Playing long balls into empty space since 2012.

Thursday 24 May 2012

The Code War 1950s' Style

There must be a united front from all Australian football clubs to halt the soccer movement.

Around Australia, and particularly in Victoria, access to (enclosed) grounds has been a troubling issue ever since people have wanted to play organised outdoor sport. As the dominant Victorian code, Australian rules has looked on protectively at the network of grounds over which it has had tenure, having established its possession of them over many years. Periodically, other sports, often soccer, have threatened the exclusivity and stability of that network of grounds.

There have been years when the tension has escalated into something resembling sustained turf wars. 1954 was as vicious as any.

The story of this footballing year opens with an incredible offer from J.U.S.T. Soccer Club to pay the local council £800 (perhaps $40,000 in today's terms) to rent Toorak Park on alternate weeks throughout the winter. The council initially rejected the offer, something which caused an outrage among ratepayers.

Prahran refusal opposed


Prahran ratepayers will demand an explanation of the Prahran Council parks and gardens committee's decision to refuse an £800 offer by J.U.S.T. Soccer Club for the use of Toorak Park on alternate Saturdays this winter.
The council will consider the committee's recommendation that the offer be refused when it meets on Monday.

Mr. G. T. Gahan, Prahran Ratepayers and Progress Asso├žiation president, said yesterday he would lead a deputation to the meeting on Monday night to protest against the action.

Mr. Gahan said: "Prahran badly needs money. Our Royal tour decoration scheme was sadly hampered by lack of sufficient funds and the council is seeking permission to float a £17,000 loan for urgent works.


"If the council refuses the offer of £800, I will seek referendum.

"It is ridiculous for the council to seek a loan when it is refusing good money like this."

Mr. Ivan Kuketz, J.U.S.T. president, said yesterday "We have no fight with Australian Rules, League or Association. We have some money, and we need somewhere for our boys to play.

"We have only asked for use of the ground on alternate Saturdays, and have no wish to push Association players out.

"We can help them, and they can help us, by sharing the ground. It is ridiculous to fight."

Cr. Martin Smith, chairman of the parks and gardens committee, said the offer had been refused on sentimental grounds only. The V.F.A. club had played on the ground for 50 years. (12 February)
Grandstand at Toorak Park, nd. Image courtesy Stonnington Library.

At the subsequent meeting the offer was again refused at an effective cost of £775 to the ratepayers of Prahran. Loyalty and fairness were cited as the reasons - ones that probably wouldn't get much of a look in today's culture of pragmatism.

Soccer £800 refused

Prahran Council last night rejected the £800 offer by J.U.S.T. Soccer Club for the use of Toorak Park on alternate Saturdays this season. It confirmed its parks and gardens' committee's decision that the ground be let to Prahran V.F.A. club at a rental of £25.

Cr. Martin Smith, parks and gardens committee chairman, moving the refusal of the J.U.S.T. offer, said: "I agree that the offer is tempting, and that the ratepayers are to be considered, but in fairness to our Australian game and the Prahran Football Club, which has been our worthy tenant for 50 years, I feel we must remain loyal to it."

Cr. G. S. Gawith, Mayor, was the only councillor to oppose the motion. He ordered his protest be recorded on the minutes.

A request that a deputation from ratepayers protesting against the refusal be heard, was referred to the next meeting of the parks and gardens committee. (Argus 16 February)

Interestingly, the following makes it clear that the Prahran decision was not all-encompassing because soccer was played on Saturdays at Toorak Park late in the season and on occasional Sundays during the season. The Argus reported on 13 September that the council was paid £750 for three Saturdays' rental for Dockerty Cup finals.
Prahran cricketers will not be able to use their ground at Toorak Park until the 1954-55 season actually starts. Their ground has been let for soccer finals for £750 for three Saturdays, ending September 25. As the cricket season starts on the following Saturday, only a week is left to prepare a wicket.
On top of this, at one stage soccer and baseball proposed the addition of lights to the ground to allow night matches! The council agreed in principle but the proposal fell over because the relevant clubs and associations couldn't meet the costs involved (Argus, 16 November)

If footy celebrated the council's loyalty in this instance it didn't have long to wait for a nasty setback in the nearby suburb of Brighton. The Argus reported on 24 February that Elsternwick Park had fallen to the soccer hordes (but only every second week):

Soccer Victory Shock to national Code 


VICTORIAN FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION and Amateur Football Association officials have been shocked by the announcement that Elsternwick Park had been leased to Brighton Soccer Club on alternate Saturdays this winter.

