Explore the History of australian football

During the second quarter, with many of the spectators having retreated to the warmth of their cars or one of several local hostelries, the London players peppered the goals continually, albeit somewhat haphazardly at times, to set up a commanding lead.  Players like Ken Ashdown (a former Western Australian carnival player from West Perth) and 102kg South Australian ruckman Doug Giles were simply too physically powerful for their rivals.

However, with the ball now greasy and the playing surface degenerating by the minute into a slushy morass, the game as a spectacle became less and less appealing (other than to those purists who see virtue in all of football's multifarious manifestations).  Most casual observers departed, as did the "heretics" from Sydney and Brisbane.

With the Universities combination unable to make any inroads into the London lead during the 3rd term, despite having use of the stiffening breeze, the only question remaining at three quarter time was how much the Londoners would ultimately win by.  With the pressure off during the final term the players of both sides relaxed and produced the most cohesive football of the afternoon.  Sadly, any chance of making an impression among the local population had gone, as just about the only spectators remaining were friends of the players and umpires.

For the record, the scoreboard at the final siren showed London 52 points to the good, 13.13 (91) to the Universities 6.3 (39).

After the game a trio of Royal Australian Naval personnel who had travelled down from their duties at the shipyard in Barrow-in-Furness issued a challenge to the Londoners on behalf of their football-loving colleagues.  The abject failure of the afternoon's activities from a promotional point of view were swiftly forgotten as plans for an Australian Rules invasion of Cumbria were hatched.

As for the widespread induction of the natives into the splendour and fascination of "God's Own Game" that, sadly, would have to wait, as indeed it waits still.

During world war two Australian servicemen occasionally arranged scratch football matches in Hyde Park, but once the war had ended the only regular fixture in the English 'Australian Rules football calendar' was the annual 'varsity match organised by the Australian clubs at Oxford and Cambridge Universities.  This remained the situation until March 1955 when, in response to a challenge issued after the previous year's 'varsity match, a combined team from Oxford and Cambridge made the trip down to the Big Smoke for an "exhibition match'"against a team drawn from London's even then sizeable Australian colony.

Preparations for the match were exhaustive.  The avowed aim of the day was to 'sell' the game, and to this end the London contingent in particular had been very meticulous in scouring the streets for the cream of the capital's available ex-patriot talent.  The Australian High Commissioner, Sir Thomas White, known to be a staunch supporter of the game, was contacted, and enthusiastically threw his weight behind the venture.  It was not merely a case of the odd word of encouragement either as Sir Thomas placed the not insubstantial resources of Australia House at the organisers' disposal thereby eliminating much of the cost of promotion, advertising, printing and so forth.

Coaching of the London team was undertaken jointly by ex Preston player Harold McDonald (a member of staff at Australia House), and Graham Cock, formerly of Collingwood.  "Sek" Hume, captain of Oxford, coordinated the Universities' training programme.

When Australian airline Qantas learned of the venture they offered to fly any football gear required from Australia free of charge.  Unfortunately, the organisers were unable to take advantage of this offer as the Australian National Football Council flatly refused to support the venture in any way, refusing even to sanction the loan of two sets of playing jumpers.  Just on the off chance one of the organising committee then contacted English Football Association secretary Sir Stanley Rous who came to the rescue with no hesitation whatsoever, providing the committee with two complete sets of soccer jerseys in blue and white.  Had the match ended up being a success in terms of generating interest amongst the local population it is ironic in the extreme to reflect that this would have been no thanks whatsoever to the sport's controlling body, which nevertheless would no doubt have been very quick indeed to associate itself with any burgeoning football infrastructure in the "home country".

The Oxford-Cambridge full back marks on the goal line to prevent a London score.

Australian High Commissioner Sir Thomas White greets members of the London team prior to the start of play.

Another incidental contact led to a major London department store offering the use of its sports ground at Wimbledon as the venue for the match, which was scheduled for a Saturday afternoon early in March 1955.

The organising committee took their promotional responsibilities seriously, advertising the match widely, attracting interest from the media, and producing an attractive printing programme detailing the sport's rules, scoring system and field positions.

One thing the organisers had no control over, however, was the weather, and London in March is a bit like Melbourne at any time: you get what you get.  In the event, what they 'got' was a frigid, overcast afternoon, with the (soon to be realised) threat of snow in the air.

With television and newsreel crews supplementing the sparse crowd, Sir Thomas White, having earlier greeted the players on both teams, bounced the ball to start the game.  The Universities, despite being without the star of the recent 'varsity match in the shape of 1953 Rhodes scholar Duncan Anderson (pictured above, left), an All Australian Amateur full forward from University Blues in the VAFA, began brightly and, with the wind in their favour, posted two early first quarter goals.  Another Rhodes scholar, Alan Dowding, who by this time was undertaking postgraduate study at Cambridge, was the dominant player afield early on.  Blond-haired Dowding, a wingman in South Australia's successful AAFC carnival side at Perth in 1948, burrowed tenaciously into packs, tackled ferociously, and disposed of the ball with telling accuracy.  Unfortunately, few of his team mates appeared to be on the same wavelength and when, midway through the term, the threatened snow arrived the writing was on the wall as far as the Universities' prospects were concerned.

With weight and strength to the fore at the expense of pace and skill the Londoners - much bigger and brawnier than their opponents - gradually assumed control.

Footy in the Snow

Spectators at Wimbledon amusedly - or bemusedly - wonder what the heck these barmy Australians imagine they're doing.