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:


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.


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:


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.


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.

A Tale of Two Cities (Well, Half and Half of the Same One)

Saturday night saw Sydney’s first A-League derby game of the current season. For the fourth time the two clubs that represent the largest city in Australia in our premiere domestic football competition were going to face off, with every expectation of this most recent of fierce tribal rivalries in the A-League drawing a huge crowd to Allianz Stadium. The home team was at a disadvantage thanks to the non-appearance of their creative heart and soul, as Alessandro del Piero had been injured in last week’s submission to the Roar, however like any (supposedly) proud club they were expected to defend with honour and pride their own turf. The Western Sydney Wanderers, still barely out of their sophomore season build up had shown some tentative form in their first two games of 2013/14, and without defensive midfielder Aaron Mooy might have had some doubts cast on their ability to do the deed required. Instead…

Instead anyone who was there at the game, or watched from the comfort of their own home or a friendly pub, club or tavern would’ve seen two utterly divergent clubs, two teams and their associated fans who only have a postcode starting with 2 as a common factor. By game’s end it was like a football version of a bloodied and bedraggled mess of wounded, defeated soldiers after the battles of Stalingrad, Dien Bien Phu or El Alamein streaming away in utter disorder whilst the rampant invading forces time and time again showed their superiority, both in and out of the arena. Sydney FC capitulated in a way that underscores the cultural, tactical and morale crisis that is haunting that club, whilst everything associated with the Wanderers, whether it be the players, the supporters, the admin staff looked inviolate, unstoppable, all-encompassing.

It must be said that at the very beginning of the game the Sydney FC faithful (a diminishing band no doubt) made a vainglorious attempt at asserting some pride and passion on behalf of their club, but from thereon even this misguided and ill-informed attempt at asserting tribal prominence seemed overshadowed by anything and everything in red and black. On the main field of combat the Wanderers players assumed control very early and barely looked threatened. The first goal came from a magnificent dead ball cross from Shinji Ono, which was connected with by a sweet header from Italian midfielder Iacopo La Rocca and hence went arrow-like into the back of SFC’s net. Within a few moments of this 12th minute goal Youssouf Hersi had nominally taken the Wanderers up to 2-0 however the linesman correctly called an off side, however within a quarter of an hour the Japanese Tensai struck again with what must be considered one of his best in red and black. At this point I feel it important to state what should be obvious except to any one-eyed fan of ADP; Shinji Ono is the best overseas marquee player to have played in the A-League in the last couple of seasons and alongside Thomas Broich and perhaps Dwight Yorke has done more for the success of both their respective clubs and the domestic comp than any other import. I recognise and appreciate the importance and genius of ADP within an incredibly faulty and disconnected SFC structure, but being a sole hand of quality in a dysfunctional situation is more readily seen than being excellent within a better than competent squad. Shinji Ono is not necessarily vital for the Wanderers to be successful, however he has been able to both sit within a holistic or organic team vision that is more often successful than not, yet when necessary take the lead and stimulate the very best from his team mates. It’s the difference between being an ace among rookies and being a leading professor among learned scholars. Shinji inspires and is inspiring, and whilst he is a fulcrum for the Wanderers he is also not above his station as a cog in the red and black machine. He is a champion in a team of champions.

For most of the derby’s first half the Wanderers looked in control, with Hersi, Juric, Polenz, Poljak, Ono and La Rocca being at their best. From the shambolic ranks of Sydney FC only Petkovic could arguably hold his head above his Adam’s apple, with his shot on Covic’s goal rattling the woodwork. The same terrors of incompetent defending that haunted SFC last week returned and particularly in the battle on the right flank Hersi toyed with the underwhelming Warren. In what might be considered an inverse relationship almost everything attempted by the Wanderers was met with an equal amount of wastefulness from the home team. Nicky Carle who has a reputation for style and flair looked out of touch, whilst Adam D’Apuzzo (the most flawed player in the WSW ranks in the last couple of weeks) came back with a vengeance. No longer hirsuite Nikolai Topor Stanley and Mark Bridge demonstrated that clean shaven or not they were superior to their opposite numbers, whilst  Tomi Juric reminded everyone that he has so much potential; a semi-formed talent that needs a little more polish from Popovic. Jerome Polenz was aggressive in defence and insightful in attack, and by half time the myth that Sydney is supposedly sky blue was utterly debunked.

Now as this point I would like to raise an issue that may or may not be germane to the club culture at Sydney FC, or the structures and fan base. However I could not fail to notice the lack of any major numbers on the field at half time of small children playing short games for entertainment and the experience. There was to my count only one micro-contest between the littlies at Allianz at half time, which may be a one off situation. Perhaps the timings were wrong for junior teams to involve themselves in such a home game context, or perhaps Allianz, the SCG Trust and/or Sydney FC couldn’t find enough willing takers. Having seen plenty of wee tackers running around on the pitch at half time at Wanderland though I have to ask a question that may or may not be fair; where the fuck are the kids who are SFC’s future? When the little boys and girls come to Wanderland and play their small games for the enjoyment and the privilege of all involved they always have good numbers plus shout out their support for the Wanderers on leaving the pitch. It may be a moot question however there is a readily apparent pre-teen support basis for the Wanderers; Sydney FC seem to be at best hiding theirs.

