Playing long balls into empty space since 2012.

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Look how far we’ve come

Greg Downes

As reports of the Matildas’ historic victories over the USA, Japan and Brazil at the recent inaugural Tournament of Nations began to trickle home, I joined the many well-wishers in congratulating them. I did the contemporary thing and got on social media. I immediately tweeted “look how far we’ve come.”

As Australian women’s soccer starts to receive the media attention it deserves, I have begun to think more about this phrase. It seems to sum up the journey women’s soccer has taken.
Record attendances, television viewers and online supporters caused me to reflect on my time researching the history of women’s football in Australia, particularly the role of the pioneers in the development of their game. I followed my tweet with another, ‘the pioneers of the women’s game are cheering’.

Warwick Daily News 26 September 1921, page 5.
Sourced from Trove
Australian women’s football can be traced back over a century. They played informal games during WWI, the Great Depression and WWII. Organised games were reported in NSW and QLD during the early 1900s; in 1921 a Gabba crowd of 10,000 witnessed a game between North and South Brisbane. Yet it wasn’t until the 1970s that women’s football took on a more structured form. This was the decade in which women’s football began to take a foothold worldwide. During this period the Matildas took their name. 

Australia entered its first international competition in 1978 at the World Women’s Invitational Tournament in Taiwan. The first international women’s competition to be officially recognised took place in October 1979 when New Zealand agreed to compete over three tests for the Trans-Tasman Trophy in Sydney and Brisbane.

Now, some 39 years later, the Matildas are celebrating a long and proud history in international football, in FIFA Women’s World Cups and Olympic games. Yet, until the recent flurry of attention, women have played with little fanfare. A near total lack of media attention did not help. Australian Sports Commission (ASC) identified this as one of the contributing factors to the difficulties faced by all sportswomen in their fight for equality.

How times change.

The Matildas returned to Australia in September to face Brazil in two international friendly games held in NSW. Both events sold out with crowds of 31,000 collectively. The Matildas won both games and are now on a winning streak of seven games. They have attained a world FIFA ranking of 5th.

Sam Kerr celebrates her recent goal against Brazil. Courtesy Foxsports
Unprecedented media attention is now focused on the Matildas. They are being heralded by some as the nation’s top sporting team. How did this happen? Matildas’ coach Alen Stajcic believes the victories over Brazil were a watershed moment. Perhaps the victories mark the day the Matildas officially became mainstream. Ambitious talk of winning next year’s Asian Cup, a World Cup victory and staging the 2022 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia seems no longer a pipe dream. Women’s sport seems to be the flavour of the month. Cricket Australia and the AFL are promoting their women’s competitions and negotiating much deserved salaries.

With so much media attention, it is easy to forget about the Australian history of the game. The success of the current Matildas has provided the pioneers with an opportunity to celebrate their untold achievements. It was great to see a group of past Matildas on the field at the half time break of the Newcastle game being applauded by the large crowd. Social media was once more full of congratulations, this time including the rejoicing of past players at functions after the game. Old teammates and friends celebrated both the latest Matildas victory and also the role they played in the development of the game.

Football Federation Australia (FFA) and the Victorian Government recently announced that Victoria is next on the list to host an international series involving the Matildas. In the coming week the Matildas will play two matches against arch-rival China with games planned for Melbourne and Geelong.

This will provide another opportunity for the Victorian pioneers, and there are many, to get behind the Matildas and to bask in the joys of victory knowing that they have all played an important part in the development of women’s football in this country.

Greg Downes' main area of research interest is in  the history of women’s soccer in Australia.
He was awarded his PhD by Victoria University (2016) for his thesis on the
'oral history of women’s football in Australia’.

Monday 14 August 2017

Melbourne football poem, 1858

There are very few examples of match description in the early days of Melbourne football. However, this poem, written in 1858 and published in Melbourne Punch (30 September) gives us a very good sense of the way football was played in Melbourne in its early organised form.
If the poem (written by a local journalist about identifiable historical facts and figures) is to be believed, early Melbourne football involved a hell of a lot of kicking and not much catching or running with the ball.
Aiming at iambic pentameter but usually getting only as far as doggerel, the poem is a remarkable document that has escaped notice—perhaps because of a prejudice against poetry as an inadequate form of documentary. This is a shame because the verse is as thorough as any other contemporary match description.

