Playing long balls into empty space since 2012.

Monday, 12 August 2019

Sunshine in Argentina

First Published May 2012

When we think about the relationship between Australia and Argentina we don't really think about soccer. We think about . . . (Gaucho's, that fabulous restaurant in Adelaide?) . . . well maybe we do think about soccer. But we don't think for long. Sure there were a couple of world cup play-off games in 1993 where we did OK, but lost. Paul Wade tried to wear Diego Maradona and Robbie Slater burst into my consciousness with what I remember as a dazzling display in the midfield. And there was that famous 4-1 victory over them in 1988 and then Messi at the MCG a few years back. Then there's the sublime Oscar Crino who graced the NSL and the Socceroos with his skill and Adrian Cacaeres who wasn't quite in Crino's league but made something of an impact in the NSL and the A League. After that there's not much else to mention. 

When we do see a relationship it tends to seem a one-way process. We have nothing to offer them; while we are fortunate if they deign to grace us with their presence or send a few players our way. We certainly have nothing to give them or teach them about the beautiful game. The very idea of Aussies teaching the Argies to play soccer! It's in the realms of selling ice to the Eskimoes or carrying coals to Newcastle, isn't it?

If this story, taken from the Sunshine Advocate  of 28 January 1944, is to be taken at face value we might just have to rethink our assumptions. Or maybe not.

Published during World War II, the story harks back to 1912, exactly 100 years ago, when a bunch of farm implement makers from Sunshine employed by H. V. McKay Pty. Ltd. went to Argentina to assist with the process of exporting and installing the tools. A number stayed there for several years and got into the round ball game. 

It will be interesting to follow up on this story and see how far its tentacles have spread.



Memories of Sunshine's 1912 Soccer Team

In the early part of the present century H. V. McKay Pty. Ltd. opened up trade in farm implements with Argentina, and many thousands of the local product helped gather the crops in the South American republic. Quite a number of employees from the Sunshine works went to South America during the period when the implements were being exported from here and some stopped several years. Whilst over there sport was indulged in, and the illustration here portrays a soccer team that, it was claimed, would give Woolwich Arsenal a run for the money. Judging by the pose of some of the champions, their looks belie their speed, but note the costumes. The photo was taken in 1912, and Mr. Vic. McKay, the present factory superintendent of the Sunshine works, but who has not been well for the past month or two, can be seen in the back row. 

BACK ROW (left to right). H. Thomas (Arg), D. Clemson (Aust), V. R. McKay (Aust),  G. Thomas (Arg),
A. Thomas
(Aust), J. Wick (N.Z.), W. Bourke (Aust).  FRONT ROW. F. Phillipe (Arg), I. Ramas (Arg),
A. Draper
(Aust), Capt.;  G. Ivory (Aust), N. Lawson (Aust), T. Jose (Arg).

Argentina is not too sweet with the Allies at present, and allegations are that the country is the headquarters of a huge Nazi spy ring, so conditions would not be as pleasant there as it was in 1912.

Positions on the Field. W. Bourke (goalkeeper), G. Ivory (right back), T. Jose (left back), N. Lawson (right half), I. Ranas (left half), V. R. McKay (centre half), D. Clemson (O/S right), J. Wick (I/S right), F. Phillipe (I/S left), A. Thomas (O/S left), A. Draper (centre), H. Thomas (referee), G. Thomas (boundary).


The fascinating question is whether these men already 'had' soccer when they went or whether it was something they 'acquired' while in Argentina. The first club in Sunshine (in 1912) appears to post-date this trip. Does this sojourn help to promote the game in Sunshine or is it a passing moment? We do know that the McKay company and name keeps up its connection with Sunshine soccer. H.V. McKay was one of the inaugural vice-presidents of the Sunshine United club in 1924 and the McKay surname pops up in teams lists in different periods. And the following story shows the company's generosity in helping Sunshine Soccer Club rebuild its pavilion in 1933. 

Reports presented at the monthly meeting of the Sunshine Soccer Club, held at the Town Hall on Tuesday evening, with Mr. W. Campbell in the chair, point to the committee's being able to field a team stronger, this year than has been the case for some time past. In addition to those already announced, several other useful players have signed on, and, barring accidents, the club should be well forward when the season's honors are being distributed. H. V. McKay, Massey Harris Prop. Ltd. have kindly donated the material necessary to re-fashion the pavilion on the railway reserye, and a working bee (with emphasis on the "working") will be held on Saturday next, March 11, when members will engage on a transformation scene under the supervision of an experienced tradesman. Will members and all soccer friends kindly note the day and date.  (Sunshine Advocate 3 March 1933)

In all likelihood this is the current-day Chaplin Reserve (thanks Paul). Socceroo and Sunshine boy, Angus Drennan recalls "first playing soccer as young 11 year old on a field in Sunshine called MacKays ground. This later became known as Chaplin Reserve, home to Sunshine George Cross." (Australian Online Football Museum). Drennan also played senior football for Sunshine United in its inaugural year, 1924 (that is, when he wasn't touring NZ with the Australian team!).

