Playing long balls into empty space since 2012.

Saturday 29 June 2013

Frank Mitchell. The Australian who played for England

by Roy Hay

(A shorter version was originally published in Australian Soccer Weekly, c. 1 July 1993. The article also draws on a column on the English tour of 1951 in Goal Weekly, on 18 July 2011.)

Who was the first Australian to play soccer for England? The answer to this trivia question might stump most Australian soccer followers. I suspect the majority might go for Tony Dorigo of Leeds United who in 1993 was holding down the left back spot in the absence through injury of Stuart Pearce. Some might raise the name of Craig Johnston, who played twice for the England Under-21 team, though he did not receive a full international cap.

One possible answer is Frank Mitchell.

Frank who, you may ask? I came across Frank Mitchell for the first time when a colleague at Deakin University brought back from the United Kingdom a copy of the Daily Worker Football Annual for 1948-49. This handbook, produced by the newspaper of the Communist Party of Great Britain has an exclusive feature article by Leslie Compton of Arsenal, brother of the more famous Denis, who was also an Arsenal player as well as an England cricketer. It also has many pages of football pools information and advertisements for everything from Mars bars to trusses. Among the five players of the year selected by A A Thomas are Stan Mortensen of Blackpool and England, George Young of Rangers and Scotland, John Rowley, centre forward for Manchester United, Harry Johnston, captain of Blackpool and Frank Mitchell of Birmingham City and England. Well, nearly!

I quote from the appreciation of Mitchell. “tall, golden-haired wing half-back of Birmingham City, must have wondered last season what he had done to offend the selectors. Certainly his consistent displays with the Division Two champions could not have irked them, and though his qualifications for England are somewhat slimmer than most from the point of view of birthplace, neither fact seems adequate reason for his constant omission from the England team. He is an Australian, born in Sydney, New South Wales, 25 years ago, and, naturally, is a cricketer good enough to be a Warwickshire professional. An all-rounder, he bowls a good medium-paced ball, and might develop rapidly if soccer were not his first love. He has once appeared in England's white shirt—against Scotland in the unofficial Bolton Disaster international two seasons ago, in a game featured by the inability of either side to do itself justice. If he continues this season as he did last, there can surely be no further reason for refusing him a cap. Strong in the tackle, and a neat, quick distributor who puts a great deal of thought into his work, he is a player for everyone who likes to see football played in the classic manner”.

So he did play for England albeit in an unofficial game in aid of the victims of the tragedy at Burnden Park, Bolton on 9 March 1946 when 33 people died in a crush during a game against Stoke City, for whom Stanley Matthews played on that ill-fated day. This was before Joe Marston went to Preston North End in 1950. Mitchell played 93 games with Birmingham City, 75 for Chelsea and 193 for Watford before ending his career in 1956. He never did get that full cap in an official game. As a cricketer he played 17 first class matches for Warwickshire between 1946 and 1948.

Frank Mitchell is pictured bottom row third from left.

In 1951 England sent a professional football team to Australia on tour. Mitchell was one of the poster boys for the pre-tour publicity. The English squad was not the strongest professional side which could have been sent, and the five test matches are only counted as B internationals in the records of the Football Association. There were some high quality players in the party from goalkeeper Sam Bartram of Charlton Athletic, Reg Flewin of Portsmouth who captained the side and Syd Owen of Luton in defence and Jackie Sewell, then at Sheffield Wednesday, and Jimmy Hagan of Sheffield United in attack. Frank Mitchell, then playing at Birmingham City, was selected to make the tour and his picture appeared in the publicity photograph which accompanied the team, but for some reason he did not travel. Mitchell played cricket for Cornwall in the Minor Counties in the northern summer of 1951 and may have thought it was more lucrative to do so.

In all the English football tourists played 21 games and scored 157 goals and conceded only 14. Sewell was top scorer with 35, Hagan had 28 and Ike Clarke of Portsmouth got 23. In all over 190,000 fans watched the games, with the largest single attendance being the 46,014 who crowded into the Sydney Cricket Ground for the first test. The game against Victoria drew 29,652 to the MCG, while that against an Australian eleven two days later attracted 25,041 at Punt Road Oval. Steve Czauderna of Polonia, the Victorian keeper, may have conceded seven goals to the Englishmen, but he saved so many more that his team-mates insisted his photograph should appear on the cover of the next issue of Soccer News. All the goals in that game were scored by Jackie Sewell. Alex Barr, who could be highly critical of the local game, said the Czauderna’s performance ‘put him in international class (UK standard)’.

In July three more test matches were played in Brisbane, Sydney and Newcastle and Australia made much more of a game of it in each case. Though England won all three the results were closer, 1-4, 1-6 and 0-5. Ron Lord was in goals in all three games and Bob Lawrie from Ipswich captained the side and kept it together. Lawrie was another who had a spell in England with Portsmouth. Harry Robertson and Eric Hulme with a penalty scored the Australian goals in these matches. Lord went on to alternate with Bill Henderson in goals for Australia through much of the 1950s.