Harp of the South, whose mildewed chords unstretched,
All idly and ingloriously have dangled
Since erst the sporting minstrel boldly fetched
Those chords a wipe, and softly disentangled
Melodious strains, sweet woven, quaintly fangled,
Singing how Ireland raced with Frank the fleet,
A race that o'er their laurelled brows bespangled
Pedalian glories—once again we'll beat
Thy tuned-up strings in praise of nimble-footed feat.
By Walsh's clock 'twas half-past two
And the bard had nothing on earth to do,
But grateful felt that laggard loon
For the idle Saturday afternoon,
And drowsy, dreamy, dull, and drony,
That literary lazzarone,
Sipping his pale Martell and water
Long pondered how the time to slaughter;
Then sauntering down the street, he lags
Awhile about the Collins flags,
Where drapers lure with artful tale
Of dreadful sacrificial sale ;
(Poor souls, how sorely it must ring 'em
To immolate their silks and gingham,)
He marks new photographic faces
Unkindly gibbeted in cases.
Round goldsmiths' shops he flirts and flickers,
Takes inventories of the tickers,
With power observing strongly schooled in
He notes the holes each watch is jewelled in.
At last nose-led by ruling star
He nears the hail of Richmond car,
The driver speedily divined
The yearning of the minstrel mind,
For new sensation—" Sir," said he,
The kicking match begins at three,
I know you're going, jump up quick,
« I'm right away, the fare's a kick."
The bard he pictured lively image
Of larks about a football scrimmage,
A moment, and his hands were busy
To make quite sure he'd got a tizzy,
When finding that he was'nt stumped,
Upon the crowded car he jumped,
And squeezed as tight as barrelled haddock
Was driven to the Richmond paddock.

A score of swells were garbed in blue,
As many more in motley blue,
The first, South Yarra's careful pick
The other Melbourne's men of kick
    And on the ground they pitched
A wondrous spherical affair
Of India-rubber filled with air,
    In leather neatly stitched,
Right startling fact for human ken
How there did fifty gallant men
Their hopes and passions altogether
Concentre in a lump of leather,
Two goals at either side they fix,
Two simple unpretending sticks,
A cotton fogle torn to rags
Supplied those sticks with four small flags
    And strongly it behoves
That azure-shirted fellows should
Defend their own two bits of wood,
    And that the other coves,
The party-colored mob, should fight
With all their calcitrating might—
Each twenty men with forty soles,
Safe guarding their respective goals.
And now the kicking fun begins,
The battle of the toes and shins ;
Down went the ball, and, crushing thick,
The strife was great for primal kick,
Long scuffled then the blue and motley,
Long waged the battle fierce and hotly ;
The patience of a very Job
Was tired to get that leather globe,
Well free from strife of blow and bru'se,
And wilderness of boots and shoes,
And when at last the ba'l emerged,
Amidst their heads it skyward surged,
    Bobbing around around,
Till some one gave the thing a hoist
(In kicking skill that man rejoiced,)
    And sent it out of bound.
But swift again the springy sphere
Did midst the warrior host appear
    That host of skilful legs.
If one blue clansman's swift attack
Far sent the ball with pedal whack,
A motley foeman kicked it back,
As sure as eggs are eggs.
And as the storm of football tricks
    In wild confusion mixes,
Did many a kicker slant his kicks,
In other people's kicksies.
With varying prospect sped the day,
As blue or motley's changeful sway,
    Compelled the lively ball.
The betting ran upon the blues,
They had the heaviest pairs of shoes
    At their commander's call;
But midst the party-colored swells
There was a party, rumour tells,
    Whose well directed toes,
Unless 'tis an ex par'e statement.
To be received with some abatement,
    Were worth a score of foes,
Which seems a boastful tale, but then
It might mean either toes or men.
Now thrice the blues were nearly licked
For thrice the Melbourne men had kicked,
The ball, where rightfully afraid,
South Yarra firmed a barricade
Of chosen kickers, men in rows,
With stout resolve and stalwart toes ;
    When Wills, the Melbourne chief,
With picked-nut men of lively shin,
Banded to make a rush and win,
    And bring the blues to grief.
The rush was made, with boots embrued,
In mud, the motley men pursued,
    The nimble-bounding ball;
South Yarra's fortune then and there
Hung trembling on the merest hair,
    A fate that might appal.
The stoutest heart—'twas touch and go—
"A Fellows to the rescue ho !"
    And lots of fellows rushed.
Perspiring in cerulean shirt,
And trousers dashed with trophied dirt,
    They struggled, fought, and crushed.
But men on whom South Yarra pinned
Their faith, proved rather short of wind';
And, not to tell the truth by halves,
Some blue men kicked each other's calves;
Which muscular employ, of course,
Was wasteful exercise of force.
However, as the story ends,
The Melbourne mob out-kicked their friends,
And fair within the fatal stick,
With one triumphant joyous kick
And mad delight, still waxing madder,
They sent the India-rubber bladder.
The goal was passed, the day was won
South Yarra was completely done;
And each blue-coated player wins
A brave repute and plastered shins,
And every motley-colored kicker
Betook him to a special liquor.

