ANZAC Soccer

Here’s a piece I published in Neos Kosmos last year that some of you might be interested in reading.

Since 1995, Collingwood and Essendon have battled for Anzac supremacy at the MCG.

Following the AFL’s lead St George and Eastern Suburbs commemorate the day in the National Rugby League.

It’s a tradition to which supporters of both codes have been drawn in vast numbers.

Both codes supplied a great many troops who served at Gallipoli, and across Europe, many of whom were never to return.

Collingwood lost six players, Essendon seven. So these clubs’ own histories add to the solemnity of Anzac commemorations.

Yet the round ball variant of football made its contribution, too.

Prior to WWI, soccer had undergone something of a renaissance.

Recovering from the depression and energised by waves of migrants, soccer was booming.

In Victoria, the Dockerty Cup (starting in 1909) had been a central plank in the game’s growth and club fixtures were regular. 1913 saw the reinstatement of the NSW-Victoria clash after 25 years.

Even though plans to form a national association were scuttled by the outbreak of war in 1914, the game soldiered on as best it could.

The Argus of 9 August 1915 reports:

The annual international match between teams representing England and Scotland, under the auspices of the Victorian Amateur British Football Association took place on Saturday on the Fitzroy Cricket ground the authorities of which on this occasion granted the free use of the ground as net proceeds from the match were to be handed over to Lady Stanley’s fund for Wounded Australian Soldiers.

Yet it was clear that the war was taking its toll. The Argus went on:

Four of the players who took part in last year’s match are on active service, namely Lowe, Golding, Guthrie and Hyde, the latter of whom is at present in hospital at Plymouth, England, wounded.

Of those who took part in Saturday’s encounter 13 of them represented their various countries last year – seven for England and six for Scotland.

Three of England’s representatives and two of Scotland’s have enlisted and were relieved by their respective commandants to enable them to take part in Saturday’s match.

The strong commitment made by footballers to the war effort meant that the suspension of the game was inevitable. And by 1916 competition was ended, not to be resumed until after the war.

According to the Argus, when soccer did resume, in 1919:

At the first annual meeting of the British Association, on June 16, the report covering a period of four years commencing 1915 disclosed the interesting fact that 90 per cent of the players had enlisted for service abroad or at home. . . No competitive football had been played during the war.

Pre-war soccer had not only grown in the metropolitan region. It was taking root in the country as well.

It’s a fact little known that Mildura had a developing competition in this period.

Indeed, the little town of Irymple, just outside Mildura, provides its own story and gestures towards the general tragedy of war. Of the 11 players pictured in the Irymple team of 1913, five lost their lives.

In the description of the photo below the five who lost their lives are marked with an asterisk.
Irymple FC c. 1913. Note the asterisks next to the names of the players who dies.

It’s a story repeated across Australia, across sporting organisations of all codes.

The Irymple tragedy underlines a question that many in the soccer community have asked: why don’t we in honour the Anzac legend with a celebration similar to those arranged by other codes?

In Victoria, South Melbourne and Hume United now play for the ANZAC Day Cup. The second annual game was played yesterday, and won by South 6-0.


  1. Rocket Rod Gillett says

    Maybe soccer should be called British Football – as distinct from Australian Football – in Australia.
    It would save a lot of confusion in Sydney where soccer has expropriated the name Football.
    My preference is Association Football – which could be shortened to soccer….

  2. Ian Syson says

    Very funny Rocket.

    The game’s Australian hierarchy changed its name to soccer officially in the 1920s in order to lose the confusion and the Britishness. Though you still see diehards in the press referring to the game as football, the players as footballers, the clubs as football clubs and so on well beyond the 20s.

    My preference is soccer (except where the context makes it obvious which game is being talked about).

  3. Dave Nadel says

    Actually the FFA has been on a major campaign for the last few years to appropriate the name “Football” for Soccer, hence the change from Soccer Australia to Football Federation of Australia. In the run-up to the 2006 World Cup, Melbourne soccer fans booed Steve Bracks when he referred to the game as Soccer rather than football at an official function for the Socceroos. The ABC has actually been conned into using football instead of soccer.

    I agree with Ian that soccer is the appropriate term in this country. In a country where four codes of football are played professionally, the term football is a generic term. It requires an adjective to distinguish the individual codes. As in Australian (Rules) Football, Association Football (Soccer for short) Rugby League Football (or Rugby League or even League) and Rugby Union Football (or Rugby Union). AFL is becoming widely used as a term for Australian Rules. This follows the tradition of Association Football, League and Union which all took their names from their earliest organising body, but I personally prefer Australian Football or Aussie Rules.

    If “football” is used without an adjective it can only be taken to refer to the most widely played and watched code in the region, which in Australia is Aussie Rules South and West of the “Barassi Line” and Rugby League in the North East.

  4. Ian Syson says

    Dave, I think the campaign is running out of puff. But they’ve backed themselves into a corner re names. One of the reasons I’m pro-‘soccer’ is for internal reasons in the game. Calling the game football was part of a process of deliberately alienating the old guard.

