Some Naval Soccer History (Or When The Köln and Karlruhe Came Down Under)

For anyone who has met me in person, and perhaps a few of you who have read previous blog entries or listened to my podcast One On Wanderers, it doesn’t take long for my love of history and of most things German to bubble up to the surface. Throw in football and they’re the holy trifecta of hobby horses that I (often) ride on. I may not be an expert on the historical minutiae of the German competitive football (though I can heartily recommend the book ‘Tor’ by Ulrich Hesse-Lichtenberger as a starting point), and whilst I know of the German heritage of Manfred Schaefer and Mark Schwarzer I have zero knowledge of Australian soccer clubs that developed as a result of German migration to this country. However, thanks to the resources of the National Library Trove website and some previous exposure to both German and maritime football links to Australia, I’ve been able to piece together some notes about two Nazi warships and their soccer teams down under.

Having dabbled in the history of football in Australia one aspect that I have picked up on is the role that teams from foreign ships had in engaging with local clubs. As would be expected more often than not the majority of visiting ships’ teams were British, either Royal Navy or merchant marine. Take as a case in point this match report from the Sydney Morning Herald of 29th April 1907:

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Interestingly enough in both of the two games were naval personnel played against local clubs the visitors went down (though HMS Psyche was part of the Royal Navy’s Australian Station so it may have had some local crew members, if not football players). At a time when Australian football was undoubtedly seen as a poor cousin to the other codes in this country, and exposure to foreign competition was often an ad hoc affair, then matches against British sailors must have served as some small taste of the international dimension for the sport down under.

I could ferret out some more British naval visitors who took on Australian football teams whilst visiting these shores, however returning to my earlier remarks about German history and soccer, thanks to the inestimable treasure that is Trove I have discovered some teasing nuggets about the German cruisers Köln (Cologne) and Karlsruhe and their links to soccer in this country in 1933 and 1934.

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The Cruiser Köln in Sydney Harbour, May 1933

The visit of the Köln to Australia in the autumn of 1933 was at a most interesting point in Germany’s history, and came only 15 years after the end of the First World War (when the nascent Royal Australian Navy had claimed the sinking of the SMS Emden as one of the most important victories of that conflict’s sea battles). With Hitler’s Nazi Party only having just come to power in late January 1933, the Köln was at the vanguard of German diplomacy when that country was about to set out on a programme of major military expansion. The agenda was set by the ship’s captain, insofar as he was both looking to recognise Australian sensitivities to the (then) recent war and the losses incurred during that conflict, whilst also presenting the ‘face’ of a new Germany:

The Sun, 9th April 1933

The Sun (Sydney), 9th April 1933

Obviously what was said by Captain Schniewind in the press item above was at best misguided, and at worst horrendous propaganda. However at the time the visit of the Köln was a major social event in all the ports it visited, engaged on a ‘charm offensive’ to nominally dispel enmities from the ‘Great War’ . In Fremantle the ship’s crew were gifted a kangaroo mascot, Seppl (joining a lion cub and cockatoo), whilst in Adelaide there was a performance by the ship’s band, visits to Adelaide University and a ‘smoke social’ at the German club.

When it came to sport the crew of the German warship were at a disadvantage when it came to mainstream Australian sports such as cricket and Australian Rules. However, and this is where I personally find the visit of the Köln fascinating from a local football history perspective, the ship’s crew had a team that played soccer games in almost every port she called in at, against Australian XIs.

Ad for Football Match between South Australia & Köln crew, 24/3/1933

Ad for Football Match between South Australia & Köln crew, 24/3/1933

The fact that the games between Australian teams and the Köln’s crew were presented as international matches indicates the desire by local football interests to put the code on a pedestal that particularly Australian Rules couldn’t reach. There was much made of the social, diplomatic and sporting benefits to be had by playing these matches. For example, when the Köln team met the Fremantle Soccer Club ticket sales went to the benefit of a fund for then recently deceased WA sportsman Ron Doig. In Adelaide though the South Australian team lost 2-3 the positive response to their performance was noted by interstate observers. In Hobart the Southern Tasmanian team won 2-0, and the match was played in front of ‘The largest crowd for many years…’, and when they met a RAN team in Sydney the visiting Germans gave the Australians a bit of a football lesson:

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The RAN & Köln teams in Sydney, and matchplay from the 8-3 win for the Germans

The RAN & Koln teams in Sydney, and matchplay from the 8-3 win for the Germans

Now it would be very hard to make any comments on the lasting benefits of these games on Australian soccer without having more information to hand. My suspicion is this would’ve been minimal, as per any type of exhibition football match that is played even in this era (for example, the A-League All-Stars hardly revolutionised support for the code in Australia after two games, and are arguably best forgotten as PR stunts). However the importance of a team of foreign nationals taking on Australians in a sport that was still in its early years of development must have resonated for those who battled to keep football in the wider public consciousness. Of course when it comes to international relations, whatever was achieved by the visit of the Köln in autumn 1933 was wiped out a few short years later when it and other Kriegsmarine vessels were engaged in Nazi Germany’s war of aggression against countries such as Australia.

Almost a year later the Köln’s sister cruiser, the Karlsruhe visited Australia, however unlike the sporting contact between the locals and the first German ship’s crew, the 1934 football match schedule was far more limited. There was only the one match, and this was played in Brisbane against a metropolitan representative team (a first for the then recently reorganised Brisbane District Football Association). The Brisbane team went on to win this match 2-0 against the German navy squad, which was reported as being due to the ‘lack of condition and match practice‘, and I would assume that this match had far less resonance for the popularity and development of football in Queensland than the earlier Köln matches had interstate.

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The significance of these two German ships’ crews playing soccer matches in Australia against local teams in the early days of the Nazi regime is not that crucial, not that important. I personally find the stories fascinating, but I also recognise that contrasted to other international team visits (such as the Indian tour of 1938) these exhibition games were more about entertainment and diplomacy than developing football in this country. However, as I mentioned above, the local football adherents were able to look to the visit of the German naval teams as a reaffirmation of the global context of soccer, when the indigenous code couldn’t do so, and both rugby codes were limited to other (mostly) English speaking nations. I believe it is also important to acknowledge these games as part of the long and significant football relationship conducted between Australia and Germany. Before there was Holger, before there was Ned Zelic playing in the Bundesliga, before there was Manfred Schaefer speaking on German TV about his 1974 team mates, there were the soccer teams from the Köln and the Karlsruhe.

The Unspoken Histories That Still Hurt (or How Australian Football Fell Between the Narrative Gaps): Part Two

In my previous post I attempted to explore the recent culture war being waged against football by certain demagogues within mainstream Australian media, and by those vociferous in supporting or echoing them through social media, newpapers, etc, within the context of how the sport’s Anglo-Australian history has been forgotten or is ignored. The rabid virulence propagated by the likes of Rebecca Wilson and Alan Jones betrays not just their underlying xenophobia, but also their blinkered ignorance that WASPs like them have played football, watched it, enjoyed it and actually prefer it to other, in their view more ‘Australian’ football codes.