Meanwhile Mitchell continued to play cricket with Cornwall and subsequently he opened the batting and bowled for Warwickshire seconds until at least 1963. He played club cricket with Knowle and Dorridge, where he became groundsman and club secretary and stood as umpire in their match with Old Edwardians in 1980.

Mitchell was born on 3rd June 1922 in Goulburn in New South Wales and died at Lapworth in Warwickshire in 1984. I have no record of any appearances in Australia before or after his time in England and would appreciate any other information on this unknown Australian star.

Tuesday 18 June 2013

When the crowd gathers in Sydney to watch the Soccer

This is a nice piece from the Sunday Herald in 1951 on the occasion of Australia hosting an England XI at the SCG. It's interesting to reflect on the way the writer invokes a multicultural and multilingual spirit all gathered to celebrate the the occasion.

There are many links we could draw with the World Cup qualifier to be played this evening between Australia and Iraq. Not only is a broad multicultural crowd gathered at Sydney's premier football stadium, the big end of town and rugby leagues stars are there in force. Everyone getting behind a momentous occasion in Australian sport.

Bedlam On The Hill


By Our Special Reporter

Thousands of New Australians provided the main colour to yesterday's first Soccer Test between England and Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

In a weird medley of languages they drowned out the traditional barracking of "Coom on, Chooms" by Englishmen and "Gie tha' whustle a rest" by Scots.

Italians yelled "Fuori giuoco" ("offside"). Yugoslav blasts at referee Ron Wright were: "Na cijoj ste strani?" ("Whose side are you on?"). Czechs cried "Odstav te ho" ("Send him off"), and Germans asked, "Sind Sie blind?" ("Are you blind?").

When a pass was foozled, an Australian voice would penetrate the din on the Hill with an expressive "Mug!"

A Scots barracker offered this tribute to record transfer fee star Jack Sewell after a brilliant move: "43,750 poonds, an' wurrth ivery muckle o' it."

As a gesture to the large European element in the crowd the Soccer Association gave over one of the early matches to a "New Australian Cup" between Ferencvaros (Hungarians) and Hakoah (Jewish).


Chinese Roll Up, Too

It is estimated that at least one-third of Sydney's Chinese community saw the game. Chop suey restaurants worked a roster to allow as many waiters and chefs as possible off for the afternoon.

Since a team from their own country drew a crowd of 47,500 in Sydney in 1923 the Chinese have become the most ardent of Australia's Soccer fans.

Expecting them to roll up in. force, refreshment sellers speculated in additional sup- plies of peanuts.



The Chinese came all right. And they munched peanuts all afternoon. But they brought their own.

Now and then a piping cry of "Chuen tai kou" ("pass the ball") came from the stands, but mostly they were expressionless onlookers.

Hawkers of snide first scorer doubles had a profit- able afternoon at the expense of the Soccer new-chums.

Odds of £2 to 2/were offer- ed if the names contained in sealed packets were those of the first scorer on either side.



But the name of the English goalie, Sam Bartram, was included in a section of the packets. For those doubles to succeed would be the miracle to end all miracles.

The crowd, which began to stream in from 10 a.m., was probably the most represen- tative ever assembled on the ground.

They came in convoys of flat-top trucks from the Newcastle and Cessnock areas, and by cars, trucks, and trains from the South Coast.

Some thumbed rides from as far away as Wallsend. Hundreds of North and South Coast motor cycles were in the parking enclosures.



Royal Navy sailors came from Nowra, and an entire cycling club pedalled from Newcastle after a pre-dawn start.

In the members' enclosure were elderly Englishmen wearing cloth caps and rough tweeds. One came in plus fours.

Several Consuls whose home countries are devoted to the round ball code were guests in the official enclosures.

A.J.C. chairman Alan Potter took a day off from racing to see the match. Also there were many bookmakers and big punters playing truant from Canterbury.



In the enclosure, too, were Dr. H. V. Evatt, Rugby League patron, State Cabinet Ministers, members of the Judiciary, and a select group from Macquarie Street.

Mr. Les Austin headed a delegation of Conciliation Commissioners (who had taken the odds and backed Australia).

First World War Diggers, prominent among them Bede Kenny, V.C., deserted the League code for the afternoon.

One English player wisely prepared himself for the rush of autograph hunters. He armed himself with a rubber stamp bearing his signature and an ink pad.

The story is that "Rajah" Miller, president of the Bondi Icebergs, intends offering seve- ral members of the English team honorary life-membership.

Led by Harry Bamford, the visitors have been swimming each morning at Coogee. Bamford claims that, after England, Coogee is like jumping into a hot bath.

The Englishmen attribute their fitness to a match-day ban on drinking and smoking. Their abstinence begins at bedtime on match eve-and that means not even a surruptitious drag on a Woodbine.

But once a match is over an outsider needs a gas mask to get through the fumes.

