Playing long balls into empty space since 2012.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Back on Woogaroo: the origins of soccer in Australia

Revisiting and Re-Imaging the Woogaroo Question

Glen Hickey's revelation that the first time he saw soccer was at the Willowburn "mental hospital" in Toowoomba, reminded me that I had a couple of photos to add to the Woogaroo story. I thought it might also be a good idea to isolate the story from the context in which it is presented elsewhere on the blog.

Wolston Park Hospital Cricket Ground. Likely site of
the first recorded game of soccer in Australia

In "The Chimera of Origins" I showed that the Wanderers first game in 1880 was not the first game of soccer in Australia. Two games were played by the Hobart Cricketers FC in 1979.

But nor were the Hobart Cricketers’ two matches the first games of soccer in Australia. Even earlier games were played. One took place on Saturday 7 August 1875 in Woogaroo (now Goodna) just outside of Brisbane. The Queenslander reported that the Brisbane Football Club 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. Jack for Woogaroo. One rule provided that the ball should not be handled nor carried.” 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).” 

Goodna Asylum in 1919 (?). Note the soccer goalposts

A fascinating story is waiting to be told about why the Woogaroo Asylum played Association rules when all other clubs around the region were playing rugby or a Queensland variation on the Melbourne rules. It might well have boiled down to the preference of an authority figure (in this case the Asylum’s superintendent) or even the players themselves. The choice might also have been determined by assumptions about what would or would not be an appropriate game for inmates to play.

John Jaap was the superintendent on the Woogaroo Lunatic Asylum between 1872 and his death at 39 years in 1877. He graduated from Glasgow University with an MD in 1858 and appears to have resided in Britain until he was married in London 1869. In January 1871 he was living and working as a doctor in Warwick, Queensland. Jaap was noted for implementing humane methods and programs at the Woogaroo institution. According to the web site,
'The road to recovery - a history of mental health services in Queensland 1859-2009' 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.”

Jaap also supervised the implementation of a sports program. 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. Jaap) 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.
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 the probability 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.
There were at least two other games of football under Jaap’s supervision, an earlier one against Brisbane FC on 19 July 1873 and one against Rangers FC on 24 June 1876, though there is no indication of the code used in those games. Had the 1873 game 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 cricket ground at the Woogaroo Asylum today.Courtesy @pinkpawprints

PS. As an example of the influence of Glasgow University in relation to association football, the founding of Sunderland AFC is a case in point. James Allan arrived in Sunderland from Scotland to teach at Hendon Board School in 1877. He had developed an interest in football while at Glasgow University but discovered that rugby was the predominant winter team sport in the North-East. As Roger Hutchinson points out in Into the Light (1999) “Allan uncovered a group of other teachers in the area who shared his interest in righting this wrong, and at a meeting in Norfolk Street in the October of 1879 the Sunderland and District Teachers’ Association Football Club was formed.”

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