Host Richard Parkin interviews football historian Roy Hay about the history of Australian Cup competitions. Parkin analyses the A-League and the Socceroos with resident football analyst Kate Cohen.

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Part 1

(Interview begins at 26 min 40 sec)

Richard Parkin: This is the Leopold Method show. Our very special guest Roy Hay is joining us over the telephone. He’s one of Australia’s most respected football historians, he’s produced many books on the history of our game and he’s the joint author with Bill Murray of A History of Football in Australia: A Game of Two Halves, which came out midway through this year. He’s also a member of FFA’s panel of historians. Roy is on the phone to talk about the history of Cup competitions in Australia, which is the story he wrote for Leopold Method’s first every quarterly print edition, which goes on sale this week. Welcome Roy.

Roy Hay: Thanks for the invitation lad.

RP: Happy to have you, very glad to have you. Now it’s a little known fact that Australia actually had a Cup competition – the Caledonian Cup – even before England’s FA Cup. Could you tell our listeners a little bit more about the history of this competition?

RH: Aye, you can blame the Scots for it all. What happened was they had the Highland Games in 1861-2, and put up a trophy for competition at football unspecified. And what happened was you had two teams drawn in Melbourne, one team from roughly the Melbourne Club, one team drawn from the University. And they played during the Caledonian Games, and that was a genuine ‘Challenge Cup’ in the sense that the team that won it then had to be challenged by somebody else, and put up the trophy for competition. And that’s how it ran for the first few years, so FA Cup, 1872 in England, we have a trophy for football but what eventually evolved, of course, was the domestic game in Victoria which we now know as Australian football or Australian Rules.

RP: Yeah, so going back that early we hadn’t even settled the rules of what the game of football was? Now let’s talk about the national governing body for football as we know it was set up in 1911. They tried to set up an interstate competition similar to cricket’s Sheffield Shield. Why didn’t this work?

RH: I think because the codes were very much state based. There was very little coming together of the game at a national level. Ok, we had that body, the Anglo-Australian body, but it never really got the competition going on a regular basis. Simply because the game was much more… remember in those days it’s primarily a participation game, it’s not a huge spectator sport. The costs of interstate matches is quite high, and people find it’s often difficult to get leave to play in interstate matches and so on. Even though we got a trophy from the FA when they sent out a professional team in 1925, they brought with them a trophy – and a very beautiful trophy it is – it’s still held by the Football Federation Victoria. As we’ve said, it never really became the equivalent of the Sheffield Shield.

RP: Now after WW2, the Ampol Petroleum company sponsored a series of state-based Cups that were played as pre-season tournaments. This led to an inter-state Cup competition, what was the reason for the initial success of this competition? 

RH: Well, the Ampol Cups were as you say state-based, and that’s why, with the post-war migration of lots of people from the United Kingdom – the traditional source – but now drawing on a much wider soccer-aware community from Central and South East Europe. These competitions brought together the existing clubs and the new ones that were set up by the migrant communities. Following the pattern, actually, that Scots adopted way back in the turn of the 20th century. They played as a pre-season competition, sometimes or regularly played under floodlights and attracting very significant crowds. So that’s what existed in Victoria from 1939 and in most other states from the late 1950s early 60s.

RP: Roy I’m interested, you said the earlier games or Cups, or football in Australia at the early stages was more a game of participation rather than a spectator sport, and yet as you mentioned then some of the great popularity of the game came with these new migrant clubs. Did these migrant communities bring a level of passion that the Australian footballing landscape hadn’t seen before?

RH: In many ways it did. It wasn’t that there wasn’t passionate encounters prior to that, but that was a previous generation of migrants. For example people of a Scottish heritage played people with an English heritage, they were labelled Scotland-England games and they did draw quite significant crowds. But now you’ve got a much wider range of communities involved, many of them arriving in Australia, well often without language, without knowledge of Australia, often feeling that they were excluded, sometimes they tried to join existing clubs and weren’t welcomed. And so for a variety of reasons they formed their own clubs and these clubs  very much became representative of the various communities. So when they got together to play football it was all on for men and boys.

RP: In 1962, this turned into, or the Australia Cup was born. How did this come about?