Who Won? - See Full Story In Sport Section. 1, 2, 3.

See this image for photographs and inscriptions of supporters voicing themselves.

Monday 17 June 2013

Writing in the face of commercialised sport

A review of Paul Daffey and John Harms, editors, Footy Town: Stories of Australia’s Game, Malarkey Publications, Melbourne, 2013, xvii + 390 pp. $30.00.

by Roy Hay

Where is the heart of football when the game at top level is just a footnote to the latest scandal and its professed custodians are scouring the world for ways to borrow from the most commercialised forms of sport? Perhaps it is somewhere between the covers of Footy Town, a marvelous collection of yarns and reminiscences of a generation of amateur and a few professional writers called together by Paul Daffey and John Harms. In similar format to their annual Footy Almanac also written by devotees of the code, this book lays bare the idiosyncrasies of the game, its players, officials and spectators from Abbotsford to Zeehan and even further afield. Where a club or organisation is the focus, the text is supplemented by a panel complete with logo and succinct details serving both as illustration and context.
The chapters are short and self-contained so this is a book you can put down and pick up when there is a gap in your life. Indeed that is the way to read the book so that you can concentrate on the unique features of each them, rather than thinking ‘I’ve seen this before a moment ago.’
Like all anthologies the quality varies, but the best is superb, sparkling, evocative writing which speaks to the human condition, not just footy, while even the more muted efforts have little gems. It is about families, dynasties even, who populated the clubs and teams for generations. The AFL’s father-and-son rule is an attenuated version of the practice which dominates most of the rural clubs through the ages.
Every reader will find his or her own favourites among the offerings and mine include the following.
Murray Bird writes about a fellow Queensland umpire universally known as ‘the Swine’ who sanctioned one recalcitrant player with the first ninety-metre penalty in the history of the game and laid out another with a flying elbow off the ball.
Vin Maskell takes us on a research trip and learner driver instruction with his son as he chases information for his Scoreboard Pressure website. Clint Rule is old enough to know better but he still manages to fill much of his space with the nicknames of the Adelaide University club including six of his own.
Robert Allen takes us to Minyip in search of Roy Cazaly’s brief spell in the Wimmera where the store he was supposed to be running during interludes between footy and cricket went bankrupt in 1925. The bonus in this story is a short history of the Minyip club and the Wimmera league, one of the strongest local competitions of that era.
Michael Sexton tells of matches for Edwardstown Baptist in Adelaide where he and a bunch of his university mates used to turn up for a game and be thumped by more industrial spirits. But that lets him bookend his story with Gavin Wanganeen’s first game of football for the red and blacks at the age of fourteen. The Brownlow medallist and premiership player remembers ‘I played for them, it was great. I got my eye socket busted in that match’.
Di Langton tells how she got a gig as a football writer for the Amateur Footballer on the strength of a description of Chopper Read’s ears and Katie Lambeski celebrates a premiership with St Albans Spurs seconds.
Quirky, sad, inspiring, funny and thoughtful, this is as good an account of what the game has contributed to Australian life and really means to its devotees even in this commercialised age.

Friday 14 June 2013

Soccer in Western Sydney (Part 2)

In an earlier article I looked at the Granville Magpies and argued that the way their war service was reported spoke volumes about the way soccer was embedded in their community before and during the First World War. The Roll of Honour citations for three of the dead Magpies suggested their game was an important part of of their lives and the communities in which they lived. Often the way we write about our dead, especially our war dead, measures our significant cultural practices.

Lidcombe Methodists

A similar story can be found in relation to another Western Sydney club in the Second World War. The Lidcombe Methodists also provided a good number of soldiers, three of whom did not return. The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate of 31 July 1940 contained the following report:

Protestant Churches Soccer

The inevitable has happened. Lidcombe Methodist team has been forced to draw out of the first grade competition owing to five of its members joining the A.I.F. Regrettable as it may seem, there is the consolation to its leaders that its eligible members have responded to the call of Empire. (p 4)
Little was the writer to know that many more from the club would enlist over the next few years. In October 1941 The Cumberland Argus told the story of how seven of these schoolfriends and teammates "together since kindergarten" joined up as a group. The important things to note again are how local and embedded these young men are in their communities, how ordinary their jobs were, and how 'typical' they seem.

Together since their kindergarten days, these seven Auburn soldiers are all serving overseas with the A.I.F. Mrs. Haggett, of Simpson-street, Auburn, told their story this week; She is the mother of Gunner Haggett. "These boys grew up together and looked upon my house as their own," she said. "They all went to Auburn North School together and played with the Lidcombe Methodist Soccer Club." 

