Playing long balls into empty space since 2012.

Friday, 31 January 2014

‘Bastards Like Them’: the Father Figures of Indigenous Soccer in Australia

By Ian Syson, first published in  Shoot Farken

In the early 1950s a young Aboriginal footballer called Charlie Perkins started to be noticed in Adelaide. John Maynard in The Aboriginal Soccer Tribe points out that “Perkins was a first grade soccer player at the age of fifteen, playing with Port Thistle.” Over the next five years his stocks improved to the point where he “was awarded the South Australian player of the Year.” He claims that “Perkins was known as one of the better wing-halves in the country.” Peter Read’s biography of Perkins describes him as “tough, self-confident, stoical and uncompromising. He liked to talk about the game for days afterwards. He was ambitious to be better than anyone else. Off the field he remained, according to the Secretary of the South Australian Soccer Federation, anxious and shy.”

It is perhaps well-known that Charlie Perkins played soccer, very well, playing at the elite level in Australia. He tried out for First Division clubs Liverpool and Everton in England before playing a season with Bishop Auckland, one of England’s great amateur sides. The experience helped to form his attitude towards the game: “I play the game hard, the way I was taught with Bishop Auckland in England. After all soccer is a man’s game. But I play it fair and don’t go in for the dirty, niggling tactics of some players.” The title of Perkins' autobiography, A Bastard Like Me gives us a sense of his self-perception in this regard.

But while Perkins was a genuine star of the game he is probably remembered as a curiosity, without context, an exception that proves the rule. Perkins’ game of choice might be explained away, if explained at all, via allusion to his radical political orientation and his ‘difference’ from other Aboriginal sportsmen. The attitude adopted is: ‘Yes. He might have played soccer but he was a maverick.’ Well he may have been a maverick but he was not the only one.

Two other Aboriginal players of Perkins’ generation also had remarkable careers, first as footballers and then in Aboriginal culture and/or politics. John Moriarty was the first Aboriginal to be selected for Australia and Gordon Briscoe followed in Perkins’ footsteps, playing for two seasons in England. What makes this story all the more remarkable is that these three young men knew each other intimately. Gordon Briscoe’s 2010 memoir, Racial Folly: a Memoir of a Twentieth Century Family is a startling revelation of locus of Aboriginal participation in the world game. It is a locus confirmed by Maynard. The story of Briscoe’s life from his birth in 1938 to his rise to prominence as an activist and the struggles, sadnesses and joys involved in that journey, contains a remarkable diversion into an Aboriginal footballing sub-culture of mildly staggering proportions – not so much in its breadth as in its sheer depth of quality. Out of one institution, “Father Smith’s home for boys of mixed Aboriginal descent,” came a remarkable number of players.