I would like to continue this analysis on a second theme, based on another historical ignorance or forgetting, which in this case is not based on what has occurred in Australian football’s tortured history. No; in this post I want to tackle the hypocrisy of the attitudes shown by those who continually live under the spectre of, or circulate with vivid passion, the villainous ‘soccer hooligan’, when it comes to crowd violence and illegal behaviour. Whether it be someone like Jones linking your common or garden member of the RBB or Squadron or North Terrace to terrorists in Paris, or NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Kyle Stewart talking about ‘grubby pack animals’, there is a willful demonisation of the worst aspects of the (very small incidents in number) of anti-social behaviour at football games, yet over the decades other sports have had their moments of violence forgiven, excused, or even celebrated.

To illustrate the ignorant prejudice held against football in this country when it comes to violence, here is a random post from Twitter:

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Annie does her best to get in her two (cheap) shots, vis-a-vis the non-Australian aspect of the sport of football plus the ‘riots at the soccer’ that result in ‘destruction and deaths’. I wonder how comfortable she would feel reading this about cricket’s history of riots and destruction:

India v Pakistan, Asian Test Championship, first Test, 1999
The first three days of the Test passed without incident. On the fourth afternoon, chasing 279, India were well placed on 143 for 2. Sachin Tendulkar was on 7 when he clipped Wasim Akram to deep midwicket. He took two runs and was on his way back for a third when substitute Nadeem Khan hit the stumps with his throw from the deep. In the ordinary course of events it would have been a straightforward third run, even with the direct hit, but Tendulkar collided with Shoaib Akhtar, who was waiting close to the stumps to gather the return, and as a result was out of his ground, even though he may well have been just inside the crease at the moment of the collision. Steve Bucknor referred it to the third umpire, KT Francis, who, after a long delay, gave him out. The huge crowd erupted and started chanting “cheat, cheat”, pelting Shoaib with bottles and other objects as he returned to his position in the deep.

Eventually the umpires took the players from the field for an early tea and it was only after personal pleas from Tendulkar and ICC president Jagmohan Dalmiya that the match was able to resume. However, trouble broke out again on the final day when India were reduced to 231 for 9. Wisden reported: “Spectators started burning newspapers in the stands and hurled stones, fruit and plastic bottles on to the field. The match was held up for over three hours as about 65,000 people were removed by police and security men. The crowd’s anger was still concentrated on Tendulkar’s run-out, but there was little viciousness in the riot; it was born of disappointment rather than anti-Pakistan feeling..” It only took Pakistan 10 balls to complete their 46-run win, but they did so in a surreal atmosphere of only 200 spectators in a ground that could hold 90,000.

Of course Annie and her fellow anti-soccer-hooligan advocates put such a disgraceful example of crowd behaviour in the context of ‘well it doesn’t happen here’. Funnily enough, our very first Australian Prime Minister had a brush with cricket hooliganism:

“To resume my account of the disturbance on the ground on the Saturday. I asked Gregory on what grounds the objection was raised, and he said at first general incompetence, but afterwards admitted that the objection was raised on account of the decision in Murdoch’s case. I implored Gregory, as a friend, and for the sake of the NSW Cricket Association, which I warned him would be the sufferer by it, not to raise the objection, but he refused to take my view of the case. Looking back in the midst of this conversation, I found the ground had been rushed by the mob, and our team was being surrounded, I at once returned to the wickets, and in defending Coulthard from being attacked was struck by some ‘larrikin’ with a stick. Hornby immediately seized this fellow, and in taking him to the pavilion was struck in the face by a would-be deliverer of the ‘larrikin’, and had his shirt nearly torn off his back. He, however, conveyed his prisoner to the pavilion in triumph. For some thirty minutes or so I was surrounded by a howling mob, resisting the entreaties of partisans and friends to return to the pavilion until the field was cleared, on the grounds that if our side left the field the other eleven could claim the match. I don’t suppose that they would have done so, but I determined to obey the laws of cricket, and may add that for one hour and a half I never left the ground, surrounded the whole time, with two short intervals, by some hundreds of people. At about five o’clock the crowd was cleared off somehow. I then took the opinion of the Eleven as to changing the umpire, and it was decided nem. con. that there were no grounds for the objection, and that we should decline to change him. I informed Gregory of the decision, whereupon he said, ‘Then the game is at end’. On Coulthard appearing from the pavilion groans arose from the crowd. I turned to Mr Barton, the NSW Eleven umpire, and asked if I could not claim the match according to the laws of cricket. His answer was, ‘I shall give it you in two minutes’ time if the batsmen do not return’.”  (source: An extract from Lord Harris’ letter to the Daily Telegraph, 11/2/1879)

This account of a cricket riot from Australia’s colonial past may be considered immaterial in the current context of so-called soccer grubs lighting flares etc, however it is a commonly held myth that ‘true’ Australian sports never have or never will see hooliganism like that seen in football:

A Fear Of Football (@FearOfFootball) - Twitter 2015-11-30 11-42-04

Of course it escapes the attention of this nasty, ignorant football hater that there have been no ‘slaughter of fans’ at any Australian soccer match. Yes, there has not been ‘slaughter of fans’ at the AFL as per the tragic events of Heysel, however as recently as this year we saw this disgusting example of fan violence at an AFL match:

And if the defenders of the indigenous code of football want to drag up incidents from Soccer’s shameful past of decades ago, how about this?

Report on Australian Rules Football riot, Sunday Times, 14/7/29

Report on Australian Rules Football riot, Sunday Times, 14/7/29

Or this?

The Argus, 23/4/1946

The Argus, 23/4/1946

Ian Syson has collected a sizable selection of articles and reports that demonstrate Australian Rules football is certainly not a clean skin when it comes to hooliganism and violence within its fans, and I would recommend that you read it here. Both Ian and I would agree that crowd violence is a relatively small and unremarkable phenomenon in that code, however we would also agree (unlike the virulent soccer haters) that there is a similar fraction of fan violence at football games in Australia. The key to the discussion is not necessarily when the incidents happened, or where, or even how. It’s more how the media portray them and how they are comprehended by a segment of society that is culturally conditioned against soccer from the get go.

Even the sport supposedly played (if you believe its proponents) in heaven, Rugby Union, has a very recent disturbing history of hooliganism in Australia:

FNQ Rugby investigates rugby brawl between Penrhyn Sharks and Tablelands
MICHAEL WARREN THE CAIRNS POST AUGUST 17, 2015 6:10AM 3

FNQ Rugby is investigating the circumstances that led to an ugly on-field incident which saw Cairns police called to break up a wild brawl in a reserve grade match at Vico Park.

The Cairns Post has learned between 50-100 people, including players from both Penrhyn Sharks and Tablelands Rugby Union Club, each of their benches and sections of the crowd were involved in the vicious melee that lasted around 20 minutes.