"'Bunny' left with the first A.I.F. contingent, and the others resolved to follow him, which they did. "All the boys but mine have met him, but my boy wanted to see him, perhaps most of all. Once in the.Middle East, he missed him by a few hours:" Private Burrows has been through every A.I.F. campaign, and was last heard of in Palestine. Gunner Viquerat and Gunner Haggett went to Syria, but their present whereabouts is unknown. Driver Manks is in Malaya, and Private Bowen, Driver Klein, and Gunner Froud are in Syria. Before enlisting, Private Burrows was employed by the Australian Gas Light Company, Gunner Viquerat was a driver for Schweppes, Gunner Haggett was an upholsterer, Driver Manks was a plumber, Driver Klein worked at the Australian General Electric Company; Gunner, Froud was at the Advanx Tyre and Rubber Company, and Private Bowen was employed on the railways.  

"All 'the lads write to me regularly, and now they're looking forward to the day when they stage their big re-union," said Mrs. Haggett. "But there'll be a bigger, re-union when they get back to Aussie," she added, Wistfully. 
A member of the Auburn Red Cross, Mrs. Haggett also belongs to the Auburn Women's Voluntary Services.     
The mothers of the other boys belong to the W.V.S. 

In July 17 1946 The Cumberland Argus contained a follow up piece which told that ultimately 16 players from the club served and three of them (Manks, Moss and Thomas) did not return. Nonetheless the players fulfilled a vow they made to each other to reform the team (as the Auburn District Soccer football club) and play again. No doubt some thoughts for their fallen teammates were part of the process of renewal.

The Pledge Has Been Fulfilled

When 16 members of the Lidcombe North Methodist Soccer Club joined the A.I.F. in a body in 1940, they vowed that all who returned would again team-up together.
Today, the pledge has been fulfilled, and the former comrades on the field of battle are together again on the Soccer field. All but three returned. They were Driver "Joey" Manks (21) who died in Borneo in 1945; Allan Moss, R.A.A.F., killed in, Australia; and Driver Arthur Thomas, killed in Borneo.
Those who returned are now assembled in the Auburn District Soccer football club. Playing first-grade metropolitan league, until recently they were the leading team. They are only three points down now. One of the players said to-day:
"We're not quite as good as we were-after:all, six years away from the game does mean something. "But we've never been defeated by more than two goals," he added. He spoke highly of club president Perce Bunyan, who, he said, had "rounded up the players, helped finance the club, and got it going again."
"Only for him we would not be where we are to-day. All the boys appreciate his work," he added. Other club stalwarts are vice-president Rowe Denny (First A.I.F.), and secretary Tom Haggett.
Again the beauty of this story lies in its ordinariness: everyday, predominantly working-class Australian men thrust into war and whatever misery, heroism and solidarity they might have encountered in their time in the armed forces. Among the nourishing memories of family, school and friendship they each had soccer as a game that united them, sustained them and gave them something they could return to and ritualise if they were fortunate enough to return physically in one piece.

Soccer was there before they left and it was in place when they returned. And it is still there today at one of its not infrequent peaks in a 130 year-old history of being a vital sporting mainstay of Western Sydney.

Wednesday 12 June 2013

Round Balls in Melbourne 1879 (why?)

The Footballer was a fantastic compendium of information published yearly from 1875 until the early 1880s. It contained all Melbourne footy results and ventured interstate from time to time. It's a vital resource for football historians, especially those interested in Victorian rules. It tended to be ecumenical in its outlook and would also publish bits and pieces about rugby and soccer. The 1875 edition is the place I found reference to the Woogaroo game (the first recorded game of soccer in Australia). 

This advertisement in the 1879 Footballer got me thinking though.

Given that soccer is not played formally in Melbourne until 1883 and footy gave away the round ball in the 1860s, to what use would these round balls be put by the kids (and adults?) who played with them?

Moreover, the 1878 edition contained a brief and reasonable history of the Association football from its formation in 1863 until the time of writing. It also presented the FA rules for Melbourne readers. Why? It's a simple question but one with a complex answer I suspect.

If anyone wants to see the 1878 edition, follow me on twitter @iansyson and send me your email address. Happy to email it to you.

Saturday 8 June 2013

The Grand Final that never happened

by Chris Egan

Like other aspects of our NSL history, Perth Glory's 2003 Grand Final victory was expected to be forgotten by the people of Perth. When Matt Carroll infamously said that Perth Glory was not ten years old, in season 2 of the A-League, we were effectively told to see the 'new' Perth Glory as a different entity from the 'old' NSL Perth Glory. This included forgetting our Grand Final victories.

The players celebrate Perth Glory's first
Grand Final win in 2003.
Yet on a cold Saturday afternoon, exactly ten years from our first victory, a small but vocal group of Perth Glory fans re-watched their first grand final success with all the passion they had done ten years before. The crisp air was strangely reminiscent of when, as a sixteen year old, I had gone to Subiaco Oval dearly hoping my team would win the NSL championship.

AFL often celebrates ten-year milestones of premierships. The West Coast Eagles Premiership was remembered and lower leagues clubs often commemorate their flags. In an Australian sporting context, this celebration from the fans comes from a cultural acceptance that premierships are revered not just once, but forever. These memories are treasured tokens of our identity as fans.

