Anniversary of 120 years of football
THE 120th anniversary of the first official football games to be staged in Western Australia will be reached on May 30.
The games between Crusaders and Fremantle Wanderers at Weld Square in Perth and Perth and Civil Service at Hyde Park Estate were held on May 30, 1896, and kicked off what was the first league season in WA.
And, by an extraordinary coincidence, the new headquarters of Football West in Lord Street in East Perth is on the site of the old Hyde Park Estate ground.
WA's leading football historian Richard Kreider recently uncovered the remarkable facts after much dedicated research.
"It is perhaps Western Australian football’s greatest coincidence in 120 years, yet those affected would be oblivious to the occasion.
Organised football commenced in WA on Saturday 30 May 1896 with two league fixtures; Crusaders played eventual league champions Fremantle Wanderers on Weld Square, Perth, while Perth faced Civil Service not far away at what was originally understood to be present-day Hyde Park.
However, considerable homework involving trawling copious metres of newspaper microfilm was undertaken, where it was found that the game had been played in East Perth on an expanse of land known as Hyde Park Estate.
After initially going on the market in 1885, most of the land was purchased by horse-trainer George Towton a year later.
He was said to have donated $10 to the first Perth Cup in 1887 and be the only person to own, train and ride a winner (1892). Unfortunately, ‘King George’ was forced to sell his stables and land in 1893 when a serious horse-drawn sulky accident damaged his lower spine, to put an untimely end to his hands-on capabilities.
Nonetheless, the site would be called ‘Towton’s Paddock’ or ‘Polo Ground’ for several years, since polo was played there from 1894 (and football two years later).
It is remarkable to think the British Football Association of Western Australia (BFAWA) was formed on 13 May and the first round of fixtures kicked off just 17 days further on.
The new body had even struggled to find playing grounds, especially when the Perth Municipal Council had by now allocated their sparse resources to other winter sports.
What might surprise many was the amicable relationship football enjoyed with other sports – including Australian Rules.
The media especially had initially embraced the new football code.
“It is a very fine game indeed,” wrote ‘Central’ columnist for The West Australian (16 May 1896). “I would like to see it gain a footing in the colony, provided satisfactory arrangements as to the use of grounds can be arranged.” However, it wasn’t a one-season dilemma; football would have a playing venue headache for years to come.
In fact, not even having a headquarters would haunt them well into the 21st Century.
The first meetings were held at either a hotel, especially the popular United Service Tavern Hotel, or at the home of a committee member.
One home in particular was that of Aleck Peters who was known as the father of Western Australian football (he once lived on the site of the present-day His Majesty's Theatre in Hay Street).
The inaugural secretary of England’s Northumberland Football Association (1883) lived in Melbourne from 1888 to start (along with his brother Alfred) Australia’s very first remedial massage practice - a profession they had learnt from their father in Newcastle-on-Tyne.
Peters set sail for Fremantle in 1896 and arrived just days prior to the BFAWA being formed. Sadly, after setting up what would be a successful business, and once being secretary, referee and chairman of local football, alcohol is said to be behind his eventual demise in September 1909.
With his wife and daughter having already returned to England, he scribbled a small note saying, “My brains busted, I am going down to the river to end it all,” before walking down Ellam Street, South Perth, and into the Swan River. His body was found by gardener Arthur Douglas near Coode Street Jetty, where Douglas would later have a street named after him (Douglas Avenue).
Peters’ contribution to local football was incalculable, so much so he received a life membership from the BFAWA in 1905 and induction into the WA Football Hall of Fame in 2002.
After years of roller coasters rides, ethnic division and dictating club officials, football is now part of mainstream Australia and presenting a promising future.
Football West, the current controlling body, has since moved into new headquarters at 262 Lord Street, East Perth – on the very same site that 120 years ago, was once called …. Hyde Park Estate!"
PIC ONE: Fremantle Wanderers, the first league winners. PIC TWO: The earliest image of a football pitch in Perth - the Esplanade 1910. PIC THREE: Aleck Peters