The ground, previously shared by Brighton Football Club and Elsternwick Amateur Football Club, now will be occupied by Brighton Football Club and Brighton Soccer Club.

Mr. Jack Fullarton, secretary of the Victorian Amateur Football Association, said he was "absolutely rocked by the news that Elsternwick amateurs had been kicked off' their ground."

"Elsternwick was first given permission to use the ground in 1908," he said.

"Now, apparently, £. s.d. has destroyed all the goodwill built up by the amateurs in their 46 years at the ground.

"After giving such long service we have been kicked off. It is one of the rawest of raw deals."

Mr. Fullarton claimed most of the amenities at Elsternwick Park had been paid for by money raised by the Elsternwick Amateurs Ladies' Auxiliary.

"Now soccer is to take over the advantages gained by the hard work of the Amateurs," he said.

Mr. Alex Gillon, newly appointed president of the Victorian Football Association, said he believed soccer had made it first step in its campaign to seriously rival Australian football.

Now soccer has one of the V.F.A.'s grounds, and appears likely to seek others, it may, also make an attack on some of the weaker League clubs.

"I think this is a job for the Australian National Football Council."

"United Front"

Mr. Harold Snook. V.F.A. secretary, said: "There must be a united front from all Australian football clubs to halt the soccer movement.

"After all, the grounds and their amenities were built by the pioneers of the Austra- lian game, yet soccer is just stepping in and taking it all away.

Mr. Bob Coldrey, secretary of Brighton V.F.A. club, claimed the move was "the first "leg-in" for soccer.

"With the soccer club using our ground for training on Mondays and Wednesdays we will have to find a new place for our second eighteen," Mr. Coldrey said.

"The senior team's pre-season Saturday practices have now been cut down from five to three," he added. (24 February)
The VFA saw this very clearly as a war between the codes in which a united front was needed to stop the movement of soccer into Australian cultural space.

Some correspondents, however, saw soccer in a positive light, as a game which enabled cultural commerce between peoples and nations. Bill Drummond of Oakleigh wrote to the Argus:

Sportsmanship is wonderful

IN view of recent comments on the Brighton Soccer Club obtaining the lease of Elsternwick Park, I would like to make the following observations: Sportsmanship is a wonderful thing as we read of Gordon Pirie being coached by a German, Billy Knight gaining valuable experience with the Lawn Tennis Association, John Landy receiving invitations to help him in his mile record attempts, John Marshall, and a lot of other sportsmen being offered scholarships so that they can concentrate more on sport.

Sportsmanship creates international good will, and will help us to make our migrants good Australians. This country has long had the name of being one of the best sporting nations in the world, yet how can we reconcile this reputation with the recent statement by the V.F.L. secretary: "There must be a united front from all Australian football clubs to halt the soccer people"?

What of the invasion of international football in the 1956 Olympic Games? Will this be banned from Australian grounds and forced to play in the open parks, with few facilities for players and spectators?

This is the set-up at present, and all soccer people ask for is a share of some decent grounds. Give them a go! (5 March)
A substantial 'go' in this matter was not forthcoming. In March, a number of Australian rules bodies met to discuss the issue and organise their strategies of resistance:

Soccer 'grab' gives V.F.L. worry

REPRESENTATIVES of the Victorian Football League, Football Association, Amateurs, and the A.N.F.C. will meet soon to discuss inroads on football grounds by soccer clubs.

The question was discussed by V.F.L. delegates last night when a letter was received from the V.F.A. suggesting the meeting. Mr. K. G. Luke (Carlton) said soccer had acquired more grounds during the past year than the V.F.L. had in 20 years.

