The Aboriginal Soccer Tribe: The Untold Story of Aboriginal Involvement with the World Game

By Bamblett, Lawrence | Australian Aboriginal Studies, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

The Aboriginal Soccer Tribe: The Untold Story of Aboriginal Involvement with the World Game


Bamblett, Lawrence, Australian Aboriginal Studies


The Aboriginal Soccer Tribe: The untold story of Aboriginal involvement wit h the world game

John Maynard 2011

Magabala Books, Broome, 192pp, ill., facsims., ports.; 23cm, ISBN 9781921248399 (pbk)

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Reviewed by Lawrence Bamblett, AIATSIS

Indigenous Australian communities are blessed to have storytelling historians who share their humour, knowledge and insight about our people's involvement with mainstream sports. In contrast, there are few established Indigenous historians writing in the small academic field of sports history. One of the few, Worimi historian John Maynard, has turned his attention to the subject of Indigenous participation in soccer. In The Aboriginal Soccer Tribe: A history of Aboriginal involvement with the world game, he shares stories about the contribution prominent Indigenous soccer players make to the game. By blurring the line between Indigenous storytelling and academic history, Maynard tells the reader more than the standard story about Aborigines in sport.

Maynard writes that the book documents an Indigenous presence in soccer that 'has been largely missed' in comparison to the well documented 'Aboriginal achievement' in other football codes (p.14). He adds that while the book 'is ultimately about Aboriginal involvement in the world game, it also presents a snapshot of the social and historical experience of Aboriginal people in this country' (p.21). The book clearly delivers on its promise to document Indigenous participation in soccer and bring into focus some experiences of Indigenous people. It is not clear whether Maynard also set out to give the reader an insight into the style of storytelling familiar to Indigenous communities. Deliberate or not, this is what he does in the early chapters.

The first four chapters of the book set out the historical and cultural context of Indigenous participation in soccer. It begins with a brief history of soccer in Australia. Next, Maynard outlines his personal connection to the game and his interest in it as a research topic. The bulk of the book is made up of brief biographies of generations of elite Indigenous soccer players. The overall chronological structure of the book is repeated in Chapter Seven, where Indigenous women's participation in soccer is outlined through brief biographies. The eighth and final chapter considers possible roles soccer might play in developing Indigenous communities. Here, Maynard explores the possibilities of untapped talent within Indigenous Australia. Photographs are included throughout. There are team portraits, action shots and a couple of family snapshots. Most of the photographs have been previously published in Tatz (1995) and Tatz and Tatz (1996). The reproduction of a letter sent by a Manchester United official to Charles Perkins (p.50) is used to support Maynard's assessment of Perkins' ability.

The heart of the book is in Chapter Four, where the legacies of achievement of pioneering players Charles Perkins, John Moriarty and Gordon Briscoe preface the brief biographies of players who followed them. This chapter demonstrates Maynard's skill as an academic historian. He adds context to the three men's achievements with an authoritative summary of the social and political climate they played through.

Historians manipulate data. They make choices about the stories they tell and retell. Part of Wiradjuri tennis great Evonne Goolagong's legend is that she first learned tennis by hitting a tennis ball against a chimney using a broomstick (Goolagong Cawley and Jarrett 1993). Colin Tatz described Goolagong's story as 'literally the rags to riches one' (Tatz 1995:276). Goolagong, herself, tells one story--where her father 'fashioned a racquet from the side of a fruit crate' for his children--as one of joy and fatherly love (Goolagong Cawley and Jarrett 1993:71). Maynard quotes John Moriarty's recollection of building up his soccer skill by playing barefoot soccer as being 'good fun, learning to control the ball and so on' (p. …

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