The FFA confronted these ideas in its attempt to create a Ground Zero. As fans sung You Fat Bastard to the video screen, they continued on what they had sung in 2003.

The football body believed it owned the history, the direction and the way Perth should deal with its past. This central desire to build a club for the A-League, without respecting the past caused serious damage to both the brand and image of the A-League in Perth.

The fans in the Elephant and Wheelbarrow exemplified what the fans have won in the history wars of 2006. One of my mates put on facebook after the game: “10yrs on this game still gives me chills. Thanks to the GFU crew that made the effort to come and watch this piece of Glory history.” The FFA's desire to have a central message and therefore an erosion of Perth's history challenged peoples feelings, emotions and understandings.

Why scrap our history? Why erode a moment that means more to me than you will ever understand? They lacked an understanding that by declaring Ground Zero they have seriously damaged some of the fans who drove the creation of the A-League.

Not everyone was caught up in the excitement
at the Elephant & Wheelbarrow
At this Grand Final Tana handed out Pro-Lowy cards to fans who were desperately tired of the lack of reform. Glory was a club that was designed to show Australia that professional football was achievable. The FFA said these things were not important.

It is clear to Perth Glory that the damage of the Carroll era is still there. Hopefully, the lack of diversification of the A-League message and the football administration's atrocious handling of Perth will never happen again. But deep distrust remains about the FFA and conspiracy theories are aplenty: the FFA hates Perth; they don't want us in the league; they won't allow us to win the Grand Final.

The fans loved celebrating a past that we were told to forget. They chanted, they celebrated the goals and they drunk into the night. The group that organised the event hoped to generate excitement for the upcoming A-League season. Inter-connecting the NSL past to the A-League future, something that the history wars declared could not happen.

We also articulated a strong stance against Simon Colosimo. Despite winning the Marston medal for best on field that day, his antics after the 2003 NSL season and later in the A-League has tarnished his legacy in the eyes of the fans. Whenever he touched the ball “Judas, Judas, Judas” was screamed at the TV.

  Captain, Simon Colosimo became a target for the boo boys. 
Western Australia was so outraged about Colosimo leaving the state’s sporting team, that he was harassed no end by the media. David Mitchell had to sideline him from the playing squad for the last three games of the A-League season and he was booed in the last game he played. Leaving the club twice, second time as captain means that positive aspects of his time at Perth will be ignored by fans who see him as having disrespected the purple shirt, twice.

The NSL and A-League eras have been connected together by the fans. They see their history as inter-connected, not separate as Matt Carroll said we should. It proves what many sports historians claim: the fans own the history; nobody else. It is fans who keep history alive.

In 2013 memories have not faded for events that occurred in both the A-League and the NSL. There remeains an appreciation and a love for the past which was said to be ‘irrelevant’ to our future when our tenth birthday celebrations were squashed by Year Zero mentality.

While many argue that Perth Glory is just a ‘franchise’ the legacy of the NSL continues to shape our A-League future.

Tuesday 4 June 2013

How the West was Won

This article (a retrospective from The West Australian in 1929 on the occasion of an Australian rules junior carnival) tells an interesting story of how soccer went from being a dominant junior sport in Perth into being a poor relation. The author sees a J.J. Simons-led Victorian invasion and an upsurge in Australian nationalism as being responsible for Australian rules' ascension into first place in Perth's sporting culture. I've posted about this before but this article speaks wistfully and eloquently for itself. It's biased for sure and there will be alternative perspectives, but the letter's tone of resignation articulates a kind of wearily defensive and reactive perspective familiar to contemporary socceristas.

The piece also offers an interesting perspective on the contemporary AFL push into Western Sydney. Do the schools still hold the key?


(By 'Penalty.')

How many of those who will throw themselves with zest into the schoolboys' football carnival will look back to the vital days in the annals of metropolitan school football— the period of 1900-2— and venture to concede a word of gratitude and praise to those who brought about the great change from the supremacy of British Association football to Australian football?

About 1900-2 there were some 28 schools almost entirely given over to the playing of the soccer game, and the then-called 'Victorian' game had scarcely a footing. The outlook for the home code was gloomy indeed. Soccer had a well-established and popular association, with, senior and junior leagues of excellent and promising standard; it was gradually moving ahead in popularity. It drew officials players and supporters from every walk of life, and seemed destined to become firmly fixed in the hearts of the populace. It was not exactly due to any inherent and special merit of the soccer code that this supremacy was due, but rather to the in difference of such Australian authorities as there were in those days. The soccer association recognised—quite early—that the schools were the best recruiting grounds for any game of football, and from this sphere they looked forward to receiving a large number of promising lads, together with the personal interests of their parents and friends, to build up the popularity of the game in Perth and district. And it was not costing them very much, perhaps only an occasional ball. They tried to inculcate the spirit of self-help or pure amateurism, and the response was remarkable. The association was fortunate in having in those days a band of enthusiastic and untiring men to push this work along in Alex Peters, Captain White, the Burt brothers, and many others, and members of the Schools' Athletic Association, particularly Messrs. Hamilton, Hughes and Wheeler, with all of whom time and expense appeared to be of no account so long as the schoolboys continued to play soccer.