Briscoe explains how the boys became involved.
Charlie, with his brother Ernie, John Moriarty, Jerry Hill and I, began our soccer careers together and for the same team, Port Adelaide Thistle, or Port Thistle as it became known. In 1950 Port Thistle won the second division championship and was elevated to the first division. To qualify for the promotion the club had to have teams in the lower or junior division. Port Thistle management approached Father Smith for permission to rent a large field in the front area of St Francis House owned by the Church, and he agreed. Thistles had enough boys in the area to make two teams: a full juniors’ team and a senior colts’ team. The house boys filled the junior team and Charlie, ‘Truck’ and Harry Russel made the colts. From the beginning Charlie was a natural, as were many in the junior side, particularly Moriarty (Baggy) and Hill (Skrulyet).
Significantly, all of the boys also played Australian Rules and some of them (surprisingly) Rugby League for a Semaphore Colts team. One of them, Wally McArthur ended up playing Rugby League for Australia. In fact the boys participated in many physical activities that strengthened their bonds. When their mentor Father Smith left, Briscoe was devastated.
What possibly helped me cope with my feeling of loss was life on Semaphore beach, enjoying activities such as fishing off the jetty with Wally MacArthur, Vince Copley, Gerry Hill and John Moriarty. Soccer with Port Thistle junior’s side also helped and would lead to a closer relationship with Charlie Perkins.
It was Perkins who influenced Briscoe and Moriarty to lean towards soccer:
Charlie had great talent in both codes but I believe that he chose to excel at soccer as a way of evading the bullies at the House and as a way of venting his frustrations at Father Smith’s leaving. He also resented the prejudice he confronted by those who played and organised Aussie Rules.
Charlie Perkins. Source: Australian Soccer Weekly via Paul and Colin Tatz
Charlie Perkins. Source: Australian Soccer Weekly via Paul and Colin Tatz
In his autobiography, A Bastard Like Me, Perkins describes how soccer hooked him.
And so, soccer got into my system. That year I played for the juniors in the Scottish Club (Port Thistle) in Adelaide. I got on well with the club crowd. They treated me like a human being. That was where I first felt free, when I began to play soccer. The team would talk roughly to me and I would know where I stood. Soccer was the only thing that enabled me to put up with my job. The Soccer Club became my home and I found a new security in my ability to play well. I found some friends in soccer. Most of all, I found a place where I could be somebody. I could play soccer better than most people and was improving all the time. I played one year junior, then senior at fifteen, and after that I played first division right through the rest of my professional soccer career.
Moriarty also speaks of culture of racism from which soccer helped him to extract himself. He told Maynard:
Soccer was a blessing for me, on the social side as well, being able to achieve my self-esteem, the culture of soccer enabled me to move out of that system that we were brought up in, you know, that totally racist system, being a second-class citizen and Aboriginal under differing laws and we had to live with it. But soccer lifted me out of that because the soccer fraternity encouraged me to do it.
Briscoe also was confronted with a milder form of racial prejudice as well as a touch of soccerphobia when he started a new job a Port Lincoln.
One day soon after my arrival a big bloke named Charlie Oliver jumped on the engine and said, ‘Can any of you blokes kick a footy?’ I said nothing at first but Jack Asher, the engine driver, said, ‘Hey Charlie this bloke’s a Blackfella; he must be able to play. Every Blackfella I know is football mad, and I’ve seen some beauties up at Peterborough, where I come from!’ When I told Charlie that I wanted to play soccer, he blurted out, ‘What, that’s a Sheila’s game isn’t it?’ He jumped down from the engine and shouted at me: ‘Come to training on Tuesday night! OK?
So Briscoe played both codes at senior level. Normative, masculinised cultural pressures tended to push him towards Australian Rules whereas other factors made soccer an attraction.
When I went to Souths I knew many of the white players who worked for the railway and got on well with them. I was certainly more interested in girls and I was particularly interested in the migrant women who followed soccer. My weekends were busy; I played cricket or Aussie Rules on Saturdays and soccer on Sundays. Nevertheless work dominated my life and I often had to struggle to get back for the weekends.
Eventually he made the decision to focus on soccer. Perkins’ return from playing in England may have been an influence and perhaps he sensed that he had a future in the game. The fact that he was paid for scoring goals probably influenced the decision.
I played my last Aussie Rules game for Exeter in the 1959 grand final and subsequently returned to soccer. John Moriarty and I signed to play soccer for Beograd in the summer-night football season. These matches were played under lights at Norwood Oval. Charlie Perkins had recently returned from England and was instrumental in taking Croatia to the first Division and enticed me to play the winter season with them.
“In the winter of 1960” a new influence emerged in Briscoe’s life: “Aboriginal politics and soccer were my passions.”

Briscoe steadily improved as a player. He moved from Croatia to Polonia before deciding to try his luck in England – perhaps once more influenced by the example of Perkins’ experience. After playing with Hemel Hempstead and Preston North End’s lower grades Briscoe suffered injuries and started to suspect that he did not have what was needed to make the grade in professional football in England.
As the winter drew on I became more and more fearful that I would injure myself; my confidence was plummeting. I stuck it out in Hemel for that winter and moved to Preston in mid-1962. However, one aspect of Hemel Hempstead that would have a profound effect on my life was meeting Norma, my wife to be, at a local dance hall. We met early in 1962 and were married in the autumn of that year.
At this point in the narrative, the game recedes from view and Briscoe gets a job in factory before returning to Australia with Norma and his 12-month-old baby Aaron in 1964. Charlie Perkins had moved to Sydney to attend University and play with Pan Hellenic and was still there when Briscoe decided to come home. Perkins asked Briscoe to come to Sydney to participate in a new phase in their lives, Aboriginal activism.

Curiously, soccer then leaves Briscoe’s life and his subsequent remembrance of it. The memoir seems to drop the game like a hot potato as Briscoe’s career in politics ramps up. Racial Folly offers a model here of the way the game disappears from view in so many other stories in Australian history. Briscoe says in his Foreword to Maynard’s The Aboriginal Soccer Tribe, “soccer could not support a wife and family so the alternative was work by day and study by night. I was drawn into Aboriginal politics in the same way as Perkins and Moriarty.”