“I can confirm Cairns police received a call at around 3.40pm on Saturday afternoon about a disturbance coming from a Mooroobool sporting field,” a Queensland Police spokesman said.

“Four Cairns police units attended the scene on Irene St but the situation had already calmed upon their arrival. Police remained on-site for a short while for observational purposes. No one was charged and no arrests were made.”

It’s understood the alleged incident that sparked the matter occurred in the 65th minute when a Penrhyn player took exception to being heckled by an opposition player after dropping the ball in the process of scoring a try. Some minor push and shove soon ensued between the pair before quickly breaking out into a fully blown brawl.

The match was called off with Penrhyn leading 12-7.

A Penrhyn player was taken to hospital where he was treated for concussion and loose teeth. He was released Saturday night but presented again yesterday morning with blurred vision.

The premier grade game between Port Douglas and Penrhyn was consequently abandoned without a ball being kicked.

“I’m absolutely disgusted with what I saw,” Sharks coach Daniel Dixon said.

“It is very disappointing, you never want to see what happened on Saturday happen anywhere, let alone on a rugby field.”

A Tablelands rugby club spokesman offered “no comment” until the incident is fully investigated.

FNQ Rugby boss Rob Brennan said the matter was regrettable.

“It’s not a great look for the game in any way, shape or form,” he said.

Again, it needs to be said that this may be an isolated incident and not entirely reflective of the general behaviours or safety issues when attending a rugby match in Australia. However when contrasted to the virulent panic and hatred that was manifested through the recent focus on so-called ‘soccer hooliganism’, it seems rather disingenuous to not treat this incident from August 2015 with the same moralising, the same harsh reaction as readily and frequently thrown in the face of football fans in this country.

Rugby League had the remarkable achievement of seeing not one but two sizable riots involving thuggish fan behaviour in September 2015, with approximately 200 people involved in a north Queensland brawl on 13/9/15, and an ‘ugly brawl involving dozens of teenagers and spectators in Brisbane‘ earlier that month. Early n the 2015 NRL season there was the unedifying sight of Canterbury fans engaging in behaviour that Rebecca Wilson would probably describe as ‘soccer thuggery’ at the Grand Final rematch between the Bulldogs and South Sydney Rabbitohs.

Strangely enough we have not seen the Daily Telegraph or the Sunday telegraph run a two page spread and front page story detailing ‘the faces from Rugby League’s shame file’. Perhaps with that specific organ of the News Limited tabloid press having a vested interest in reporting on a sport that it has reportedly paid $1 billion for pay TV rights access, such coverage of rugby league hooliganism is going to be seen as damaging Rupert’s investment. Or maybe the NRL and the NSW Police have failed to find and ban those responsible for such loutish behaviour.

Or perhaps the NRL doesn’t have a couple of enemies of its sport sitting on the board of the SCG.

In conclusion, let’s be under no illusions here. There has been and always will be a tiny minority of anti-social and at times illegal behaviour occurring at football games in Australia. Based on the dubious reportage of Rebecca Wilson, the 198 bans handed out by the FFA would represent only 0.001287% of all the 15,383,395 people who have attended an A-League game since the competition’s inception. Hardly the kind of risk percentage that would require the use of Strike Force Raptor, incite Alan Jones to link football fans with Daesh-associated terrorism in Paris. However that kind of hysterical hyperbole is justifiable in their own minds as these spruikers of anti-soccer hatred find it easy to sell the myth that other sports have no problems whatsoever. In turn many who follow cricket, Australian Rules, Rugby League and Rugby Union are blind to their own sports’ history of thuggery, violence and public disorder believe this fiction. The collusion between the haters and the ignorant creates the unreasonable hatred every soccer fan in this country has at some time or another had to face.

The Unspoken Histories That Still Hurt (or How Australian Football Fell Between the Narrative Gaps): Part One

In the last week there has been an incredible firestorm of intemperate language, outrageous shock-jock sensationalism, half-arsed official defence of the round ball game, and internecine war between fans and officials in what was supposed to be ‘new football’s’ latest season of excellence. To put it mildly, this is the biggest public brou-ha-ha to strike football in this country since at least the release of the Crawford Report and/or the failed 2022 World Cup bid. With the illogical, rabid, ravings of an unethical, illiterate anti-football hack letting loose her execrably bad propaganda, via the agency of a sine non qua example of News Limited’s Yellow Press, the shit-storm was let released. Fed by the jaundiced, xenophobic fuel of one of the most offensive men on commercial radio in Australia, a man who would not look uncomfortable lined up with Rush Limbaugh, Jimmy Saville or Joseph Goebbels, the world of football in this country went into meltdown quicker than a chocolate nuclear reactor.

So that I won’t continue to spread the inaccurate, febrile bullshit that has been issued by those paragons of the gutter media in Australia, I won’t embed links in this blog entry to either the original columns of hate nor the insulting, disgusting radio broadcast that had the vile effect of linking the massacring terrorists of Bataclan Theatre to Pirtek Stadium. If you haven’t already seen or heard them, or indeed of the following flow of anti-football effluence channeled through bogan media organs such as 2GB, the Daily Telegraph or Channel Ten news, go to Google or Twitter or Facebook or even just walk up to a football fan this weekend and ask them what the story was. Decorum and common sense compels me to leave the ratbag media types who have been spouting their vomitous views to their own audiences, their own xenophobic, neanderthal-like readers and listeners.

I also have no real desire to hoe the same rows of complaining about the cultural and political intolerance emanating from the police forces, who in the finest examples of jackbooted group-think seem to live in some kind of mid 1980s English football hooligan purgatory, looking for ways to stop such an insidious foreign threat to their powers (and in the mean time trying to stop men, women and children marching in the streets, or god forbid standing on a seat). Other commentators, politicians, bloggers and common or garden soccer fans have already thrown a hail of brickbats at the constabulary, who when not trying to create a fear of football through selective PR fuck-ups, love to suck on the teat of the Wanderers and do nothing for their overtime. If they were as effective at rooting out the genuine anti-social activists who do bedevil our sport (as well as every other football code, cricket etc) as they are at bad-mouthing senators and sccer fans then perhaps no one would have any issues.

Where I would like to take the discussion is into two areas that I believe underpin the basic problems football in this country faces, insofar as the xenophobic, dare I say racist attitude towards soccer, as well as the forgotten, or perhaps sugar coated history of the other football codes and cricket when it comes to hooliganism. Before I continue, I want to make it abundantly clear that there have been, are and probably still will be issues relating to disruptive and anti-social behaviour at football games in this country. It happens overseas, it happens here due to a multiplicity of reasons and through a multiplicity of offensive acts. There are the obvious issues with flares, and personally speaking I find them unhelpful as a tool to help win over the non-football folk, or engender enthusiasm at the game or for the sport. I understand the reasons why they are used, and have seen up close and personal the visual stimuli they provide to certain people. Having said that they are not entirely dissimilar in attraction to particular types of people as a major crash in a Formula One motor race, or a huge hit in a rugby league match, or a thunderous kick and punch combination in a UFC bout (and on the balance arguably not as dangerous). Fighting between rival fans is also a problem, though as well documented this is neither on a scale to worry Mr & Mrs Joe Public, nor is it any better or any worse than some of the acts of violence in our day to day lives. In fact, it could be argued that based on current domestic violence rates the soccer stadium is a far safer place to be than the home. When you see figures of where an Australian woman dies as a result of domestic violence every three weeks, contrasted to the 198 bans handed out over ten years of the A-League, well surely it is a sign of how sick and deranged our press is to focus front page coverage or radio broadcasters’ outrage on the latter issue and not the former?