RH: Well, and this is a product of the huge split that occurred in the game really from 1957 through to 1962 with the formation of what started off as the New South Wales Federation of Soccer Clubs, and eventually became the Australian Soccer Federation. So we had a new body, which was very much under club control, and they wanted a competition that would allow the clubs in the various states to come together. It started off with a play-off series for the Ampol Cup between the various state champions – that happened in 1960. Then the Federation movement in 1962 initiated this new competition, obviously it didn’t cover the whole of Australia to begin with, it was very much the east coast clubs that got involved. But it was at least a first attempt to set up a competition that would involve the whole of Australia at least with an aspiration to reach the whole of Australia at club level.

RP: Now staying in the 60s, in the Leopold Method Quarterly print edition, which goes on sale this week, you tell a beautiful story of a final in 1965 between Hakoah and APIA which finished in a 13-all penalty shoot-out which was then abandoned and reset. There was a bit of commotion, can you talk us through this?

RH: That was a wonderful occasion and I talked to Peter Fuzes, who was 18 years old at the time, his first season playing for Hakoah. Hakoah and APIA were great rivals, and APIA had been in the final the previous year losing to George Cross, and this time the first final finished at 1-1. In those days they took penalty kicks in batches of five each, right, so after the first set of five it was four each. After the second set of five it was nine each, and it was only on the third set of penalty kicks that the match was settled. It came about because, well the final decision came about because the last set of penalties was taken in virtual darkness, so they really couldn’t continue. That’s what the rules suggested – that you must continue taking penalties, but because otherwise it would have been even more farcical than it was, they decided to have a replay and on this occasion Hakoah got up two goals to one.

RP: So certainly a fascinating story of football from yore. Just very quickly before we go to a break, the Australia Cup wasn’t a financial success though, what were some of the reasons for this?

RH: Well again I think it was in a sense, we were a bit too early with it. If you think about all the other sports, the vast majority of them are similar to football in that they only come together for national selections or things like the Sheffield Shield. And we were putting up a trophy in a… think of it in terms of it being experimental, and people take time to adjust to new ideas. I mean we’ve seen this under the new set up under the A-League and FFA, it takes people the best part of five to ten years to adjust to a new circumstance. What the great thing about the Australia Cup I think was in a sense it pointed the direction of a national competition, it really wasn’t able to in the first iteration to bring this about completely.

RP: So certainly a pre-cursor to what we are going to go on to talk about. Now you are listening the Leopold Method show on 2ser. I’m speaking with Roy Hay, we’have more of this after this short break.

Part 2

RP: This is the Leopold Method show on 2ser. We have on the phone football historian Roy Hay and we’re talking about the history of Cup competitions in Australia. Now Roy, when the NSL was set up in 1977 the NSL Cup was also born. It lasted 20 years but it never really took off. Why was this?

RH: When, you know, it partly reflects the problems of the National Soccer League itself, which was a fantastic competition often of a very high standard of play on the field, but was a designed to become a fully fledged national competition, but it took a long while, for example, to get a team from Western Australia into it, that didn’t happen until the very last stages. So it was always short of what people hoped it might be, and in a sense the Cup competition suffered a bit from this.

The first attempt in 1977 drew a crowd of 8,000, Brisbane City and Marconi played off in the final and that one went to penalty kicks but luckily Brisbane City got up by 5-3 so we didn’t have a repeat of earlier times. But the crowds for national league games varied enormously – you got really good crowds for local derbies with the likes of South Melbourne and Heidelberg. In Sydney a club like Sydney City, which was the old Hakoah Club, fantastic football they played but never able to draw a crowd on any level. That was the real problem for the league as a whole, and it was reflected in the Cup.

They tried all sorts of different experiments, they divided the league into conferences for a period, they tried the Cup at the beginning of the season for a period, the tried it at the middle of the season, they tried it at the end of the season. Sometimes it was only NSL clubs that took part, sometimes they brought in clubs from the lower levels, but it wasn’t… it was one of these things that seemed to be fiddled with every season, and hence it didn’t develop the kind of continuity and the mystique that something like the FA Cup did from the very early stages of it’s history in England, you know a competition that was open to all grassroots clubs in the country and maintained roughly the same basic format throughout it’s long history.

