Playing long balls into empty space since 2012.

Friday 26 July 2013

'Soccer' in Adelaide in 1854

The Register in Adelaide published this piece in 1907

"One of the Old School" writes: - "As an intimate and almost lifelong acquaintance of the late Mr. John Acraman, I was pleased to peruse the interesting account of his career published in The Register last week.  
Among the various points which attracted my attention particularly was that in regard to Mr Acraman's association with athletics and sports, especially football. It is quite true that he was the first man to introduce football properly into South Australia, and that he had five round balls sent out from England. He also erected the first set of goalposts. That was over 50 years ago - to be exact, in 1854. As there were no rival clubs the pioneer 'hunters of the leather,' who included numerous St. Peter's College old boys, picked sides. The combats took place on the park lands between the Frome Road and City Bridges, under what were known as the Harrow rules. The goalposts were about 9 ft high with a bar across the top. The ball had to be kicked below this, and could not be handled except when being marked. Shouldering was permitted, but holding and hacking were strictly prohibited. The teams usually comprised 20 men each. . . .
Written as a recollection on the life of the recently departed Adelaide identity John Acraman, it details a very early football game in Adelaide. The game description seems very close (as far as we can ascertain) to the very first FA rules (of which the mark was a part). It seems to me that in 'genetic' terms this game is closer to soccer than any other code and that we are able to claim this as an early example of soccer in Australia.

An obvious exception could be taken insofar as Soccer does not technically exist until 1863. This is true but it would be based on the assumption that soccer magically appeared at that point without any developmental impulses. Soccer emerges from a number of strains of football: Eton, Harrow, Cambridge and Sheffield as well as local rule-bound small-sided games across Britain. This game in Adelaide is about as close to soccer that you can get in its pre-figurative forms.

It is worth noting that this date is 4 years before the first game under the 'Melbourne Rules' (a game which looks nothing like contemporary Australian rules) and 23 years before Victorian Rules is adopted as the major code of football in Adelaide.

Check out this example of Harrow football from 2011.  Given that the rules have altered very little over time, it's a kind of time capsule for how the game was played 150 years ago. Here's the Wikipedia link to Harrow football supplied by Albert Ross below.

Tuesday 23 July 2013

Restart of soccer in mellbourne 1909

Here's a photograph of the framed collage of teams and dignitaries in 1909, the first season after soccer's 12-year break in Melbourne.

The teams are, in no particular order:
  1. Melbourne United
  2. Carlton United
  3. Williamstown
  4. Fitzroy Districts
  5. Prahran
  6. St Kilda

The collage also depicts the Dockerty Cup, the man himself, and the committee in the middle.

Click on the image to enlarge.

Thursday 18 July 2013

The Forgotten Grounds of Sydney

The derelict stand at St George

This is a taster for Les Street's recent article 'A Retrospective Overview of Select National Soccer League Venues' published in the International Journal for Sports History. For copyright reasons we can only run so much but hope that it gives you a taste of Les's work. The piece open with an abstract:

In 1977, the National Soccer League (NSL) became Australia’s first national sporting club competition. However, throughout its lifespan until its eventual demise in 2004, it was plagued with turmoil. One major issue faced by the League was the excessive number and range of grounds used for competition matches, including finals. Whilst the code of soccer obviously revolves around these so-called theatres of sport, there has not been any comprehensive study or analysis of the history and development of football stadiums in Australia. Indeed, in the Australian context, the focus of academic writing on the code has largely been on matters relating to ethnicity and governance to the detriment of other worthy areas of research. Against such a historiographical background, this paper provides a unique snapshot of selected former NSL grounds in Sydney, Australia, detailing their growth and development using both primary and secondary sources. The key findings not only highlight a number of contrasts and changes in the evolution and expansion of these football grounds, but also help to contextualise the evolution of the League itself.
Football – the terminology used throughout this article to describe association football or soccer – is an area of study where the main focus of scholarship in Australia has traditionally been concerned with ethnicity and its associated paradigms. This is due to the intrinsic link the game has had with migrant communities, particularly those from Continental Europe, who by and large immigrated to Australia during the post-Second World War migration boom, setting up community clubs in their image. In addition to this, these clubs and communities facilitated the growth and development of the sport through the federating of state and national bodies, thus breaking down the Anglo-centric amateur vestiges of the code that had permeated its past. The governance of football has also featured as a key area of study by scholars. Over the years of national league competition, the sport had a reputation for poor administration, creating an ever-present problem of whether the game at the highest level would succeed or die, despite the healthy number of participants across all levels of the code. The vast and wide-ranging changes that have occurred since the establishment of Football Federation Australia (FFA) in 2004, including the commencement of the A-League, the entry of Australia into the Asian Football Confederation and the relative success of the Socceroos in qualifying for major world tournaments, are also part of a necessary reassessment of the recent history of the code in Australia.