What I want to explore in this first post (the other will follow hopefully soon enough)  is the nexus between the forgotten Anglo and Australian history of football in this country, and how that has helped shaped the antipathy, bordering on racism projected by the likes of the Sunday Telegraph’s harridan and the right wing nut jobs of 2GB, as well as many of their camp followers. For example:

A comment on the original story in the Sunday Telegraph

A comment on the original story in the Sunday Telegraph

As sure as night follows day some intellectually impaired xenophobe decides that, spurred on by the ravings of a fellow traveler in hyperbole and insularity, the sport of football should be ‘cut’ and the followers expelled to their own country or that of their parents. Putting aside this threat to send me back to the place me and my last four generations of forebears came from (i.e. Australia), what is most noticeable to me in this ratbag’s xenophobia is that he is stressing the otherness of the sport and by extension it’s racial make-up, denying the over 130 years of the game being played by Anglo-Australians.

I won’t go into too great a detail here on this point, as there are other more academically competent authors and more worthy articles filled with research that reinforce my point about the racist undertones of the ‘wogball’ hater. However I would like to postulate that in this day and age the barely disguised racism against soccer in Australia is tied to the mistaken belief that the sport has an almost purely non-Anglo history. In an Australia where it’s greatest sporting heroes are almost to a man or to a woman white and Anglo-Saxon, with perhaps a dash of the ‘boy from the bush’ or the working class kid who battled his or her way to success, well is it any surprise that when football’s history is sold both by the bigots and to some extent by its own promoters as ‘the world game’, the game of Croats, of Greeks, of Italians, of Sudanese etc etc, that it becomes ‘de-Anglified’. For every Johnny Warren in football, the rest of Australian sport throws up a dozen Anglo heroes, from the likes of Bradman and Fraser, through Newcombe to Messenger.

Before I go any further I want to make clear that I don’t want to turn this blog into an exercise of ‘ethnic-cleansing’ of soccer in Australia. However I find it disconcerting that there is almost a secret history of football in Australia that has been forgotten or ignored, allowing the bigots to manipulate the dominance of the post-war ethnic based support into a culture war where they can very easily posit football as foreign. Take as a case in point the 1965 Socceroos squad:

1965 Socceroos Squad

A cursory look at the pioneers of Australian international football throws up numerous names who do not fit the xenophobic generalisation demonstrated by the likes of the previously quoted Telegraph commentator. Hughes, Warren, Ackerley, Watkiss, Blue, Cook, Rice, Pearson, Giles, Rorke, Anderson…these are all surnames that would not look unnatural in a current or past Australian cricket, league, rules or Olympic swimming team. Recently celebrated by having their surviving squad members inducted into the FFA Hall of Fame, the 1965 Socceroos have until quite recently become a cypher in Australian football history. In the clamour to celebrate the success of the 2005 team that defeated Uruguay, a team that was as multicultural as modern Australia is, and as our national cricket, league and union teams aren’t, we as a community and the game’s administrators have forgotten to remember and promote the achievements of our Anglo-Australian soccer heritage. In that environment, in that historical and cultural context, is it any wonder that football’s xenophobic haters like Wilson, Jones and Hadley can vomit forth their bilious viciousness? They look to the alleged crimes of ‘wogball’ down under or the foreign phenomena of 1980s English hooliganism or Balkan flare displays and can only frame their hateful opinions because they know no better. They have no appreciation that football is not just an alien game to WASP Australians..it is just as integral to them, to us, to me as it is to the migrants who brought their own unique and wonderful elements to football in this country.

I think it has to be said at this point that football’s administrators have not helped the situation, insofar as their maddeningly obtuse NCIP policy and their desire to get away from the days of ‘old soccer’. By unfortunate extension, in attacking or downplaying the ethnic history of football in Australia, such as by forcing South Melbourne Hellas to become South Melbourne FC, or demanding Sydney Croatia become Sydney United, past and present administrators, they have by default allowed football to be culturally stereotyped by its ethnicity. To add insult to injury there has been bugger all promotion of an older, less ethnically diverse soccer history by the likes of the FFA to fill in the credibility gap created by their clumsy reshaping of our sport. It’s as if the suits can’t bring themselves to promote the organic and natural development of football in Australia because they themselves didn’t really have a part in it.

Perhaps the story of one of the most important icons of our sport here in Australia add even more force to this gap between the historical truth of our game having an Anglo-Australian past, and how many of football’s haters (and even some of its fans) still perceive the game as ‘UnAustralian’ The most obvious example that tells a lie to the myth of soccer as ‘wogball’ is the great Johnny Warren. A Botany boy who played football as the ‘New Australians’ were becoming predominant in the domestic competitions, his most successful years were spent with the highly successful St George Budapest club. A Socceroo who participated in our first three forays into the World Cup, then latterly a coach, media identity and inspiration for thousands of young children starting out in football, Johnny was the banner man for the sport in Australia for almost his entire life.

Johnny Warren exchanging pennants with the Japanese national team captain, 1971

Now within the football community Johnny’s name is synonymous with our sport. If you were to walk up to most Socceroos fans of the last generation or so, or even some of the younger members of the A-League clubs, the phrase ‘I told you so’ will almost always resonate, perhaps get a smile of recognition or a nod in agreement. His foundation does great work and if there is one place in Australia that has the initial wherewithal to become a museum for football it would have to be the family owned pub in Jamberoo. A recipient of numerous awards, an Australian national team captain, an ambassador for this country and its multicultural development, he was a true legend not just of football but of Australian sport in general.

Yet when it came time for Johnny to write his autobiography, he found himself having to address the same stereotypes that still haunt the writings of the rabidly anti-soccer press, thus his own life story was printed as ‘Sheilas, Wogs and Poofters’. Here was an Anglo-Australian who had lived in the exact same economic, social and political demographic that produced hundreds of Australian sportsmen and women, however unlike those who went into league, or union, or cricket, or swimming, he had to face down hate and suspicion merely because he played the round ball game.

Another less obvious example of how the wider Australian community has misplaced or misunderstood, or indeed totally forgotten the Anglo-Celtic Australian soccer history is the great Joe Marston. Sadly Joe passed away today, and it was most disappointing that we as a football loving community are currently distracted from honouring his life and achievements, in part because of the can of worms that were opened by Wilson’s injudicious, hate-ridden polemic. However here was a man who played football at one of the highest levels in the (e.g. the English FA Cup) at a time (1954) when back home in his native land there was a struggle to pull together a national team for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.

