Ethnicity and Soccer

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Ethnicity and Soccer: The effect of non-English speaking immigrants on the establishment of soccer in Canberra in the 1950s and 1960s.

Nick Guoth

Abstract: Soccer in Canberra as a sport had died prior to the war. The advent of Australia's new immigration policy after 1945 saw a solid influx, over the next two decades, of non-English speaking Europeans to Australia and through their input they assisted in the re-emergence of soccer as a main sport in the region. From the Baltic states to the Southern Europeans of Greece and Italy, the change to the Canberra landscape was quite dramatic; soccer was one that benefited significantly.

In the days prior to the second world war ethnicity evolved around that of Scottish and non-Scottish when dealing with the sport of soccer in the region. In all the records of those who played soccer up until 1933, there was only one non-British player even though a number of Italians and others were working in the district.

When Australia opened it's migration policy, after 1945, to include those from a larger number of non-English speaking backgrounds, many moved to Canberra to help build the Capital during the construction boom of the period. Yet this did not create the harmony that was hoped for.

Familiarity was essential to post-war immigrants. Australian culture was alien to new arrivals and Australians were at best indifferent to immigrants and sometimes antagonistic to the newcomers. A long-held Australian distaste for anything not British also helped drive immigrants into self-contained communities, their organisations serving as bulwarks against the British-Australian majority.

Soccer clubs in immigrant communities were an instrument through which all elements of life could be sustained. They enabled individuals to interact, establish patronage links, support networks and social contacts. They were institutions which could be used to create tightly-knit communities and they were valued as a way of retaining the support of the youth. There was a continuing fear among older immigrants that their children would abandon their heritage in favour of Australian ways. (1)

Following the second world war, soccer in the district did not return until 1948, when a team participated in the Goulburn competition. The sport moved back to Canberra in the following year although competitions were rare, and reporting of these even rarer.

In those few years following the recommencement of play, soccer teams comprised of mixed ethnic origins, yet team names were still mainly geographical. In 1951 four teams entered a competition – Turner, Ainslie, Capitol Hill and Olympics. The origin of the latter is unknown, yet it is quite unlikely to bear any relation to the later Olympic teams of the Greeks. Matches were generally played at either Kingston or Turner Ovals.

Soccer from 1949 was administered by the ACT Soccer Association and in 1952 the local representative team dominated a visiting Sydney representative team 5-1. Yet it was the composition of the local team that made it multicultural. The team was: Blank, Reiser, Blak, McAlister, Gavranovic, Leitner, Bohrer, Czajor, Zuraszek, Van-Ven and Heiss.

1953 saw the emergence of team names with nationalistic identities. These included Balkans, Napad and Cracovia (the latter two being Polish in origins) and by August of that year the first incident involving an ethnic team occurred at Duntroon.

"A New Australian soccer team showed its first flash of temperament yesterday when it walked off the field in protest against a ruling by the referee at Duntroon. The team, Cracovia, disputed a decision about bringing on a reserve at half time."(2)

The first of the three major powers of soccer came to being in 1954 when the Italians joined together to form Torino. Over the next few years they changed their team name to Roma in 1955, Naples from 1956-1958, Roma again in 1959 and finally to what we know as Juventus in late 1960.

The Dutch...
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