The Ramble: What is the Golden Age of football in Australia?

Paul Nicholls Roar Guru

By Paul Nicholls, Paul Nicholls is a Roar Guru

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10 Have your say

    The 13th season of the A-League is part of the 137th year of organised football in this country.

    The A-League is just ten per cent of the whole story. What about the other ninety per cent?

    Helping put me in a nostalgic mood was the book, ‘The Death and Life of Australian Soccer’ by Joe Gorman.

    It’s an examination of Australian football from just after the second world war to the present day.

    The book brought back some great memories, some of which I had witnessed first hand including the 2005 Uruguay world cup qualifier and the Socceroos versus New York Cosmos game at the Sydney Showground in 1979.

    It is more than just a sports book. It touches on culture, politics, history and the Australian identity, all told in an engaging and compelling way.

    Thinking about the history of the game, I wonder if there is one era that can truly be called the Golden Age of football in Australia.

    What are the candidates?

    Perhaps it was the 1880s when the first football clubs were formed not only in the capital cities but in regional centres such as Newcastle and Wollongong.

    Or maybe the 1920s when Australia played its first internationals.

    Then there was the immediate post-war period in the 50s and 60s when the great migrant clubs came into being, breathing fresh life into the sport.

    Maybe you could define eras according to the rhythms of the four year world cup cycles.

    It’s hard to top the first qualification for the world cup in 1974.

    Then there was the Scotland two-legged playoff for the 1986 world cup. Although Australia lost the tie, they gained many fans with their spirited second leg showing in Melbourne.

    The 1990 campaign stands out for me personally. Australia needed to beat Israel in Sydney to advance to the next stage. I was in the crowd that day and remember it vividly because it was the day after the Hillsborough tragedy. People were a bit jumpy.

    By kick off there was a huge crowd standing in the concourses the entire length of the stadium.

    Australia went behind early but equalised in the 88th minute. The Socceroos then threw everything at Israel. The tension and excitement of those final crazed minutes is something I’ll never forget. The match ended in a draw and Australia was knocked out.

    There was the infamous 1998 campaign when Australia blew a 2-0 lead against Iran in Melbourne. Perhaps there’s a certain honour in Australians suffering a gallant defeat.

    Of course there’s a strong case for the era around the 2006 world cup being called a golden age, although it still seems a bit recent.

    John Aloisi celebrates scoring his penalty against Uruguay

    (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

    For mine, the golden age of Australian football was the 1970s.

    The migrant clubs were strong and there was a spark and zip about domestic football. Matches were competitive and exciting.

    As a kid I used to go to Sutherland Shire home games. I remember watching a Korean import who I thought was the most skilful player in the world. Over the years I heard nothing more about this player and was almost wondering whether I’d imagined him.

    So I was delighted to see him mentioned in ‘The Death and Life of Australian Soccer’. Now I can put a name to the memory: Kim Jung-nam.

    And because there was almost no television coverage, you had to go to the ground to appreciate the skills of players such as Kim.

    Matches were usually played at the same time. The only way to follow the other games was through the public address system at the ground. I loved hearing the progress scores read out loud through the hiss and crackle of a battered old loudspeaker.

    A good ground announcer could call out the scores with a certain rhythm, so an upset score like “Marconi nil, Granville two,” with an inflection on the “two,” would sound like verse; all the matches read out one after the other forming a stanza in a football poem that would change subtly over the course of an afternoon.

    Nowadays, games are scheduled so that it’s possible to watch every game live on TV without getting off the couch.

    In the 70s, all you could get on television were colourful match reports read by Martin Royal on the ABC news. With no pictures, you had to use your imagination, and perhaps that’s why I am fond of that era.

    It took a bit of effort to follow local football back then. You had to turn up to the games. You had to read the literature. You had to get ink on your fingers.

    That era also included the unforgettable 1974 world cup campaign.

    We also loved watching the early days of the national league, originally called the Phillips Soccer League, on the still very new medium of colour television. They were good days.

    The passing of time can makes things seem rosier than they actually were, but that’s my take on a golden age of Australian football. I’d love to hear yours.

    * * *

    I’ve run out of space for the usual review of the week’s football so I’ll summarise it in the awards.

    Personality of the week: Harry Kane, for his European Champions League hat-trick and Premier League double.

    Team of the week: Heidelberg United, the National Premier League champion for 2017.

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    The Crowd Says (10)

    • October 4th 2017 @ 4:02am
      marcel said | October 4th 2017 @ 4:02am | ! Report

      Paul…no mention of the crazy old guy who used to sell Soccer World at the grounds? …and peanuts / sugar nuts if I remember correctly.

      • October 4th 2017 @ 3:49pm
        Albo said | October 4th 2017 @ 3:49pm | ! Report

        Roasted nuts ! Sugar coated nuts ! Very freeeeshh !
        Ah ! The sounds from Lambert Park on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

        • October 4th 2017 @ 5:00pm
          marcel said | October 4th 2017 @ 5:00pm | ! Report

          Ha…and also ” Soccer World, Soccer World….official program….Soccer World”

      • Roar Guru

        October 4th 2017 @ 7:02pm
        Paul Nicholls said | October 4th 2017 @ 7:02pm | ! Report

        Ha! I’m impressed that you remembered that Marcel!

    • October 4th 2017 @ 7:38am
      RBBAnonymous said | October 4th 2017 @ 7:38am | ! Report

      Believe it or not the golden age hasn’t happened yet. That suggests that our best days are behind us. If only our administrators had some vision and a bit of moxy we would be soaring. It is so frustrating watching on with leaders of our great sport who lack the courage to unlock it’s true potential. Not saying it doesn’t come with a certain level of risk but the inertia is killing me. Let the shackles go.

      • Roar Rookie

        October 4th 2017 @ 8:37am
        Grobbelaar said | October 4th 2017 @ 8:37am | ! Report

        I would agree with this view. After 137 years of consistent and ongoing growth, I think the game is still set to peak in this country. It will happen one day soon.

    • October 4th 2017 @ 8:02am
      chris said | October 4th 2017 @ 8:02am | ! Report

      Thanks for the article Paul – really enjoyed it. It bought back happy memories of me going to just about all those games you mentioned (the ones in Sydney at least). I remember as a kid going with my dad to that crazy game against the New York Cosmos. There were people everywhere and it was mayhem but I loved every minute of it. Nothing replaces the memories of when you are a kid and sitting on your dads shoulders taking it all in.

      • Roar Guru

        October 4th 2017 @ 7:04pm
        Paul Nicholls said | October 4th 2017 @ 7:04pm | ! Report

        Cheers Chris. Possibly the age we experience these things also colours our memory a bit too.

    • October 4th 2017 @ 8:41am
      Waz said | October 4th 2017 @ 8:41am | ! Report

      When talking about a “golden generation” invariably the Socceroos are the benchmark, not the domestic scene.

      It’s hard not to argue that we’ve never had it as good over the past few years – Asian champions, ACL champions, record participation, Matildas, A league with 12.5k average … there’s never been a better time.

      But golden generations can become golden handcuffs, England and 1966 has been a millstone around the neck of English football for generations; as RBB says – our better years are ahead of us and we should always be striving for that

    • Roar Rookie

      October 4th 2017 @ 11:53am
      At work said | October 4th 2017 @ 11:53am | ! Report

      I’m not sure when our golden age has been, or whether any decades past can be considered as such.
      What I found very interesting was reading about Andrew Dettre from the 60’s and 70’s. My knowledge of pre-NSL was basically zilch before reading Joe’s excellent book.

      Also if there is an equivalent podcast, blog, etc of studz up I’d love to find it!

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