This review of mine originally appeared on the now defunct Das Libero site, probably some time around 2007? Who can remember now. Here it is for posterity's sake.
Peter Desira with Richard Curmi, Green Gully Soccer Club: 50 Years, Sports and Editorial Services Australia in association with the Green Gully Soccer Club, Teesdale, Victoria, 2006, 258 pages including 16 in colour.
When you beg, borrow, steal or even possibly buy Peter Desira and Richard Curmi's Green Gully Soccer Club: 50 Years, you don't just get the history of one club, you get the history of two. Of all the many themes running through the narrative - the early struggles, their steady rise through the divisions, their National Soccer League stint, and the overcoming of its great rival George Cross - one theme stands out: how a club founded and run for 35-odd years on a shoestring is almost instantly transformed by the introduction of poker machines, thereby ensuring financial stability for years to come. Yet in this book, it is perhaps the most overlooked moment of the club's history.
The most fascinating part of the book for Gully and non-Gully fan alike is the club's early struggle in the literal nowhere of 1950s St Albans, a condition that defies the modern Gully stereotype of stability and plenty. That Gully has been run professionally for many years is without doubt; but to read of the early days when they had no running water, electricity or sewage is quite a shock. This isn't just for ‘new football’ noobs to digest: it is also important for the supporters of the once (and in some cases still) bigger clubs who were founded with the assumption that their particular ethnic community would fund them to the hilt and for perpetuity. There were few such luxuries for Gully in the early days, and the particular efforts of the club's founder Henry Moakes and volunteer Frank Kolbl are inspiring. This is the book's greatest achievement. It reminds everyone of Gully's other side, away from the club’s brilliant facilities and consistent success of recent years.
The club's rise through the league divisions is a story within itself. When they finally come face to face with their de facto biggest rival George Cross after 22 years of living in their shadow, they not only match the efforts of that one-time giant of Victorian football, but they surpass them. Yet I found something irritating about the way the authors told this particular tale. Occasionally they seem almost apologetic about the club having a support base comprised largely of people of Maltese background. I don't know whether this is a particularly Green Gully trait, or whether it's a reaction to the 'ethnics under the bed' campaign waged over recent times, but it comes across as quite jarring at times.
The club's rise into National Soccer League ranks is also fascinating not least for it being the scene of Socceroo captain Paul Wade's national league debut and simultaneously that of semi-famous actor Costas Mandylor. While some love to reminisce about the good old days, they like to neglect the teams at the bottom of the heap. Conversely, those who disparage the old days based on the sometimes massive gulfs in class between the top and bottom often do not pay enough respect to the difficulty poorly supported and funded clubs had in surving not just in the NSL, but also the sometimes terminal struggle after relegation. The promotion, demotion and in some cases extinction of clubs across the country due to their participation in the national league is a neglected part of the Australian soccer story. Gully managed the difficult job of survival, when other supposedly better-supported clubs such as Footscray JUST and Brunswick Juventus folded. Crucially, Green Gully accepted that they would never again reach national league ranks. Here lies a topical lesson for some other clubs.
And yet the yin to that yang, the introduction of pokie machines, is not discussed with the same vigour. The authors avoid the negative side of gaming machines. They fail to acknowledge how some other clubs rejected pokies on wider social grounds – or through keeping in mind that they were a soccer club first and foremost and that the introduction of pokies would mean becoming the sort of club that exists north of the Victorian border: high on memberships but low on actual attendances at games. Perhaps I'm being harsh here, but it is part of Gully’s stereotype among supporters of rival clubs.
The result for the neutral or non-Gully reader is that the story of the club's recent success doesn't quite have the same feel good vibe as that of the earlier triumphs, even taking into account the long wait between drinks and the post-NSL struggle to survive. Perhaps this is an inherent problem with club histories. Written or informed by insiders or fans, they almost always see the club's story as an overwhelmingly positive one, not through any deliberate bias but mainly because their story is viewed through the supporters’ prism. This book can't avoid that pitfall and is probably never meant to. Books of this sort are first and foremost for the initiated. Any outsiders who pick it up will of course already have their bias detectors on. That is the the nature of the game and its supporters’ culture after all.
It's a sad fact of Australian football historiography that apart from the odd unpublished thesis or pet project of some club obsessive, there aren't many books dealing with Australian soccer clubs. Apart from Juve! Juve!, Gilberto Martin's look at Brunswick Juventus published all the way back in 1990, and rumours of unfinished or in progress works on South Melbourne, Melbourne Hakoah and the Melbourne Knights it's slim pickings – especially in comparison with works based on the Socceroos or Australian players. Which is why Green Gully Soccer Club: 50 Years is a more than welcome addition to the Australian club genre. While the book has its inevitable flaws, it is an impressive and much needed work. Hopefully one of its effects is to inspire the production of works written about other clubs, so that the fullest picture of soccer in this country can be presented.