Chaplin Reserve and pavilion today. Thank Boo.

Aerial shot of Railway Reserve, bottom right, c. 1920s. The Harvester works are in the background.
State Library of Victoria.

Lest we get carried away with the sweetness and light of a community getting behind a new soccer venture, we need also to listen to the voices of opposition to get a sense of the context in which soccer clubs were trying to grow in Melbourne and elsewhere. "Dinkum Aussie', a correspondent to the Sunshine Advocate penned the following letter in 1927:

(To the Editor.)
Sir,-It was stated by two returned soldiers, and reported in your paper, that an attempt is being made by some Johnny-Come-Latelys to supplant our national game of football with an importation. On making inquiry, I find that a local school teacher is working might and main against the national game, and I am told that at least one of the local soccer team is an Australian. I should like to suggest that the local football club report the matter to the head office in town, so that it may be brought before the Minister. If Victoria is good enough to live in, its games should be good enough to play. -Yours, etc.,  (5 Nov 1927)

'Dinkum Aussie' received a reply from a writer using the nom de plume', Audi Alteram Partem ('the other side should be heard'), who concluded his letter:
There is room enough in this vast country for both [codes]. And, in closing, I would like to add that the local Soccerites showed their sportsmanship this season in playing a team of Diggers, and running a social in aid of the Diggers' Xmas Tree Fund, when the whole of the proceeds were handed over.-Yours, etc., (12 Nov 1927)

The letter is moderate and written to explain how soccer is 'integrating' into Australian life. It also suggests that Sunshine's first team was formed just prior to the war. Dinkum Aussie's rejoinder is well-written and intelligent but extreme in its prejudice.
Sir,-- Although your soccer barracker assumes and ancient Dago phrase as a pen name, he is, beyond doubt, a true John Bull, and I shall refer to him, in no offensive spirit, as J.B. . . . J.B. is mistaken in thinking that I object to soccer "simply because it originated from the "Homeland." I object because it did NOT originate in the homeland. Australia is the true homeland of the Australian; and if J.B. is not prepared to become an Australian he should not be here. . .  Six generations of my blood have lived, or are living, on this continent; and if I am not an Australian my friend is not English, and we are both "foreigners;" surely a reductio ad absurdum. I do not agree with J.B.'s dictum that no game can make headway unless it has an international aspect. In the United States baseball has progressed from small beginnings, until it is to-day the national game of over 100 millions of people. In Australia our football has spread from Victoria to Tasmantia, South Australia, Western Australia, parts of New South Wales, and Queensland. If properly safeguarded against the assaults of immigrants, it will, in time, occupy in the public mind the same position that baseball occupies in the United States. I do not object to soccer as a game, it may be all that J.B. claiims for it. I object to its being introduced into Australian schools because it is part of an organised movement to destroy Australianisim; and a wiping out of the national game would encourage the destroyers in their designs. Imperialists are more active than they have ever been before; the indications are everywhere, if one cares to look. Anti-Australians, when they fly the Australian flag, place it beneath the Union Jack on the same pole, well aware of the fact that this is a sign of contempt and defiance. Would that Australians were generally as well aware of the significance of the double flying. I want no controversy with immigrants, though, frankly, I think that there are too many here now. I. am simply appealing to Australians to protest against Australian schools and teachlers being used in a campaign to destroy Australianism in any shape or form. If ever we are to fulfil our "manifest destiny," we must insist in 100 per cent. Australianism. --Yours, etc., (19 November 1927)
On one side of this story we have a culturally divergent group (Australians, Argentinians and one Kiwi) coming together to co-operate and play football and on the other we have what can only be described as a gushing of soccer-hating xenophobic bile.

This is not to let soccer off the hook for its own prejudices and stupidities but the contrast is a fundamental theme of Australian soccer history.

I'll do my best to trace the stories of those in the photo. It will be rewarding.


  1. Confirmed, the Railway Reserve is more or less the same as the present day Chaplin Reserve.

    thanks to our friends on the Railpage Australia Forums.

  2. Mark Boric also informs us that Hot Dogma (can't recall his real name, but he's done a masters on NSL venues I think) noted that the Chaplin Reserve social club building is known as the Railway Reserve Pavilion, and it has lettering on the building somewhere to prove that.

  3. Interesting reading... I also have no doubt that the 1912 team would have been a match for Woolwich Arsenal as I seem to recall that they finished bottom of the table that season.

  4. "Dinkum Aussie" was an absolute wanker of the lowest order. It warms my heart to know his putrid soul is festering in a particularly-thermonuclear corner of Hell.