This necessity does not explain the near-complete cutting of soccer from the narrative of Racial Folly. Even if the game were practically absent from Briscoe’s life, it would have been with his thoughts and a subject of discussion from time to time, especially when he was so closely connected with Perkins. Football makes a late comeback in Racial Folly when it is mentioned in relation to Briscoe’s grown children who, like their father and Perkins and Moriarty before them, use sport as important building blocks for their lives:
John was an outdoors boy. He was always looking to play rugby on the front lawn with the neighbour’s kids, his elder brother Aaron or me. They were all keen sportspersons, each doing well in their respective sports. Aaron was a very good all-rounder, his main passion was soccer, which he played at an elite level with the Canberra City colts’ soccer team, and he was also a competent cricket player during the summer months. Lisa was a one-sport person – hockey. Later she played in the weekly Canberra competition, as well as being an ACT representative player for a number of years. John loved his rugby league. One of my lasting memories is standing on the side-line with John hurling down the side and the crowd calling out: ‘Go, Johnny B’. He loved it and he too was a representative player.
The Briscoe children mirror their father’s attitude to sport. They are also a reminder of the special group of young Aboriginal men in Semaphore showing a sporting flexibility that enabled them to move easily and gracefully between football codes, something that enables them to take up soccer but makes them equally able to leave the game when the pressures of other sports and politics come to bear. It is an important message for contemporary Indigenous participation in the game.

Briscoe claims in his Foreword to Maynard’s book that the game has “forgotten Aboriginal people in its zest for self-development.” He reminds readers that soccer in Port Adelaide relied on Aboriginal participation at a certain moment in time.
Individual clubs such as Port Thistle blindly supported us because, without us it would not have existed. Dominated by cricket and Australian Rules, migrants had to beg for playing space and were targeted by Australia’s press. What brought us few players to soccer was often the fact that our skills were transferred from Aussie Rules when we were driven away from that code. We chose migrants because they respected us.
It was a rare moment because a number of factors came into play in leading Aboriginal players towards soccer: excellent and adaptable Aboriginal sportsmen; truly remarkable individuals; generous and welcoming football hosts; and an Australian Rules structure that was often exclusive and racist towards Aboriginal players. Briscoe says that when “we look to the future of Aboriginal people in soccer it is easy to be optimistic, but . . . the time is now ripe for the FFA to provide the support and the framework in which the passionate advocates and players of Indigenous soccer can succeed.” It is a warning, gentle and well-intended, that soccer needs to remember the Port Thistle story. Because it is one that speaks of dire consequences should it not be heeded by Australian soccer authorities.

Another message in Maynard’s book relates to the low Aboriginal participation rate in soccer. Compared with Rugby League and Australian Rules, the number is low. Yet it is not quite miniscule. Maynard lists five Aboriginal Socceroos (six if we include Moriarty who was selected but didn’t play because Australia was expelled from FIFA after his selection) and eight Matildas. He also points to a number of contemporary rising stars, both men and women. An argument could be made that this is more representation than might be expected, given the external pressures encouraging young Aboriginal men into other football codes and the near absence of historical knowledge within the game about Aboriginal precursors.

One of the most telling points of the whole book is when Harry Williams, perhaps the greatest Aboriginal player of all time (with 44 Socceroo appearances and 18 full caps), insists that what got him into the game was not the legendary stories of the trinity of “Perkins, Moriarty and Briscoe.” While he eventually came to know of them, as soccer men and political activists, his was the much less heroic but no less splendid story of being “exposed to soccer by a friend across the street at six years of age. For me, it was just a question of circumstances. It just happened.” Yet there was pressure from another football code. He grew up in Rugby League territory and the St George great and family friend, Billy Smith kept pestering him to shift codes. Smith “always said to stop playing that sissy game and come to play rugby league.”  Like the trinity before him he resisted and found solace in the genuine acceptance of the migrant communities that welcomed him.

This is a good story but it is one that encodes a failure in communication between the generations. In the battle for the hearts and minds of Aboriginal sportsmen, Australian soccer’s silence and failure to follow through – on what can only be described as a wonderful moment in Aboriginal participation in and commitment to the game – is nothing short of criminal irresponsibility to its own wellbeing.

Soccer needs to confront the fact that at one point in the 1950s there were more Indigenous Australians playing first-grade football in Adelaide than there were playing first-grade Australian Rules in Melbourne. And while the numbers were low and volatile they nonetheless represented a march stolen on the “indigenous” game. It needs to remember why this was the case and work out how to tell the story.

