Playing long balls into empty space since 2012.

Tuesday 19 April 2022

Five Problems with Australian Rules Football

Last year John Weldon and I created a podcast called Behind the Play. He was the straight guy and I was (something he had called me for years) 'The most hated man in (AR) Football'. We produced some thoughtful discussion I think. My rationale for wanting to undercut the mytholgies of Australian Rules was laid out in the document below, for want of a better title, The Five Problems of Australia Rules Football.

Australian rules is lumbered with five contradictions at its heart. They are so profound and historical that they are obscured from the plain view of aficionados and fans.

First the game is a syncretism of two incompatible modes of football. While the rest of the football word world was busy codifying and arguing between soccer-ish and rugby-ish impulses, Melbourne football decided to amalgamate the two and create an insoluble 160 year old ongoing argument about the holding the ball rule.

Secondly, Australian rules developed and found its basis during a period of Victorian optimism and expansionism. Many Victorians, at this point in its history seemed to believe they were on the road to nationhood. The Victorian Navy, the National Gallery of Victoria and the Victorian National Flag were products of this period. Footy also represented a cultural product of this nascent Victorian nation and so induced and rapidly cemented commitment at political, cultural and ideological levels. It came to represent an expression of Victorian manifest destiny. Its adherents constructed a frontier over which they needed to carry the game to the uncivilised regions of Australia. This frontier still exists in the form of the Barassi line.

Thirdly, and this point relates closely to the previous one, the rhetoric of Australian rules shifted from being a Melbourne game to a Victorian game to a National game over the first 50 years. The game’s imperialist urge was submerged in arguments that came to see the game as always having been representative of Australia in its entirety. This desire to capture Australia and in some instances the world stands in contradiction to the fact that even at its highest level the game is still centred emotionally in the inner suburbs of Melbourne. This region is its powerhouse and for many supporters it remains the heart of the game. Interstate teams are welcome to join the Victorian game but they must do so paying respect to the origins. The clash between Collingwood and Port Adelaide over the right to wear black and white illustrates this perfectly. At the heart of the game is the denigration of not only other codes of football but also other places of Australian rules, including the Victorian football Association which represented an outer suburban ring of Melbourne clubs.

Fourthly, and this point is more recent, the game is saddled with the myth of indigenous origins. While the idea that Australian rules sprung out of Marngrook is sustained, it will forever miss vital points of its own development. Certainly indigenous players have influenced the game tremendously. However, they were absent at its origins. The nature of colonial Society at that point forbade their inclusion. If a story is to be told of Aboriginal influence on Australian rules then it is about their initial exclusion through racist attitudes and laws, their parallel development of their own teams and competitions outside of the mainstream and eventual inclusion in the history of Australian rules when they worked, perhaps better, forced their way in. This is much later than the signal dates of 1858 or 1866 or 1877. This argument, it should be noted, does not actually rule out the influence of marngrook, it simply does not recognise it at any purported moment of origin.

Finally, it is not a particularly good game. Though that is merely my opinion. I don't think it's possible to premise football narratives on how good or how bad a particular game is. Yet, many footy supporters and footy historians start their arguments using the idea that football, their football, is the greatest of games. I do not doubt they believe this and are being honest in their assessments. Around the world games have developed in regions which all seem to think that theirs is the greatest of games. Whether it be Manchester, Wigan, Brisbane, Boston, Auckland, Montreal or indeed Melbourne, passion arising from the tremendous support these cultures give to their local game leads supporters to make greatness claims for them. This belief distorts the reality of a game’s values and problems. Australian rules supporters can be left thinking something like “Hey, this is such a great game, why doesn't the rest of Australia or, indeed, the world take it up?” That's a kind of noble ambition I guess. But the bigger problem might be that supporters can be influenced into thinking something like “Hey this is such a great game, why is the game I'm watching right now a bit shit?” Supporters of footy (and all games for that matter) need to realise that the greatness of a game is not so much because of its intrinsic or aesthetic qualities, but is rather generated by the strength of a culture's commitment to it. We all have a game that we look at and think “Well that's boring as batshit,” while supporters of that game obviously believe the opposite. Who is right? Melbourne, despite all my best attempts, is profoundly committed to Australian rules football. The culture highlights the game’s spectacular and beautiful moments as representative; it tries to dismiss the dreary and drab and problematic aspects of the game as other, problems that have been introduced over time because of the failure of someone, somewhere to stay true to the spirit of the game, whatever that means.

