The OzSoccer Articles

Anthony Ferguson, now living in Canberra, grew up in Perth and has written this account of what it was like as a round-ball fan. In his own words

The piece I've attached here is a personal account of what it was like
growing up in the 1970s as a migrant and a passionate soccer lover in a
footy and cricket loving town in WA.  I think there are many subscribers to
your web page who will have had similar experiences in their formative
years.  Anyway, have a read, use it if you like.  It hasn't been published
anywhere else. 

Anyone for a game of Wogball?

Growing up in Western Australia in the late nineteen-sixties and early seventies was like being trapped in a dingy basement while a revolution raged upstairs. This is how it appears to me in retrospect. All around the world momentous changes were occurring which would leave their mark on history. Men were landing on the moon, people were starting to oppose war and oppression en masse, and the feminist and gay liberation movements were changing public perception about the way we live our lives. But the people of Perth were removed from most of these events, due mostly to our geographical distance from the rest of the world, and also because of the infancy of our communications infrastructure. After all, we had only received our first television pictures around 1962. It was for reasons like these that the people of Western Australia were pretty insular back then.

This sense of insularity was apparent to a primary school aged English migrant growing up in a developing industrial town in Western Australia during the period in question. In fact this particular migrant remembers copping it sweet: most of all because of an all-encompassing love for the game of soccer. In those days soccer was a game which many people considered un-Australian. To admit that you liked the game back then was treasonable, and to be brutally frank, there were segments of Western Australian society where soccer players were persona non grata. Letting it be known to your schoolmates and the local community that you liked or played soccer in the early seventies was to risk having your sexual preference, your national pride and your ability to assimilate questioned by natural born Aussies.

Yet it was into this type of society that I was unwittingly dragged by my "ten pound Pom" parents, who hoped to start a new and more prosperous life in somewhat sunnier climes than those of England. With my dad safely ensconced in the local steelworks and my mum happily hanging his undies on the Hills hoist, I set about familiarising myself with antipodean schoolyard behaviour at my local primary school. I was fitting in nicely until the fateful day my dad decided I needed some sort of recreational pastime to occupy my extracurricular energies. After failing dismally at martial arts and suffering the ignominy of being drummed out of the local judo club after only a couple of weeks, my old man decided to sit me down on the couch one night and regale me with stories about the legends of English soccer. In no time at all he had me hooked to such an extent that I probably didn't even need to hear his personal recollections of how wonderful a player he was, and how he could have been a contender for fame and fortune if such opportunities had been extended him in his own orphaned, poverty-stricken life. Despite all of this, I was hooked.

Thus my troubles commenced. Firstly, I was to learn to my chagrin that the majority of my school chums were not as enamoured of my new found passion as I. They preferred the more traditional Aussie sporting pastimes of cricket in the summer and footy in the winter. This sporting policy extended from official local primary school curriculum to unquestioned and unchallenged playtime and lunchtime activity. It was at this time that I first began to cultivate my role in the local schoolyard as the harbinger of un-Australian sporting preferences. For try as I might, I was unable to contain my growing loathing of both cricket and footy. Sadly for myself, there would be plenty of sundry events to fuel the fire of my loathing.

For a start there was the fact that the local primary school authorities foisted the two games on me in a totalitarian manner. All summer long it was cricket, a game so earth-shatteringly boring that it takes five days to complete one match, which would inevitably result in a draw (this was before the advent of one day matches, a minor improvement). A game so literally devoid of colour and spectacle that both sides wore the same drab whites, a clothing that would undoubtedly remain unsoiled by dirt nor sweat due to the inexorable fact that none of the players would be required to actually move over the five day duration of a match. Furthermore it was a game which I would acknowledge in later years to be little more than a lasting symbol of our colonial subservience to the English aristocracy, and we bought the whole package to such an extent that we even revelled in beating our imperial masters at their own game.

