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Barefoot players, a game at the MCG and 'kisses' from the sunshine: Indian football's 1938 Australian tour

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6th March, 2024

Rampaging Roy Krishna returns to Australia this week, leading his Indian Super League team into battle against Central Coast.

The famous Fijian international will be hoping Odisha FC have enough strike power to defeat the Mariners. Each team will compete this Thursday night, in an AFC Cup showdown.

Yet, this is not the first time Indian football has graced our sunny shores. Rewind the clocks back, folks, more than eighty years ago.

Long before the inter-zonal semi-final, an Indian national team arrived Down Under in 1938 to play sixteen games of football, including five test matches against Australia.

In the book, Chronicles of Soccer in Australia, Peter Kunz writes how the men initially sailed here by boat, departing Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Arriving in Fremantle, they traveled from the west coast, eventually utilising the Trans-Australia Railway, which boasted the longest strait stretch of track in the world.

An Indian football fan holds aloft a scarf with the word 'INDIA' printed on it.

Indian football fans at the AFC Asian Cup. (Photo by Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)

Mostly partaking in exhibition matches, the sporting stars visited every state in Australia except Tasmania.


It’s important to note, many brave players also participated in bare feet. Instead of wearing traditional leather boots, they wrapped fabric bandages around their tender toes.

The theory was this gave them superior ball control, allowing players to manipulate the ball with their talented foot digits, including pulling it backwards.

The tour happened in winter, with Indian manager Mr Patrika Gupta applauding the fine conditions. “The Indian sunshine bites,” he said. “But the Australian sunshine kisses.”

When playing at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, however, the hardened pitch lead to surface issues, resulting in cut feet. Victoria was certainly very different to the lush fields of mother India.

Heading to regional Woonona, north of Wollongong, the Indian’s beat the local lads, attracting around 3,000 curious fans.

Before the match, the overseas team was given the privilege of reopening Ball’s Paddock, after ground improvements were completed.

Roy Krishna

Roy Krishna during his time with Wellington Phoenix in the A-League. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

The match began promptly at 4pm, with the Indians wearing red, and South Coast donning blue and white colours.

Acting as a makeshift grandstand, the Royal Hotel backed onto the pitch, delighting patrons with amber ale, as they happily drank on the elevated verandah.

After the final whistle, the visitors traveled to the Masonic Hall at Bulli, celebrating their 6-4 win. The men were guests of honour at a lavish dinner, whereby the tourists were praised for their stoic attitude.

The website Trove states the Indian coach experienced “unfailing courtesy in Australia, which was very encouraging to persons from a faraway country.” Such was the power of sport, connecting the two cultures.

Fast-forward forty-five years, and the Royal Hotel (formerly Hoopers) was sadly demolished back in 1983. Today, there’s a few black and white photos floating around Facebook, under the Lost Wollongong page.

And as for Woonona FC, they’re currently nicknamed the Sharks, celebrating 135 of Australian football, established way back in 1889.