Soccer growing in pre-WWI Melbourne.
An interesting long piece from the Argus (29 June 1914), speaks to the popularity and growth of soccer in Melbourne immediately prior to the First World War. The author acknowledges crowds of sometimes between two and four thousand down at Albert Park. By comparison the weekend after this piece was published 3,568 spectators turned up at the MCG to see Geelong hammer Melbourne, though this figure does seem to represent a lower crowd than usual.
It's written by an outsider, one brought up on Australian rules but who is sympathetic to the game. Clearly he sees soccer as a migrants' game, even though locals are starting to get involved. Victoria's strength in a recent intercolonial game against NSW was very much determined by its being made up of experienced migrant Scottish and English players as against the callowness of the native born from NSW. Soccer is seen to be technically skillful, a "pretty" and "clever" game lacking the corruption of professionalism that has poisoned the "Australian game". Moreover, it has a referee who tends not to interfere and is respected.
This latter point leads to the fascinating implied claim that Australian rules is a bastion of corruption and match-fixing.
Thinking about it in today's terms the piece reads like a Greg Baum/Richard Hinds feature (without the sarcasm and bad faith) commissioned by the editor after the regular soccer writer has failed to notice that something pretty interesting is going on down at Albert Park. The usual soccer fare of derisory team lists, basic results and no write-ups, or brief ones -- (when possible, when space is available, when people are interested, 'We're not publicists, you know') -- are shown up by this sustained and positive piece.
A PLAYERS' GAME.
Organised by a few enthusiasts from England, who found the Australian game, even as it was played several years ago, not at all to their liking, British Association football now draws from 2,000 to 4,000 people to Middle Park every Saturday. That the internal growth of the Victoria Amateur Football Association now affiliated with the governing body in England, has been equally steady is shown by the fact that there are 22 clubs in Victoria, with a roll of about 500 playing members, while New South Wales has 130 clubs. Most of those who are satisfied to stand in the open all the afternoon, threatened by batteries of artillery and stray horses, were keen followers of the game before they reached Australia, but there is a growing percentage of local "barrackers" who come down as curious sceptics, and soon find themselves fascinated by what is one of the prettiest and cleverest games in the world to watch. A game that will attract 100,000 Englishmen must necessarily have some good features, and these are beginning to be more and more recognised by many who are disgusted at the present condition of the Australian game. It might be thought that some of the supporters are won by the prospect of a free show, but no suggestion of that can be found in the appearance of the men and women round the side lines. To a great extent it is a family outing, and renewal of home ties.
Men who have seen the game at its best laugh when asked how the standard of play here compares with that in England, but the things that are done with the ball at Middle Park are eye-openers to followers of League football. The principles underlying British Association are the prevention of handling of the ball and the reduction of rules, and consequenty interference by the umpire or referee, to minimum. The playing area is smaller than ours, and there are only eleven men a side, who stand all in their own half of the ground at the kick-off and play largely in their places, the attack being made by the five forwards—centre and inside and outside left and right. The goalkeeper is the only player allowed to handle the ball, and he may not run with it. This formation and the use of a spherical ball make the game clean and open. Passing becomes a feature of the play, and even the mediocre player seems able to direct the ball to any angle with any part of the foot, toe, or heel while running. Naturally, the round ball is easier than the oval to deal with but the precision with which it is got under control from the air and 'dribbled' along a few inches in front of the feet at top speed is only less surprising than the use made of the opposite end of the body. Meeting the ball on the full a player will "head" it across to the wing with the front of his skull farther than an Australian would pass with his hand. A man prominently connected with a sport once as popular as football, but killed by corruption, was keenly interested in the play on "Saturday, and speculated as to the result if first-class League players acquired the same control over the ball as these amateurs. As he spoke an incident capped his remark. The ball flew high to the wing. A man "headed" it back. An opponent headed it out again and a fellow of the first smothered it with his foot as it landed, and swung it hard towards the goal.