The second half of the derby was unfortunately goal-less however there were plenty of opportunities for the Wanderers as Sydney FC’s squad continue to blunder along. I must say that Brendon Santalab looks to be settling in quite nicely with Popa’s squad. He had one major chance that was blown, however not only did he add some spice to the attacking options of the Wanderers he also didn’t look out of place combining with Jerome Polenz. Things did get a bit willing with the yellow cards flying thick and fast, and there was some egregious moments particularly from Warren and Carle. However amid all the disciplinary issues Ono, Bridge, Juric, Poljak and Polenz all had solid chances at scoring. On the other side of the coin aside from a shot direct to Ante Covic the Sky Blues failed to have any meaningful go-forward. Again and again they lost the ball in midfield, failed to cover their flanks or simply didn’t know where they were or what they were doing. When the final whistle came it was like euthanizing a terminally ill goldfish; Sydney FC flapped around out of their comfort zone then quietly passed into oblivion (for at least another round).

It’s only proper at this point to make a few points about the level of support shown in the stands for the two teams. It could be argued that it was for the first 10-20 minutes an even contest between the RBB and the Cove, which in itself is a Pyrrhic victory for the supposedly rusted on Sky Blues. In their ninth season and with premierships and championships behind them at their home ground the Cove should’ve been larger and louder from the start than their junior opponents. Instead by the middle of the first half there was a definite tailing off of the intensity of the active SFC support that was in direct correlation with both the on field impotence of their players and the growth in energy coming from the RBB. There was plenty of support for the Wanderers coming from non-active stands, and by the time came around for the Poznan not only were the RBB fully engaged there were plenty of bays and pockets of red and black supporters contributing from other parts of the stadium. The signal effect of the SFC’s supporters’ defeat was in the closing minutes of the game, where a consistent stream of departing fans from the sky blue bays exited Allianz. Contrasted with the spirit and passion shown by the Wanderers faithful after their most recent defeat at Allianz Stadium, where the vast majority remained behind post-whistle to commiserate with their team after the 2012/13 grand final, it was a pretty piss-poor demonstration from the self-proclaimed ‘best fans’ in the A-League.

So, whither the two clubs? For the Western Sydney Wanderers it would seem the immediate to mid-term future is theirs for the taking. The current squad is certainly better in terms of depth and achievement than that which was in place a year ago, and with such a solid support base that has translated into over 16,000 financial members and future sell-outs at their home ground even if they fail to win any titles this season they are streets ahead of arguably all other clubs in the A-League bar maybe Melbourne Victory. Tony Popovic has kept the team hungry and even with three good results there is still room to improve. It would need some kind of utterly unexpected disaster for the Wanderers to run off the rails. Culturally, professionally and from a spectator’s point of view they are building an empire in football’s heartland that would make every member of the FFA incredibly satisfied. Yes, the need to sell off the club is a process fraught with potential hazards but so far David Gallop and Lyall Gorman have shown astute leadership and good old common fucking sense. If the Western Sydney Wanderers realise their potential then we won’t be talking up the annual derbies between them and Sydney FC; the talk will be of Asian Champions’ League and maybe even greater.

Sydney FC on the other hand are in a hell of a bad pozzie. No one would deny that before the Wanderers came along they had every reason to be proud of what they achieved on the field for most of their short life. I’ve already pointed out their failings as a club that didn’t embrace all of Sydney as they have boasted, and those chickens have come home to roost most pointedly in the last 36 hours. What is more frightening for Sydney FC must be what does their club culture portend for the future? Alessandro del Piero’s absence in the derby was obviously an influence on the basic football brains of his co-players, and at his age with injury always more likely, or at least with his fitness needing careful safeguarding, there could be more non-ADP Sydney FC line ups as the season progresses. Then when he leaves at the end of this season will he take with him all the hype, revenue, on-park nous and appeal for a club that has essentially ridden on his back? Frank Farina and the rest of the coaching staff are patently failing in either their ability to guide their players, keep them fit or develop younger talents, and the fans of the Sky Blues are close to revolt over their continual incompetence (which in turn is damaging the reputation and management of Tony Pignata, Scott Barlow and David Traktavenko). The ‘Sydney is sky blue’ facade is as cracked as a dozen eggs placed under a hippo’s bum, and the continual questions over whether Sydney FC is a popular club or Bling FC eats at the heart of their raison d’etre (if in fact there is such a thing). If ever the FFA looks to expand the A-League with a reborn Wollongong club it is highly likely SFC would lose a significant reservoir of junior talent, and  the continual turn over in coaches will make them even less appealing to anyone foolhardy enough to take over if Farina gets dumped.  It would seem to me that Sydney FC has dug itself a hole through willful incompetence, delusion and overly-exaggerated expectations that has created a perfect shit-storm of misery. Joe Gorman’s article in The Guardian sum’s this up perfectly:

As much as he has boosted the profile of the A-League, off the pitch time is fast running out for Sydney FC to capitalise on his presence. He was rarely spotted in pre-season, and when he returns home at season’s end, the club is likely to be back at square one. How many of the new fans that came to see Del Piero play will hang around to watch Sydney FC in the long term, particularly considering the lacklustre football on display? Sadly, Sydney’s marquee player might be just another costly short term investment.
The lack of boardroom stability and vision has left the club in a perpetual state of flux, constantly agonising over whether to embrace or shelve the Bling FC tag they’ve been burdened with. They’ve flirted with stars and experimented with blue collar cred, but nothing has really ‘stuck.’ Perhaps the only consistent message has come from the home end in The Cove.
It is said that Sydney is a city that loves winners, but in a 10-team competition levelled out by the salary cap, no club can hope to hedge their future on success alone. There needs to be a more nuanced understanding and articulation of why Sydney FC exist, who they represent, and what they stand for. Otherwise, the Wanderers will win more than just the west.

In this A-League Tale of Two Cities everyone at Sydney FC is up for the guillotine and there is no nobility in their sacrifice; they have been a wastrel club whilst their new cross-town rivals have won all the plaudits, all the honour, all the recognition they have sought. The 2-0 win for the Wanderers was just a symbol of the clash of cultures that has coloured Sydney red and black.