RP: I mean that’s certainly been the holy grail of Cup competitions in Australia, everyone has aspired towards this, the FA Cup from England where you get a team like Emley playing a team like Newcastle, you know you get a Havant and Waterlooville versus Newcastle. It’s certainly something we’ve chased for. Now let’s talk about the major differences between some of these Cup competitions we’ve discussed and the current FFA Cup.

RH: Well, yes, and again remember that alongside all of this there has been a huge change in the governance and organisation of the game, right. With the replacement of the old Australian Soccer Federation which was basically bankrupt, and now the Football Federation Australia, with a national league which is drawing the crowds, still marginally financial, most of the clubs not making money yet…

RP: But certainly still sustainable?

RH: Oh, yeah. The game as a whole is sustainable now in a way that was never the case before. So that’s the background to the change, and now we’ve got… we’ve been going for 10 years effectively. As you know there was a attempt to present the new competition, the new A-League and everything else as ‘new football not old soccer’. And that had a very deleterious effect – although it’s very understandable why they would try that process – now you’ve got a body which has enough self-confidence to look at the game and say ‘what are the other things we can do much better? Let’s link up with the grassroots of the game and give them a competition which enables them to have their moment in the sun.’

This is what we’ve done this year, with an entry, remember, of about 600 clubs around Australia. That’s never happened before – so we’ve got this base in the grassroots, we’ve fixed the draw so that at least one of the clubs outside the national league will get to the semi-final of the competition which helps to maintain a huge degree of interest for the clubs who are vying for that position. We even get upsets, like the Western Sydney Wanderers, who were, you know, carrying all before them were the first A-League club to get knocked out of the competition.

RP: Champions of Asia, but they can’t handle the state league.

RH: Exactly, and isn’t this brilliant? If you think globally about the game within Australia, this is absolutely wonderful. Here you have the Champions of Asia, they get knocked out of the Cup, and they’re struggling in the league, which maintains a level of interest and involvement in the game in a way that we’ve never had before.

RP: So certainly the Football Federation Australia got a lot right and certainly gave those olive branches back to some of the more traditional historic clubs through the FFA Cup. What are some areas of the competition as you see it now that could be improved upon.

RH: Well, I think there are various things that we might do, but I think we should tread very very carefully. We’ve got that example of that NSL Cup competition where we tinkered every year, and therefore the people didn’t get a sense that this was something building up it’s own traditions. It was something that was growing out of the game from below as much as being organised from the top. So I think it’s very important that we don’t – I mean if there’s something absolutely wrong let’s put it right – but let’s not play games with the Cup competition until it develops its own momentum and it’s own traditions. So my thought is move carefully and slowly on this, we are making changes, we’re brining in Northern Territory next year, each area of the country has a number of places associated with the number of participants they have in the game, so everybody has a chance to take part.

RP: As you say it’s one thing to plant a sapling but for it to take root it really needs to go to the hearts of the fans that go along to the Cup competition. So you need those traditions.

RH: Absolutely, so let’s not expect that we’ll break crowd records for games that involve the smaller clubs. They will, as we had with Bentleigh Greens the other night, they were turning people away from the game because the capacity of the ground had been reached. So that 3,300 at Bentleigh Greens is perfect, that’s maximum crowd, a brilliant atmosphere and always the possibility, you know, that if one of these grassroots clubs gets up, it will have an enormous effect on the club itself and on it’s peers around the country. Because it seems to me that a Cup competition like this has the sort of pizazz, the possibility of an x-factor that could catapult one of these smaller clubs into saying, ‘well, let us now that we’re in the limelight, let us set ourselves a goal of getting to the highest level and maintaining it, not just knocking off a club in a Cup competition.’ So I think as with the old Australia Cup, which if you like was the pointer to a national competition, I have a feeling that the new Australia Cup may be the pointer to major changes in the game down the track.

RP: Well that sounds a good place to leave it. Roy, certainly some big thinking topics about promotion and relegation, and also if we should have a women’s FFA Cup?

RH: Absolutely, I mean that’s the last point I make in hard copy in your new journal.

RP: Excellent, well thank you for joining us today Roy. That was Roy Hay discussing the history of the Cup competitions in Australia. He’s contributed to the Leopold Method first ever quarterly print edition which goes on sale this week. You can read his story ‘Australia and it’s Cups’, by purchasing a copy.

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