The framework for this paper differs from the above-mentioned topics of ethnicity and governance, as it is based on football stadiums, in particular a selection of venues in Sydney, New South Wales (NSW), Australia, that hosted National Soccer League (NSL) matches at various times during the life cycle of that competition. It is also worth noting in the context of this research that in the vernacular used in football circles throughout Australia, the term ‘stadium’ is a loose descriptor, with the titular name being anything from an enclosed suburban sporting field with rudimentary facilities to an all-seated venue with large stands.

Football grounds are obviously the heartbeat of the sport, for without a venue no game can take place. Yet in both academic and fandom spheres, there has been no comprehensive study, let alone substantive discussion, of the venues used by the NSL. Unlike other codes, the NSL offers little consistency in terms of the number of competing teams and grounds used in its competition. Between the birth of the League in 1977 and its demise in 2004, a total of 100 recorded venues hosted regular season games and finals, adding to the unique and rich tapestry of the League. By providing a retrospective appraisal of a select number of these venues, the aim of this study is to broaden the body of knowledge so that football grounds become a part of the discourse about the code. In this way, the role of venues in hosting national league games will not be forgotten, but rather integrated into understandings of the history of the game by both academics and fans.

Football and the NSL

Football has often been seen as the poor relation of Australia’s other professional codes (Australian Rules, rugby league and rugby union) that share the same nomenclature, even though the round-ball game has the greatest purchase across the whole nation. Throughout a history of mismanagement, maladministration, marginalisation and political self-interest, the ‘sleeping giant’ of Australian sport was seen to be in perpetual slumber. The NSL, the forerunner to the current A-League, was Australia’s first national sporting club competition. Predating similar developments in basketball, Australian Rules, rugby league, baseball, rugby union, netball and Twenty 20 cricket, the League was formed in April 1977.

Led by visionary NSW Federation club presidents in the late Alex Pongrass of St George Budapest and Frank Lowy of Eastern Suburbs Hakoah, the ambition to create a national football league was almost stymied by the big Victorian Soccer Federation clubs of the day who saw it as a Sydney imposition. It was not until Mooroolbark, a small club from Melbourne’s outer eastern suburbs, made the NSL possible by breaking the impasse that the other major Melbourne teams decided to join, as they did not want the ‘Barkers’ (as the Mooroolbark club is known) to dominate the Melbourne market.

Over its 27-year lifespan until termination in 2004, the NSL lived a chequered existence. A total of 42 clubs, including one from New Zealand, came and went during the life of the competition, an indication of its inherent instability. Plagued with problems and controversy, particularly the ever-present question of ethnicity and the perception of spectator unrest, off-field matters almost garnered more attention than what occurred on the field of play. This lack of success and instability at the highest echelon of the code was at odds with the vast numbers of participants (both male and female) throughout junior and senior amateur levels. Evaluating the NSL following its demise, Thompson states that ‘there had been thrilling games, high drama, outstanding players and quality teams, but the whole project had run its course. It was time for a new beginning’.

Continued in the International Journal of the History of Sport