Sex and Sport:

A review of two recent novels

Kylie Ladd, Last Summer, Allen and Unwin 2011

Matt Nable, Faces in the Clouds, Viking 2011

Sex and sport. It’s taken a while, but these two activities are now staples of Australian literature. No longer is sex performed off-stage, coyly, metaphorically. No longer is sport the excluded other to literary culture, represented fleetingly, badly, marginally if at all. Sex and sport are there in their full, billowing glory for all to see. As they should be.

Kylie Ladd’s Last Summer is set in the fictional Yarra Yarra cricket club. It opens with the death of a leading player at training, an event that devastates the little community centred on the club. Subsequent chapters are focalised (a la The Slap) through each of the main characters to reveal how tightly the community bonds were woven and how Rory’s demise causes them to unravel.

Ladd’s riffing on the micro-politics of the cricket club was convincing – though the crusty old-timers on the executive at most clubs were unmentioned. And her understanding of parental angst at junior cricket is highly developed and wry.

But this unraveling matrix has a paradoxical feeling of stasis to it. While the characters are rightly interconnected, they have no deep personal histories. The wholly middle-class cast, full of private-school types, architects, builders, social workers and museum curators is presented as if having always been the same people, born into the middle class and destined to stay there. There’s a good story in this material but Ladd hasn’t told it.

And the sex scenes, while many, are invaried. It’s as if the same woman via different characters’ bodies expresses one constrained, chick-lit version of sexuality.

I guess some women get off on the prospect of being taken and fucked (on a blanket in a paddock, in front of a mirror, or up against a shower screen) by a man with a “slug” (or, if he has a little one, one who certainly knows how to use it). Good luck to them. But if 90s grunge did one thing, it paved the way for the complex and explicit representation of the sexual act. Ladd, while entertaining and imaginative on this front, has simply not been brave or expansive enough.

Faces in the Clouds is also a novel of constriction. Matt Nable’s portrayal of a family dually cloistered by the army barracks and the Catholic Church is purposefully claustrophobic.

It tells the story of twin boys, Stephen and Lawrence Kennedy and their doomed parents Terry and Leila, killed in a car accident when the boys are barely over ten.

Their parents’ deaths bring a release from the strictures of their early upbringing. The army life and Catholicism, and their inevitable scars, are necessarily left behind as the boys stumble their way into adulthood.

Their story is complicated by Lawrence’s damaged body and mind. It is never made clear exactly what is wrong with Lawrence, though his good friend Henry Holmes knows. We’re “retards” he exclaims.

The teenage friendship between Henry and Lawrence is one of the many endearing parts of this book. Whenever (creative supermarket trolley collector and surely one of the great characters in Australian literature) Henry enters the narrative, reading becomes an uncertain, razor-edged joy. The friends engineer an audacious trip to Sydney to go to the Big Day Out, watch Manly play and get a “root” – all of which they achieve.

Lawrence’s limits are medical, Stephen’s are spiritual. His sexuality is so repressed by the Church and other events that he is reluctant even to masturbate. His first sexual act is therefore a moment of great significance. Stephen has sex with his older housemate’s girlfriend, solving one problem while creating another.

Perhaps the difference between the way Nable and Ladd write sex is a gendered one, but I was more interested by Nable’s description. Less formulaic, his scene was replete with the base human foibles (and the smells and fluids) missing in Ladd’s writing.

Nable writes of class and the possibilities of human change as well as any contemporary Australian writer. He is also a writer who consistently finds the poetic in a simple moment or gesture. Many of the chapters end with powerful twists or affirmations that take their bearings from the stars of love and kindness. Christos Tsiolkas claims he creates “a kind of magic”. I can see why.

In the end though, I love Nable’s writing because of the way he uses sport. The characters in this book live in a Rugby League culture. Some ignore it. Some like it. Some (like Henry) are obsessed by it. Nable gets this balance just right. If a writer can understand where sport fits, the rest should come automatically. And with Nable it does.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Recession, Politics and Football

Reflections on Men and Women's Football in Italy

Greg Downes has sent us another piece from Florence. This time he contrasts the fortunes of the Men's and Women's games in Italy.
Recession, politics and football. You don't have to go too far afield to find a passionate view on any or all three in Italy today. Italy is suffering through its worst recession since WW2, with its Prime Minister declaring that the current economic situation as the "true nightmare of our country". Everyone I speak to has an opinion, from the lovely Michela the owner of a local alimentari who is working two jobs in hope of having her first child, to the mother of an 18-year-old who is fearful that her son will never get work in his home country and the father of a young woman footballer who is fortunate enough to be able to support his daughter in her quest to play the game she loves and at the same time pursue a career of her own. No money, no jobs, no future! The locals seem keen to express their feelings about the issues their country is facing, and it is no more common than on the sidelines of the sport that defines it in so many ways– football.

