Playing long balls into empty space since 2012.

Tuesday 14 May 2013

Soccer in Western Sydney

A response to Kevin Sheedy

So it has come to this. According to Kevin Sheedy, Western Sydney Wanderers have been successful because the Immigration Department recruited its support base.The whistler has whistled and the dogs are barking. The Victorian imperialist has inverted logic and history and turned the local game into the foreign one while his imported culture is promoted as the one that truly belongs.

Perhaps the whistler has a point. At least half of the members of Granville Magpies (pictured below) were migrants. Let's not let the fact that the photograph was taken nearly one-hundred years ago spoil the argument. The Magpies were a strong club in the early 1900s and continue today in various forms. [Happy to hear from people who want to point me at a good history]. They represent one of the many historical elements upon which the present support for the Wanderers rests.

Reading left to right. — Front Row: *J. W. Masters, E. Mobbs, *W. E. S. Dane. Second Row: *H. Wheat, J. Riordan (chairman G. and D.F.A.), R.H. Moore (captain), .T. Nobbs (patron), H. Hoffman, J. Tillman, L. Gill. Third Row: A.  Epps (hon. sec. G. and D.F.A.), *R. Fairweather, * J. W. Cottam, F. M. Smith, J. Davis, *E. J. Doherty, F. Robertson (hon. sec). Back Row: F. Waddell (manager), A. Peaty, S. Hilder, *Sergeant-major F. Doherty, P. T. Williams. Asterisk denotes those at the front. J. W. Cottam has been killed, and R. Fairweather is a prisoner in Germany.
The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate Saturday 18 August 1917 p 4

Like many of the soccer clubs established in the pre-WW1 period, the Magpies contributed to the war effort. Seven of the twelve players pictured went to the front. In total 17 out of 22 Magpie players in 1914 could "be accounted for as having done or are doing their bit for King and country in foreign parts."

At least one, J.W. Cottam was killed in the fighting. Even the military circular announcing his death comments that he was a "paramount soccer player".

This is an extended notice of his death in the Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate on Saturday 5 May 1917:
The deceased soldier, John Willie Cottam was a great favorite in this district. He was a noted Soccer footballer, and many members - and high officials, too - of the G. and D.F.A. have this week quietly and unassumingly bowed their heads as they heard the sad news. He was a prominent member of the redoubtable 'Magpies, and played centre forward in the team that won the double event-  the Gardiner and Rawson Cups - in one season (1914), following it up in 1915 by again winning the Rawson Cup and only meeting defeat for the Gardiner Cup in the semi-final, in 1915. He also held an honor cap from the Sydney association. His only, brother, Private Albert Cottam, is 21 years of age, and is still fighting in France; He enlisted in November, 1915, was ill in Egypt, completed his training in England, and has been in the firing-line since November 10, 1910. He, too, was a footballer before enlisting, but was attached to the Parramatta Juniors, who won the Soccer medals in 1914.
Another Magpie not pictured in the team photo also met his death at the front. The Cumberland Argus Saturday 28 July 1917 reported:
PTE. WILLIAM ERNEST BRICKLEY, of Clyde, killed in action. Soccer enthusiasts in the Granville district will regret to learn that Private W. E. Brickley, better known as Billy Brickley, paid the supreme sacrifice on the battlefield in France on 3rd May last. He was a prominent member of the old Magpie team and one of its best players. His poor old mother, Mrs. A. Brickley, who resides in Factory-street, Clyde, received word from the Defence Department on 3rd June that Billy had been reported missing on 3rd April. Then on 10th July she got further word that he was killed in action on 3rd May. The last letter she received from him is dated 2nd May, the day before his death. He was then in cheerful mood and seemed pleased to let his mother know that after waiting anxiously for many months for a letter from home, he had just got a whole bundle of letters. He belonged to the 18th  Battalion and left for the front in October last year. He went straight to France after leaving Australia? He was 28 years of age, was married, and leaves one child. His father died about two years ago. He was the youngest son and was born at Kendal-st. Clyde. He went to North Granville public school and  afterwards was employed for years at the Clyde Engineering Co.'s Works and later at Messrs. Ritchie Bros.    
Other men is the district also fell. The Cumberland Argus Saturday 5 June 1915 reported that the
Granville and District Football Association, at its last meeting, carried votes of sympathy to Mr. Mills and family and Mrs Rea and family in the fate of their sons at the Dardanelles. The fathers of both these gallant boys were two of the earliest players of the Soccer game in the State, and are not yet forgotten by many friends they then made. Trooper Mills, of course, was only wounded.
SERGEANT WALTER E. REA. A promising popular Parramatta boy - at the time of his death 20 years of age - gave his life for his native land and for Empire, when Sergt. Walter E. Rea fell on the field of battle at the Dardanelles on May 24. The deceased soldier was the eldest son of Mrs. Rea, of Church-street, Parramatta North (widow of the late Mr. David Rea, a popular Parramatta citizen and footballer of 20 years ago). Sergt. W. E. Rea was grandson of the late Alderman John Saunders. He was an officer at the Parramatta North Methodist Sunday School for a time before he left. He was one of the first of the Parramatta lads to volunteer; and his high character and attention to his military duties soon won him promotion.
More work needs to be done on the commitment of the district's soccer players to armed service and this represents just a taste of it. But the point of this is not only to acknowledge this contribution but also to reflect on how the language of the obituaries indicates that these men and the game the played were embedded in their community. Soccer is celebrated as a central (and not peripheral or foreign) aspect of their social lives in Granville and Western Sydney.