Thursday 13 April 2017

"The definitive work on the history of soccer in New South Wales"

Philip Mosely, Soccer in New South Wales, 1880–1980, Sports & Editorial Services Australia with The Vulgar Press, Bannockburn and Melbourne, 2014, xvi + 392 pp.., $39.95 (paperback), ISBN 978-0-9751970-9-7

In 1987, Philip Mosely completed a Ph.D. thesis at Sydney University entitled ‘A Social History of Soccer in New South Wales, 1880–1957’. Such was the state of affairs back then that he could not find a publisher to make it available to a broader audience. In much the same way that sport is a major force driving television viewing, it has also recently assumed growing importance in the world of publishing. Sport sells. Soccer scholar Ian Syson recently came across Mosely’s thesis and asked him why it hadn’t been published? Following discussions with stalwart Australian soccer historian Roy Hay, a decision was made to bring his old thesis into the light of day.

Soccer in New South Wales, 1880–1980, besides the original thesis includes two chapters from Mosley’s Ethnic Involvement in Australian Soccer: A History, 1950–1990 (National Sports Research Centre, Australian Sports Commission, Canberra, 1995) and ‘A Biographical Sketch of John Walter Fletcher’, who turned out for The Wanderers in the first ever game played in New South Wales against the King’s School rugby squad on Saturday 14 August 1880, and was New South Wales’ first leading soccer administrator (Appendix A, 291–300). This volume is a further reflection of the scholarship and writings on soccer that has recently blossomed in Australia, such as Roy Hay and Bill Murray’s A History of Football In Australia: A Game of Two Halves (Melbourne, Hardie Grant Books, 2014); and worldwide with the increasing number of soccer (or football) books being published.

Soccer in New South Wales, 1880–1980 is a monumental study, an example of unparalleled scholarship. Its first strength is the breadth of its research. Mosley has consulted a wide range of sources, turned over thousands and thousands of pages in doing the fundamental work necessary to understand the serendipitous course of soccer in New South Wales. The text is also liberally spiced with contemporary photos of various persons, teams and memorabilia associated with the progress of the game. Second, Mosley writes with a clear and engaging style which makes the material easily accessible for both popular and academic readers. He is to be congratulated in how he manages to weave so many different strands into a coherent whole which makes for fascinating reading.

Mosley’s account begins with the first match played at King’s School as identified above. Having such a game at one of Sydney’s prestigious private schools is indicative of how the game in New South Wales was introduced by the educated upper classes usually associated with the emergence and growth of Rugby. The game quickly became more democratic as worker immigrants from the ‘old dart’ formed local clubs and searched for nearby teams for competition. This was particularly true with the emergence of soccer in Newcastle, with miners turning to soccer as a major forum for both sporting and social interaction. Newcastle has long been a stronghold of soccer in New South Wales.