Having now become an adopted supporter of Firenze Calcio Femminile the conversation at home games often turns to the effects of the recession and the very urgent need to change if in fact the country and football does have a future. Attending my third game I have become recognised by some of the locals (there are not too many so I kind of stand out) and the nonna smiles at me in recognition and tries to chat about the game, which is about to start. Of course I can't fully understand her and have to give up and explain that I non parlo Italiano. She immediately grabs a gentleman sitting in front and introduces him to me - he can speak English! It turns out he is the father of one of the players, with the number seven on her back. Her name is Greta. He introduces himself as Mauro. She is just back from injury and her dad is anxious about how she will play. In the end he needn't have worried; she had a good game in a tight contest resulting in a hard fought win for the locals.

At half time with the locals holding onto a 1 - 0 advantage we talk about the women's game and football in general. Mauro confirms that the league, although the pinnacle of women's soccer, is not professional in that no one gets paid. Clubs meet some expenses but there is just no sponsorship money to go around. When I mention the men’s game Mauro immediately and expressively waves his hands "well that is a completely different thing! Some players are earning a million euros a season! women's football is not so important.” If you take a quick look at the list of player salaries in the Serie A, Mauro’s comment quickly becomes one huge understatement with the majority of players from the top clubs all earning way above the one million euro mark.

While the women’s game in Italy continues slowly to grow and develop unnoticed, the same cannot be said about the once proud men’s Serie A league.

With the recession in Europe affecting many businesses and individuals alike, it seems that the men's top 5 professional leagues (Germany's Bundesliga, Spain's La Liga, France's Ligue 1, English Premier League and Italy's Serie A) are immune to the trend. Deloitte’s football money league 2013 reports that the combined leagues earned a massive revenue total of 9.3 billion euro for the 2011/12 season, representing an increase of 8% from the previous year. However while it remains in the top five, Italy is fast losing ground to the other big leagues in Europe. Once known as the “Hollywood” of football talent and success Italy’s Serie A has become a hot topic of conversation among local supporters, commentators and the media alike, with many calling for urgent action to halt the decline. The Italian Football Federation in a recent report states that Serie A alone is in debt to the tune of 2.6 billion euro, with a total professional club debt of 388 million euro for the current campaign. Finances are not its only concern as the league is suffering from a number of self-inflicted issues, which are fast eroding the value, and culture of the league. A recent article in the Bleacher Report by correspondent Cheyenne Hollis titled, ‘Serie A: The Slow Death of the Greatest League in Europe’ states that “The once-proud league is quickly becoming an afterthought as scandals, crowd troubles and a poor product continue to plague the Italian game”.

Television broadcasting rights which account for approximately 50% of the league’s revenue are essential to Serie A’s survival. As the league begins negotiations with providers it is faced with an increasing list of problems and none more pressing than a massive decrease in consumer spending as a result of the recession. If you include the current level of club debt, increasing concerns about violence, incidents of racism, past corruption and the poor state of club stadiums the league has a lot to be worried about. Match attendance figures alone have decreased a massive 30% over the last 5 years. Cash-strapped clubs can no longer afford to support star international players who were once attracted to the league and are losing local talent just as fast. But what matters most to the broadcasters is that viewers have begun to switch off in large numbers. Supporters can no longer afford television subscriptions and match day tickets and are not prepared to put up with the dilapidated state of their team stadiums. Personal safety concerns and increasing violence and corruption in state and football management is adding to the collapse of the league’s support base.

Joaquin of ACF Fiorentina scores a goal during the UEFA Europa League Group E match between ACF Fiorentina and FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk at Stadio Artemio Franchi on December 12, 2013 in Florence, Italy.
Attending the Europa Cup match between ACF Fiorentina (Florence Italy) and FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk (Ukraine) at the Stadio Artemio Franchi seemed to confirm all that is worrying about the men's game. Tight security surrounded the stadium as supporters are ushered along outside of a high chain wire fence surrounding the stadium. Many, including myself, are searched and questioned about smoke bombs and flares as they entered. The stands are old and dirty and the complex has no toilets or amenities. The addition of a row of porta loos, while providing to those in need, did nothing to promote the venue. The crowd was in the most part friendly but it did get a bit heated at one end with flares and smoke accompanying huge flags, banners and hearty barracking. Maybe the security checks were only meant for those entering the grandstands, but they didn't seem to have made any difference to me. But what I did notice was the poor crowd attendance. There were many seats left unoccupied. This was an important game for Florence against a club that was determined to overturn a previous loss and to reclaim and leading position within the group. Why were the numbers so low? The stadium built in 1931 has a capacity of 47,000 odd supporters but my guess put the figure at about a quarter of that. While the stadium has a rich history including hosting matches of the 1934 World Cup, the 1960 Olympics and even some games between American service teams at the end of the second world, the stadium is in a very poor state. Despite the conditions the locals that braved the cold night to support their team enjoyed a hard and exciting tussle, with ACF Fiorentina running out winners in the end two goals to one.