But what really made me hate the stupid game was the fact that not only was I forced to play it all summer as an organised school sport, but that my mates gave me no option but to play it after bloody school as well. In light of their illogical love for the game of cricket my eventual all year round soccer playing rebellion did me no good whatsoever, and I ended up abandoning my friends during the summer for my recreational activities. Instead, I indulged myself in a fantasy world of international soccer matches, conducted alone in the back garden of our suburban duplex, all of the 'results' lovingly annotated in a series of exercise books. My parents were often to remark that I took far greater care and pride in said notebooks than in any of my schoolbooks throughout my early academic career.

Meanwhile, in the winter there was footy, or Australian Rules Football to be precise. There was no doubt that in early seventies parlance, footy and soccer were anathema to one another, and this mutual hatred was evidenced not just in the local schoolyard, but across the whole sporting spectrum of Western Australian society. To footy lovers in those days, soccer was ungraciously and rather narrow-mindedly dubbed 'wogball' and a 'poofter's game', a misnomer resulting from the overblown celebrations expressed by international soccer players in that era, and perhaps also from the amount of time many players spent on the ground after a heavy tackle.

Footy, on the other hand, was a real mans game. This was obvious from the sleeveless guernseys designed to show off the biceps, the tightness of the shorts to emphasise the muscular, masculine buttock (and also to induce testicular cancer in later years), and by the aggressive and sometimes dangerous tackling allowed within the rules of the game. You didn't see footy players hugging and kissing after scoring a goal either - hardly necessary considering both teams often boot a dozen goals a game - nor did you see footy players rolling around on the floor whinging after a heavy tackle. They got straight up and on with the game, because they were real red-blooded heterosexual testosterone-fuelled Aussie men who never cried or ate quiche. Ever.

To my developing mind however, footy was nothing more than a game for thugs in which one was encouraged to clobber ones opponent from behind, or at least with no apparent intention of trying to win the ball. In those days this type of behaviour was championed as epitomising bravery, to a much greater extent than it is today, and was used as one of the defining points as to why footy was considered to be much more rugged and manly than soccer. I recall some elements of the media going as far as to unwittingly label soccer a non-contact sport. How I would have loved to hear them explain themselves to a soccer pro with buggered knee ligaments or a broken leg.

As is often the case today, the local press back then always had at least one token reactionary columnist to stir up the masses in their chosen field of endeavour. In the field of sport in Western Australia it was the ex-East Perth and Geelong legend John K Watts, or Wattsie, as he preferred to be known. I cannot recall exactly which paper Wattsie wrote for, but I certainly recall his frequent implications that some symbiotic link existed between soccer and homosexuality. Wattsie utilised the term 'soccer player' as a form of insult in his regular column back then, as in his oft repeated self critique when assuming a position of mock disbelief, "Well strike me pink and call me a soccer player!"

Although I may have forgotten him with the coming of maturity and the passing of time, my loathing of the man and his spiteful column in those days knew no bounds. Perhaps it reached its zenith when I entered a childrens colouring-in competition in the very newspaper for which Wattsie wrote when I was around the age of ten. As I recall the event, it was centred around a contemporary childrens character called something like Kanga the kangaroo. The object of the competition was to colour in a drawing of said childrens character and John K Watts, to whom the kangaroo was mouthing a comment, and to fill in the speech bubble with a humorous remark.

However, my response to the challenge of answering the question, "What is Kanga the kangaroo saying to Wattsie?", was to scrawl in all my youthful impotent rage "Piss off you great fat turd!", and then post the entry off in self-righteous anger. Not surprisingly, I didn't win the competition, but then again, I was never very good at colouring in.

All bitterness aside, it transpired that my perseverance was to pay off, as along with several soccer-playing friends, we eventually inspired something of a mini-revolution at the local primary school during lunchtime, when we somehow convinced all the footy players to take up soccer as their main lunchtime activity on the oval. I think the simple truth was that soccer was an easier game than footy for most kids to join in without getting hurt. Footy was generally a bit rougher, and required more physical strength and skill to control the oblong bouncing ball. Then again, maybe the Socceroos qualification for the 1974 World Cup Finals had something to do with it too!

