Sydney ‘Syd’ Hinton is very much an Australian football pioneer. The left-sided defender gained the unique honour of being part of Australia’s first ever foray into Asia when selected for the national teams’ ground-breaking visit to the Dutch East Indies and Singapore in mid-1928.
Across eight weeks in July and August of that year Australia played 23 matches against local club and representative sides, winning 17 and drawing four games while tasting defeat only twice. Syd, who played much of his 18-season career with West Australian club Thistle, gained 14 appearances on the tour, featuring more often than not at left-half.
The seeds for the tour were sewn in early 1928 when the Australian Soccer Football Association accepted a long-standing invitation to send a team to play 10 games in the Dutch East Indies plus three in Singapore. Football in the Dutch East Indies was at the time under the control of officials from the Netherlands, who were able to attract high calibre players from their homeland – including several Dutch internationals – to the archipelago.
All Australian states were invited to nominate players for the tour. Syd Hinton and Harold Boys, from the Thistle and Claremont-Cottesloe clubs respectively, had their names put forward by the West Australian Soccer Council along with Jock Meikle and Peter Reid from the Wheatbelt town of Ballidu, winners of the previous year’s Country Week tournament.
When the final selection was revealed, Syd was the wests’ sole representative. “A full-back of the bustling type of more than average ability. He is a great tackler, and possessed of a powerful kick with either foot,” is how the ‘the West Australian’ newspaper described Syd. Eight players from New South Wales, three each from Victoria and Queensland plus one from South Australia completed the squad.
On the evening of Saturday June 9th that Syd settled into his seat on the Great Western express bound for the eastern states, where he’d meet his national teammates for the first time. His departure came only a few hours after playing his part in Thistle gaining a scoreless draw from a pulsating Charity Cup encounter at Claremont-Cottesloe.
Australia’s pre-tour preparation included a friendly against New South Wales on a heavy pitch at Hobart Park, Newcastle. Syd shone on his international debut alongside Australia captain Tom Traynor, the half-back partnership receiving praise for their “wonderful defence” from the ‘the Daily Telegraph’ newspaper in a 2-1 loss to the host state.
Four days later the traveling party of 16 players and two officials boarded the SS Houtman ahead of a two-week trip to Makassar, Celebes (Sulawesi), where they arrived on the morning of Monday July 2nd. There would be little time for the Australian’s to re-discover their land legs as at 4:00pm they took on Makassar Voetbal Bond XI. Australia claimed victory by 2-1 in front of 12,00 spectators.
By that evening the tourists were travelling across the Java Sea headed for Soerabaja (Surabaya). The highlight of Australia’s seven-day stopover was a 3-1 defeat of Soerabaja Voetbal Bond XI, a game book-ended by outings with club sides Houdt Braef Standt (3-3 draw) and Excelsior (4-1 win). The itinerary also included visits to local markets and the zoological gardens.
Semerang club side Go Ahead proved tricky before being overcome 5-3. On Sunday July 15th, Syd scored his first international goal – “a daisy-cutter from 40 yards range” according to sport-focused newspaper ‘the Referee’ – in Australia’s 3-0 success over Voetbalbond Semarang en Omstreken XI. The Semerang visit concluded with a 6-1 thumping of Hwa Nan Voetbal Bond XI
A two-day journey by bus and trip took Australia to Bandoeng (Bandung), where they were made to dig deep before seeing off Bandoengsche Voetbal Bond XI 4-3. The following afternoon Syd was a standout at left half in Australia’s 2-0 defeat of club side Uitspanning na Inspanning. From their first eight games Australia had seven wins and a draw, scoring 26 goals while conceding 10.
The tourists then hopped across to Singapore for four matches in six days. The first of these was against a Singapore XI, a side drawn from local Chinese and Malay players and unofficially viewed as the first Singaporean representative team. Syd was part of Australia’s starting line-up which went down 2-4 to the hosts in front of a crowd of 7,000 on Saturday July 28th.
Twenty-four hours later Australia defeated a Malay XI 1-0. A Singapore European XI provided little resistance as Australia ran out victors by 6-0. The final game of a whirlwind stopover was aagainst Singapore’s top club, the British Army side of the Duke Of Wellington Regiment, who had not lost a game in two seasons. The tough-tackling encounter ended in a 2-2 draw.
Australia had intended to then head to the Dutch East Indies capital of Batavia. However, three planned games were cancelled when promoters failed to agree terms with the local association. As team manager Ern Lukeman made clear his thoughts of Batavias’ officials, several additional fixtures in Soerabaja were hastily added to the schedule.
Back in East Java, Australia would play nine games in 18 days. Bandoeng Voetbal Bond XI (3-1) and Cheribonsche Voetbal Bond (4-0) were dispatched comfortably on successive days. A similar schedule greeted the team in Semarang, where club side Moed Overwint Tegenspoed gained a 2-2 draw before the Semarang Bondselftal regional selection were defeated 4-1.
Meetings with club sides Houdt Braef Standt (0-0) and Excelsior (3-1) marked the teams’ return to Soerabaja. Syd started at left-back when Australia went down 1-2 to Nederlandsch Indische Voetbal Bond on Sunday 19 August in one of the first representative matches of the Dutch East Indies national team against another official national team.
The remaining three games were comfortable victories for the tourists. No mercy was shown to club teams Soerabajasche Voetbal Bond and Tot Heil Onzer Ribbenkast, who were humbled 5-1 and 3-0 respectively. It was a similar story on the afternoon of Friday August 25th when Australia rounded out the tour with a 4-0 thrashing of Makassar Voetbal Bond XI.
Australia’s squad and officials departed Makassar that evening. Soon after disembarking in Darling Harbour, Sydney, Syd boarded the Great Western express bound for Perth. Syd “was officially welcomed back at the last association meeting. He presented a framed photograph of the team to the association” reported ‘the Daily News’ newspaper of Thursday September 20th.
“The tour must be regarded as a success,” asserted author Trevor Thompson in ‘Playing For Australia’. “It was Australia’s first trip to Asia. It contributed to the development of national teams in Singapore and Malaya as well as the Dutch East Indies. It also exposed Australia’s players to the demands of overseas touring (and) provided different kinds of football to play against.”
“Australia’s first statement of intent in Asia was not in World Cup qualifiers on Cambodia in 1965, nor in joining the Asian Football Confederation in 2005. Australia’s real Asia pioneers were the men who toured Singapore and what we now know as Indonesia a full 37 years before Les Scheinflug led his team on to the pitch in Phnom Penh in South Korea.”
Australia’s 1928 history-makers were Alec Cameron, Harry Coates, Les Cook, Frank Coolahan, Arch Harris, Harry Robertson, Frank Smith, Tom ‘Titch’ Thompson (New South Wales), Harold Johnson, Angus Marshall, Tom Traynor (Queensland), Charlie Deacon (South Australia), Joe Greaves, Johnny Johnstone, Charlie O’Connor (Victoria) and Syd Hinton (West Australia). The team was co-managed by Ern Lukeman and Bill Belliss.
Playing for Australia – The First Socceroos, Asia & World Football by Trevor Thompson chronicles the key role Asia played in the development of Australia’s national team in its first two decades. It is available in paperback ($24.99) or E-Book ($9.99) from Fair Play Publishing, a publishing house that specialises in books about Australian football history and culture.