Finance was mainly responsible for Soccer clubs acquiring some of the grounds used for Australian football, said Mr. Luke. Funds were coming from overseas to help secure those grounds. The Australian game was a cheap sport, and not a money spinner, and could not compete in this direction.

Later in the meeting Mr. Phonse Tobin (North Melbourne) suggested the League should do something to counter soccer influence.

Coaching class

Mr. Tobin said coaching classes, set up by each club, should operate in those areas where migrants were strongest. The meeting adopted a suggestion by Mr. Luke that the V.F.L. propaganda committee should discuss the question and produce a scheme.

Mr. W. Brew (Essendon), president of the A.N.F.C., said individual clubs should take action. He said a meeting of sports masters had been called at Essendon to discuss the subject. (Argus 13 March 1954)

This piece articulates themes that echo across the decades:
  • soccer taking over established footy grounds
  • soccer using foreign money to influence councils
  • soccer as a wealthy body
  • the need for footy to appeal to migrants and educate them about the game
  • the importance of schools in educating boys into playing one sport or the other
Perhaps it also surprises in its declarations of poverty for Australian rules, especially given the popularity of elite forms of the game and the income generated through the turnstiles. Australian rules has always been conscious of the the financial drawing power of established elite soccer (witness 70,000 people paying on average $100 each to see a 'meaningless' friendly between Australia and Argentina on a Tuesday night in September 2007). It is only in recent years that the AFL (via some clever corporate management and extraordinary broadcast deals) has become such a wealthy sporting enterprise.

There is no question that soccer was growing around Australia during the early 1950s and the pressure being felt by Australian rules in 1954 is understandable. However, the following piece from the Argus just one day later, on 14 May tells a pretty blunt story of the problems soccer faces in Melbourne at this time, problems that utterly contradict the points made the day before. 

According to this second article, a potentially booming game is being held back by councils refusing to grant access to enclosed grounds. Despite the compelling arguments made by the game's advocates and organisers, soccer had struggled for many years to acquire home grounds for leading clubs and in 1954, despite whatever complaints were being made in footy circles, the game was yet to possess an enclosed ground. While the headline seems to continue the paranoia of the first article (with soccer supposedly keeping a covetous eye on footy grounds), the body tells a very different story.

Soccer has eye on grounds  


Chairman Victorian Amateur Soccer Football Association, as told to BILL FLEMING

FOR almost six years now, Victoria's soccer fans have been paying a weekly tribute to make soccer "talk big." It's been an unsung sacrifice with sixpences, threepences, and even odd pennies - so soccer promoters may one day buy enclosed grounds for our booming sport.

And soon - sooner than Aussie Rules fans think - the tribute will be paying dividends. Already a £12,000 official fund has been built up - and there's much more money behind that. Any sport which can attract sufficient numbers in open park lands, with no amenities for players or spectators, to subscribe £12,000 in less than six years must surely have a strong claim for better conditions.

Soccer's spectacular rise In popularity in the postwar period is due mainly to the arrival of 612,375 migrants in Australia between 1947 and 1953. Of these 171,000 have settled in Victoria, and whether they come from north of the Tweed or the depths of Central Europe, they all cherish soccer.

Are we in Victoria going to adopt a dog-in-the-manger attitude and compel these thousands of New Australians to drop their game and suffer instead Victoria's "foreign" Australian Rules?

Soccer does not want to oust Australian Rules, but it wants, and demands, a fair deal for players. and spectators. It is fighting for survival. We know enclosed grounds are available - but not available to soccer!

Why can't Association seconds teams stage their games as curtain-raisers to the firsts, as is done with V.F.L. finals? And why can't they let soccer use the vacant grounds, and share the cost of providing amenities of benefit to both codes?

A "mutual benefit fund" could even be established to finance the improvements. Almost every suburb has an enclosed ground, but Melbourne's football fans only pay to see 12 League teams and 14 Association teams play.

At the same time, there are 46 soccer clubs, comprising 86 senior teams and 47 junior, and none has an enclosed ground.
Both articles cannot be right. The two pieces outline a fundamental conflict between the two codes in terms of both interests and perceptions. They also bring home the issue of the reliability of journalism in constructing a historical record. Just where does the truth lie in this matter? It is a matter of separating the rhetoric from the facts.