Joe Marston, representing Preston North End circa 1954

Joe’s accomplishments overseas were more or less forgotten throughout the entire half-century between his playing hey-day and the advent of the Lowy era and the establishment of the FFA. I know from my own personal memories that the broader Australian sporting community only started to take notice of an Aussie succeeding overseas in soccer when it was done by Craig Johnston in the great Liverpool United squads of the 1980s. This forgetfulness when it came to Joe’s achievements have been rectified somewhat, including with the establishment of the Joe Marston Medal for the best player in the A-League grand final. However when his life and career are put into a similar context to other Australian sporting greats who were highly successful internationally, such as a Don Bradman, a Herb Elliott, a Dawn Fraser…well Marston has been left far behind by mainstream Australian sports fans and journalists. In my opinion the respect to Joe being shown to him now (as per this FFA article) is great, but arguably too late and nowhere near widely enough.

To summarise this, the first of two posts I will write on the culture of hostility against football in Australia, which at its worst leads to the rancid writings and words of Rebecca Wilson and Alan Jones, I believe there has been a forgetting, a willful ignorance established within Australia’s sporting environment that denies not just the positive aspects of football as a multicultural experience, but equally as egregiously denies our Anglo-Australian soccer heritage. Where those who bash our game continually find their sporting paradigms in ‘acceptable’ dinki-di icons like Les Darcy, Jack Dyer, Jack Brabham or Ian Thorpe, they cannot conceive of or fail to contextualise soccer as a code that has been popular with, and been played well by, those same WASP Aussies that they idiolise in other sports.

Even our ‘Anglos’ are ‘wogs’.

There Was a Striker From Ironbark…(or What’s Bush Football’s Story?)

For all its sporting history Australia has been renowned for throwing up some of its greatest sports stars from the farming communities, the mining towns, the railway sidings and the flyblown specks on the map that dot the great expanse of the nation’s rural and regional heartland. Rod Laver came from Rockhampton, whilst up the Bruce Highway Cathy Freeman was a Mackay girl. In cricket the legendary Don Bradman made his way from Cootamundra to Bowral where he flourished as a prodigal young talent, and thence journeyed to Sydney and immortality. Cadel Evans started life in Katherine in the Northern Territory before heading to Armidale in the New England region. League great Arthur Beetson came from Roma in Queensland, Greg Norman was from Mount Isa and squash great Heather McKay was a Queanbeyan girl. You can’t mention the name of our first great female Olympic sprinter Marjorie Jackson without appending the nickname ‘The Lithgow Flash’, whilst ‘the Maitland Wonder’ was boxer Les Darcy.

Meanwhile, in football the catalogue of country born and bred heroes and heroines is stark in its emptiness.

Yes, Ray Baartz (who probably deserves the accolade of being our greatest football player of the last century) was a Newcastle lad, and Archie Thompson spent time as a junior around Lithgow, Bathurst and Albury. The industrial centre of Whyalla, on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula has been a productive regional point of origin for footballers such as Robert Bajic, Carl Veart and Alistair Edwards (though Edwards actually began his career in Perth). However when we talk about the greats of our code in this country, the same major urban geographies crop up. For Tim Cahill, Mark Schwarzer and Harry Kewell it’s Sydney’s western suburbs. John Kosmina and the Vidmar brothers were from Adelaide, whilst the two Pauls (Trimboli and Wade) were young players from Melbourne. Mark Viduka was another Melburnian, whilst Stan Laziridis is a Perth lad.

If one was to look at the Socceroos squad that triumphed in the 2015 AFC Asian Cup only two of the players selected by Ange Postecoglou came from a truly bush background, these being reserve goalkeeper Mitch Langerack (who hails from the Queensland coal mining town of Emerald) and Nathan Burns (like Archie Thompson, Burns is of mid-western NSW provenance, also playing as a junior with Bathurst ’75 Western). Contrasted to the Australian cricket squad that has completed its most recent test series against India with five key players coming from the scrub (Brad Haddin, Josh Hazelwood, Nathan Lyon, Shaun Marsh and Mitchell Johnson), I think it’s only fair to ask the FFA and indeed the wider football community what the f@ck are we doing to encourage our game outside the big cities?

Obviously the strong links between football’s history in Australia and the post-World War II immigrant boom is of vital importance. Whilst certain parts of regional and rural Australia have some degree of a multicultural population (e.g. Griffith in NSW’s Riverina with its large Italian community, or Woolgoolga near Coffs Harbour with its Sikh Indian populace), there has been nowhere near the congregation or concentration of those who came from the Balkans, from Greece, from Spain, from Germany or more recently from South America, Asia or Africa in Australia’s bush towns as have stayed in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth or Adelaide. The major regional centres of Wollongong and Newcastle have benefited from the large number of Europeans who came to these steel and coal cities before and after World War II, thus increasing their prominence in football’s Australian history. However I would argue that as both these cities are within two-three hours of Sydney they are not so much part of the bush, but more an extension of the great conurbation of our biggest Australian city. The immigrants who were behind the Hungarian St George Budapest, the Greek South Melbourne Hellas, or the Polish Adelaide Polonia didn’t emigrate in similar numbers with a similar impact to Mudgee or Shepparton, to Port Lincoln or Alice Springs.

This is not meant to deny the importance of those people who either emigrated to Australia or were born here and then have tried to develop bush soccer. I’ve recently come across the story of one of those so-called ‘wogs’ from a country town that I have deep personal links with. Broken Hill is possibly one of the most famous small bush cities in this country, and the recently departed Rudolph Alagich has been lauded by many for his efforts in the community to promote football. A pre-war emigre from the old Yugoslavia, there is abundant evidence for Alagich’s impact on the Hill and its sporting profile. The grand old man of SBS’s football commentators Les Murray had this to say about Rudolph:

I also understood him because our lives followed a similar narrative. He came to Australia as a penniless boy at a similar age, from a similar part of the world. And, like me, he and his brothers came bearing gifts – bearing the gift of football to an unsuspecting Australian community.

Among the gifts the Alagich family was to yield were three members who were to represent Australia in football at various levels: Joe, Richie and Dianne. I am sure there will be more in future generations. Rudi’s son, my very good friend Richard, is the most accomplished junior development coach in Australian football. (source)

Roy Hay has written a more detailed but still laudatory article about the Alagich’s however what I find most telling is another item mentioned by Les Murray in his epitaph for Rudolph:

Rudi was a fine citizen and a very popular man in Broken Hill, even if that wasn’t always unanimous in the local community. I remember him telling me the story of how, when he was made captain of a school Aussie Rules team, an angry parent wrote to the school saying “I will not have my son playing under a dago”

Whilst Broken Hill was and still is a reasonably cosmopolitan mining town (for example, one of my great-grandfathers from the Hill was Norwegian), there is no doubt that like so much of regional Australia parochialism in sport and race meant that those who wanted to play and propagate ‘wogball’ were often either vilified because of their non-Anglo background, or expected to play the local code. The smaller the town, the more remote and less ethnically diverse its community, the more pressure would be placed on the soccer/football partisans in such country towns and villages.