Thinking about the crowd numbers, the state of the stadium and the amount of money in the men’s game, as I always do, I draw a line of comparison with the women’s game. While they too struggle for people to attend matches, albeit on a much smaller scale, they have long faced many similar challenges and concerns which are only now starting to affect the men’s game. No media support, no money, no stadiums and no interest. They have never been in a strong financial position and being paid as a professional is just a dream to most. Many women have long been in the position whereby they have to choose between the limited opportunities offered at home or leaving to find greener pastures elsewhere. Not all however in the search of the dollar but to be able to improve their game in an environment which is encouraging and supportive. This is not say that premier women players are not interested in being financially rewarded, it is for the vast majority the only option available in countries where the game is dominated culturally by men.

Amanda Axelson a soccer writer for the Puget Sound Premier League comments on the large number of Italian women soccer players who are travelling to the United States. “Football in the U.S provides Italian females the chance to branch out from their male-dominated Italian soccer world.” Many see football in Italy as only a game for men and because it is so dominant the women’s game is not followed at all. These women see the United States, and other footballing nations that support the women’s game, as a rare opportunity to enjoy the game they love. Interviewed for the same article Italian women’s footballer Alessandra Nencioni commented that all “Italian female players have the American dream to play in a country where soccer is maybe the most followed women’s sport.”

So in facing the cultural and practical realities of women’s football, what really motivates the thousands of young women who play football in Italy today? An article published by Urbino University Professor, Ivana Matteucci titled, ‘Sport as a Cultural Model: Italian Women's Soccer over the Past Ten Years’, may provide some answers. The article based on a survey questionnaire distributed to 100 women who play soccer regularly endeavors to shed some light on the obstacles which block the development of the female sport and what motivates female athletes to continue to play the game.
At the top of the list we find passion for the sport and the enjoyment they get out of playing. Many of them have been repeatedly discouraged from playing the game by parents, relatives and friends for different reasons, but above all, because women’s soccer is not comparable to the men’s game. Many women play for simple personal pleasure and use the sport as a diversion to get a break from the repetition of everyday life. As one might expect, the percentage of those who play soccer only for financial compensation is very low.
Mauro talks again about his daughter and of the game she has loved to play since the age of eight. Greta now shares a flat with two of her teammates (one a former Japanese national goalkeeper) directly opposite the Stadio Comunale San Marcellino where they train and play on the weekend. All are studying at University in Florence. While the club does provide rent assistance Mauro explains that with training four nights a week and a game each weekend, the girls don't have time to work part time (if there is in fact work available) and would not be able to study at the tertiary level without financial support. He is happy to be in a position where he can provide the support that Greta needs to both play the game she loves and to attend University in the hope that she will have the best opportunity for a successful future.

Many find it hard to have any sympathy for the current condition of the men’s game in Italy when most of its problems are self-inflicted due to the league’s unwillingness to act in the face of the challenges at hand. It is clear from the parents and family supporters and that of the many commentators of the game that drastic change is needed both in Government and in the management of football if the both the country and the game is to once again reclaim a leading position in Europe. While they are deeply proud of their country and passionate about the game they love, many believe that the country needs to stop and start all over again if it has any chance of moving forward towards a brighter future.

There are no easy answers to the problems facing both the country and men’s football in Italy, but there just might be some lessons to be learnt from the women’s game. No matter what nationality women and girls just like Greta continually face many hardships and obstacles in order for them to play the game they love. Ultimately the future of the game will depend in part on the willingness of the fans and the old English proverb, “Where there’s a will there’s a way!”

Monday, 27 January 2014

What game is this?

The following images comes from a Sports Memorabilia site. They're beautiful things that date from between 1877 and 1907. I suspect it's closer to 1877 given the qualities of the images. The first raises an interesting question: what game are the South Adelaide FC playing?