After the skill of the players the insignificance of the referees part is the most striking feature. Imagine a league umpire in boots and blazer, walking about the centre of the ground most of the time! The only penalties he has to inflict are for handling the ball or the man, charging in the back, tripping and kicking, and "offside." But when he speaks he speaks with authority. Any player can be ordered off the ground. An incident on Saturday showed the spirit of the game. A player was tripped and he turned and kicked his opponent. Shouts of "Play the game" came from both teams and as the referee merely warned the kicker and gave a pen- alty against him, a burly spectator growled. "And he didn't order him off. No wonder the game doesn't get on in the colonies".
Still, it does get on and its supporters even prophesy that it will solve the problem of universal football. Australians are not yet excelling as players, for their speed is counteracted by a lack of restraint. That is why Victoria won all four matches against New South Wales recently. One has only to listen to the shouts of the players and the keenest supporters to discover where they hail from. But they hold that the morals of the game will win a way for it. Already the round ball has made its appearance in school playgrounds. The prime advantage claimed for British Association is that to achieve corruption one must buy most of the team. The referee has so little to do in comparison with the Australian umpire that he is a valueless asset.
Albert Park, 3 goals (Anderson, Cox, Campbell), beat Burns, 1 goal (Johnston).
St. Kilda, 1 goal (Slade), drew with Preston, 1 goal (Phelps).
Prahran, 1 goal (G. Brown) beat Thistle, nil.
N and D, 2 goals (Bell, Madden), beat Birmingham, 1 goal (Allen).
Yarraville, 0 goals, drew with Spotswood, 0 goals.
Hawthorn, 2 goals (J. Turnbull, T. Turnbull), drew with Burns A, 2 goals (Monk, Rawles).
Burns were fully expected to take 2 points out of Albert Park, but the latter team have improved considerably in the last few weeks, and have well deserved their victory 3 goals to 1. The Park won the toss, and kicked with the wind, the game being only five minutes old, when Liversedge crossed the ball, and Anderson opened the score with a shot which struck the bar, and turned into the net. Burns continued to act on the defensive for the rent of the first half, there being no further scoring. In the second half, the wind had dropped, but Burns soon took up the attack, but failed to score, and the Park, getting away the ball was crossed from the left, Cox making no mistake with the shot. Burns, who badly missed Ruddiman, now seemed to fall to pieces, and it was not long before the Park increased their lead. Campbell netting from some distance. A quarter of an hour from the end, good work bv Anderson for Burns brought up their only goal. Johnson accepting a pass, scoring with a cross shot, the game ending as stated. For the winners, Kelly, Cox, Liversedge, and Fraser were the best of a well-balanced team, the pick of the Burns team being, Jones, T. Anderson and Bellis.
Saturday was quite a day of surprises, Prahran gaining their first League win of the season at the expense of Thistle, who are at present the leaders in the the for premiership. The only goal came from G. Brown, who was entrusted with a penalty kick, for which he gave Russell no chance of saving. For Prahran, Calversley in goal was very safe, Luker and Earthey also doing well in defence, with Mark Caulfield at left full back in his best form, George Brown being easily the best of the forwards. Thistle seemed to have quite an off day, Bottomley being the best of the forward rank, whilst Goodson played his usual sound game.
St. Kilda were another team who were expected to win easily, but though Preston were without the services of Robson, Bailey and Purcell, they managed to make a creditable draw of 1 goal each. Slade, who, since his promotion to the first team, has been the most consistent scorer, was again successful in finding the net, but S. Lowe was badly at fault when be allowed Phelps to equalise, as he should have saved without difficulty.
Yarraville visited Spotswood, a goalless draw being the result, the visitors being unlucky in losing Joey Grieves, who was carried off with a broken ankle. For Yarraville, Dowser was not up to his usual form; but Hamilton, Stranger, Gardiner, and Blackburn all did well, the most outstanding player of the Spotswood side being Charlie Grieves.
Birmingham received a rare setback in their chances of the premiership in being defeated by N. and D., who had the best of a good game, Robinson (in goal) being brilliant as usual.