So whilst our round ball code of football has always been under the pump nationally, at least in the largest cities along the coast there has been enough of a ethnically diverse supporting community to give football space to breathe and prosper up to the current era. Yes, in Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth Australian Rules pressures football, and Brisbane and Sydney are more avowed rugby league and union areas. However anyone who lives in these cities have almost no understanding of the problems facing the bush footballer. Forget your David and Goliath struggles between say an A-League club and a NPL club in the FFA Cup, try being a bush footballer battling the social and community pressure exerted by a mainly Anglo, Aussie Rules or Rugby focused sporting landscape.

Then there are the day-to-day problems facing anyone in the scrub. Distance is king once you get west of the Great Dividing Range, and when community regional sport is already run on the smell of an oily rag, it must be a Sisyphean task to fund and organise a football club playing out of a place like Broken Hill, Longreach, Horsham, Ceduna, Broome, Strachan. Things are not so bad for parts of regional Victoria, the central west of NSW or the Richmond/Tweed Valley around the Queensland/NSW border. However take the example of players who represent Moree FC. They may have to travel as far afield as Tamworth, Gunnedah, Narrabri and Armidale, whose players of course may have to reciprocate with a similarly long journey. For those of us supporting an A-League club and bitch about having to cross one city, or fly interstate, I’d suggest a reality check is needed when considering our country cousins.

Returning to Broken Hill, it is interesting to see that even with such sizable numbers on their books (over 800 players were registered in 2013: source), as recently as last year they couldn’t get assistance from the local city council either logistically or financially to help refurbish their playing fields. Meanwhile, half a state away in the Riverina city of Wagga Wagga the local council there was able to find $300,000 to help support the GWS Giants. Obviously Wagga and Broken Hill are different in size and in wealth, yet these parallel stories illustrate the priorities of local councils in the bush when it comes to supporting football codes. It must be extremely disheartening for those who labour hard in the scrub for our preferred ball game to know that the AFL or to a lesser extent the NRL can garner major political and financial support whilst soccer struggles for similar patronage, similar support, let alone something along the lines of what their big smoke brethren can obtain.

I believe there is also a lethargy within the higher echelons of our own codes’ administrators to help those footballers in the bush to have something similar to the resources and impact that those based in Sydney or Melbourne etc receive. My club, the Western Sydney Wanderers, have played through choice and/or by direction from the FFA community round games in Campbelltown and Penrith, trialed in Canberra, Wollongong, Balmain, but have made no effort to take the squad out past the Nepean River unless it’s been on a jet. I’ve already written about my hope that a place like Parkes may have the option to be the venue for a community round game. Sadly that was not to be, and I may in future write a bit of a denunciation of the experience in the world of Panthers. I’m aware that the Central Coast Mariners have some links to the central west, having played a trial match in Mudgee as recently as September 20th 2014. Yes, there have been friendlies played up in Lismore involving Melbourne City and again the Mariners (viz here) , or even a community round game between the old Melbourne Heart and Perth Glory in Albury last season. However if you contrast this effort with what happens with the NRL or AFL in their pre-season, where for example the Parramatta Eels go to Alice Springs for a match against the West Tigers, having formed a relationship with the Northern Territory government, or the aforementioned links between the GWS Giants and Wagga Wagga City Council, it seems to me the FFA and the A-League clubs are both dropping behind in the race to engage with their constituency outside major urban centres.

On top of all this is the problem our code faces when it comes to an even more marginalised section of the football community outside the cities, indigenous sportsmen and women. If there is one aspect of our sport’s history that needs to be told again and again it is how a man like Charlie Perkins found an acceptance in our code, that even today is remarkable in its social, political and cultural significance.

I went out, and mixed socially without too much embarrassment – a thing I could never do amongst Australians. These migrant clubs treated me better than white Australians did. They gave a person a feeling of dignity and self-respect.” (A Bastard Like Me’ by Charlie Perkins)

Considering the tortured and troubling history of racism particularly in AFL, a sport that holds immense sway in the bush and among the indigenous community, Charlie Perkins is an example of how football can and has gone beyond its competing codes in empowering and giving dignity to the first Australians. The same can be said for 1974 Socceroo Harry Williams, who represented Australia on a global stage more widely than many other sports in this country have done before or since.

Then there is John Moriarty and his Nangala Project, which is endeavouring to create better career, education and health prospects for the indigenous people of and near the Northern Territory’s community of Borroloola. This is in itself a remarkable and noble activity, however it is focused on one very small part of a huge area of back-blocks Australia that seems to have been left behind by football’s administrators. Where are similar efforts from (hypothetically) Football NSW to assist those indigenous kids and adults into our sport in places like Walgett, Narrabri, Coonamble, Trangie, etc etc? If there is a recognition of the need for more work to be done not just in the bush for football, why isn’t it being discussed more or promoted actively? Where indeed are the players who should be coming through the ranks of scrub soccer, blackfella and gubba alike, to appear in our A-League squads?

I will cheerfully admit that I have barely scratched the surface of what is an issue I have only a smattering of knowledge on. Much of what I written is built upon anecdotal or presumed supposition. For me however I still believe I have a very real point that needs more attention, having spent many years either living in the country, spending time in places as far apart as Moree and Port Lincoln, and seen over several decades the importance of country people and towns in our national sporting culture. It would please me no end to see a small town like Yanco in the MIA, or maybe Kimba on the Eyre Highway, or perhaps Goomeri up in the South Burnett be able to say it was the town where our greatest ever Socceroo was born and learnt his trade. It’s the duty of all of us who love football in Australia’s big cities to remember those who feel the same way out in the scrub.

If You Build It, They Will Come (or Where is our National Museum for Football?)

I am an unabashed, self-confessed lover of history. From the broad sweep of a millenia of ancient Roman history, or the German experience of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, through to the more idiosyncratic niche studies of the history of the Oxbridge comedians of the post-war era, or the Berlin Olympics of 1936, and plenty of spots in-between, I have dabbled or dipped my curious intellect again and again into matters of the past. Some of these efforts have been more serious than others, and my interest in subjects has been known to wax and wane over the years. Whilst I’ve always had a fascination with the history of military aviation, when it comes to say the Space Race of the Cold War era, or colonial exploration of Australia, they are the matters that I’ve left behind in my now distant youth.