This description is found in the listing:
The following four lots are another impressive collection of collector cards, this time South Australian Football Association postcards c.1877-1907 from the renowned Valentine series: South Adelaide Football Club unused card, a few marks and internal creasing else a very scarce and presentable card 

Everything about the South Adelaide players' image points to soccer, except the shape of the ball - which looks more like the conventional rugby ball which was often used in Victorian rules at the time.

Of the images in the series, only one (Norwood) represents a handling game. As the mark and therefore handling were a part of early soccer and also the English Association rules as temporarily adopted in Adelaide in 1873, even this gives us no clearer indication of the code of football being played. The scene represented occurred in every code of football in this period.

The West Torrens image (below right) could well be a classic representation of early soccer with its focus on dribbling and individual head-down charges up the field. Or it could be a rugby scene - or one derived from Victorian rules as played at the time.

The fact that only one of these images involves handling doesn't prove all that much. Though it does suggest that while handling was a part of the game, kicking the ball along and off the ground was a more important component of play.

One more possibility is that the artist's (probably English or Scottish) origins might well have meant that they favoured one code over another, bringing a 'foreign' perspective to bear. As a result the artist imposed or accentatuated the soccerist aspects of the football he or she was meant to be capturing.

It's a conundrum. But nonetheless, these cards are interesting little cameos of one moment in the development of football codes in Australia.

In their shadows

A memoir of soccer in South Australia the 1950s

Bill Murray saw my piece "Bastards Like Them' on Shoot Farken and thought he'd send his own recollections of the time. Bill played with and against the trinity of Perkins, Moriarty and Briscoe and has some fond memories.
Harry Williams in action, photo courtesy Roy Hay
Before Harry Williams played for the Socceroos in the 1974 World Cup in Germany, there were very few Aboriginals playing soccer, yet among those who did were three who would go on to make names for themselves in the world beyond sport. And all of them began their careers in South Australia, playing for Port Thistle, formerly Port Presbyterian Thistle, merging in 1955 with Port Adelaide, one of South Australia’s oldest clubs. Most famous of these three, of course, was Charlie Perkins, the leading Aboriginal activist from the 1960s until his premature death in 2000. Outside of soccer circles his name made the headlines in the Freedom Rides to Moree and elsewhere in 1965, but he never forgot his passion for the game he took up more or less by accident and became a star of South Australian soccer before moving to New South Wales where he had a brilliant career with the Greek team, Pan-Hellenic. Until his last days he was involved in soccer in some way or another. Most notably in the Australian Capital Territory where his exploits have been extolled by the Liberal Party’s Steve Doszpot, himself of Hungarian heritage and another soccer fanatic.

John Moriarty and Bill Murray in recent times.
Photo courtesy Roy Hay
Johnny Moriarty’s success has been even more impressive, albeit less spectacular. Unlike his friend Charlie, he was a stolen child, from Borroloola, who arrived at the St Francis House, an Anglican boys’ home in Semaphore in South Australia, from whence came several young Aboriginal lads who would make a major impact on the world around them. Moriarty’s success on the soccer field led to him being selected to play for the State against Western Australia in 1960, permission for which had to be granted by the relevant body then overseeing Aboriginal affairs. Beyond soccer Johnny went on to make a reputation using his talent in Aboriginal art, above all with the Jumbana Group and the dreamtime painting of two of Qantas’s Jumbos in 1994 and 1995. Richly rewarded for his artistic skills, he has never forgotten where he came from, devoting much of his time to the development of young Aboriginal soccer players, in New South Wales and back in his birth place, Borroloola, or wherever young Aboriginal talent is being encouraged. He hopes to take a team of young Aboriginal players to Brazil this year.

The third star to emerge from South Australian soccer in the 1950s is Gordon Briscoe. Of more modest soccer talent than Perkins or Moriarty, Briscoe is today a professor at the Australian National University, in academic terms going beyond his two “cousins” from the St Francis home for boys in Semaphore with their bachelor degrees: but like Perkins a fighter for Aboriginal rights, alongside Gary Foley and others from the late 1960s. Unlike Perkins and Moriarty who never lost their love for soccer, Briscoe’s interest in politics took over from his interest in the game, although two years in the UK in the early 1960s and recurrent injuries played their part.

