Pre-war soccer in Victoria had not only grown in the metropolitan region. It took root in the country as well. It’s a fact little known that Mildura had a developing competition in this period. Even when soccer was in decline in Melbourne in the 1890s, Mildura kept the flag flying for a few years, engaging in local scratch matches and playing irregular competition with South Australian town, Renmark.
The Mildura competition before the war involved two or three teams. While Merbein dropped in and out, the Mildura and Irymple clubs kept up a steady battle for the four years between 1911 and 1915. Made up of many British migrants but, perhaps unusually, also many native born, the competition was a passionate little outpost of Victorian soccer, cruelly interrupted by the war.
Not cruel because it interrupted a sporting competition; that is merely unfortunate. But cruel because of the damage it inflicted on a community.
Little Irymple, Mildura’s satellite settlement was ravaged by the war. Early in our research we found the image of the Irymple team in 1913 (courtesy, Mildura Rural City Council Library Service). In a mix of awe and horror we noticed that five of the players (the ones asterisked) were killed in the First World War. It was confusing because in the stories of sporting sacrifice, soccer enlistments and deaths are rarely mentioned. Other sports that make a bigger deal of Australian war dead leave soccer in the shade on Anzac Day.
Further research has intensified the scale of this tragedy. The club actually lost nine (possibly even 10) of its members. To this extent it may well be the Australian soccer club that lost more players than any other. More than the eight lost each by the Perth Caledonians and Melbourne Thistle. The following are the Irymple dead.
- Percy Hamlin Beckett (pictured)
- R Brown (pictured)
- Jas Campbell (pictured)
- R.F. Campbell (pictured)
- Jack Hart
- David Lindsay Morrison (pictured)
- Robert Samuel Page
- William Jefferies
- Thomas Edwin Surgey
- A.B. Wadham. (Either he or his brother played soccer for Irymple).
Like many clubs in many sports across rural Australia, members enlisted with gusto. Fate was to decree which battalions they joined and casualties were often determined by this luck of the draw. Some communities ended up being more unlucky than others in the way their volunteers were channelled into particular theatres and campaigns of war. It would be appropriate if the terrible luck of the Irymple Nine were to be acknowledged by the Victorian soccer community.
This is the second part of Ian Syson’s We Shall Remember Them series on soccer Anzacs. Funding for this series was provided by Football Federation Victoria.