The Cumberland Argus on Saturday 22 February 1919 reported on the return from duty of two of the Magpies in the team photograph.
Harry Wheat, the well-known Magpie player, returned from the war a week or two ago and visited Granville on Monday. He was captain of a Soccer team at the last camp he was at in England, where a competition. was held amongst the different companies, of soldiers. The final game was played on the Saturday prior to his leaving for Australia, and his team scored a good win. Ned Doherty, the well-known full-back of the Magpies, was also a player.    
Wheat and Doherty had played a fair bit of soccer while in the army, many Australian troops did, and they returned, expecting to resume their careers with the Magpies, which they duly did. They certainly wouldn't have expected to have been thought of as migrants and foreigners in their own country. Nor would they have expected their game to be seen as a curiosity played and supported by people who needed to be "channelled" and "brought" into the region by a government department. And they certainly wouldn't have expected a dog-whistling migrant from far away Melbourne to announce 100 years later that the game they played and nurtured in Sydney's west was anything other than a rich and established local culture of 130 years standing.

PS. Informants have indicated that two of the family names in the team photo live on in the names of the Eric Mobbs Reserve (a present day soccer facility) and the Cottam Cup, a Granville district knockout trophy that goes back to 1907 (resuscitated in 2011 after an eight-year break). Interestingly, the earliest reference I can find to the Cottam Cup is in 1920. Perhaps the name was changed after the war to commemorate John Cottam.

Indeed it was:
To-morrow will be a gala day at Clyde Oval and the whole of the net proceeds are to be donated to charities in the Granville district. The match of the day will be the Cottam Cup final between Two Blues and Granville Rechabites. Play will start at 2.30. The Cottam Cup is a memorial trophy. It was originally the trophy for the First League premiership, and was donated by the late Sir Harry Rawson and known as the Rawson Cup. It was won outright   by Granville, who handed it over to the Granville Association, to be played for annually as a memorial to Jack Cottam a clever forward, who made the supreme sacrifice in France. Arrow 15 October 1920 p 6 
See my follow up here on the Lidcombe Methodists.


  1. Comment by anonymous received:

    The Victorian Imperialist you speak of has done more for indigenous anglo relations than any other sporting identity in this country yet you hang him for a remark that has elements of truth in it, typical Australian tall poppy syndrome.