The to-ing and fro-ing continued in the press and, fortunately, some maintained their senses of balance and humour. G. Johnston of Toorak played with the war metaphor:

This is war

Get the Army. Navy, Air Force out; apply for American military aid; use the A-bomb, and enlist all flt people in Australia to fight the greatest menace in the world today - soccer. That's about the attitude of Australian Rules football officials against a sport which is played in 57 different countries and attracts millions of people every week against a code which is not even played all over Australia. (17 March)
While some members of the public could see the lighter side of the matter, the footy clubs themselves were taking it seriously. In April Essendon FC convened a public meeting, "intended to create a more football minded public in the Essendon district and to combat the rising progress of other codes - particularly soccer." (Argus 2 April 1954)

Many within footy saw the situation as very much one of crisis. In a long article focused on the problems facing Australian rules in 1954, the writer foresaw the dangers inherent in the potential collapse of the VFA. The piece mentions 'other codes' but the game clearly in the author's sights is soccer.
If [the VFA] went out of existence - and that is a real possibility - the way would be opened for other codes to take over the grounds in the growing outer districts.

The threat from these other codes means little at the moment. Any expansion, they may have made in recent years is due solely to the number of New Australians now in our midst. Nothing can draw them from their national games, so what they do has no effect upon Australian Rules. What does matter, however, is what their children do.

In this lies the danger to Australian Rules if these other codes get control of the outer ring of grounds now occupied by the Association. This would give them a tremendous impetus in the rapidly growing areas of Melbourne.

Not only would it make the way easy for the New Australians to have their children play the other codes, it would also give them a splendid opportunity to woo young Australians, for the major ground in any district is the focal point for all young sports lovers. Consequently the League must decide whether to bolster the Association sides or, somehow or another, hold their grounds. (Argus 17 April 1954)
The VFL, via its official publication, The Football Record is publicly conscious of the crisis revealed by the Prahran and Brighton ground allocation conflicts. The very first issue in 1954 is unashamedly propagandist on the matter, making the argument that footy must reign because soccer is "tame, insipid, uninspiring". It is
not a game for a young and virile country. The United States evolved their own football game of ''gridiron" to suit the volatile enthusiasm of their young and up-and-coming nation. We in Australia have evolved something much better—a game of football that has been acclaimed by all who have seen it as unequalled the world over for excitement and spectator appeal—a thrilling experience for players and onlookers alike.
Let us, then, guard this glorious heritage, bequeathed to us by those pioneers of 100 years ago, who builded better than they knew. Let us unite to strengthen and preserve the national game. Today soccer is assuming some importance. That is only natural. The advent of hundreds of thousands of migrants into Australia has meant that soccer—the only football game they knew—must inevitably be played here—for a while at least. That is a situation with which we have no quarrel. But when municipal councils and/or trusts controlling sports arenas decide that for a few hundred pounds they will kick dinkum Aussies off arenas which have in fact been established, and in most case maintained, because of football—Australian football—then we feel it is time to act.

As propaganda, this is both insidious and effective. But is it enough to stem the soccer tide?
If self- or national interest would not convince those in power to defend Australian rules against the soccer threat, there were other means of creating moral panic. For some, enclosing a ground in Albert Park would effectively restrict children's capacity for play in the Albert Park/South Melbourne area.

Labor 'must save the parks for children's play'

THE Labor Party had to fight to preserve Melbourne's inner parklands, Mr. F. McManus, A.L.P. assistant secretary, told the opening session of the annual Victorian A.L.P. Conference last night. He was replying to criticism of the Labor Party's veto earlier this year on a proposal to fence a section of Albert Park for soccer matches.

The veto was criticised by Senator Kennelly, chairman of the Albert Park trustees, who said migrants from overseas should have a right to play and attend their own type of football in a minute area of the 688-acre park, where no sport had been refused a ground.

Mr. McManus said professional soccer interests, which had great influence and large amounts of money to spend, should not have priority over other sports in the search for playing areas.