But then someone in the Australian camp had a brain wave, and before the soccer officials woke up to the strength of the campaign launched against them a very powerful movement was in full swing to dethrone the so-called 'foreign' game in favour of the one fashioned and perfected in Melbourne, and till then making little headway in the West, notwithstanding the influx of Victorians into the State after the discovery of gold. The man who figured most in the van of this campaign and who came rather like the bull in the arena to the unsuspecting soccer officials, Was J. J. Simons. Others assisted him, but he it was who aroused the excitement and resentment of the soccer officials by the pertinacity of his efforts to win through with the scheme. The soccer officials fought him by pen and speech, and interview with the schools authorities, but their attempts to stem the rising tide or favour for the 'Victorian' code were in vain.

With free guernseys, free balls, and plenty of enthusiastic coaches and organisers, the campaign was carried on with unusual fervency, and zeal in the avowed interests of Australian nationalism. But the scheme did not end with the schools; it was carried over into the ex- Scholars' region with, extraordinary success, and it was a clever and effective move to give these bands of enthusiastic youngsters titles after Australian explorers and statesmen. Against this wave of fervour for the new game the soccer code very soon began to languish, and its senior and junior leagues began to find themselves lacking in recruits. By about 1910, with immigration slackening off, some of the senior soccer clubs found themselves in difficulties and in some cases had to be abandoned.

When the war broke out there was a very limited number of players available outside the actual clubs of the day. When the struggle for supremacy was raging, about three schools had teachers who stuck very loyally to soccer— Claremont, Fremantle and James-street, which adopted a kind of mixed attitude and played both games. Afterwards, as the result of some concession by the schools authorities, the soccer game has managed to keep a certain amount of affection among a section of the boys of several schools, and to-day it may be conceded that the round ball, while not so common in the school playgrounds as in the years around 1900-4, has its relative place in the scheme of juvenile pastimes. Looking back over these 30 years the writer, as one of the soccer officials of the 'nineties, doubts if without the enthusiasm of J. J. Simons, the Australian game would ever have made its position as secure as it did.

Monday 3 June 2013

Another Fozzie Pot Shot in the Code War

Craig Foster is right to see other codes of football trying to rewrite the past in their own image. He is also right to see soccer-like games being played by Indigenous Australians way back when. But he has no basis for his most recent claim that soccer is "Australia’s true, indigenous game".

* * *

If soccer has been too readily written out of Australian cultural historiography and the idea of Aboriginal soccer sounds like an oxymoron, much emotional and intellectual energy has been devoted to establishing the indigeneity and Indigineity of Australian rules football. Writers like Sandercock and Turner, Blainey, and Hess and Stewart have written long and eloquently of the vital contribution Australian rules football has made to Australian life. Through their work they argue that Australian rules is the indigenous and national Australian game.

More recently, influenced by the work of Jim Poulter, Martin Flanagan and others, a younger set of critics has begun to entrench an even more spectacular notion: that Australian rules has Aboriginal origins and, as such, is an Indigenous game, a controversial claim that generates much debate. The Football History Wars (sharing some of the gravitas of the more general History Wars) peaked in 2008 over Gillian Hibbins’ suggestion that the purported Aboriginal beginnings of Australian football are a ‘seductive myth’.

Hibbins stood accused of neglecting the massive contribution Aboriginal people have made to Australian rules football when she suggested that there is no evidence to support the hypothesis of Aboriginal origins. However, this accusation confuses the undeniable presence and influence Aboriginal people have in contemporary Australian rules football with the idea that Aboriginal people have been there all along. Aside from being historically questionable, it is an inadvertent way of ignoring the racism to which Aboriginal people have been subjected within Australian rules football. To suggest that the game has Aboriginal origins is to assert a lineage that can comfortably charge through the packed histories of Aboriginal exclusion. It reads the long century of racism endemic to the sport as a deviation from the true original spirit, rather than as something that was inevitably there in the colonial enterprise of establishing a codified sport with British sources.

According to Tony Collins, the purported Aboriginal origins of Australian rules lend themselves to a contemporary political exercise. He believes that
it has now become popular to imagine that Australian Rules has its roots not in Australia’s imperial past but within its native Aboriginal culture. The invention of an Aboriginal pre-history for the sport therefore plays the role of, as Hobsbawm and Ranger point out for different contexts, ‘establishing or symbolizing social cohesion or the membership of groups, real or artificial communities’ and ‘legitimizing institutions, status or relations of authority’. For the AFL, it plays a crucial role in authenticating its claim to be Australia’s true national football code.
Practically, it is to forget the racism that drove Doug Nicholls out of the Carlton Football Club. It is to forget the colour bar imposed in the Darwin competition in the 1920s that resulted in the Aboriginal players temporarily shifting over to soccer. It is to forget the near total absence of Aboriginal players in the history of Australian rules football’s premier competitions until the 1980s. Ultimately it is to forget why it ever occurred to Nicky Windmar to raise his guernsey and point proudly to his skin.

