The basics of the 1967 South Vietnam tour - and especially the tour's status as the first time an Australian soccer team won an international trophy - are probably familiar to a good portion of Australian soccer followers. This book goes further than that simple historical soundbite however, by looking at the wider context of the tour.
This approach includes, among other things, analysis of Australian soccer's fledgling attempts to compete in international soccer following the end of its FIFA ban in 1963; Australian soccer's attempts to engage with Asian football, including the steep learning curve of the health, safety and playing hazards of touring South-East Asia; the hard lessons of not underestimating Asian opposition; an attempt to figure out who came up with the idea and purpose of the tour, including analysis of the tour's political and commercial contexts; and perhaps as importantly, a chance to move away from the singular narrative of the story as told in various contexts by the late Johnny Warren. While the specifics of this tour have been covered by Warren in Sheilas, Wogs and Poofters, and the doomed 1965 tour in Jesse Fink's 15 Days in June - which includes coach Tiko Jelisavcic's morale destroying antics - Hay provides a wider range of first person accounts of the 1967 tour and those tours of South-East Asia which followed it.
Much of the enjoyment of this book is in reveling in the sheer audacity and recklessness of taking on the expedition. The dangers the squad faced on the 1967 and subsequent tours of Vietnam (and Hay does well to add details of those lesser known tours) are palpable. Plonked into the middle of a war zone, even if the case is true that they were generally safer than most of the locals, the players were well aware of the political and social situation. In those difficult circumstances, it is often argued that the groundwork was laid for the team solidarity that lead to qualification of the 1974 World Cup.
Despite the lessons learned from the tour, Hay ponders the question of what impacts, if any, the tour had both within the limits of its immediate propaganda, team preparation and fundraising aims, as well as Australia's attempts to join the Asian confederation. Already reticent to let Australia join the AFC, Australia's success in this and the subsequent tours may have actively put off nervous Asian nations, who already had limited international clout and avenues to the World Cup from qualifying. If that is the case then Australia's success, while a marker of the improvement of the national team both on and off the field, may have indirectly lead to its becoming part of Oceania and its nightmarish qualification paths.
The book's achievement as a demonstration of cheap and efficient publication methods is worth noting. Befitting the author's background as a scholar, the book is fully referenced, including the dozens of photos used in the book. In covering a relatively niche topic, Hay combines thorough scholarship, along with interviews with those involved in the tour, and turns it all into a neat, efficient package. Clocking in at just 91 pages, most of which have at least one photograph and often several, the book is an example of what can be achieved even by amateur soccer historians. You don't need to go all out on design and paper costs - good research driven by diverse sources, combined with efficient writing, can see you produce histories that can cover both niche topics and longer histories.
For those interested either in Australian national team history, or looking for an example of a cheap and efficient method of publishing a sports history book, this volume is well worth the effort of tracking down.
The exhibition focusing on the 1967 Vietnam tour by the Socceroos is now on at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra, as part of the 'Journeys' section of the museum. The exhibition will run for four years. Copies of the book (RRP $19.95) are available from:
- National Museum of Australia, where the exhibition is being held.
- All good book stores via Dennis Jones and Associates (that is, you can get your local bookstore to order it in if they don't have it in stock)
- Melbourne Sports Books
- By post from Roy Hay via the Sports and Editorial Services Australia website.