Playing long balls into empty space since 2012.

Thursday, 29 April 2021

Soccer in Victorian Schools in the 1950s

Last Saturday I received a call from Barbara at the Footscray Historical Society, alerting me to some photos she had found in Blue and Gold, the annual publication of the Footscray Technical School. She had noticed some soccer photos and thought I might be interested. 

Their holding runs from 1941 to1965, so I started at 65 and worked backwards. I found a healthy soccer culture that ran back to the formation of the senior team in 1956 [Horsham moment]. Prior to that soccer existed more marginally in the junior school but nonethless with a sense of commitment.

After looking through the Footscray tech mags:

  • Soccer first played there in 1949 (though subsequently I have found references to a pre-war Footscray U14 school team)
  • First played by senior college in 1956
  • Rugby, baseball and lacrosse have a stronger presence
    • Indeed Rugby team seems to play in APS comp.
  • Continental European names gradually become dominant

Much of this seems to accord with what I thought I'd find -- though the pace of change seemed rapid:

  • 1956 Olympics?

Had to be more than that. And I think the main reason is the instutiona; push from the VASFA

Argus, Monday 30 June 1952, page 2

SOCCER men are after your boy!


IN a few days, maybe, a soccer football organiser, known as the Director of Schools' Football, will "grab" your son.

Overnight he may "convert" him from Australian Rules - which you, your father, and your grandfather played - to a "foreign" code.

The organiser is Mr. V. J. M. "Dick" Dixon, who last week was given this propaganda mission by the Victorian Soccer Association.

Under the very eyes of the Victorian Football League, he will distribute soccer balls and rule books, show the lads a trick or two, and encourage our many migrant teachers to spread the game.

Already soccer's strength has increased by about 400% in the last five years!

A professional man who last week heard of Mr. Dixon's "nefarious" plan lost his temper.

"Quit the sentiment," he snapped, "and let's kill soccer."

"If my kid took up a foreign, sissy game, I'd feel like kicking him out. I'd certainly pull him out of a soccer school."

NEED our friend really have worried?

Let us look at Victoria's football statistics. The following table lists the estimates of the various codes controlling bodies. Rugby Union and Rugby league are grouped together.

The table gives the total number of clubs, players and supporters, respectively.

Aust'n Rules           Soccer       Rugby

1,594                         170              46 

49,500                      2,200           950 

528,000                    8,000           6,000

The national code - Australian Rules - appears to be in an unassailable position.

Essendon district, alone, has 32 clubs and 1,300 players-almost as many as the State's entire rugby following!

Where, then, lies the danger?

Unquestionably it lies in the support of almost 600,000 migrants and in the brilliant and sustained organising zeal of the soccer controllers.

RUGBY, although not a spent force, is not as powerful as it was before the war. It is not a serious challenger in Victoria.

But soccer's backing has increased fourfold in five years - and it is said to be still rising rapidly!

And now, with "sinister" intent, the soccer men plan to attack our State schools. The future power of our own game may well depend on the ensuing football battle in the schools.

There's nothing slipshod about the Soccer Association's methods. Not satisfied with Mr. Dixon's activities, they also plan to appoint an English or Scottish professional as "coach of coaches."

He will be paid £1,000 a year - big pay by. English standards - and begin his campaigning on January 1, 1953.

The "pro." will devote much of his time to polishing the school coaches.

And what has Mr. A. H. Ramsay, the Director of Education, to say about this soccer infiltration into his schools?


MR. RAMSAY mastered both our game and rugby and has an open Mind.

"I'll leave it to the head masters," he says. "If they want soccer they can have it."

"My only concern is that every fit boy should be given the chance to play a winter game in which he can acquire skill and enjoy himself.

"It's a good thing for a lad to get some skin off his nose now and then. It makes a man of him."

You might be surprised what Mr Like McBrien, secretary of the all-powerful V.F.L., says about schools and soccer.

"The V.F.L. has no desire to "dictate what game boys play," he comments charitably.

"Any sport that requires teamwork is a marvellous game.

"We're not at war with soccer. But we are proud of our game, and, naturally, we'll do our utmost to foster it.

"One thing is certain: Soccer won't succeed by revolution; maybe it'll get somewhere by evolution."

Some school authorities would not be as kind as Mr. McBrien.

The Christian Brothers, for instance, are most unlikely to let soccer get a hold In their schools In Victoria.

One Brothers' sportsmaster said: "Australian Rules is the game in our schools. And it will stay that way."

But Mr. C. M. Gilray, head master of Scotch College, adopts the tolerant attitude.

His boys get a choice"Rules," rugby, hockey, basketball. . . . "It's better that way," he says.

Mr. George Langley, principal of Melbourne High School, Victoria's biggest school, agrees with Mr. Gilray. His boys play lacrosse and baseball also, and they used to play rugby, but It lapsed for want of support.

