Playing long balls into empty space since 2012.

Tuesday 12 June 2018

The Game That Never Happened is about to happen

What follows is some information on my book. It is about to be published at long last.

The Game That Never Happened:
The Vanishing History of Soccer in Australia

ISBN 9780994601933
Ian Syson
Category Football (Soccer, Association football)
Pages 192
Published 01/08/2018
Binding P/B
$ARP $29.95
ISBN 9780994601933

The Game That Never Happened finishes where many other histories of Australian soccer have barely even started. It begins in the mid-nineteenth century and concludes between the two world wars, when the game suffers from a massive and perhaps crippling collapse. Australian soccer’s prehistory and early history are vital but forgotten stories. If we are ever to domesticate what is still seen as a foreign game by many important historiographical, cultural and media narratives, this story needs to be told. The lie is that soccer is the game that never happened in Australia. That lie needs to be demolished.

The book is published by Sports and Editorial Services Australia 
and is distributed by Dennis Jones and Associates  
phone:  +61 3 9762 9100 email:

Thursday 7 June 2018


Simon Hill put this up on Facebook and I have decided to put it here in case someone with any brains decides to delete it forever. No idea who put the release out but it is cringe of the highest order. Maybe it's a parody . . . 
News Release
Sydney, June 7, 2018 – It’s officially fling season, with millions of Australians ready to put their first loved sport on hold for a passionate, short love affair with the greatest sport of all, Football (soccer).
Cricket legend Damien Fleming, Rugby champion Wendell Sailor and current Aussie Rules hero Luke Hodge will help FIFA World Cup major sponsor, Hyundai, flip some of the country’s most iconic swimming, AFL and NRL venues, into official match screening venues for key Socceroos games.
Our sport-loving nation holds its affection mostly for Rugby League and Aussie Rules, which are also our two biggest sporting codes during the winter. However, patriotism will soon kick in and Australians will get behind the Socceroos in the world’s most widely viewed sporting event.
Australia’s fling rate with FIFA World Cup is on the rise with 40% more Australians tuning in for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil compared to 2010. The number of flings is expected to increase again this year.
Some of our greatest heroes, whilst reluctant to admit football is a better sport than their own codes, agree the FIFA World Cup’s fling appeal is its sheer scale, with 32 countries battling it in out the finals after two years of qualifiers among more than 210 nations.
Damien Fleming, former Australian cricketer and commentator, highlighted the one thing the FIFA World Cup has over Cricket:
“What makes the FIFA World Cup such great fling material is the opportunity it gives to so many people and nations around the world, which creates an exciting event for people to get behind. Cricket has a world cup next year and only 10 teams are competing in that, which I think is too small!”
Rugby legend Wendell Sailor is one of the 56% of Football fans who are also fans of Rugby League. He happily conceded there is one other thing Football has over NRL
“The one thing better than my code is the penalty shoot outs and sudden death. You can’t beat that. You’re literally sitting on the edge of your seat!”

Launching 'The Pearl' by John Harms

State of Origin in Melbourne jogged this in my memory. It's the launch speech I made for John Harms' The Pearl, his bio of Steve Renouf, at the North Fitzroy Arms in 2005. People might be interested in how much I characterise myself as a rugby league supporter. I was certainly surprised. I'll ponder more about this.
John invited me to speak today possibly because I’m one of the few people he knows in Melbourne who cares passionately about both Rugby League and writing. We’re possibly a rare breed anywhere. But definitely so in Melbourne.
Coming to Melbourne after living most of my life in Queensland was a great move for me. I could go on about the positives: but there was one great negative: the absence of Rugby league – whether live, on television and radio, in the print media. My main winter sporting interest was relegated from pre-eminence to the bottom of the pile. Even when I lived in New Zealand in the early 80s I had been able to keep in better contact with the fortunes of my team, St George than I was able to in Melbourne in 1994.
As a result I’ve lost a little contact with Rugby League. I occasionally go to watch Melbourne Storm but I feel as if I’m watching something alien to what I loved about the game in the 70s, 80s and early 90s.
Hopefully, this helps to explain why I read John’s book in one day. A couple of months back I was off work sick and received John’s book in the morning mail. I finished it that night.
I’m a sponge for writing about Rugby League – especially when it’s well-written and thoughtful with a good sense of the game’s history.
But it was more than just the Rugby League content that kept me riveted. There are at least four things I admire about this book.
1. John Harms is a bloody good writer. He writes with a lightness of touch and a clarity that is truly enviable. He’s funny. He’s not afraid to be child-like and vulnerable in the way he expresses himself either.
A few weeks ago he had a terrific piece the Age about two contradictory aspects of Australian Rules Football.
I had footy in me, but not in the way the tough kids had it in them. Theirs was Clockwork Orange football, whereas mine was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
But I think the most admirable quality of his writing in this book is his creation of a mood or a tone that captures the Brisbane I remember to a tee – an atmosphere of brightness and freshness undercut by a deep inferiority complex and ideas of persecution. In relation to sport this became a brash confidence never quite confident enough to spill over into arrogance. When we win we win because it’s only right.
2. This book is the story of a great player’s life told well. John has done the research; he’s become acquainted with Steve and his family and has revealed a life that is interesting in itself. He has also revealed a character who seems unclear about his role in life after football – especially his role in Aboriginal politics.
3. It’s a book that recognises the importance of Aboriginality in Australian sport and society. The book charts the changes in attitudes of the media and sports administrators to Aboriginal sportsmen over the past two decades. John reminds of the disgrace of the treatment of Eddie Gilbert and how much things have changed. But he also demonstrates how far there is to go on this issue. Steve’s wife Elissa makes this contradictory defence of her parents’ attitude towards Steve. “It was just because he was an Aboriginal bloke. They weren’t prejudiced or anything, they just didn’t want their daughter to be going out with an Aboriginal.”
John’s contrast between Anthony Mundine and Steve’s attitude towards Aboriginal politics is a highlight of the book.
4. The book has some great Rugby League writing in it. A passage on p194 is particularly memorable. But perhaps the moment that convinced me how good this writing is is his description of Steve’s try in the 1992 Grand Final on p 124.
Reading this I was gripped and transported and willing Renouf over the line. For a St George supporter, that’s something akin to treachery, though I’d prefer to see it as reconciliation.
Finally, I am pleased to say that John Harms has outed himself with this book. Outed himself as a passionate Rugby League fan. He couldn’t have written this book if he wasn’t.
When John first came to Melbourne a couple of years ago I thought in a more cynical moment (just what we need: a Queenslander spruiking for AFL). Reading this book has made me realise that John is much more than this. While he clearly is a lover of AFL and his perennially underperforming team he is more than this; he is a sportswriter of the highest order.
If you haven’t read John yet, buy a copy of this book and find out why. If you have read him you won’t need me to convince you.

