By Roy Hay, first published in Geelong Advertiser, 1 August 2007, p. 43.
For many years the first evidence I could find of a soccer match being played in Geelong was in 1920, a reference I owed to a former colleague, GaryCotton.
I knew this was far too late, but finding earlier games on trawls through the sources, particularly the Geelong Advertiser, had proved fruitless.
Then the historian of the World Game, Dr Bill Murray of La Trobe University drew my attention to a brief note in the Australasian which announced that the game would be demonstrated to the students of Scotch College in Melbourne, and the Geelong Grammar School in June and July 1884, thanks to the headmasters of both schools.
I asked my friend Steve Radojevic, Bursar of the Grammar School, if he or the school archivist could check their files, but no record of the game could be found.
So it was back to the Advertiser to see if the game in Geelong took place.
There was an advertisement for the Grammar School on the front page on 1 July 1884 but only about its scholastic performances and a note, which obviously had not been proofread, saying the school would reopen after the holidays in February 1884.
But then on page three there was a notice about a game under Anglo-Australian rules to be played on Corio Oval between the Richmond and Carlton clubs from Melbourne—not the footy clubs, the soccer clubs of the same name.
The soccer clubs had been founded at least a year earlier and were playing regular matches in Melbourne and the first interstate matches between Victoria and New South Wales were played in 1883.
Next day, Wednesday 2 July 1884, the Advertiser carried a lengthy match report, detailing the teams, aspects of the rules which would be puzzling to observers, an estimate of crowd numbers and some critical comment on the code in comparison with the domestic game.
‘Some of the players exhibited much dexterity, but no excitement was created, and nearly all present voted the pastime decidedly slow, after the purely Australian method of playing football’.
Spence for the red and whites scored the first goal early in the second half, and Ware equalised for the blues late in the game, so it ended one-all.
The anonymous correspondent noted that there were around 300 people present at the start but not more than 100 remained at the end.
The writer noted that only the goalkeeper could handle the ball to prevent a goal and he could not carry it forward.
A crossbar or tape was in use to mark the height of the goal, a referee and two umpires who patrolled the wings and indicated when the ball was out of play by blowing a whistle.
The referee was a Mr. Gibbs, A. E. Gibbs, one of the pioneers of the game in New Zealand and Australia, who was later to be the representative of Australian soccer on the Football Association council in England.
Though the correspondent was cutting about the quality of the entertainment, this was quite common among domestic writers on Association Football in the period.
It did not prevent the game becoming established as a participatory sport in other parts of Australia in the 1880s, though the depression of the 1890s and the consequent fall in immigration resulted in a hiatus in Victoria.
Thereafter the code was reinvigorated in 1909 by Harry Dockerty and others when inward migration picked up again.
Subsequently the Dockerty Cup became the state-wide knock-out Cup which was played for until the 1990s.
The link between migration and the growth of soccer was re-established in the 1920s and again after the Second World War, and while migration is high at the moment, this is the first period when the expansion of soccer has been driven by the domestic population of Australia.