Occupational therapy patients of Wolston Park help to build Ellerton’s cricket ground in 1911. Photo: Contributed
Occupational therapy patients of Wolston Park help to build Ellerton’s cricket ground in 1911. Photo: Contributed

How soccer was born in Goodna

ON a winter's afternoon in August 1875, two teams gathered on the lawn of the Woogaroo Lunatic Asylum in Goodna for a game of football. This was the birthplace of Australian soccer.

If you are stunned right now I'm not surprised. So was I.

Each and every football code in Australia has one game, one event or one day that is commonly accepted as the birthplace of the code in this country.

In Australian Rules, it's a match between Scotch College and Melbourne Grammar School in 1858, playing a game conceived by Tom Wills a year earlier.

Australia's first rugby union club was formed at Sydney University in 1864, ahead of the first metropolitan competition a decade later. Rugby league's breakaway from union ranks occurred in 1907/08.

These events are promoted as the genesis of each sport, mainly for the purpose of marketing history to followers of the game.

Many historians will argue evidence to support these claims is often flimsy, and the original version of the sports we know today occurred much later than the dates and times suggested by football administrators.

With that in mind, the Goodna claim may come as a surprise.

It's long been accepted that the first game of soccer in Australia to be played under British Association Rules was in 1880, between the Wanderers and the King's School at Parramatta Common in Sydney.

Football Federation Australia has accepted the date as the first official game played in Australia and even promoted that. However, new evidence uncovered by a team of Australian Football historians proves Goodna is the true home of the Australian round ball game.

An extract from The Queenslander on Monday, August 9, 1875 is the first piece of evidence supporting the claim.

A report of a football game at Goodna described the contest between a visiting football team from Brisbane and a team of inmates and wards men from the Woogaroo Lunatic Asylum. Within that report was clear indication soccer was being played rather than rugby, which was the dominant code of the time.


IN accordance with a challenge issued by the Woogaroo players, eighteen "braves" of the Brisbane Football Club donned their war paint, left Brisbane per rail at 12.5 on Saturday last, and arrived at Woogaroo at 1.15 p.m.. Play commenced at half-past 2, after arranging the rules and appointing umpires; Mr Sheehan acting as such for Brisbane, and Mr Jack for Woogaroo.

One rule provided that the ball should not be handled nor carried, and this condition gave a great advantage to the "bedlam" folks, as the active little Brisbane fellows thereby lost half the benefit of their "lissomeness", nuggets was "bound to cipher up in a muss".

The reference to a rule stating the "ball should not be handled or carried" appears to be a clear reference to the British Association Rules for soccer penned in England in 1863.

A second reference to the same match appearing in the first edition of The Footballer publication in Melbourne in 1875 goes even further; leaving no doubt the match was a game of soccer.

Under a section entitled Football in Queensland, the page lists seven matches played during the 1875 season. A specific reference is made to the Woogaroo game.

• Aug 7 - Fourth Match - Brisbane Club v. Woogaroo Asylum. Drawn - 2 goals for each.

• This match was played without handling the ball under any circumstances whatever (Association Rules). The rest of the matches all under the Rugby Union.

Dr Ian Syson, lecturer at Victoria University and writing a cultural history of Australian football, discovered the game during his research. The Melbourne academic confirmed the Goodna game is the earliest known game of soccer ever played in Australia.

"It's a pretty amazing story," Dr Syson said. "This is the earliest game where you can say for sure they are playing soccer.

"It's a massively complicated argument because when does codified football start? When people are just kicking a ball around, what are they playing when there are no rules?

"This is the earliest example that we found using codified soccer rules."

Most football fans are happy to accept the history of their code as told by the current guardians of the game. The reality of the genesis of the different codes within Australia and in Europe is far more questionable.

"It's the great myth of the evolution of football codes in this country," Dr Syson said of the accepted history of Australian football. They are put forward by contemporary organisations that have a great need to have ownership of the game's history."

The rules section of The Footballer, 1875 seems to back up the claim. Eleven years after the accepted establishment of Rugby Union and 17 years after the "first Australian Rules match", the rulebook seems to suggest football in 1875 remained a melting pot of all codes.

Considerable misunderstanding existed at this time regarding the rule about running with the ball, which was designed absolutely to mean that the ball could not be carried further than was needful for a kick, unless bounced on the ground every five or six yards, but from some ambiguity in the wording several players had adopted the Rugby practice of tucking the ball under the arm and running for goal with it, which led to innumerable scrimmages.

Even this short extract shows the game being played in Victoria at the time contained actions relevant to all three different codes we know today. Specific rule sections speak of four posts being at either end of the field, and marks being awarded to players who caught the ball on the full, a clear comparison to today's Australian Rules.

Codified rules are the key distinction between our great football codes, and with that in mind Goodna is clearly soccer central in Australia.

So if you are a devotee of the beautiful game, a history buff, or a bit of both, take a moment to think of the "eighteen braves of the Brisbane Football Club" and the "bedlam folks" of the politically incorrect Woogaroo Lunatic Asylum. These men were there, front and centre in the heart of Ipswich, on the day football began.

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