Playing long balls into empty space since 2012.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

"Pie-eating, cowardly, mercenaries who were too ashamed to go opened up their dismal game of Rugby League" and other Toowoomba reflections

Glen Hickey sent me this marvelous email in response to "spot the wog" and my "Soccer and ANZAC" material. It rambles and he's probably wrong some of the time but it's such a warm-hearted and whimsical piece of writing that I thought I'd put it up for other eyes than just mine. If it's about any one thing it is about football in Toowoomba.

Glen wanted me to edit it but as that would take too long (semester starts next week) and I think it can stand on its own as a rambly piece. Therefore it's presented as he sent it.

In any case I wanted an excuse to publish the image that he sent me of the flyer for the very first Harvard Yale Foot Ball Match.

Littleton Groom

Private. Littleton Campbell Groom. 42nd Bn. Australian Inf.
Killed in action
10th June, 1917. Age 28. Son of Frederick
William and Fanny Matilda Groom, of Lorriane, Herries St.,
Toowoomba, Queensland. Australian War Memorial
Seriously the thing that struck me was the photo of Littleton Groom -  how did they ever let a boy like that sign up was my first reaction. But then I recalled another Gallipoli veteran from Toowoomba who was even younger – and in later life denied all in order to conceal his age, his wife being very, very young. Interestingly, Littleton Groom was Toowoomba ‘Royalty’. [My Grandmother, who was of the same ilk, frequently had the Grooms around.] His father, Fred, owned the Toowoomba Chronicle and went on to become a Murdoch (Keith not Rupert) lieutenant. His Grandfather (also called ‘Littleton’) was founder of Toowoomba, first Mayor and a Parliamentarian. His Uncle (‘Littleton’ too) finished his education at Melbourne University [as did my Grandfather and father] before entering Federal Parliament where he was a Minister and Speaker during World War I. The ANU  library holds the ‘Groom’ papers and the federal electorate is called ‘Groom’. The other names in the list of Soccer casualties are also not unfamiliar to me – definitely representative of the Toowoomba upper crust. We’ll come back to Toowoomba shortly.

Games in the Armed Services
On to the article and Soccer being played by Australian serviceman in World War I.  One of the characteristics of the Australian Army (and Navy) is the huge emphasis on ‘games’. Why? Well, once you are running a Regiment, it is amazing how often you have everyone standing round waiting – and waiting. At Duntroon, we were taught all sorts of ‘games’ to use including one that I loved based on reversed hockey sticks and a single quoit. Intercompany competition was engendered and idleness kept at bay. And ‘games’ had to be competitive, simple, easy to play, and open to modified rules so they could take place, say, on the deck of an aircraft carrier. Soccer fits the bill. Many of the formal ‘Sports’ don’t – such as Australian Rules; to the teeth-grinding anguish of Officers from Victoria! Worse, for a Battalion such as the 25th from Toowoomba, with a company from Tasmania bolted on, formal ‘Sports’ such as Rugby would make inter-company competition uneven. Hence ‘games’.  Hence Soccer.

But the one thing in the article that I cannot explain is the reference to: 50 soccer footballs [my emphasis], 50 association footballs – I’ve searched hard on this and suspect that ‘association’ probably means ‘Rugby’ but have zip evidence in support! Mind you, balls have had differing shapes; the above image shows a ‘Rugby’ ball used for the ‘first’ football  match in the US.

Origins of Football
I will come back to Queensland shortly but, as a precursor,  would you indulge me as I share my version of: How Football was invented!

Back in the early 19th century, an unknown English genius discovered that blowing air into a deceased pig’s bladder produced a delightful outcome. The person probably later died from the resulting infection! Others encased the bladder in leather; subsequent developments saw rubber used for the bladder. But the die was set. Prior to this, so-called proto-‘footballs’ existed using hard, unforgiving objects. Despite piteous claims to the contrary, it was the new ball that invented the Game of football – not the other way round. And the fundamental difference was that the Ball now ‘floated’ in the air. What fun! It was easy and rewarding to kick; easy to catch – and resilient. Schoolboys in England took up playing with it during school breaks and, eventually, developed ‘word-of-mouth’ rules in the same way that schoolboys in Australian use ‘Red Rover’, ‘British Bulldog’ et al. The common rules seemed to encompass:
  1.  Game started with a ‘Kick-off’
  2.  Team objective (goal) is to kick the ball between two posts (or an open  gate) to score
  3.   If ball caught on the full, player can claim a mark (still in Austrules, RugbyU and American)
  4.  If caught ‘on the hop’ [first bounce], no entitlement to a ‘mark’ but player retains ball.
  5. Progress of player with ball can be impeded by tackling (alive in all modern versions), tripping or [controversially] hacking.
  6. When progress stopped, a ‘scru(i)mmage’ takes place where the player has to put the ball Down (American) and play the ball (RugbyL) with foot.
  7.  If ball goes behind (sic)goal, put back in play with something akin to the current RugbyU 22 kick.
…. And so on.