Mosley also documents the emergence and growth of soccer in other regional areas, its take up by different religious groups, factory teams, mid-week leagues and after the Second World War and the influence of immigrant groups from different parts of Europe. He also situates the discussion of soccer’s progress as it competed against rival football codes, Rugby League, Rugby and Australian Rules Football in establishing a foothold in schools (private schools favoured Rugby Union, Roman Catholic schools favoured Rugby League and state schools favoured soccer), access to grounds and stadia and press, and later radio coverage. He also documents the various splits and confrontations that occurred at the administrative level. Australia has been an immigrant society. Prior to the Second World War, most of these immigrants came from Britain, after the War from Europe. Different generations of the ‘old brigade’ found themselves being challenged by ‘new chums’ who formed their own teams and believed they had a superior style of play to Australian locals and wanted to find their place in the sun. Major administrative splits occurred in 1914, 1928, 1943 and 1957.

Mosley examines in some detail the emergence of so called ethnic clubs associated with European migration after the Second World War. Besides the split of 1957 which this engendered, he provides information on the important transitional role that these clubs played for so many new arrivals, the antipathy expressed to New Australians after the War, explanations of the violence that sometimes occurred between both players and supporters of rival ethnic groups, how the ‘Continentals’ improved and broadened the quality of play and spectator interest, Australia being banned by FIFA for the non payment of transfer fees for 31 European players from 1959 to 1963 which was associated with a boom in attendance, and how once European immigration dried up after 1961, most ethnic clubs were forced to employ English and Scottish players with an attendant loss of spectator interest in the local game.

Mosley also provides information on tours by overseas teams, and how these were used to drum up enthusiasm for the game in New South Wales and Australia more generally. He also has material on how the game was played, changes in style which mainly followed British influences until the arrival of the Europeans, and various experiments with rule changes and attempts to make the game more popular. While Mosley is interested in the commercial success of soccer, he also wishes to emphasize that for the majority of its participants, it was a vehicle for recreation and social interaction. Playing soccer, for him, is something that was just great fun.

We should all be thankful for Ian Syson and Roy Hay for inducing Philip Mosley to make his Ph.D. thesis available to a wider audience. His research of almost three decades ago has aged well. This book will be regarded as the definitive work on the history of soccer in New South Wales for many years to come.

Braham Dabscheck
Faculty of Law, University of Melbourne
First published, Soccer & Society, Vol. 18, No. 4, July 2017, Pages 593-594
Book can be ordered from Dennis Jones and Associates