Weston Tragedies: Daisy and John James

Cessnock Eagle and South Maitland Recorder, Tuesday 22 October 1935, page 3

Terrible Sequel to Pathetic Tragedy.


After Wife's Dead Body Recovered. Five Little Orphans.

ONE OF THE most awful tragedies in the history of the Coalfields occurred yesterday. Following the discovery of the body of poor Mrs. James, three hours later her husband shot himself dead at his father's home in Abermain. The father of John Gwyllian James, like the Christian he is, endeavoured to give his bereaved son spiritual comfort, but apparently the heart broken husband had been thrown off his mental balance owing to the tragic death of his wife, to whom he was greatly attached. A further tragedy is that five young children, whose ages range from 18 months to 8 years, are bereft of the love and care of their parents. The whole hearted sympathy of the Coalfields goes out to the two stricken families in their great hour of trial. 

On Monday morning, following appeals by the police, the miners of Hebburn No. 1 and 2 and Pelaw Main colliery decided at the pit top to lose a shift, and make a great effort to discover the whereabouts of Mrs. James. Relief workers also joined in, and about 2000 searchers offered their services. A more intense search was conducted from Weston, and at 9.30 a.m. Thomas Street, a relief worker, and Douglas Parker, a Council employee, discovered the missing woman in the bush within fifty yards of a number of houses close to the Weston Soccer ground.

John Gwyllian James (32), husband of Daisey James (28) had participated in the search since his wife was reported missing on Friday morning. Charles James, father of the dead woman, was at the hospital on Monday morning, and was making an appeal by 'phone to Mr. Baddeley to request the Premier to make a 'plane available to assist in the search. 'I am unemployed,' said Mr. James, and spent all the money I had in chartering a 'plane on Saturday for four hours. I considered my daughter, the mother of five children, was just a great an asset to Australia as some of the other un fortunate missing people in whose search the Government spent large sums of money.' 

Before he could receive a reply, the ambulance had arrived with the body of his daughter. 'She is dead,' said Mr. James. 'I can tell that. Otherwise those men would be running over to congratulate me.' Inspector Noble identified the body. Having heard that his son-in-law had threatened to take his life, in the event of his wife being found dead, Mr. C James hastened to Abermain, and collected the five little children— Margaret, Beatrice, John, Bryn, and Allan. They were taken to his home, and instructions were given that they were not to be allowed out of sight, and on no account to be left alone. 

The husband of the dead woman went to his father's house at Abermain. Both family names are James, and the deceased couple were cousins. The police had been informed that John James had threatened to take his life, and was in possession of a revolver. Sergeant Whitechurch went to the residence, and whilst extending sympathy to the bereaved husband, surreptitiously placed his hands over his body in a search for a possible hidden weapon. It was apparent that James was not carrying a weapon on him. The father of John James was endeavouring to comfort his son, and to point out to him what a wrong it would be to take his own life. When Sergeant Whitechurch (said to James, 'I have heard you are threatening to take your life, Jack?' he replied, 'If I had wished to do that, there is lysol in the house, and I could have taken that.' His attitude partly allayed the fears of those present. James then made a cigarette, and asked what time it was. Sergeant Whitechurch told him it was a quarter to one. James then walked behind a partition, and the Sergeant decided to follow him. Just as the Sergeant got within six paces of him, James, with one movement, pulled a revolver from under a cushion, and shot himself in the forehead, dying shortly after. The spring forward of Sergeant Whitechurch was just too late to prevent the second tragedy in the family.

Whilst their parents were being prepared for burial, the little sons of the deceased couple were playing, unconscious of the terrible tragedy that had entered their young lives. There is a tremendous wave of sympathy for both families of the deceased, who are highly respected throughout the Coalfields. 

The mysterious disappearance of Mrs. Daisy James from the Kurri Hospital in the early hours of Friday morning gave an opportunity for the residents of the Coalfields to show their splendid spirit of sympathy. Hundreds of citizens gave up their pay week-end holiday in an effort to find the missing woman. At three o'clock on Friday morning the night sister discovered that Mrs. James, aged 28, was missing from her bed, and after it was ascertained that she was not in the building, the alarm was at once raised, and a search commenced. 

