Playing long balls into empty space since 2012.

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Tour of Hunter Region Soccer Grounds: Part 2

Under a blood red Hunter sky 

Before Christmas last year, I spent another five days in Newcastle, at the height of the bushfire crisis.

Todd Blackwell and David McGaw were their typical generous selves and helped me get around. On the Sunday, I found myself back in David's car doing the second part of his well-guided tour of grounds and clubs in the district. 

First we tried to identify the site of the Tramways ground in Hamilton, perhaps the crucial ground to enable the boom in Newcastle soccer in the early 1920s.

This was the spot we calculated. Corner of Denison and Lawson Sts Hamilton

David proceded to cart me around in his irrepressible manner. Speer's Point to see the FNNSW headquarters and Macquarie Field the home ground of Lake Macquarie.
Next, on to Maitland where we had a chance meeting with Paul Osland, the president of the Maitland Magpies club at their home ground, Cooks Square Park. I promised to send him proof of something which turned out to be a mistake on my part.

The afternoon saw us head west to the Weston Workers where we had lunch in the archetypal Australian Chinese restaurant and I had my epiphany. Here, in what seemed like the middle of relatively nowhere, stood a well-appointed workers club attached to a soccer ground in a town where the only sport that seemed to be played (other than darts) was soccer. Throughout the club were reminders that this indeed was a soccer club, one with a fabulous history that it is actually aware of (in the form of records and plaques on the walls). I am also assured that there is a swag of trophies under the grandstand, to which we could not gain access. Next time.

There's an extent to which this club represents the heart of the game in Australia, or perhaps the old heart of the game, almost thoroughly British in its roots but full of Aussie-accented 4th, 5th and further generation members and supporters. The club is invisible to most of Australian soccer, yet to itself and the community of clubs it plays against it is a living, breathing giant. More of this later.

Next stop was Cessnock. David took me to the white elephant that is Baddeley Park, Cessnock RL's home ground (with its Garry Jack training field, the name of which prompted a discussion about Ian Roberts, whom bizarrely we saw in Beaumont St as David was dropping me off at the end of the day) in order to contrast it with the condition of Turner Park, the Cessnock City Hornets FC home ground. I preferred Turner Park to be honest. There's a political shenanigans back story to this.

Turner Park, Home of Cessnock City Hornets

On the way back we passed by perhps the most impressive ground of the day, Orange St Abermain. Impressive not because of its facilities or qualities but for the very fact of its existence. Esablished in 1908, the ground is one of many tiny soccer grounds in old pit towns. As David said, the story is that this is Rugby League heartland; so why are there so many old soccer fields and relatively few old Rugby League grounds?

David got me back to my hotel in one piece but not before the aforementioned encounter with Ian Roberts. Another great day that opened far more doors than it closed.

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