Partly as a result of my age, and more significantly as a result of my exposure to and love for the Western Sydney Wanderers, I have started to look more and more upon what I knew personally and what I didn’t come to know about the history of football in Australia. As I have referred to in past posts, my first engagement with soccer (to use the still popular but arguably politically incorrect name for football) came as a little boy who saw the heroes of the 1974 Socceroos squad head to West Germany for the finals of the FIFA World Cup. I was fortunate enough to know who someone like Atti Abonyi was, or how good St George Budapest were in the old NSW First Division competition. There are still memories of the tumult over Jimmy Shoulder and Rudi Gutendorf’s tenures as Socceroos coaches (which on reflection would make some of the #HolgerOut stuff seem like a storm in a teacup). I recall with some clarity the launch of the Phillips NSL, the first tentative steps from players like Alan Davidson, Eddie Krncevic and Craig Johnston to leave Australia and play in Europe or Asia. The 1981 FIFA World Youth Cup in Australia, the Bicentennial Gold Cup, Ned Zelic’s goal against the Dutch for the Olyroos, Eddie Thomson, Hakoah, the Carlton and Collingwood entries into the NSL, Melita Eagles, Northern Spirit, Mark Bosnich, that match against Iran in 1997…these were but small flag posts on my rather limited exposure to soccer’s long and deep links with Australian society. Manfred Schaefer, Johnny Warren, Col Curran; they were my childhood icons from football, but I was an Anglo kid with barely any real understanding of what the sport meant for migrants, for people from such disparate backgrounds as Charlie Perkins and Sir Arthur George. I knew who Newcastle KB were, but did I have any knowledge of the links between the Hunter coal miners and football as part of their culture? Yes, I was familiar with Rale Rasic, but what about ‘Uncle’ Joe Vlatsis? I had just missed out on seeing a man who many still consider our best ever Socceroo play (i.e. Ray Baartz), and it’s no surprise that Joe Marston’s name was relatively meaningless to me up until the last decade or so. I’ve read ‘Sheilas, Wogs and Pooftahs’ by Johnny Warren, but I never saw him play in person for any of his teams.

What is all this meandering and circumlocutory ticking of boxes in my personal soccer history meant to convey? I guess what I am trying to get across is that even a middle aged Anglo like me who knows a little about football’s place in Australia pre-A-League, pre-Crawford Report, can only throw out a few tidbits of trivia, a scattering of half-accurate memories. There are going to be plenty of people both older and younger than me who will know more, however I would hazard a guess and say that the vast majority of those who have engaged with the sport especially since Frank Lowy supposedly ‘saved’ soccer in this country have almost no clue whatsoever about even the limited things I know, I recall. As it is there are young men and women in the RBB, the Cove or the Den (for example) who would look at older folk quizzically if you asked them about what happened in Australian soccer before Schwarzer and Aloisi combined to send Uruguay home from Sydney devastated at not qualifying for Germany 2006. Names like Tommy McCulloch, Marshall Soper, Allan Maher most likely mean SFA to them. How many of Graham Arnold’s devotees would be waxing lyrical about his quixotic attempt to conquer the J-League when in Eddie Thomson Australia had a real pioneer in coaching overseas successfully. There is plenty of debate and discussion over the recent moves by the FFA to ‘de-ethnicize’ football in Australia, but who among those who were cheering for the Wanderers against Al Hilal a few weeks back can recognise the man on the left and his role in Australian soccer?

photo-george-best

Left: David Hill (Head of the old ASF/Soccer Australia 1987-1995) with George Best (right)

 

Of course an intimate knowledge of history and past people, teams and events of football does not make one fan better than another. However as someone who has had a similarly long engagement with cricket’s history, I can categorically state that any debate or discussion about that sport’s current place in Australia is almost always referenced within an historical framework. Whenever a game is played at home or abroad the media, the fans and the players themselves often couch their experience of cricket with references back to say a Don Bradman or a Dennis Lillee or a Shane Warne. Cricket in Australia is very comfortable with its history, and never fails to exploit it as part of its dialogue.

I also believe that the manner in which cricket history has informed many Australians (Anglos and otherwise) means it is often used as a lens through which we see the world and ourselves. Talk about the Commonwealth, about our relationship with Britain sometimes sees references to the Bodyline series of 1932/33. Our ongoing developing engagement with India is often filtered through the eyes of how our cricketers have embraced or been embraced by the emerging Asian giant. If a sports boycott is brought up as part of the potential reaction to the policies of a repressive foreign government the manner in which cricket led the fight against South Africa’s apartheid system is often thrown into the mix. For some one of the most defining and positive developments in the history of white Anglo-Saxon Australian society dealing with black people came about as a result of the 1960-61 tour of  Australia by Sir Frank Worrell’s West Indian cricket team. It could even be argued that the recent death of test cricketer Phil Hughes due to being hit by a bouncer made many Australians consider broader, deeper philosophical issues such as fate and mortality, and this will be forever part of cricket’s historical meaning in this country from now on.

I would argue that where we as Australians know more about the history of one of our sports we more often than not see more clearly who we are, what we are about, how that sport reinforces or accentuates what it means to be Australian, and gives us another portal into how we interact with the rest of the world. Surely then with football being the global game, with possibly the most complex history of any sport in this country, it seems to me to be mandatory for football fans young and old, players and administrators, academics and lay people alike to get a better handle on what has gone before today, whether it be old soccer or new football. Through the wonderful agency of football’s unique Australian history we can all have a more informed discussion about our culture, our politics, or racial make-up and our international relations.

As part of this ecumenical desire to see all of the history of football in Australia given due diligence and respect, a prime starting point must be a national museum that provides the physical evidence for what has gone before in football down under. After all, if Bowral can lay claim to the International Cricket Hall of Fame a.k.a the Don Bradman museum, or the MCG host the National Museum for Sport (with a large collection of AFL and Olympic related material), why can’t (hypothetically) a redeveloped Parramatta Stadium hold a National Football Museum? In wider terms, if Australians are able to better understand our military history through the War Memorial in Canberra, or learn about our past as a maritime nation via the Australian National Maritime Museum, why can’t the sport that has seen so many unifying and divisive aspects for much of its long history be given its own home, a place for people to come and see the artifacts, hear the stories, see the footage of a sport that existed long before the last nine or ten years of A-League and Socceroos developments arguably raised popular awareness and acceptance.

Having hopefully built the foundations of answering the first question over such an institution (i.e. why football and the broader Australian society deserve a National Football Museum), the next issue must be what form or type of institution it must be. To my mind it must be several things. It needs to be a central repository of as much of the physical evidence for the sport’s history as possible. To give some basis to this supposition, let me make a small diversion. Like many who have been down to to the Shoalhaven village of Jamberoo I’ve made sure of a pilgrimage to the pub there, with its sizable and impressive collection of Johnny Warren memorabilia. A few days after the Wanderers’ victory in the AFC Champions’ League I had a chance to return there, and whilst I sat among the photos and posters, the shirts and the pennants, I felt a warmth not just about my club’s achievements but also how in many ways what preceded beforehand and was physically surrounding me was in some way honoured by the Wanderers’ win. I know from anecdotal evidence there was plenty of talk after the 2005 Socceroos qualification for the following year’s World Cup Finals that many fans and pundits talked about that team’s success tying in with Johnny’s immortal phrase “I told you so”. Being in the Jamberoo pub, seeing photos and souvenirs line the walls, seemed to give a similar perspective to what had been achieved in Parramatta and Riyadh by my club.