Tuesday 28 March 2017

Needles in Haystacks: Bondi and Quilp

The only substantial uncovered evidence of Aboriginal participation in soccer before the 1950s is in the stories of two men: W. ‘Bondi’ Neal and Quilp. Neal played as a goalkeeper on the NSW South Coast and the Northern NSW coal fields of the Hunter Valley for more than two decades between 1903 and 1924; while Quilp played occasionally for the Dinmore Bush Rats in the Ipswich competition in Queensland between 1904 and 1910.
Neal came to prominence in 1909 when he played for a South Maitland representative team against the touring Western Australians. Despite his efforts in goal the team lost 2–0. Maynard records in The Aboriginal Soccer Tribe that after the end of the Peter Bowling strike ‘he left the coalfields for his native South Coast’, and from here, he disappears from the record. ‘Neal is certainly the most famous early Aboriginal soccer player,’ he wrote. ‘But whatever became of this legendary player has disappeared from both the archives and memory.’
This notion of disappearance resonates across Indigenous history and soccer history alike. The tendency of Aboriginal subjects and soccer moments to recede from view means that researching the history of Aboriginal soccer players is like searching for one needle in two haystacks. Fortunately the recent developments in digital and searchable archives have shifted the odds a little in favour of finding the needles. While Maynard was correct at the time he wrote of Neal’s ‘disappearance’, recently recovered archival material expands the story extensively.
This is a team photograph of the Balgownie Rangers team in 1913.
The goalkeeper is named as B O'Neill. This is probably Bondi Neal.
Walter Ernest 'Bondi' Neil died in Wollongong in 1953. His obituary notice claims he was 89 at the time of death but this is unlikely given that he was still playing senior football in the 1920s. It is likely that he was born in the early 1880s in the ‘back country’ of NSW to an Aboriginal mother (described as ‘half-caste’) and a Scottish father. The name Bondi is a corruption of the nickname, Bunda (kangaroo), given to him by his Aboriginal friends as a youngster in acknowledgement of his athletic abilities. An accomplished sportsman across soccer, rugby union, cricket, boxing and quoits, Bondi was a respected figure in the Hunter and the South Coast communities where he had played.
Bondi’s first sport was rugby, which he played in the Hunter until he shifted to soccer. When he returned to the South Coast in 1911 he brought with him a star reputation. He played for several clubs in the northern suburbs of Wollongong, receiving a great deal of press attention, before retiring from goalkeeping in 1924. He continued within the game as a sometime referee and goalkeeping coach. In summer months he usually turned his attention to cricket and his fast scoring prowess was noted. In one instance he scored 96 runs in 35 minutes. He was known as the ‘Bonner’ of his cricket team, a term that connotes cockiness and gregariousness.
If the recently digitized archives allowed a fuller exploration of Bondi Neal’s career, the very revelation of Quilp was facilitated by them. The accompanying photograph of the Dinmore Bush Rats was found in the Trove pictorial archive. Its discovery was  as mysterious as it was exciting. Bang in the middle is an Aboriginal man. He is named as ‘Quilp’ and his presence in the photograph sends a frisson through the settled histories of football in Australia.
Dinmore Bush Rats, 2nd Premiers, Ipswich, 1910.
As is the way in the discovery of Aboriginal participation in Australian soccer, many questions were raised by this startling image. Who is Quilp? Where is he from? How does he come to be playing British Association Football? Why is he positioned right in the middle of the photograph? Why the Dickensian name?
Quilp, also known as John Baramba (Jackie) Lynch, was born in the Gulf Country of North Queensland. The earliest discovered reference to him is to an Aboriginal man named Quilp on a charge of drunkenness and disorderly conduct in the Ipswich Police Court in 1901. The article suggests that he was a second offender and was similarly arraigned in 1902.
The earliest reference to his soccer career is to a game between the Reliance team from Dinmore and (Roma Street) Markets, played on the Pineapple Ground on May 28. Confusingly, the report suggests the Quilp, playing for Dinmore, was sent off for backchat and then subsequently scored the winning goal, which became the subject of a protest.
It is to be regretted that some bitter feeling prevailed. Quilp began talking to the referee and was ordered off the field. The game now was very fast and Hunter was playing well as also was Roberts and Salisbury. Verrol in goal as per usual was very clever in clearing his goal line. The Reliance got away, and Quilp had a shot at goal. To the spectators it did not seem as though they scored, but the referee gave a goal to Reliance.
Quilp’s goal for Reliance could be the first recorded goal by a senior Aboriginal soccer player, although it is also possible that as a forward, Quilp may have scored a few before that. He played for the Bush Rats against a combined Brisbane selection in 1908 and also turned out for the Rats against Blackstone Rovers. Each time he was referred to as ‘the ebony Quilp’. He was presented with various badges during the Bush Rats trophy-winning year in 1910 at the end of season social. 
Quilp was a man of many other talents, playing competitive quoits in 1908 and boxing as a featherweight in 1909. In 1919 an Aboriginal man named Quilp was employed as a shooter by a noted buffalo hunter, Patrick Cahill. As reported in The Queenslander:
His horse fell and Quilp rolled clear of him. Unfortunately for him, the buffalo was heading straight for him, his head down, its nostrils distended, and its eyes full of murder. Quilp fortunately retained his presence of mind, and when the furious animal was within a foot or so of him, rolled on one side, that escaping by a hair’s breadth. Had the animal struck him he would certainly have met a terrible death.
Evidence also suggests Quilp may have acted as a referee, surely one of the first Indigenous Australians to officiate in any senior sport. In 1919 a correspondent to the Queensland Times wondered where a figure named ‘Quelp’ had got to. In doing so he triangulated some evidential loose ends. He noted Quilp’s buffalo hunting exploits but also revealed his one-time residence in Dinmore and his ‘fame’ as a soccer figure.
Does anyone know where the aborigine ‘Quelp,’ one time of Dinmore (and a famous ‘soccer’ referee) has got to? I have before me a photo of a ‘Quelp,’ who is buffalo hunting in the Northern Territory, employed by a Mr. Patrick Cahill, a native of Toowoomba, and it is uncommonly like old ‘Quelp’ who resided at Dinmore.
The Queensland Times reporter suggests Quilp was an all-round sportsman and competent across physical activities. As a winger on the soccer field, and with the possibility he was named after a contemporary racehorse, we might assume that he was a speedy runner, intelligent, decisive and able. But this is merely speculation and deduction from circumstantial evidence. There are so few concrete facts to present.
Jackie Lynch died in 1930 in Murwillumbah, a celebrated local character noted for his comic banter, foolishness and propensity for harmless mischief. Aside from the Church of England reverend, ‘there were only three or four others present to pay a last tribute to John Baramba Lynch.’ Nor, if the substantial regional press coverage of his death is a guide, was there any mention of the many positive deeds by which he might be remembered.
It would be folly to consider, even for a moment, that these two half-decent portraits represent anything more than a series of unconnected incidents, rumours or ideas. To see them as even a faint outline might be to imagine too much solidity.
It is tempting for the soccer historian to create useful and convenient myths about the early Aboriginal involvement in Australian soccer. However, to suggest that Aboriginal players had any kind of substantial contribution would be an argument too far. While it is important to recognize their involvement, it is of equal importance that the roles of Quilp and Bondi Neal in the game’s history are not exaggerated and fetishised. They remain, for now, fleeting glimpses of early Aboriginal involvement in soccer.