    I think the appropriate names for the organisations in soccer would be: AFA, VFA, NSWFA and so on given that footy has relinquished the title VFA. I reckon that the reason soccer didn’t call itself the [insert initial]FA in Australia in the first place is because the VFA had already snaffled the name — though if Liston’s idea of the VFA shifting to soccer had got up in 1933 then we’d have no problem.

  5. Richard Jones says

    USUALLY I agree with u, Rocket.
    But we’re diametrically opposed on the nomenclature here.

    We Aussies and the Yanks are the only people in the English-speaking world who still call soccer, ‘soccer’. It’s football, the World Game!
    You can have a team from Uruguay playing a South Korean club, refereed by an Egyptian, and everyone knows what is going on. More importantly, what the referee is indicating when there’s a whistle on play. Instantaneously understood.
    Look on a newspaper website. Aussie ones, included. Look across at the banner headings to see what sport you want to click onto. If you click on ‘football’ clearly you’re looking for soccer stories and results.

    You have to click onto ‘AFL’, and rightfully so IMHO, to get Aussie Rules footy.

    I’m with Dave N. though on the slippery way the term ‘AFL’ is being used as a synonym for Australian Rules. As a frequent visitor to the Old Dart where I attend football matches, I have to explain to English rellos that our code here in Victoria is actually “Australian Rules football” or more simply ‘Australian football’ — and not AFL.
    The AFL is merely our sport’s peak body.

  6. Ian Syson says

    Now that the nomenclature debate is over (pfft), anyone intrigued/surprised that there was a soccer comp in Mildura in 1913 or moved by the poignancy of 5 players from one team being killed in the war? Their story is surpassed by the Caledonian team in Perth who lost 8 of their first team. John Williamson wrote ‘Soccer Anzacs’ about this team.

    Interesting stat: possibly up to 25% of those soldiers in the first landing at Gallipoli would have had Scottish or identifiably English accents. Yet when I watch Peter Weir’s film they all speak dinki-di.

  7. Not surprised about a soccer comp of sorts wherever settlers went.

  8. Richard,
    I agree with you and it is a gripe of mine…kids tell me they play AFL. I say, “maybe one day”.
    They’re just playing footy (understood variant thereof. Aussie Rules I can cop.

  9. Rocket Rod Gillett says

    Apologies Ian for taking the focus off a very interesting story. I am intrigued by the existence of a soccer comp at Mildura just prior to WWI – maybe a bunch of Poms and/or Scots (mixture of both in the Irymple team) were working on the installation of the irrigation scheme…?

    As it turns out University won the Sunraysia Football League pennant in 1946 – I think, not sure that the University of Melbourne had set up a campus on the RAAF base after the war to cope with the influx of students – as it turns out RAAF won the 1945 flag.

    A more interesting poser is the POW Camp 13 from near Murchison had a footy team in the Goulburn Valley League after the war – they were runners-up to Mooroopna in 1946 – no soccer available so they played Australian football. Pretty sure most of the POWs were German and Italian…

  10. Ian Syson says

    Rod, you’re right in general about the identity of the players — though at least one was a ‘local’. Robert McCune was a son of a Vet in Ararat. I will try to track the family down when I get some time to research the story properly.

  11. Dave Nadel says

    Rocket, during the War years, Victoria had a Country Party government kept in power via a deal with the Labor Party. Apart from the influence of various machines in the Labor Party (Wren and others) the other factor that kept the unusual alliance together was support for “decentralisation.” As part of this policy the Government assisted in building some factories in provincial cities and it also opened up a campus of Melbourne University at Mildura. Amongst other things the Mildura campus taught the first couple of years of Medicine. I think the experiment only lasted a few years. The Dunstan Country Labor alliance lasted even less time. In the fifteen years prior to Henry Bolte, Victorian governments tended to have short lives because of instability on the Conservative side and weakness on the Labor side.

    Anyhow, that’s where the University Football team came from.

  12. Richard Jones says

    POST 6. Yes, Ian, like Rocket sorry for focussing on the nomenclature issue.

    I’m very moved by the thought of 5 young men from the one team being wiped out in WW1. Doesn’t matter whether it was at Gallipoli or in France/Belgium. It’s still very sad.

    On the Gallipoli thing my wife and I are fortunate enough to have stood at Anzac Cove on Remembrance Day, 2007. At 11 am on that day (the 11th day of the 11th month) our little group laid a wreath and one member of the party read out a prepared speech.
    We visited all the cemeteries by the water’s edge (Simpson of The Man With The Donkey fame lies in one) and then proceeded further up the scrubby hillsides to Lone Pine and other sites of interest.

    The trenches at the furthest hight point the Anzacs got to were separated from the Turks’ trenches by just the width of the modern road. In the adjacent Kabatepe National Museum you can see boots with feet, bones now, still in them and bullets embedded into another. They had collided in mid-air because the soldiers had fired at each other from such close quarters.

    In that area is a huge New Zealand obelisk memorial and a large cemetery dedicated to a crack Turkish regiment: the 57th.

    We know we Aussies and Kiwis lost quite a few thousand men, including some no doubt from Sunraysia’s 1913 Irymple soccer team. The Turks lost 86,000 dead, and goodness knows how many injured and incapacitated.

    The locals call the place Gelibolu, but the actual town of that name is a bit of a drive down the road back to Istanbul.

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