Could the first football match in Australia have been played as far back as 1859?
That’s the suggestion made in Canberra librarian and archivist Peter Kunz's new book, Chronicles of Soccer in Australia – The Foundation Years 1859 to 1949.
In the opening chapters of the book, Kunz notes that a report of “a grand football match” was reported in the Hobart press to take place on 18 March 1859 at Richmond, Tasmania, with the number of players selected meaning that it was “almost certain to have been advance publicity for a soccer match”.
This is just one example of the extraordinary detail of Kunz’s book which has involved 12 years of research through national archives and liaison and fact-checking with other sports historians.
Other revelations include:
* the use of carrier pigeons to convey half- and full-time scores by the Coledale club;
* that organised soccer stopped in most areas of the country during World War I as so many players responded to the call to arms;
* one of the first mentions of women’s soccer being played in Australia was near Toowoomba in 1917; and
* the influence of the Chinese community in the development of the game in Darwin.
Kunz said the issue of early matches will always be arguable.
“The rules of soccer were very fluid at that time internationally and probably more so in Australia as the latest rules would have taken time to get here and then to be adopted," he revealed.
"Catching a ball by field players would still have been popular.”
Despite the 1859 claim, Kunz said he took a conservative stance on evidence of matches.
“I evaluated some football matches but decided not to mention them because I was not satisfied that they could be described as soccer,” he admitted.
More to the point, said Kunz, the book sheds light on the mores and attitudes of Australia and its people in the latter half of the 19th century and first half of the 20th century.
“Attitudes to immigrants, race and class, and the value of sport as a reflection of national culture are reflected within the game ‘down under’,” he said.
Kunz says his research highlights how Australia’s geographic and cultural isolation – and lack of global engagement – was played out on Australian soccer fields.
“There is no other sport that engenders debate about what it is to be an Australian, and Australia’s place in the world, as football does,” he said.
Chronicles of Soccer in Australia also provides, for the first time, a comprehensive listing of more than 2,500 clubs that played senior matches until December 1949. Almost half of those clubs were in New South Wales.
It will be launched by Andy Harper at Gleebooks, Sydney on Wednesday at 6.30pm.
The book is available from Fair Play Publishing for $34.99 and is available online and from good bookstores in paperback and from Amazon and iBooks as an e-book.