Thursday 2 March 2017

Melbourne Soccer: Why I've Arrived Where I'm At

An awesome piece by Mark Boric

Melbourne Soccer: Why I've Arrived Where I'm At: It was not until I was seventeen years of age that I played my first ever competitive game of football. The chief reason for this would prob...

Tuesday 7 February 2017

A Letter to Ben Buckley (remember him)

This is a letter I sent to Ben Buckley in 2010. I sent other versions of the same letter 3 other times to previous and subsequent FFA functionaries. I was seeking acknowledgement, dialogue as well as the possibility of support. I am still waiting for a reply.

Ben Buckley
Chief Executive Officer
Football Federation Australia Limited
Locked Bag A4071
Sydney South NSW 1235

10 February 2010
Re: The Game that Gave its All

Dear Mr Buckley,
I lecture in writing at Victoria University in Melbourne and in 2009 completed a six-month stint as Writer-in-Residence at the FFV in Darebin. I have been and still am involved in the writing projects around the 125 years of football in Victoria.
In the course of my research I have discovered an angle which I believe would be of great benefit to football in Australia were it to be developed and exploited to the full.
While the historical record of football is patchy up until the First World War, it is a noble one of pioneers striving against great odds to introduce the game across Australia. They are bedevilled by war and Depression as well as resentment and resistance from more entrenched codes. Yet they keep on striving. A calamitous disruption to our game was of course the First World War, in which a great many footballers enlisted – to such an extent that the game went into recess across the nation in or around 1916, only to be resumed, fitfully, once hostilities ceased.
There are many personal tragedies involved in this mass enlistment. A great many footballers were never to return. After only brief research it is clear that our game sacrificed much for the ANZAC cause. For example, the Caledonian club in Perth lost eight players. Tiny Irymple lost five of its eleven, one of whom was killed at Gallipoli. The Broken Hill Club lost at least one member. It is a story repeated across Australia and it needs to be uncovered.
There is immense value in documenting all footballers who played in Australia prior to 1916 with the intention of creating a database and analyses that demonstrated the numbers of footballers who enlisted in the war. For example, 230 of the 340 men who had played the game in Adelaide in 1914 had enrolled by 1916. I suspect we would find a story of great sacrifice and commitment to the nation’s development within our game. From the research I will publish a substantial book, the working title of which, The Game that Gave its All underlines the message.
It strikes me that football in Australia has an uncomfortable relationship with its own history. That is understandable. There is much that is unpleasant and embarrassing to be found in our annals. What I suggest is a means of delving into an unquestionably honourable chapter in our history that would have the benefit of demonstrating just how much football is tied to the tragedy of ANZAC. It would lock us in as a vital contributor to what is seen as the single most important moment in the development of our sense of nation.
I believe that once this research is completed and disseminated, the notion that football is some kind of new or foreign or unAustralian game could be done away with for good. With the centenary of ANZAC (2014) looming, the research would be well timed for outcomes in that year.
As an academic researcher I am well placed to do this work. As an ex-player, football supporter and soccer-dad I am committed to promoting and developing what is good about the beautiful game.
I would be happy to follow this up with a discussion should you be happy to talk further.

