Almost 112 years ago, a Western Australian senior State squad ventured into the unknown.
Organised football in Western Australia had entered its 14th season of operation and apart from metropolitan selects playing developing townships like Collie, Bunbury, Albany and the Goldfields; the only interaction for a bona fide (since 1896) West Australian team were three friendly matches against visiting English Test cricket sides.
Since there was no enthusiasm from the other states to venture west, it was up to the WA British Football Association (WABFA), in particular their visionary chairman William Charles Thomas, to take the bold step of sending a representative side to the eastern seaboard.
The touring squad was made up of fifteen players, consisting of English and Scottish migrants a sprinkling of Australian and New Zealand-born, together with four supporters.
Travelling Party – Team/Tour Manager: William Charles Thomas; Players: Vic Allen, Charles Frederick Bodenham, Alfred Clement ‘Clem’ Bogle, Arthur William Bonnette, John Frederick ‘Jack’ Booth, George Henry Burt, Royston Macaulay ‘Mac’ Evans, Thomas McCreery, John McLaughlin, Jack O’Neill, Evander Shand Robertson, William HS Roskams, Henry Scott, AM ‘Micky’ Taylor and James Woods.
Supporters: CH Bogle, Frank McCreery, P Refeld and S Woods.
On 27 April, they set sail on the steamship RMS Victoria for what became a remarkably successful 49-day tour that took them to the rural regions of New South Wales, the Australian Rules stronghold of Victoria and finally the developing State of South Australia.
Ten games were played, of which WA won three, five were drawn and just two losses. 23 goals were scored and 20 conceded. An astonishing accomplishment given the lack of first-class experience.
Sea legs was perhaps a contributor to WA losing their first game 4-0 to Northern Districts, but they quickly bounced back to win the second, 2-0 versus South Maitland, with ’Robbie’ Robertson and ‘Mac’ Evans the goalscorers.
Match 3 was up against the might of New South Wales on the Sydney Cricket Ground where they secured a highly creditable 2-2 draw (Burt and Robertson) against a strong eleven that had the likes of the Jones brothers (Corrimal), Will Carey (Pyrmont) and Jack Rhodes (Balgownie).
Game 4 was a 1-1 draw with Granville District at Parramatta Oval before WA faced NSW in the second Test on the SCG. (The colourised photograph above was taken just prior to the second Test).
This time however, the home side proved too strong and won 3-1 with Robertson again on the scoresheet. WA won the next match against a Metropolitan XI 4-0 before finishing their NSW leg with a 2-2 draw in Wollongong against a South Coast XI. Burt and Evans were the scorers with Robertson given a rest.
Next, the bags were packed and off on a 600-mile train ride to face Victoria on a rain sodden East Melbourne Cricket Ground, with the pitch described as ‘thick black soup,’ by Thomas. WA easily accounted for the Victorians 3-0 with Robertson, Evans and Burt finding the net for the ‘Swans’.
Next, came another train ride to Adelaide to meet South Australia in two extraordinary games that finished 4-4. The SA goalkeeper was ‘Ted’ Rowley who had earlier played in WA, as well as assisting in the formation of the Kalgoorlie Football Club. Rowley became heavily involved in SA, was made a life member of the Port Adelaide club and became an International selector on the Australian Soccer Council. SA’s Rowley Park is named after him. The WA scorers in the first encounter were Robertson (2), Burt and Evans, while in the tenth and final game of what must have been an exhausting experience, goals came from the boots of Clem Bogle, Burt, Evans and Henry Scott.
“If ever the history of “soccer” football is written up in Australia, the name of the Western Australian Association will figure largely,” said Thomas. “New South Wales, with its greater population, will, no doubt, remain the strongest centre numerically and on the basis of population, perhaps naturally so.
But, as pioneers of Interstate contest, which of all else has given the game added interest, pride of place most certainly be granted to WA. Their tour of New South Wales, Victoria and (South Australia) has shown the possibilities that lay before the game in Australia.”
Royston ‘Mac’ Evans was inducted into the Football Hall of Fame ‘Hall of Champions’ category in 2002, while WC Thomas became a life member of the WABFA in 1910.
Interestingly, Thomas had a brother, David ‘Ticer’ Thomas who featured with amateur club West Auckland (England) that won an international tournament in Italy in 1909. It was made into a mini-series titled ‘The World Cup: A Captains Tale’ that starred Denis Waterman. It was one solitary paragraph in a 1909 newspaper that made me become aware of the link between the Thomas’.
I in fact spoke to former QPR player Dave Thomas in England when writing my second book about the 1909 tour, as he is a grandson of ‘Ticer’ Thomas. He didn’t know much about Ticer’s brother, so I gladly mailed him a copy of ‘The Soccerites’, a name given to fans of the code during that era.
Sadly, however, Dave is now blind due to glaucoma.