  2. Why just Indigenous-anglo relations? In any case I would have thought Charlie Perkins did a little more for Indigenous relations with the rest of Australian than Sheedy.

    It strikes me that Sheedy has been something of a beacon on this matter within his code and good on him for that.

  3. You are insinuating that he is a racist which is why I stated that he has done great things for this country in terms of bringing Anglo and Indigenous Australians together that is all. Charlie Perkins was and forever will be one of Australia's greatest advocates for an equal Australia in all honestly he is without comparison and i was negligent in not mentioning the great South Australian.

    I do not however think hanging an Australian sporting identity for remarks that were actually true is a fair reflection of his efforts within society to bring everyone closer together. Although as you state its your biased perspective which I appreciate.

    Sheedy drafted the first devout Muslim (Bachar Houli), Daryl (i think that was his first name) Washington in the 90's was the first African American trialled by any AFL team, The first African to train with an AFL club was invited down by Sheedy in the 90's, Developed the Tiwi Bombers footy team, Encouraged and stood by players who were racially abused by fellow players on the field and started the Dreamtime at the G game. So in my opinion Sheedy has been a little harshly judged for comments that i repeat have ELEMENTS of truth.

    P.S. Fascinating stuff about the Granville Magpie's, as a sports lover that is the type of thing that needs more coverage, Australia's sporting history, cheers Mick

    1. remarks that were 'actually true'...

      So the Australian government via its immigration department actively recruited fans to Western Sydney Wanderers? What is actually true is the federal government did establish a partnership to support young people from migrant and refugee backgrounds in Greater Western Sydney, a partnership which the Giants, NOT the Wanderers, are an active member. So tell me once again, where in Sheedy's commentary is there anything that is 'actually true'?

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Sheedy is not a racist. Never said he was. He is however, an AFL activist and propagandist who has stooped to xenophobic rhetoric in his defence of his team's poor attendances. (Btw I've heard reports that there were far fewer than 5k there on the weekend).

    When people talk about what Sheedy has done they mention what he has done WITHIN footy. What about external activism? What about his role in other sports? Has he contributed to ethnic and racial harmony in soccer, the code with the greatest racial and ethnic diversity?

    I know Essendon Football Club helped out with a soccer team based in the Horn of Africa community based in the Flemington housing estate, but I'm not sure that was Sheedy's doing.

    As for Sheedy recruiting the players you mention. Well as someone who watches a game that is full of 'foreigners' and people from diverse religions, I am not really impressed. Footy was an ethically exclusive game for such a long time, forgive for not applauding as it slowly plays catch-up to other sports in our community and pats itself on the back as it does so.

  6. Sydney Olympic paid for Charlie Perkins to go to university - and we all (should) know how that ended up.

  7. Sheedy is a serial offender. He used the "gag" on Fox Sports The Back Page show on 16th April along with multiple references to "flares". It sounded as though he was working off a talking points memo provided by AFL House.

    Funnily enough Israel Folou was a guest. He did not sound best pleased that "Sheeds" was around to share his wisdom. He sound surprised that he was expected to have a cozy chat with his former mentor.

    The podcast is available via Itoons or your favorite podcast aggregator

  8. "When people talk about what Sheedy has done they mention what he has done WITHIN footy." THAT'S THE POINT that Sheedy's defenders tend to miss. Of course he is not a racist or a xenophobe. I'm sure he'd love to have Muslim, Afican, Asian champion players in the AFL or his team.

    What we are pointing here is that while his work is commendable, it is still work for the AFL - which is fine! It's when he disparages the support the Western Sydney Wanderers have achieved, saying basically they have to import them from overseas - that's not OK.

  9. Gweeds, what happens in the minds of AFL supporters is what we literary critics call metonymy (the idea of a part standing for the whole). AFL footy is not just a part of Australian culture and society, it IS Australian culture and society. One's behaviour within AFL is then taken to stand for the totality one's ethics, morals and politics. Sheedy's exemplary behaviour within footy puts him beyond reproach.