The police quickly got into action, and at commenced, under the leadership of daybreak an organised search was Sergeant Wood, of Kurri. When the news became broadcast, many of the relief workers in the district left work, and joined in the search. As the miners left the various collieries, further search parties were organised. Superintendent White, of the North Eastern Division, was notified at Newcastle, and he immediately made arrangements for a black tracker from Bulga to join in the search. The thick scrub was searched for many miles, and was kept up whilst there was a ray of daylight. Appeals were made in all the Coalfields districts for volunteers to assist on Saturday, and many appeared at the various centres to assist the police in their arduous task. 

Two parties left Kearsley on Saturday to search for the missing woman, Mrs. James. One party was in charge of Constable Hollis, and the other party was the 1st Kearsley Scouts, in charge of Scoutmaster G. Whitfield and Mr. G. Jeffery. One party searched from Kearsley through the scrub to Weston, and the ether party searched the scrub from Kearsley to Hebburn No. 2. Another party left Kearsley on Sunday morning, in charge of Forrest Ranger Wilson and Scoutmaster G. Whitfield, and searched the scrub from Kearsley to Tomalpin, and from there through the scrub to Weston, but found no trace of the missing woman. 

Mrs. James had left the institution apparently only clad in her night attire, with one shoe. Owing to the hard nature of the soil, and its dry ness, the trackers were unable to find any footprints. What appeared to be a print was seen at the foot of Tumble Bee. This, it was thought, pointed to the direction of Abermain. The direction was followed for several miles through the thick bush, without result. 

An aeroplane was requisitioned on Saturday, but the thick ti-tree scrub militated against clear observation. Every water-hole in the vicinity was searched, and the colliery dams dragged. Footsore and weary, the splendid band of searchers returned after sundown to their starting points, with not a clue to report. Arrangements were made that in the event of Mrs. James being found, the colliery whistle should be sounded to recall the searchers, who were spread over a wide tract of country. 

Despite heavy rain all day Sunday, the search was maintained, and air though the searchers were soon drenched to the skin, the search was unabated. Dragging operations were again carried out on Sunday, and at sundown the discouraged searchers returned home worn out and with the opinion that little hope could be entertained of finding the missing woman alive. Again on Monday the search was continued with zeal. 

A few months ago Mrs. James was seriously injured in a motor smash. With her father-in-law, Charles James, of Abermain, she was tra velling in a car from Singleton to Abermain. Coming along the Allan dale Road, Cessnock, they suddenly came to a barrier where the bridge was being rebuilt It was too late to stop the car, and it crashed over to the concrete bed below, a distance of about twelve feet. Mrs. James suffered head injuries as a result of this accident, and had been in bad health since.

Weston Tragedies: Rex Stevenson


Weston's 1936 State League Cup
Rex Stevenson. 23, who had been one of the Weston State League Soccer Club's forwards since 1935, was accidentally shot dead at Lemon Tree, Port Stephens, on Saturday. A rabbit shooting party of which Stevenson was a member was returning to its motor launch, and Stevenson at the rear was handing shot guns down a steep slope. A double barrelled gun which, he put down stock first struck a rock and went off, and Stevenson who received the full charge in his chest, died almost immediately. The funeral at Cessnock was attended by representatives of all Northern State League Soccer Clubs., Stevenson, who lived at Church Street, Cessnock, was a miner employed at the Ellington Colliery, In 1936, when Weston, despite the absence of three key players in New Zealand, for an important section of the season, won the New South Wales Soccer double, State premiership and State Cup, nothing in soccer distinction seemed beyond Stevenson's reach. Fast, elusive and an accurate kick, he was an admirable type of forward to finish off the work of a constructive halfback line and with added experience and polish he seemed likely to go far in representative company. 

From Raymond Terrace Examiner and Lower Hunter and Port Stephens Advertiser, Thursday 6 October 1938, page 3

Friday 15 April 2022

Weston Tragedies

This feels like a kind of starting point.