Perhaps most delightfully, the rules could be quite fluid and, in stark contrast to today, players would modify their attitude and play to the home team’s rule variations. Visiting British warships would play locals – first half Rugby; second local game. Hence, when the British Lions Rugby side first toured, they played at least one game of Australian Rules. Indeed, I am told that the St Kilda Football team stripped down for a Rugby game as late as the early  20th century.

Now when the schoolboys left their school, they took their game with them – often to the two English Universities, the services, and to the colonies. The Winchester game went to South Africa, Rugby to Canada (McGill)  who subsequently introduced it to Harvard. A Rugby- ‘lite’ version to Victoria (ie no ‘hacking’) and Rugby itself to New Zealand. And the rules were slowly formalised – but all the written rules that I have seen assume a huge background knowledge of playing the game and read more like a ‘refinement of contentious points’ rather than as  ‘Instruction on how to play the game’. So, when soccer/rugby split in 1863, it was much more a gently break than the zealots would have one believe; for example, a ‘soccer’ club – such as Sale – would play Soccer one week end/ Rugby the next well into the 1870’s. Even after rules were formalised, variations proliferated: that first British Lions tour demonstrated that British Rugby and Australian were different variations.  Even in Melbourne where Australian Rules ruled (ouch), Geelong played to a variation that still inspires them today in their song: We play the game as it should be played.

Back to Toowoomba
First it is important to recognise that Queensland is ‘different’; it is the only state where most of the population does not live in the Capital City. As the then second largest city in the state (ie the largest country representative), Toowoomba held a lot of sway!  Prior to World War I, football was popularly played across all the country towns – mainly in the schools. The version was referred to as ‘Melbourne’ rules – but I find that unpersuasive given that even Geelong did not play it! I suspect that is was the usual hybrid – bit like the US where Princeton/Rutgers played a soccer-ish version while Yale/Harvard played a rugby-ish version.[The three Ivy league schools eventually got together to invent American football.]

In Queensland, the whole was overseen by the Queensland Football Association [sic].  The day of reckoning came late in the 19th century when the aforesaid Queensland Football Association decided to have all games played to the ‘London’ rules; not really sure what that was but it introduced the crossbar. (Actually, the crossbar has a noble pedigree. It was adopted as a solution to a problem still existing in Australian rules where people could not be sure if the ball actually went through the goal when it passed above the posts; hence a tape was occasionally introduced – but usually at a much greater height than the modern equivalent.) This was a disaster! The players – particularly in the country – acted in totally revulsion; the crossbar changed the nature of the game from a free-flowing,  running, all skills-showing delight that Australian players were accustomed to.  (Don’t let Martin Flannigan near this!). This grass roots (country-led) revolt blindsided the Brisbane based administration who then watched the Capital city follow their country cousins. Inevitably, a northern Rugby Union was established and that was that.

But not quite! My hypotheses is that Association football drifted along in a tiny shape supported by the sons of the upper crust as noted above – but not as the main winter sport. For example, I know that the Groom family were behind the Toowoomba Rangers Rugby Club pre-war. I suspect that Association football survived in relation to Rugby in the same way that ‘real/royal’ tennis survives in Melbourne alongside tennis (ie a touch of snob appeal where one meets the right sort of chap). But only a hypothesis.

World War I
However it was, both Rugby and Soccer came to a catastrophic end with the outbreak of World War; they both closed down to go and fight. While the pie-eating, cowardly, mercenaries who were too ashamed to go opened up their dismal game of Rugby League and took over the existing Union clubs. So when the heroes returned, all they could play was league. (Grandma speaking here!) There was a feeble attempt to revive Union in the 1930s – and it was played in the two boarding schools (one Catholic; one not); [My father captained the team as did my uncle who trialled for the Wallabies and, much later, became President of Collingwood -  probably the last true “don’t care what variety it is” footballer.] But Union again  closed down in 1939 not to reopen until the late 1990’s. Mind you, Toowoomba being a hotbed of League had its advantages, visiting English and French teams took them seriously and incidents of Toowoomba defeating France were great fun.

It’s all about me!
Growing up in Toowoomba after World War II, I was conscious of Union (our family’s game) and League (everyone else’s); we were totally unaware of Australian Rules or Soccer – like no idea of their existence. Having parents and grandparents educated in Melbourne helped, but their explanations of Australian Rules fell on disbelieving ears. I recall quite well the day we children came across a game played at Willowburn (the mental hospital) and it seemed to be what had been explained to us as Australian Rules; we subsequently found out it was soccer!

TheWillowburn magpies still exist; though their fortunes have waxed and waned over the years – they claim to be the first soccer club in the town; founded in 1949!

History has been lost.

1 comment:

  1. I seem to remember that in the illustrations in the copy of "Tom Brown's Schooldays" that I owned as a yoof (yes I am that old) the ball used by the footballers was round even though they ran with it in hand. This memory is backed up by

    Harrow Football is still played with a roundish ball

    This may be of interest too