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130 years of soccer, or not?

A leading sports historian claims Sunday the 12th of May could well mark 130 years of organised soccer in Melbourne and that official histories may have it wrong.

Victoria University sport historian Dr Ian Syson said an organised match occurred between the Anglo-Australian Association Football Club (AAAFC) and a Richmond FC selection at Richmond Cricket Ground (today known as Punt Road Oval). The mention was in the Argus of 12 May 1883.

"A game of soccer was planned between the Anglo-Australians and a Richmond FC selection," Dr Syson said.  "As such it would have been the first time an inter-club game was played in Melbourne."

He said while more research was needed before pinning that game down absolutely, one month later on June 9 a game was definitely played between the AAAFC and Australian-rules club South Park FC, with the soccer boys winning easily, 4-1. Then in August 1883 Victoria and NSW met twice in the very first inter-colonial soccer clashes.

Yet it was not until 1884 that the Anglo-Australian Football Association (forerunner of Football Federation Victoria) was created, consisting of four teams: Prahran, South Melbourne, Richmond and Carlton.

The FFV will mark this formation as the game's 130th anniversary next year. But Dr Syson said that was only one of several important steps in forming organised soccer in Victoria and by no means the first.

"There is even some evidence of organised matches as early as 1870 when Melbourne FC took on the Melbourne police in a game after the 'home style' in which handling the ball was outlawed," he said. "Though more research is needed before we can argue the game was (or was not) soccer."

"Whatever the real date is it just goes to show the futility of a set-in-stone origin date for sports. The obsession with origin dates and origin myths for our beloved sports are rarely questioned but in fact are often not as clear cut and uncontentious as they are presented."

He said sports history, like every history, is constantly changing and being revised. As Gillian Hibbins has shown, the AFL's assumed 1858 starting point is out by a year.

"Unfortunately she pointed that fact out well after the 150th anniversary celebrations were already planned and the AFL were not going to let historical evidence get in the way of their celebrations," Dr Syson said..

In a recent article titled 'The Chimera of Origins' published in the International Journal of the History of Sport Dr Syson argues that it is not only misleading to celebrate a single set origin but also damaging as it plays down other versions of that history.

"Once an assumed origin date is set in stone it tends to rule out many other narrative threads that tend to contradict the ideas of origin," he said. "It will come as a surprise to many that a lot of historians believe Australian rules football did not commence in 1858, yet these competing views and the interesting stories they bring with them are not aired."


Available for interview

Dr Ian Syson, sport historian

College of Arts, Victoria University

0413 351 681; [email protected]


Media contact:

Michael Quin, Research Writer

Public Affairs Department, Victoria University

(03) 9919 9491; 0431 815 409; [email protected] 

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