Playing long balls into empty space since 2012.

Monday, 3 May 2021

George Macaulay

Paul Mavroudis thinks that I research soccer in order to discover my roots in a mining village in Durham, and this explains my Weston obsession. Maybe he's right. This thought occurred to me as I retraced my origins in Melbourne on the Number 1 tram on Saturday morning as I visited Val Finlayson at Albert Park, just two streets away from my first residence in Melbourne.

Val is the daughter of George Macaulay who played for Footscray Thistle for more than a decade between 1927 and the Second World War. Val had noticed that I put some photographs on the Lost Footscray Facebook site and contacted me letting me know that one of the people in the photographs was her father. I subsequently chatted with Val on the phone and arranged to meet her at brother Ed's place in Albert Park to talk about her father and to look at some of the artefacts and photographs he left.

Initially I surmised that Val must have been quite old, perhaps even in her 90s. It turns out that she was the first baby from a late marriage. Her parents married in November 1941 and her father George enrolled in the army a month later, training in Puckapunyul and Bonegilla for a year before serving in New Guinea. Val didn't meet her father until after the war in September1945 when she was 3 years old! Meeting Val and her brother Ed was a real privilege; both of them sprightly and active with a keen interest in learning about what I was researching and a real commitment to helping me understand their father's story.

Val and Ed generously provided me with the opportunity to learn about their father's origins and showed me a number of artefacts and photographs that I could copy. Ed was particularly helpful charging up and down the stairs to the scanner to produce high-quality scans of certain items.

Hughes Academy, George top row 3rd left
George Macaulay was born on 27 July 1907 in Aghadowey Northern Ireland. The youngest of five siblings growing up in a flax farming family, George was the only child to be educated beyond primary school. He attended the Hughes Academy where he learned to play football. Today, the academy, in Belfast, is a training college for young soccer players. After the untimely death of George’s father in the mid-1920s the family migrated to Australia. They arrived in Melbourne in 1926 and settled at 17 Napier Street in the suburb of Footscray. Despite having trained for the Civil Service George obtained a job as a foundry worker at Metters - a job he retained until the company closed in the 1960s. He then worked at Angliss Meatworks until retirement. Val mentions that he would proudly recount working there with the actor, John Wood.

George's 1930 Dockerty Cup medal
No name inscribed on the back.

In 1927 George, a Presbyterian, was playing with Footscray Thistle, one of Melbourne's champion Scottish-based teams. In sporting terms George must have felt that he had landed on his feet. Over the next five years he would obtain four championship medals (three Dockerty cups and one northern section championship). He also played a number of times for Victoria. Val laughed when she told me about the letter he received inviting him to play for Victoria. “It told him where he needed to be at a particular time on a particular day and to bring his own socks.”

It's clear that Macaulay was an excellent player. He is prominent in match reports throughout the decade. Though it should be said that Footscray Thistle was on something of a decline throughout the decade being relegated to the second tier in 1937.

George Macaulay enlisted in the Australian army in 1941 at the age of 34. He served in New Guinea, shattering his kneecap, contracting malaria, and returning to Australia in September 1945. It appears that George never played an organised game again. Val certainly remembers him kicking a ball in the backyard, showing her some tricks, but she has no memory that includes games of soccer. Perhaps it was the malaria; or the shattered kneecap; or his age, but his soccer career was over. But maybe also it was because he lost his team. A familiar story in Australian soccer is the death of clubs and the despondency and sometimes defection of those who follow them. Footscray Thistle seems to have been one of the war’s many casualties. Of all the teams that were deleted by the war, perhaps Footscray Thistle was the best of them. In any case, George seems to have lost interest in local soccer, preferring to follow the broadcast of English games on his scratchy radio in the back shed or local games of VFL.

Sadly, George’s wife, Valerie died when Val was 10 in 1953. The family moved to 79 Hyde Street Footscray until George's retirement when they moved to 16 Station Street in Blackburn. George Macaulay died in 1997 at the ripe old age of 90.

When it came to George's soccer records, photographs, and medals, Val didn't have a vast number of items. However, the quality of what she has is immense. These included a number of photographs of the Footscray Thistle team and the Victorian State team, some of which I had not seen before. One in particular took my attention because of the width of the
undated picture of the Footscray Thistle team
photograph. In the background we see detail normally excluded from team photos, that might well give us information about the locality of the game. The 1937 program for the English game against Australia excited me because I've never seen anything like it. My excitement was attenuated by realising a copy of it was already on Mark Boric’s Melbourne soccer site. I had seen photos of George’s Dockerty cup and Northern Section medals but to hold them in my hot little hand and be able to photograph the inscriptions on the reverse side was was a thrill. But the big ticket items were . . . little tickets: two tiny blue booklets from 1935 and 1936, called Footscray Thistle member 
1935 and 1936 Member's Tickets
tickets. These little booklets hold so much information as can be seen below: the committee, the season fixtures, the ground that they play on, even the little advertisements for local products contain information available nowhere else. I half-jokingly offered Val $200 for them on the spot. She seriously declined. One item I missed was the letter informing him that he was in the Victorian team, Val having misplaced it.

A wonderful amount of information about Footscray Thistle
 and Victorian soccer in such small bundles
Leaving Val and Ed, a familiar feeling came to me. Having visited many people for such interviews, I was aware of taking a little piece of their personal history. This produces a sense of responsibility and desire to treat the material with care — not in a physical sense in this case, because all I had was photographs and scans of originals and the notes — in an emotional sense. I need to respect the implied trust the siblings have placed in me. I will be pleased if this little piece fits that bill.

More is to be discovered about George Macaulay's personal history and Footscray Thistle’s rise and fall. This piece is my first contribution to the that project.

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