* * *

There is no question that Aboriginal people played forms of football in the 1850s and earlier. Whether as marn grook or under some other name, there are many historical examples. The following etching by Gustav Mützel is a rare pictorial representation of Aboriginals playing football and has been the source of some debate about the kind of football it represents.

The Age argued in 2007:
An etching of Aborigines playing “kick-to-kick” near Mildura could be the first record of Australian football, experts say. The black-and-white image, created from Victorian scientist William Blandowski’s 1857 observations, precedes Australia’s first known game of football - a match between Scotch College and Melbourne Grammar in 1858. Dr Patrick Green, Museum Victoria’s chief executive, was thrilled with the historic find, which could ignite debate on Australian Rules Football’s origins. “We’re suggesting this could be the first image of football in Australia,” Dr Greene said.
While definitely not the first record of Australian football, it certainly is an early image of football in Australia. But it is not an image of Australian rules, even if it is assumed to portray some characteristics of that game. Yet Green claims:
I was looking at the image with my colleagues for different reasons entirely, and suddenly it struck me. Those kids are playing footy! It looks just like the games of ‘kick-to-kick’ we used to play in the school yard. Look at that guy: it seems like he’s preparing to take a mark.
In order to make his argument Green needs to ignore two things: 1) William Blandowski’s 1857 notes on Aboriginal life on which the etching was based. Blandowski describes the game he observed thus: “The ball is made out of Typha roots; it is not thrown or hit with a bat, but it is kicked up in the air with the foot. Aim of the game: never let the ball touch the ground;” and 2) the actual visual representation. From both the written description and the etching, the boys in the middle background are participating in an activity that more resembles soccer (keepy-uppy or hacky-sack) than Australian rules (kick-to-kick).

Indeed it also resembles more the game as described by SCR Bowler in 1901:
The children play a kind of football, the ball being made of opossum wool, spun by gins, and made into a ball about 11/2 inches in diameter, they do not take sides. One person kicks the ball up in the air, and then there is a general scramble to see who can kick it again before it touches the ground; the main object is to keep the ball from doing so, if it does, however do so, they start afresh. It requires great agility and suppleness of limb to play the game with any great skill. Whoever kicks the ball the most number of times is considered the best player. When any of the players miss the ball the others all laugh at him.
The contemporary game named Woggabaliri in the Australian Sports Commission’s guide to Aboriginal games seems to have been informed by the same practice.
Aboriginal people in places such as the Bogan and Lachlan River areas of New South Wales played ball games with a ball made of possum fur. This was usually spun by the women and made into a ball about 5 centimetres or more in diameter. The various types of games required great agility and suppleness of limbs to play with any degree of skill.

The name for this game was taken from the Wiradyuri language for ‘play’ (woggabaliri). This language was spoken or understood by many Aboriginal groups in central and southern New South Wales.

Short description
This is a cooperative kicking volley game to see how many times the ball can be kept in the air before contacting the ground.
An argument could be mounted that proved through this evidence that Aboriginals first played a game more resembling soccer before they ever played Australian rules. This argument would be crowned by the fact that in June 2009 a team of young Aboriginal players from Victoria played in the national Aboriginal soccer titles under the name of Marngrook Meenteel (Football Stars) thereby recovering their true soccer heritage. This argument is of course futile and probably offensive – and it is of the same usefulness as any other attempt to recreate the past in the likeness of the present.

We need to remember that Indigenous cultural practices were (and still are) a diverse and complex set of behaviours that varied from region to region. Foster might be right to see the Mützel etching as representing a soccer-like game. But first he needs to take into account that the etching is not a photograph but was an image made by a German artist who had never been to Australia and who was relying on the evidence of an explorer when he created it. Secondly, even if we see this soccer-like game as a staple of the region in question, games more resembling Australian rules or the rugby codes were played elsewhere.

Ultimately there is no one true Indigenous game. By making such an assertion, Foster inadvertantly buys into the logic of the AFL and takes the debate into the realm of mythology. There is no doubting Foster's passion and enthusiasm. I just wish he'd read and consult with football historians before making claims like these. They help no-one trying to understand the complex genesis of any and all of the football codes in Australia.

Sunday 2 June 2013

Night Thoughts on the NPLV

by Ante Jukic

As a devoted fan of Australian football and also having an interest in the media, I feel obliged to shed my thoughts on the current turmoil surrounding the NPLV saga, and also the coverage in reaction to ongoing developments.

With my work and the ungodly hours during the week that come with it, I never seem able to find the time to contribute regularly aside from weekend match reports for local newspapers. In reality, I can only break stories sporadically on top of my primary workload. I admit this with some regret due to the renowned tendency for the Addy in particular, to focus on local footy, netball and the Cattery, in neglect of other important sporting topics, in recent times.