Yours faithfully,

Dr Ian Syson

Thursday 19 January 2017

Indigenous AFL

Sean Gorman’s Legends: The AFL Indigenous Team of the Century (2011) demonstrates the depth of Indigenous talent in the game of Australian Rules football. Gorman interviews players selected in the best Indigenous team over the history of the game and tells the stories of their personal connections with it. In so doing, he also reveals a broader story about Aboriginality and sport.
Tellingly, all but two players were still alive at the time of selection and composition. Gorman explains the relative youth of a team selected to cover the entire twentieth century by showing just how few Aboriginals played VFL before the 1980s. He writes: ‘For many years it was believed that the first indigenous player was Joe Johnson, a 55-game defender who played in Fitzroy’s 1904–1905 premiership team’. This was not correct, because ‘Albert “Pompey” Austin played for Geelong in 1872, debuting against Carlton after arriving from the Framlingham mission’.5050. Sean Gorman, Legends, 7. The Framlingham indigenous footballers became part of a powerful team in the Western District of Victoria in the next generation. Nadel, ‘Aborigines and Australian Football’.View all notes Gorman might also have pointed out that while it was Austin’s debut it was also his elite-level swan song. He had a poor game and became a target for ridicule among the crowd. He ‘was promptly forgotten by the football community’ and returned to bush football and athletic sports.
It is hard not to suspect a form of racism behind the laughter directed at Austin. Would a white player have come in for the same scorn? An 1862 report of an unspecified game in Adelaide, between the ‘pinks’ and the ‘blues’, contains a similar sense of racially tinged fun to be had at the expense of Aboriginal participants.
Several aborigines who were present were permitted to play on both sides, and we must confess that for activity and good play they bore favorable comparison with the white-fellows. They seemed to bear their ‘spills’ very good humouredly, and their grotesque actions afforded rather too much amusement to the ‘pinks’ and the ‘blues,’ inasmuch as they ‘couldn’t do it for laughing.’
While they are seen as competent as the white men, once their difference in method or technique is brought to bear they are rendered ‘grotesque’ by the report. Attitudes such as these suggest reasons why Aboriginal men may have been reluctant to play more often with whites. They also intimate the difficulty white footballers might have had in taking any Aboriginal diversion from footballing convention seriously.
Of fundamental importance is the possibility that Gorman may also have been able to point to a number of other Aboriginal players if not for the massive prohibitions of a racist society and their embodiment in the Aborigines’ Protection Board. In 1893, the Argus reported that an ‘aboriginal from Coranderrk applied for permission to play football at South Melbourne during the coming season, but the board feared that the granting of the application might lead to numerous other similar requests, and refused it’. Had a more liberal attitude obtained – and had the VFA (and VFL after it) been willing to force the issue – the history of race relations within Australian Rules football might have been changed unimaginably.
Yet Gorman is aware that the search for chronological origins is a diversion and he makes the important point that pioneering is not just a condition of being first or early. Following up to carry the flame in times of marginality is also a valuable ‘pioneering’ role.
It is not just Austin or Johnson who can be seen as the Indigenous pioneers of the game. Since the 1930s, the game has only seen a few Indigenous players in the VFL in each era: Doug Nicholls (Fitzroy: 1932–37, Norm McDonald (Essendon: 1947–53), Polly Farmer (Geelong: 1962–67) and Syd Jackson (Carlton: 1969–1976). In a sense then, these players were all pioneers; each creating a space so that others might follow.
As Gorman suggests, it is only from the 1980s that an influx of Aboriginal players into the VFL can be observed. South Australian Aboriginal footballer, Vince Copley said of the 1960s: ‘I mean you look at the AFL or VFL of the time. Doug Nicholls might have been one bloke, and another was Norm McDonald – he played for Essendon – and Ted Lovett was playing but apart from that there was nobody’. It is possible to nominate figures that Copley missed but his words make the point.
Yet for all its history of racist exclusion and colonialist mentality, Australian rules have made enormous strides in the past 30 years. Its development of Indigenous players and promotion of anti-racist agendas brings a lot of deserved credit to the AFL. The fact that they have turned their game around in a number of ways provides an exemplar to which Australian soccer can and should aspire.