    Those of us who lie either partly or wholly outside of AFL culture are beyond the pale. For someone outside AFL to criticise someone within is intolerable.

    I'm sometimes accused of being a footy hater simply because I'm positioned outside of AFL culture. I don't hate footy because I don't care enough about the game one way or the other. I don't like the footy media or the AFL hierarchy though and will always pipe up when I see them behaving badly or unfairly.

  10. Great banter Ian, I do agree he is an AFL activist and make no attempt to argue differently. Glad to see my insinuation was wrong about Sheedy being a racist and that your merely giving your opinion on his very evident lack of knowledge of what is the thriving heartland of Australian soccer, Western Sydney.

    Your points are valid and true that he has not in any way tried to contribute to ethnic and racial harmony in soccer, however his role as an AFL coach would hinder that. Dont be surprised if next year once officially relieved of his coaching duties that he does get out there in the community albeit a little late. He met with Sir Alex this year or late last year so he obviously has an interest in the game he just knows who butters his bread.

    I too watch soccer Ian (Southampton staying up, legends!!) and enjoy the fact that the pitch is a veritable UN convention. The AFL does have a history of embracing migrants you just have to look at the Greek and Italian teams of the century. As of now there are 16 international players on AFL lists (puny in comparison to the world game but is growing) and over 80 players with at least one parent born overseas. Also google Southern Dragons VAFA team and St. Kilda City, they are like soccer teams in terms of ethnic diversity.

    AFL will never be the first choice for new Australian's which gives Wanderland a leg up in gaining NEW supporters from overseas. A comment which has alienated the existing soccer community out west which the Author points out has been entrenched in the area forever. Anyway play both like I used (indoor soccer and Footy) or basketball or netball just stay active and competitve. Cheers Ian, Mick

  11. Sheedy's comments are puzzling as Western Sydney is also a rugby league heartland. Are the immigration department recruiting for Parramatta & Penrith too?

    At the root of Sheedy's comments is the concept that 'soccer is un-Australian'. It is ironic that many people who love the oval ball also pledge themselves to a Premier league club and admire its achievers - yet attack the game on our shores.

    Soccer is Australian as John Howard's xenophopia. In 1939 some members of the touring Palestine Maccabi team remained in Australia and died serving our country. They did this despite the anti-Semitic undertones of the tour. So while some members of this touring soccer team served 'good old' Collingwood kept playing.

    James H

  12. The thing is that Western Sydney is very much alien territory for AFL,it is the heartland of Rugby League and Australian Soccer.Those are the sports most played in the schools,so the AFL has a long way to go to win hearts and minds.Also,I was listening to SEN on this topic,and one caller who lives in Sydney claimed that many of the Sydney Swans' members are ex-pats from the southern states.The figures show that the Swans,despite their success in the past decade,are only ranked 12th in average home attendances and membership,many of whom are old South Melbourne fans living in Victoria.

  13. If Soccer Associations marketed themselves properly at grassroots level, soccer would definately blow rugby league away in Western Sydney

  14. Thanks for that article Ian. I was thinking of writing similar, but no point now, you have done it well.

    I would though add Frank Doherty to the list of those who died for country and played for the Magpies. Even though Frank returned to Australia in 1919 he died two months after returning from complications associated with wounds he received in France.

    Frank was a notable defender and played in the 1914 premiership winning team. He left for the front in July 1915.

    Just on the side, John Nobbs who appears in the 1915 team photograph was Granville's first Mayor, in fact a pioneer of Granville and together with Fred Barlow were prominent patrons of the game.

    Also Eric Mobbs, the goal keeper, went on the become Mayor of Dundas and after amalgamation Mayor of Parramatta.

    We have at the Parramatta Heritage Centre the original photographs of the 1914 and 1915 teams if you would like a copy.

  15. Thanks for sharing the information.