CONTRARY to popular opinion, there is no quarrel, overt or hidden, between the V.F.L. and the Soccer Association.

Certainly, there have been hot words over the V.F.L.'s alleged "selfishness" with its enclosed grounds. "But that's all forgotten now," the football men say.

Mr. E. B. Coles (of G. J. Coles'), who is president of the Soccer Association, emphasised the "harmony" between the two codes.

"You couldn't even say we are challenging Australian Rules," he says.

"All we're doing is to try and provide facilities for all those who want to play the international game."

Mr. Ray Locke, secretary of the Victorian Rugby Union, is emphatic that there is room in Victoria for all football codes.

He believes that many small men, incapable of succeeding in Australian Rules, can be champions at rugby. And Mr. Locke, too, has his eye on the schools.

Ten years should tell the story.

The "goalie" saves . . . a familiar scene to Victoria's

growing number of soccer players and supporters. Soccer men are now infiltrating school territory with this international game.

So indeed there was a driving force behind the shift. And there were a number of responses also.

The problem was the difficulty of finding a coach which took three years. Len Young came and instituted a lot of improvements in Victorian soccer culture

Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), Tuesday 29 March 1955, page 20

Soccer in schools this year


The Victorian Soccer Council will allocate un limited funds this season for the propagation of soccer in Victorian schools.

Mr. Len Young, imported soccer coach from England, last night asked the council for £500 to start a school competition in Victoria.

He said that in the 10 months he had lived in Melbourne he had been in touch with a number of schools and had been surprised at the response he had received.

Made friends

Some masters had told him that soccer, because of its liberal distribution of footballs, training books, and referees' charts, had made many friends among Victorian schools.

Mr. W. R. Thomas, V.A.S.F.A. chairman, told the council that Mr. Young's request for £500 needed no discussion. He suggested to council that the £500 should be only a first payment.

"We have more than £3,000 in a trust fund, and this should be made available to Mr. Young to propagate the game here," he said,

The association decided to organise a school competition in soccer this year and to buy equipment and lease grounds.

I spoke with Socceroo Ted Smith about the process, figuring that his development occurred during this time.

He told me that in 1950 there were 4 high school teams

  • northcote
  • uni high
  • melb high
  • hampton

went to Preston tech old boys

vic colts coached by Len Young

at 18 he went to moreland.

In Ted's case the soccer in schools program certainly produced a result and he points to a number of players who made it to a pretty high level. He also bemoans the colts program being squashed after on two years. This 1953 article from the Australian Jewish Herald also points to the value of this program



Negotiations are under way for the Swinburne Technical School senior soccer team to join the ranks of Hakoah.

Hakoah easily outmatched their slower opponents, Preston, in a charity game at St. Kevin’s Oval last Sunday.

Final scores were Hakoah 8, Preston 5. (Friday 4 September 1953, page 17)

Then there is the response of Australian Rules, not directly to soccer in schools but rather the whole growth of the game.

Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 - 1954), Tuesday 28 July 1953, page 15

Collingwood's Offer on Northcote Ground

Collingwood Football Club made an offer to Northcote city council at its meeting last night to pay the rental of the Northcote football ground in the event of Northcote Football Club disbanding.

Three representatives of Collingwood club waited on the council — the president (Mr. Sid Coventry); secretary and manager (Mr. G S. Carlyon), and treasurer (Mr. Neil Kearns). Mr. Carlyon explained that his club had received a letter from Northcote club saying it might have to disband. 

"Collingwood, as a friendly body in this area, felt it should make a move to ensure that Northcote ground was retained for Australian football, even if only by a junior club on a Saturday," he said. "We do know that foreign codes of football desire to obtain, the ground. . . "

Lest we think that Collingwood was a loose cannon on this instance, a year later this analysis of the problems facing Australian rules in Melbourne was published in the Argus given the threatened collapse of the VFA.

If this went out of existence - and that is a real possibility - the way would be opened for other codes to take over the grounds in the growing outer districts.

The threat from these other codes means little at the moment. Any expansion, they may have made in recent years is due solely to the number of New Australians now in our midst. Nothing can draw them from their national games, so what they do has no effect upon Australian Rules.

What does matter, however, is what their children do.

In this lies the danger to Australian Rules if these other codes get control of the outer ring of grounds now occupied by the Association. This would give them a tremendous impetus in the rapidly growing areas of Melbourne.

Not only would it make the way easy for the New Australians to have their children play the other codes, it would also give them a splendid opportunity to woo young Australians, for the major ground in any district is the focal point for all young sports lovers.

Consequently the League must decide whether to bolster the Association sides or, somehow or another, hold their grounds. (17 April 1954, page 4)

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