Playing long balls into empty space since 2012.

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