison (of Victoria). The side will be much strengthened by these changes. Hardy displaces Davison in goal for England, the other inclusions being Whittaker, Hamilton, Graham, Hannaford, and Batten. Batten has a reputation for scoring goals, and Graham (Millwall) is probably the best half back in the English team. Before the International match there will be a match between the juniors - red and white v. blue and white. Teams: -

Red and White. - F Smith, France, G. Whiteaway, Burr, Wilkins, G. Fairweather, Prince, Denvil, Woods, Stewart, Cunningham.

Blue and White. - McKerrall, Williamson, Lockwood, Gray, A. Fairweather, Taylor, Hawkes, Todd, E. Fairweather, Campbell, Spivey. Kick-off at a quarter to 2 o'clock.

ENGLAND. - Hardy, Whittaker, Poynton, Hamilton, Spencer, Graham, Hannaford, Simms, Walsh, Batten, Seymour.

AUSTRALIA. - Robison, Mitchell, Aiken, Bristow, Ritchie, Morrison, Honeysett, W. Raitt, Maunders, Orr, McNaughton.

Referee, Mr McLeod.

His Excellency the Governor the Earl of Stradbroke will kick off at 3 o clock.
The Argus also assumed that many of its readers would be equally bemused by the game, so it supplied an adequate description of the game, while still leaving the offside rule unclear.
The Game Described.

The following points will be helpful to those who do not thoroughly understand the game of soccer football. The field of play is an oblong, the short sides are goal lines, the long ones "touch" lines. Goal posts are placed centrally on the goal line, being 24ft between the posts, with a cross bar 8ft above the ground. There are 11 players on each side, 5 forwards, 3 half backs, 2 full backs, and one goalkeeper. The ball is out of play whenever it passes outside the oblong. Should a player propel the ball behind his own goal line, a free kick is given to the opposing side from the corner nearest which the ball passed. When the ball passes over the "touch" line it is thrown in from the spot over which it passed. With the exception of the goal-keeper, no player is allowed to control the ball with hand or arm, unless, of course when throwing-in. Goalkeepers may only handle the ball inside the penalty area which is a space between the goal line and a parallel l8 yards from that line. The game is to propel a round hall between the goal posts and under the crossbar, using only feet, head, or body. The side scoring the most goals wins the game. Play commences in the centre of the field and recommences there after each goal is seored. A player is "off-side" when he attempts to take part in the game whilst there are less than three opponents between himself and their goal line, with four exceptions - (1) when a corner kick is taken (2) from a throw in, (3) when the ball, when last played is between him and his opponents goal line, and (4) when he is in his own half of the field. A free kick is allowed to one side when an opponent handles the ball, trips a player, throws in from "touch" incorrectly, or plays whilst off-side.. When a free kick is awarded to the attackers through a defender infringing the rules inside his own penalty area, the ball is placed on a spot 12 yards from goal and only the goalkeeper may stand between the kicker and the goal. The duration of the game is 90 minutes, with an interval of five minutes at half-time.
Despite the relatively large attendance for the warm-up game, the authorities still underestimated the demand for the upcoming test match on the Saturday, possibly because they didn't comprehend the step up from state to national representation. Equally possible is that they felt that with the game going head-to-head with League and Association footy, a small crowd was likely.

The press reports suggest they were taken by surprise with spectators not able to get in until very close to game time. They also made note of the fact that many of the crowd were English migrants and so queued in an orderly fashion.

Interestingly the photographic focus of the Argus seemed very much on the English side of things. It presented a photograph of the English team meeting the Earl of Stradbroke before the game and another of a bunch of English sailors enjoying themselves at the game.

The English team lines up to meet the Earl of Stradbroke
before the game against Australia at the MCG.

English sailors enjoying the game.
The game went ahead successfully and was won quite easily by England, 5-0.

But what happened off the field made it a watershed moment in Victorian football history. A massive crowd (10,600) had been registered for a soccer match in Melbourne at the home of Australian rules football. The VFL had happiliy co-operated (unlike the South Australians) to allow the game to go ahead on its premier ground while the Melbourne first team was playing away. Such moments of co-operation have been sporadic ever since.

Even more telling than the crowd numbers (which on the face of it were on a par with only two VFL games held at the same time) were the receipts (which more than doubled those of any simultaneously held VFL game). The crowd had paid £995 to get in, a phenomenal figure for one game. The Argus reported these receipts in comparison with the figures for the weekend fixtures across the two local footy competitions.


England v. Australia.                  10, 600 £995


Richmond v. South Melbourne   22,000 £430
St. Kilda v. Fitzroy                     17,000 £415
Collingwood v. Geelong            16,000 £375  
North Melbourne v. Essendon    15,000 £350
Footscray v. Melbourne              12,000 £290
Carlton v. Hawthorn                   10,000 £230  
Total                                           92,000 £2,060  



Coburg v. Brunswick.                  7,000 £126
Northcote v. Port Melbourne       4,000 £56
Geelong v. Williamstown            2,000 £40
Brighton v. Prahran                      2,000 £27
Total                                            15,000 £249

One game of soccer took in four times the VFA's total receipt figures (figures that were boosted no doubt by the Sydney Road 'derby') and one-half of the VFL's total figure! It certainly set some minds a-thinking.

But is this the first example of soccer on the MCG? A free year subscription to Neos Osmos for the first correct response.


 Soccer Photos from the MCG

The Argus, Thursday 7 June 1951, page 9


The Argus, Thursday 1 May 1947, page 17

AUSTRALIAN SOCCER PLAYERS (white shirts) and South Africans
leap to head the ball at the Melbourne Cricket Ground this week. 
South Africa won 5-4. Sunday Times (Perth) Sunday 4 May 1947

It's football on the Melbourne Cricket-ground again - but not Australian rules.
These two players are battling out the first Olympic soccer semi-final,
between Yugoslavia and India, yesterday. Yugoslavia won 4-1.
5 December 1956.


  1. Another great story, Ian. Keep them coming. Didn't Richmond FC (Aussie Rules) play soccer on the MCG in the 19th century? If I'm correct it will be the first competition I've ever won. And the prize ...!

    A brief comment about the financial return for the England vs Australia soccer game at the MCG. Must have been a premium product. Would be fascinating to know "where the money went". The visits and locals sharing?

    Both probably needed the money, unlike the Liverpool corporate beast that mesmerised soccer fans at the MCG. Would be interesting to learn (if possible) what the entry fee was in 1951 and look at how it compares (in "real" terms) to what was charged at the MCG last night.

    Cheers, Daryl

    1. Sorry Daryl, Richmond played soccer on Punt Road Oval. Close but no cigar.

      Tassies were hammered 7-1 by Victoria at the MCG in 1912 but there is an earlier game.