I played soccer for Port Adelaide for three seasons from shortly after my arrival in Australia in October 1954, and well remember my first encounter with Moriarty. It was a state trial for the Intermediate (Under-18) team to play against Victoria for the Skolnik Cup, where I was given the instruction: “Just put the ball in front of the little black kid”: that was it as the young Johnny Moriarty flew down the wing with the ball at his feet leaving everyone else in his trail. Moriarty’s career took off, mine drifted, but one of my favourite memories of him after that was the fun to and from an Under-21 State team visit to Port Pirie in 1958. (I was a reserve.  I might also add that in the squad was Denis Harlow,  future historian of the game in South Australia to which he has devoted his life in every capacity)  I have since been told that Johnnie was not a singer but I seem to remember some very good Elvis interpretations. An outstanding feature of Moriarty that I noted then and have had no reason to change my opinion since is that he was always a great sport and a gentleman in the best meaning of that word.

Charlie Perkins watches SA goalkeeper gather the ball against Victoria,
photo courtesy Roy Hay
No-one would have called Charlie a gentleman, in any sense. And yet my early memories, vague and mixed up with games at Gepps Cross migrant camp and anywhere else where a group of migrants got together, was of this most skilled Aboriginal player who epitomised the sporting ideal. My guess is that when Charlie found himself faced by a very unsporting racist society which took advantage of a native population too reliant on the goodwill of the white masters, he made a conscious choice to show on the field of play that he could be as tough and ferocious as anyone. Charlie says that he did not find in soccer the racism that contaminated cricket (where he was equally brilliant) or the other football codes, even if it meant, as has been said, that he might allow himself to be seen as Greek or southern European, rather than Aboriginal. Certainly he was at home among the footballers who made a name for themselves in South Australia at that time: Alex Beattie, who was in Australia’s 1956 Olympic squad, the young Billy Graham, the Ferguson brothers, and most notably South Australia’s best ever goalkeeper, Jimmy McCabe: all Scots,  not surprising - although there were others. I got to know McCabe when we came out as emigrants to Australia on the same ship, the Otranto, where he made a name for himself in deck and other social activities, on one occasion taking over at the microphone to serenade his fellow passengers (until a perhaps jealous sailor switched the microphone off.) When McCabe went to Scotland to trial with Glasgow Celtic he left his car with Perkins to use – with unfortunate results.

Image courtesy Roy Hay
Among this galaxy of stars, albeit from a minor firmament, Charlie was not just a top soccer player, but one of the boys. He was certainly not shy, as Ian Syson reports the secretary of the South Australian Soccer Association as saying, and when he left Adelaide for Sydney in 1961 there were a few people, in particular at the Adelaide Croatia soccer club, with darker memories. Aboriginal politics would soon take over from soccer in Charlie’s career, and as in the way he had come to play soccer, he was prepared to make enemies if it was in pursuit of the new goals he had taken up.

Like me, Gordon Briscoe did not reach the same playing level as Charlie and Johnny, but in becoming a university professor he has surpassed any level I achieved in academia. We both played in Port Lincoln, but he before I arrived there in late 1958. There was a very strong aboriginal presence there, but none in any of the three soccer teams. In my memory, which conflicts with those who say Aboriginals did not play a big role in the Rules games, Aboriginals starred in more than one team. I played Rules on Saturday and soccer on Sunday, Gordon seems to have played only Rules, but I well remember Charlie Oliver who got Gordon to play Rules: he reached the top level in South Australian Rules  but I knew him best as a spearfisherman. (Gordon says he played soccer in Port Lincoln) Gordon and I did not see much of each other after the days at Port Adelaide until we had a brief meeting at the Australian National University in 1969. I also met up with Charlie again, by then better known as an activist on Aboriginal causes, and was pleased to give him a copy of a book of documents on Australian history I had compiled, with one document unambiguous proof of how the Aboriginals of South Australia had been robbed of their land.

Charlie Perkins vaulting his APIA opponent playing for Pan Hellenic in Sydney.
Image courtesy James Hothersall
Each of these young lads in South Australia reached national prominence in sport, politics and social affairs, and all through their meeting at the St Francis House. Each has given his own account of the time there, but you can’t help wondering how they would have made their name if it hadn’t been for them being drawn into the scratch matches at Semaphore. It leaves open the question as to why until recently there have not been more not only Aboriginal stars but Aboriginal soccer players, as there have been in Rules and League and to a lesser extent Rugby where the Ella brothers are stand outs. It is certainly not a case of white racism, as soccer has been much less racist than the other football codes. With Jade North and others as portrayed in the excellent book by John Maynard on Aboriginal soccer players (especially the women), this augurs well for the biggest untapped source of soccer talent in Australia.