These soccer interests showed no interest in grounds in the outer suburban areas. If the trend of fencing off parklands continued, a ring of enclosed grounds diverted to a single sport, would be established on Crown land in industrial areas.

Mr. McManus said once a fence was erected, buildings would arise. Finally the children from industrial areas would be excluded following claims that sporting property had to be protected.

Mr. D. Lovegrove, A.L.P. secretary, said Labor had vetoed the proposal to fence a ground at Albert Park because it would have created a precedent.

The central executive's report on its actions to prevent alienation of parklands over the last year was adopted by conference, with some dissentients, on the voices. (12 June)
And, in what was to become a staple for those criticising soccer for decades to come, Ken Moses invoked the spectre of ethnic soccer violence. Though he did follow this with a positive story (in keeping with his normally fair-minded, if glib, perspective)

Where's that soccer deputation! Why keep it quiet?


ABOUT three weeks ago the Victorian Amateur Soccer Association was going to send a deputation to all newspaper managements. The deputation was to complain about all the adverse publicity soccer had been getting - the brawls and crowd riots, &c.

The deputation did not take place - the council thought better of it at the last moment.

Prime mover behind the deputation was Hakoah club. Hakoah was the club which recently had its tenancy of St. Kevin's Oval, Heyington, cancelled as from the end of July.

Now Hakoah was slaughtered by Moreland at St. Kevin's last Saturday. It was a very interesting game.

Hakoah supporters staged a demonstration every time a decision was given against their team. Three of Hakoah's players were cautioned by the referee. The police had to protect the referee from the crowd at the end of the match.

Yes, it is a great shame that deputation never took place.


NOW something on the other side of the soccer picture.

At the international games at Toorak Park on Sunday, there was an interval between the matches. During that interval Empire Games athletes Winsome Cripps and Marlene Middlemiss give an exhibition run.

From a crowd, of which more than 50 % were New Australians, the blanket appeal resulted in the sum of £105 for the girls' appeals for funds to pay their way to Vancouver.

That is as much as the Melbourne City Council gave to the whole Empire Games appeal. And it is a credit to soccer and its followers. (7 July)

And if all that had gone before didn't work to convince readers that soccer was the great evil, then a subsequent event might. The game was poised to commit the greatest of crimes, the murder of a pennant cricket club!

Soccer may kill a pennant club


Prahran cricket club might lose its affiliation with the V.C.A. because its ground has been let to Soccer for semi-finals and finals through September.

Each pennant club gives an undertaking to the V.C.A. that the curator will be given time to top-dress and otherwise prepare the ground for the opening of the season, which, this year, will be on October 2.

Because the ground will be used for Soccer this cannot be done this year.

The subject has not yet come officially before the V.C.A. but the executive of that body will meet on Monday, when it is almost sure to discuss it.

Years ago Collingwood was out of the V.C.A. for several seasons, because no guarantee could be given that the ground would be available as required for cricket. (31 July)

Yet again a writer managed to use humour in countering this rhetoric."GREENIE" from Tullamarine writes:


Marvellous the excuses and alibis made to "down" soccer by us "sporting Australians," now the "foreign game" (like cricket) is preventing topdressing of the Prahran oval. Could not the Government declare this game illegal? [And clap all those kids who play it in backyards, and alleyways into Pentridge?] (3 August)
More interesting than Greenie's implied defence of soccer is the editorial allusion to kids playing the game in the backyards and alleyways of Melbourne, thereby domesticating soccer in a vital way. It's an uncommon image in Australian cultural memory.

After the dust had settled on the 1954 football season, Labor Party deputy opposition leader in the Federal Parliament, Arthur Calwell articulated the position that should (in my opinion) always hold the upper hand—that all sport should be encouraged and allowed to blossom to its potential. A devotee of Australian rules, he nonetheless condemned the selfishness of an organisation and culture that wanted all for itself. If only the following were published every year in Victoria and politicians and community leaders took its sentiments to heart!

Share sport grounds, Mr. Calwell

"Monopolistic control" of Melbourne sports grounds should not be tolerated, Mr. Arthur Calwell, deputy Opposition leader, said yesterday.