High school however was a different matter, although in subtly different ways it offered much of the same cultural resistance to the game of soccer. To play soccer at high school in Western Australia back then was to be blessed with the wisdom of that insidious seventies phenomenon, the blokey phys-ed teacher. These middle-aged men were inevitably ex-WAFL footballers with their brains in their footy boots. I was to encounter them at both high schools I attended and I'm quite certain that there was at least one of them employed at every high school in Perth. In every case it was obvious they had been told by the powers that be (the headmaster) that looking after the school soccer team on carnival day was part of their curriculum, whether they liked it or not. And like it they certainly didn't! Hence they would disappear over to the footy ovals the moment we hopped off the bus and the days activities commenced, usually to return for one five minute period half way through the day to enquire how the soccer team had been performing and offer a few words of advice.

My favourite memory of such occasions would have to be the day our big boofy phys-ed teacher, an ex-South Fremantle footballer, finally showed up at the soccer pitch during the 1977 Lightning Carnival. After hearing that we had managed to organise ourselves well enough to have made it to the Grand Final, he interrupted the tactical discussion we were having amongst ourselves to hurriedly impart the following pearl of wisdom; "Now listen you blokes, what ya gotta do is play it like a game of footy. Boot the ball straight down the centre of the field and all chase after it." With that he turned on his heels and buggered off, never to be seen again that day. Most of us were too stunned to respond, not being attuned at the age of fourteen to the subtle nuances of irony. Little wonder then that we got stuffed 7:1 in the final.

Yet, despite all the cultural obstacles, my love for the game grew stronger as I progressed through the ranks of sundry junior soccer clubs. On weekends I would often accompany my dad to watch the local State League side, along with - as one of my schoolmates unkindly if accurately remarked - 'all the immediate family and friends'. Eventually, with the great encouragement of my dad, who was vicariously pursuing the soccer career he never had through me, I made it to the brink of senior semi-professional soccer. But sadly, especially for dear old dad, it was at this point that I began to question my motives. Undoubtedly it was something to do with my coming of age, and a mixture of a testosterone induced desire to consume alcohol and chase women rather than attend training sessions two or three times a week, that led to my fall from the brink of footballing fame.

Whatever my reasons, I maintained my involvement in the game via a still continuing career in amateur soccer. Even two decades of crap playing fields, decrepit stadiums and dressing rooms, obnoxious and abusive supporters, and petty political in-fighting amongst club officials wasn't enough to put me off.

How things have changed over the past twenty years though. Soccer has become an established, respectable and marketable sport. The National Soccer League has been running for over two decades. With David Hill in charge, the NSL is now threatening to throw off the ethnic millstone once and for all. No disrespect intended to all the ethnics who kept the game going, but I'm sorry folks, you're also holding us back. Anyway the NSL is now threatening to become a serious and profitable business entity. Nothing emphasises this more strongly than the recent and current attempts by AFL and ARL franchises to buy into soccer. Furthermore, not only does noone call you a poofter or a wog any more, but Aussie players are making it big in professional leagues all over Europe.

Have I missed my calling after all then? I could have been a contender. If only I had persevered and followed through on my childhood dreams. On the other hand, I can placate myself with the thought that I played a small part in the growing success of the sport, with my support and enthusiasm, not to mention all the money I've poured into the game via the turnstiles, merchandise and club fees over the years. I think I've done my bit, along with many thousands of other unsung wogball proponents, to further the cause downunder of the most flowing and poetic of the games called football.

Over the same period I like to think my sporting tastes have matured as well. I am no longer so insecure and biased in my sporting ways as I was when I was growing up. AFL has gradually become my second favourite sport (unless you count pro wrestling). I have learned to ignore the occasional physically reckless and downright bloody dangerous tackles, and to focus instead on the great atmosphere of the game, as well as the running, ball control and passing skills of the better players. More than this, I can now appreciate the place footy has earned in the Australian culture and psyche. I think I've finally assimilated.

Mind you, I still hate bloody cricket though!