Monday 8 January 2018

In Search of Jock Murray

Paul Nicholls

As so often happens, this tale, about footballer “Jock” Murray, came about while I was searching for something else. It was just a snippet in a newspaper that caught my eye. About a sportsman whose life was cut tragically short. Soon I felt compelled to follow the lead.

My search for Jock Murray reveals as much about community and family as it does about football. I hope this story can do some justice to the memory of Jock, who played for the St George club in Sydney in the 1920s.

John Percival Carr Murray, was born in Roslin, Scotland, in either 1896 or 1897. The family emigrated to Australia just before the outbreak of the first world war and settled in the southern Sydney suburb of Hurstville.

Like many Scottish migrants, the Murrays brought with them a love of football.

Jock first made an impression at his junior club, Balmain Thistle. In 1920 he joined Dulwich Hill, playing as a fullback. In a game against St George he came on as an injury reserve and scored two goals. The victory must have been made all the sweeter since his younger brother Bob was playing for the opposition. Dulwich Hill went on to win the Charity Cup that season.

The following year, Jock and Bob turned out for Hurstville United. With Jock at centre-forward and Bob on the wing, they terrorised opposition defences. Jock scored in almost every match including four in one game against Arncliffe.

In a cup tie against Balmain Gladstone, the brothers were unstoppable. One reporter said, “He (Jock) was responsible for the whole of the three goals on Saturday. Bob, his brother, played with his usual dash, and by his accurate centres, helped Jock to finalise on two occasions.”

Hurstville won the 1921 Metropolitan junior premiership and the club considered amalgamating with St George in an attempt to push for First League status. Jock was a vocal supporter of the idea but the amalgamation didn’t happen and he joined the Balmain Gladstone club who had been promoted to the First League for the 1922 season.

It was Jock’s first taste of top flight football in Sydney. He went back to his old position of fullback but the competition was a step up in class. Although he did score in a game against Granville, Jock often found himself on the reserves bench.

The following year Jock moved to his local district club, St George, who were currently playing in the third tier of Sydney football.

St George was a great family and community club with its share of colourful characters. The half-back line consisted of three Chiswell brothers and the two fullbacks were Smarts. Describing George Smart, a reporter said, in the picturesque language of the day, “he has the physique of Jack Dempsey and kicks like a Gallipoli mule.”

St George won the competition with an unbeaten record and were promoted to the First Division second grade – effectively the second tier league.

In the 1924 season Jock had a great year for St George. He showed his versatility in one match when he substituted for the goalkeeper who came off with an injury. In another game he scored from the penalty spot. He was a hard working fullback who, “defended like a trojan.”

At club functions, Jock was the life of the party. He always had the MC duties and arranged the music and the dances. He was said to be the most popular player at the club.

A reorganisation of club football meant that St George would play in the First League in 1925. Jock was back in the top tier of Sydney football.

This time Jock would be a regular. Things got even better for the Murray family when Jock’s wife gave birth to their second child just as the football season commenced.

A Sydney football scene from the 1920s. Sydney Mail 26 May 1926, p. 21.

On 22 August 1925, St George played Canterbury at the Canterbury sports ground.

Jock had a good game and almost made the score sheet. According to a match report, “Hayes, when close to goal, gave Murray a capital opportunity but Bailey ran out and saved.”

During the match Jock slipped and fell and split open his finger. The wound was cleaned up and he continued playing.

On the Monday, Jock was persuaded to see a doctor who inserted three stitches in his finger.

But the Canterbury Sports Ground had until a few years before been a market garden. The nutrients from fertilisers such as animal manure made the soil good not only for growing cabbages and carrots, but also for bacteria.

The wound became infected. The following Sunday he was admitted to the Coast Hospital suffering from tetanus. By Friday, Jock Murray was dead.

It was a massive shock to Sydney’s football community. Over 200 mourners turned up at the graveside at Woronora cemetery. Football officials, players of rival clubs as well as supporters and players from the district attended, such as the Chiswells and the Smarts. And of course, Bob, Jock’s younger brother, great mate and occasional strike partner was there.

The death was felt throughout the St George district. A wreath was presented by the Hurstville United Rugby League club. JJ Cahill, the local member of state parliament attended the funeral as did Clarrie Tye, the vice-captain of the St George Rugby League team.

Also at the graveside was Jock’s shattered wife, holding onto their two children; a two-year old and a four month old baby.

What a sad old day that must have been. It appears that Jock Murray, the grafting, hard-working footballer for the St George club touched many hearts. He was just 28 when he died.

Well laddie, my search is over. In some small way I’d like to think I’ve found you.