Gorman’s interviews follow a template. Each interviewee is asked a similar set of questions, one of which is about their formative sporting experiences. A great sense of sporting diversity emerges in the answers, with Rugby League, cricket, basketball, athletics and boxing all playing a role in the sporting development of many of these players. Chris Johnson, who grew up in Broadmeadows in Victoria, claims, ‘I had a lot of sports at my fingertips and I guess playing all those sports really got me connected with football and helped a lot’.
Four of the 22 players interviewed identified soccer as part of their sporting development. West Coast Eagle, Chris Lewis played soccer in the Perth private school to which he obtained a scholarship. He says, ‘I played a bit of soccer. Back then it was a bit like the ethnics played that and we played footy but you know as a kid you just got into anything’. Adelaide Crow, Andrew McLeod played soccer in Darwin, along with a wide range of other sports. Another Eagle, Peter Matera also played soccer, influenced by his Italian father who played goalkeeper for a local club in Wagin (WA). Matera claims:
Because Dad had played soccer and I used to watch him playing soccer I thought I would try it; he was a goalie. Footy was the main sport and I used to get told off at school about playing soccer. We had a new teacher and he was soccer mad and a few of my mates said, ‘Let’s put ourselves down and play in the soccer team.’ The school football side then started getting beaten and the headmaster said, ‘If you don’t get into footy and play in the footy side you’re going to have a hard time.’ I said, ‘I don’t care.’
Given that Matera seemed not to buckle under those kinds of threats, it is a shame that Gorman’s project does not encourage him to tease out the reasons why he eventually makes the shift to Australian Rules. It could be the ‘ethnic’ dimension. It could be peer or social pressure. The reader is left to assume a sense of inevitability in the eventual transition.
The most telling case, however, is the story of Adam Goodes. His is a transition that is explained. Influenced by his circle of white friends, Goodes had never played Australian Rules until he was 13, playing soccer until that time. The turning point came when his family moved to Merbein, just outside of Mildura in Victoria.
Mum was the biggest thing that directed me into AFL. The only reason I swapped to AFL was when I went to play for a local soccer team Merbein up in Mildura, we went down to the local soccer fields. There was no junior teams, [it] was all seniors. So I would have been a 13-year-old Indigenous boy trying to knock around with all these Italian men. Across the field they happened to be playing AFL and Mum suggested that I give it a go. There seemed to be a lot of kids running around there and I was a lot taller and bigger than those kids. It just fitted for me.
Anecdotal and circumstantial evidence suggests that junior soccer was in fact available to Goodes in Mildura at this time had he chosen to play. Indeed, this moment is two years after the time that Chris Tsivoglu and others from the Mildura United club started to encourage Aboriginal children and teenagers in the Mildura region to play soccer as a means of giving them some options and training. In 2006, Selma Milovanovic wrote in the Age that
Mildura United began as a Greek club in 1916 [sic]. But that changed in 1992, when its current president, Chris Tsivoglou, got out of his car in the main street of Merbein to confront bored Koori kids throwing rocks at his car. An older relative stood up to him. Mr .Tsivoglou asked the man whether he could teach the young vandals ball skills so they did not waste their time. The man agreed. Now the young vandals are successful, law-abiding men.
Goodes’ explanation does not seem to tell the whole story. The kinds of pressures brought to bear on Matera, and the ‘ethnic’ and ‘soccer-as-a-kid’ factors mentioned by Lewis seem to be more adequate explanations. Goodes’ mother’s innocuously framed suggestion obscures a massive cultural pressure: Australian Rules has more symbolic power in the communities, therefore grown men play Australian Rules; they do not belong in soccer, a game for ethnics and kids.
It is not within Gorman’s ambit to discuss the complex mechanics of such code shifts. Nonetheless, his failure to draw out the cultural pressure imparted on Aboriginal men to live up to certain sporting expectations from both outside and within their communities allows the rhetoric of nature and inevitability to over-ride the specific dynamics of any given individual’s story.