Some of the many items of memorabilia held at the Jamberoo Pub, from Johnny Warren's collection

Some of the many items of memorabilia held at the Jamberoo Pub, from Johnny Warren’s collection

The Warren collection at Jamberoo is a good one, and as my preceding paragraph hopefully brings out, it can have a powerful emotional pull that informs the visiting football fan of today. However it surely must be a drop in the ocean of material that lies out there in the wider Australian football and soccer community. There are all those small community and lower tier clubs that must have records, memorabilia, archives, photos and other such items that could be brought together from across the entire nation. Then there are the collectors, the old players themselves and those who were deeply involved in the game from the sidelines who could contribute. One of the most important people who should be tapped for a possible contribution is the German uber-fan of the Socceroos, Andre Krueger. He is one who has had a long term and abiding passion for the national team and Australia in general, and I am sure he would be someone who could provide either physical content or failing that advice and information to assist in the collation of items. Then there is someone like Ian Syson who continually, through his own research and the resulting posts on his Twitter feed throws up some real gems from our sport’s past. Les Murray, Andy Paskelides and Tom Anderson are three older media figures with long term exposure to football who must have a plethora of material. Throw in the fans, the old NSL diehards or even the more recent adherents of clubs like the Wanderers who were there when the club started, and there should be a rich vein of content to be placed in such a National Football Museum.

The assemblage of a large cross-section of material that could then either be displayed or archived would give all of us a central focus to see these artifacts, and thus have a coherent physical context for football’s history. It would be easier (for example) for people to understand how important the current Socceroos jersey was as a cultural icon within football’s traditions if and when it is placed alongside its progenitor, the 1974 shirt, and those that followed. There would be more appreciation of the recent developments with the FFA Cup if there was the old Australia Cup on display. Items predating the Second World War or even beyond the First would undoubtedly give more visible credence to the long term historical depth of the sport in Australia. That vision is something that is very hard to recognise when these items are hidden away in individuals’ collections, or swamped by rival sports’ displays (such as that seen at the aforementioned Bradman Museum).

Another function of a national museum for football must be to act as centre for academic debate, research and promotion of the sport. Football is as worthy of an intellectual discourse as art, music, film or any number of any other social or cultural activities. Naturally one of the most critically important aspects of that side of the museum’s activities or role would be to continually review and examine the relationship between our identity and the sport. To draw parallels with other institutions for other areas of Australian society and history, an example can be seen with the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne and its education program. If it’s appropriate for the South Australian Museum to focus academic energies on Antarctic research via the historical presence of Douglas Mawson in Adelaide, then what is to stop a National Football Museum to conduct or facilitate research on (for example) the politics of migration in pre-Crawford Report soccer? The FFA is certainly not the body to conduct this kind of research due to its own financial and administrative restrictions, and whilst universities may do so they would only exert the relevant energy and funding for individual projects. If we want to learn more about football and ourselves a coherent program of detailed research will be the best agency to achieve such an aim. The museum should serve as the prime agency for such a scheme.

A third arm or component of a National Football Museum would be to provide a focal point for the celebration of the sport’s Australian greats, via the agency of the FFA Hall of Fame. At various sporting venues around Australia there are statues or other insignia celebrating the careers and legacies of those heroes and heroines of the associated sports. Outside the Sydney Cricket Ground the likes of Fred Spofforth, Reg Gasnier and Paul Roos are given tribute in the form of bronze statues. All of Australia’s past Olympic swimming gold medalists and world champions are given a plaque outside the Sydney Olympic Aquatic Centre. Now obviously football is a team sport, but there is every reason to desire similar recognition for a Johnny Warren, a Mark Viduka, a Les Scheinflug, a Cheryl Sainsbury. Considering that so much of our understanding or appreciation of the great men and women of the past require some kind of articulated vision made concrete, as seen in (for example) the Hall of Valour at the Australian War Memorial, then for there to be (hypothetically) a display for Joe Marston or Rale Rasic at our National Football Museum seems entirely correct. This may be an incorrect assumption, however I strongly believe it would be a powerful inspiration for younger players if they could see more of the legends of football in Australia than just some archival footage from SBS or the ABC. Being able to access by sight and sound if not touch items owned by an Eddie Thomson or a Harry Kewell could serve that task very well indeed.

I would argue that the recent success of the Socceroos in claiming the 2015 AFC Cup has given more impetus to all these arguments in favour of a National Football Museum. Taking the first point argued previously, where better to hold the trophy if it is available for public display than in an Australian museum of and for football? From video footage to memorabilia from the Cup tournament, including say (for example) a pair of Tim Cahill’s boots, or recordings of ordinary fans’ reactions to that win at Sydney Olympic Stadium, all such items would help give some permanence to what has been arguably the finest moment in men’s football in the country. It goes without saying the same should have or could be done with the Matildas as well. Throw in the additional resources from previous continental tournament success (such as the OFC Cup wins by the Socceroos in 1980 or perhaps 1996) and there is a wider picture emerging of what Postecoglou’s squad achieved.

Additionally, it must be said that a well established and promoted a National Museum of Football could be a great revenue stream for the FFA and the local community where it is built. From exhibitions to conferences, books and souvenirs, videos and events staged at the museum would all serve the dual purpose of bringing money into the coffers of the FFA and promoting football. Perhaps if a leading international architect was given the opportunity to design the Museum building (such as Frank Gehry’s recent work on one of UTS’s new structures) that would also help raise the profile of our sport and the unique Australian context therein.

My final point, and one that will undoubtedly ruffle feathers and bring accusations of bias (of course I’m bloody parochial on this matter) is where it should be hosted. In my opinion a National Football Museum would be best positioned in Western Sydney, hopefully as part of a redeveloped Parramatta Stadium precinct. Whilst other cities and areas around Australia have strong links to the history of football in Australia, and may already have a strong cultural affinity to sporting history (such as Melbourne and the MCG), western Sydney is the powerhouse of the sport in terms of current players across all levels, past Socceroos and with a population of over 2 million with a widely diversified ethnic demographic, it would have a ready made audience. Throw in the paucity of cultural venues of national significance in Sydney’s west, and the tourism value of Sydney for the country as a whole, placing a museum focused on Australia’s past, present and future nearby or in Parramatta would be extremely beneficial for all vested interests. The ‘clear air’ such a museum would have in that location, against say the conflicting presence of a rival sports’ institutions, or indeed even other national icons such as say a War Memorial or National Gallery (as seen in Canberra) would be again work in the museum’s favour.

In closing, a National Museum of Football may be a hypothetical vision for now. However I strongly believe that it could create so many positives for our sport that it should be given some serious thought, particularly at this time where we have a wonderful platform for public acceptance of and/or support for the game. Knowing say in 10 years time overseas tourists, university academics, teams of U/10s boys and girls, and anyone else with a desire to learn just that little bit more about football down under could have a place to go to take it all in, to be enthused and informed, well, it seems like a no brainer.