George Kennedy, the Weston Soccer Club's trainer, was killed by a fall of stone in Hebburn Colliery yesterday. The deceased had been a popular member and player of the Weston Club for some years, and took over the duties of trainer upon the death of Hicks. The accident following upon those of W., Lambert, W. Hicks, and Peter Coppock, all of whom have been killed within the past two years, hits the Weston Club hard. In consequence of the fatality, the match which was to have been played at Weston tomorrow between Weston and West Wallsend has been abandoned.

This article in the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (Friday 7 September 1923, page 2) underlines the extent to which Weston Bears has its share of tragedy as well as glory in its annals. Sid Grant puts the matter eloquently when he claims the club's "glorious cavalcade of triumphs has been punctuated with tragic occurrences which have struck at intervals to bring the club to its knees."

Every sporting Club has its go-to stories of pain and despair but what is it about Weston that means it has a little more than its fair share? Rotten luck is one answer but perhaps the tragedies and their reporting and memorialisation are a measure of the club's standing in the Coalfields. Grant writes of the death of Bill Lambert in a fall of coal at Hebburn No. 1: 

A pall of sadness spread right across the soccer firmament. The funeral cortege was one of the biggest seen in the North since Les Darcy died and was buried at East Maitland.

Soccer was a big deal in the region at that time and the death of a great club's best player and captain was a major public event.

This also makes me wonder whether the tragic history of Weston has given the club senses of history, importance and belonging not shared by many other Australian soccer clubs. Events that have caused repeated public memorialisation have in effect forced Weston into public historical consciousness in a way that Western United (for example) can only dream of. And while it seems from here (Melbourne) that Weston might be but a memory, I'm not sure that that is the case in its hearth.

I'd be interested in responses to this idea. Feel free to leave a message in the comments.

Thursday 14 April 2022


Herald (Melbourne), Saturday 20 May 1916, page 1


News has been received that Sapper H. Humphreys, well known as a playing member of the St. Kilda and Preston British Association (Soccer) Football Clubs, has been killed in action in France. He was largely responsible for the success of the Preston team in its cup-winning year. When war broke out he went to England, and joined the Yorkshire Engineers.



Victorian Soccer (British Association amateur football) is paying its toll in this greatest of all wars, writes Mr J. W. Harrison. Some hundreds of players are on the honor roll of the Australian Expeditionary Force. But it is with regret that I have to announce the death on active service of another soldier-footballer — H. Traynor, the well-known Soccerite of the Preston team, and latterly of the Melbourne Thistle Club. It seems to be only the other day that the writer had an interesting conversation with Corporal Traynor on sportsmen and war, in which he spoke earnestly on what he considered to be one's duty to King and country. Traynor was one of the most versatile players in the ranks of the Victorian Amateur British Football Association. 


Sympathy is also being expressed in local football circles at the bereavement of Mr Matt. Welch, the trainer of the Preston Soccer Club, who has lost his son — a mere youth— in the fighting line. 


Another side of ,the picture is the return of Lance-Corporal Bert. Knight (Engineer Corps) to Melbourne. Mr Knight, who prior to enlisting was the chairman of the Management Committee of the Preston F.C, has been invalided after active service in Egypt and France. He called to see me at this office a few days ago, looking bronzed and well, but told me that his fighting days were over owing to a bad leg. Mr Knight, who came from Lancashire on his emigration to Victoria, saw service in the South African War, and may truly claim to have done his due share for King and country.


Another interesting item is that Mr H. C. Dockerty, a well-known Collins street business man and president of the Victorian Amateur British Foot ball Association, has followed the ex ample of his fellow-Soccerites by enlisting, and is now in camp preparatory to joining his fellow field-sportsmen in the danger zone. Truly, there is no lack of patriotism in the ranks of Victorian Soccer, and when the honor roll is finally completed it will be in keeping with the traditions of the especial winter sport.

Winner (Melbourne), Wednesday 15 November 1916, page 8



Gunner William H. Browning resided at 3 Whitehall st., Footscray, until he enlisted in April, 1916, with 120th Howitzer Battery. He reached England in Dec. 1916; France in Feb. 1917, and joined the 50th Battery. On 11th October, 1917, he was killed in action. Gunner Browning was 21 years of age and a Scotchman by birth, having come to Australia 4 years ago. Prior to enlistment he was employed at the Government Dock Yards, Williams town. He was a leading player with the Footscray Thistle Soccer Club and an international player of note.

Advertiser (Footscray), Saturday 3 November 1917, page 3