League and Association football clubs should help to foster sport by opening their grounds to teams which play other codes of football, he said.

"Our football clubs have nothing to fear or lose, because nothing can supplant Australian Rules football in Victoria," he said.

"It is up to civic authorities to see that playing grounds are made available tor all forms of sport." (Argus 27 September 1954)
It really is no surprise that Calwell's positive sentiments were not heard by some. Even in the height of the cricket season, footy officials were still working out how they were going to combat the ever-present 'soccer threat'.

V.F.A. can 'defeat soccer threat'


RETIRING Camberwell secretary, Mr. Ray Bond, believes the threat of soccer to the V.F.A. can be overcome by co-operation of the two codes in the use of grounds.

This is one of several suggestions in the secretary's report to be presented at Camberwell's annual meeting on December 7.

Mr. Bond said the threat to some Association clubs by soccer is very real.
But one answer to this could be to form a V.F.A. soccer division under V.F.A. control, playing as a curtain raiser to the main game. The third 18's could then play as curtain raisers to the seconds.

With the two codes on the same ground and both controlled by the club, attendances and finances must benefit. (22 November)
The bizarre suggestion that the VFA should run a soccer competition (in cahoots with the organisation they claim is trying to undermine them or as a new breakaway soccer competition) perhaps shows how out of touch they were with reality - though it does echo another moment in the 1930s when the VFA threatened to adopt soccer as its code in the face of VFL instransigence. Absurd ideas for absurd times!

* * * 

How did these issues play out over time? Has the intransigence and enmity subsided into a competitive tolerance between the two codes or are we still at war? How well did soccer go in its attempts to obtain grounds? When we watch the A League or even some Victorian Premier League games we can be lulled into a sense that in the main the problems have been solved.

Those of us who frequent the Victorian Premier and lower Leagues will tend to disagree with the idea of a broad-based improvement, because we experience the historical trace of soccer's marginalisation just about every time we go to a game. South Melbourne's newly renovated Lakeside home is a stark exception to the rule. 

South Melbourne's shiny new Lakeside Stadium (I preferred the old Bob Jane Stadium).
We know well enough that many of our games are still played on glorified windswept tips and though much love and hard work has gone into many of the grounds in use, the sense of being on the edge of things is very much with us. On the terraces at Somers St (the home of the Melbourne Knights, one of Australia's top 5 clubs ever), spectators are standing in the confines of a stadium at the edge of metropolitan Melbourne wedged between an industrial estate and a cliff above a deep quarry. Spectators can almost feel the historical processes of marginalisation at work as they stand there watching the remnants of a strong and vital soccer culture as it struggles to maintain a semblance of what it was, waiting metaphorically to fall into the void below.

Indeed to stand at Somers Street pondering these issues can really lead you into thinking that while the "footy people" lost a few battles in 1954, in the end they may well have won the war. We'll see.

Knights players in preseason training at Somers St in 2010. Note the city in the background.
Just behind the terracing is a steep cliff and quarry. Image taken from Melbourne Knights FC web site.


  1. Ian , I went through all those times , including Moreland fencing Campbell reserve tio be the first in the early 1950's through the use of the Melbourne Showgrounds & The Brooklyn Speedway . The vitriol against Soccer included Collingwood denying the AOC the ability to use Victoria Park for the Visiting Countries @ the 1956 Olympics for training. With the comment "they can play in the gutter for all we care "Great Sportspeople - why were they scared of Soccer ? Ted Smith

  2. South Melbourne's ground is far from the exception to the rule but rather shows the continued conflict between the game and Australian Football. Eddie McGuire's influence in the redevelopment of Lakeside is well known and as a South fan I see the new stadium as the loss of this State's top professional public soccer specific stadium. It's been replaced by an Athletics stadium and South is hurting. No Social club and an awkward sharing arrangement between the VIS, Athletics Australia and the controlling body of the Stadium...

  3. The loss of Middle Park was a major blow for the world game just for the sake of being bulldozed for a stupid car race. This stadium has many found memories for me as I watched many games there with dear departed father.