Not that I have anything against that. Whoever listens to his and David Jacoby’s hilarious yet insightful podcasts will immediately understand, but in line with the ethos of Grantland’s Jalen Rose, they’re giving the people what they want.

Alas, I only really have time to submit my thoughts about it all through this, ultimately on a whim, as the hour suggests slumber. So much so, that I haven’t really put much thought into a platform to convey them that will get on side with all the soccerati, in some sycophantic attempt to gain e-cred.

Fuck it, here goes.

With all the news and gossip about the NPL, along with subsequent rhetoric from both sides of the footballing spectrum, a few things have struck me while reading on the topic.

I’ll expand on them in this piece, and hopefully in others if I have the time, or if I get enough feedback to suggest people aren’t completely uninterested. (Not really. The feedback doesn’t bear the utmost importance, given the therapeutic nature of this piece.)

Before I continue, I’d like to tip the proverbial hat, to those endeavouring to relay as much information to the football community as possible. 

I remember breaking it for Goal last year, with respect to the FFV’s plans put forward to VPL clubs nose raised, and doing a few follow up pieces for the Addy, but MFootball particularly have done a remarkable job pushing the story. 

I am not suggesting that anyone currently covering is missing the point, and the last thing I want to do is evoke in a footballing sense, the icy and begrudging disappointment usually reserved for that weekly ritual on Aunty, but here’s where it can improve.
  •  Analysis of the actual criteria in what purports as serious journalism remains, by and large, lost.
  • Regarding the significance of the reforms on the game here, I find it astounding that neither of Melbourne’s major mastheads have picked up on the matter. 
  • Given this magnitude of the restructure’s effect on the local game, the disturbing ambiguity from the FFV on its implementation conveys a seemingly abhorrent disdain for the media, and for general transparency.
On my first point, enough has been stated about cost. The risk of a fatal gulf between potential turnover and potential expenditure is an important issue and one to which clubs and reporters have every right to give ample attention. On that token, an actual breakdown of potential costs is justified (e.g. cost for coaching, hiring a adequate facility for 40 weeks, licencing, compared to income), considering the sheer amount of conjecture surrounding a possible balloon in expenses. 

However, I find it fascinating that arguably just as big a point in the discussion, what’s to be changed on the pitch, has by and large been left out from conversation. As stated in 4b of the FFV’s NPLV Participation Criteria, clubs must “agree to implement the 1-4-3-3 formation for junior teams” in an effort to synchronise junior development across the country and provide an easier path for elite, talented youngsters, or something that’ll suck unknowing parents in along those lines. 

Doesn’t that challenge, though, the very thing people love about the game in the first place?  I’m keen to take in any expansion or disagreement on this. Or any of the piece for that matter. My love for football stems not only from the unmatched duality of physical attrition and ingenuity, but from the manifestation of identity through tactics and style.

Being able to play the game the way one sees fit in its purest, most innocent form.

I can understand this line of thinking within a national team setup or solely within the confines of an individual club, but wouldn’t the next logical step be to enforce the same method onto A-League franchises if it was initially enforced on clubs? 

With the ever-changing and counter-acting nature of tactics in football, as well as the diversity of style within it, this ludicrous notion sets out to undermine the subjective essence of football and why it captivates. 

This restructure after all, mind, is seen in some circles as rendering meaningless club identities and cultures - like the A-League did to a degree - proving another body blow to the proud tradition of Australian football, amidst the increasingly American culture of centralisation and over-regulation in the Australian sporting landscape.

Relative to the baggage that lingers in discussions about the history of Australian football, and the questions that remain as to the status of clubs that were once at the top of the game’s competitive heirarchy, that’s also worthy of discussion and analysis, right?

Basically, this system will knowingly nurture and promote players unable to tactically adapt in real-time to the developments of a given game. 

Scrap that.

Basically, this system will knowingly nurture and promote players unable to tactically adapt in real-time to the developments of a given game, against opponents that don’t adhere to kneeling before the fashionable formation of the time.

Implementing such an inflexible and closed-minded notion doesn’t serve to enhance the potential of juniors; juniors a part of such a culturally and philosophically diverse community that is the Australian footballing family. Rather, it restricts, and changing the course from above, would take far too long to properly administer, once modern footballing tactics naturally adjust to what is currently the norm, like it always has done. Anyone who has even flicked through Jonathan Wilson's Inverting the Pyramid as an introduction into tactical analysis can view this as undeniable.

FFA and in turn FFV, in this instance, are voluntarily placing us behind the eight ball, allowing others to innovate for us, while our governing bodies will decide whether it’s viable to play catch-up. The fact remains this is a central issue, and that it has garnered little to no attention worries me.

Shit, it’s past midnight, though. Folks have gone to sleep, record’s stopped playing, and my eyelids are heavy. Enough for now.