The fields of the fallen

BEFORE World War I, soccer boomed across Victoria. 

Cut down: The Irymple team of 1913, with five World War I fallen marked by asterisks.

Cut down: The Irymple team of 1913, with five World War I fallen marked by asterisks.

More than 600 senior players in the ­metropolitan region were proportionally ­overshadowed in rural Victoria. 

More than 60 registered players took part in Mildura soccer alone just before the war; more than 40 played in Kyabram.

It’s a fact little known that ­Mildura had a developing ­competition in this period. 

Even when soccer was in decline in Melbourne in the 1890s, Mildura kept the flag flying for a few years, engaging in local scratch matches and playing irregular competition with the South Australian town Renmark.

The Mildura competition before the war involved two or three teams. While Merbein dropped in and out, the Mildura and Irymple clubs kept up a steady battle for the four years between 1911 and 1915. 

Made up of many ­British ­migrants but, perhaps unusually, also many native-born Australians, the competition was a passionate little outpost of ­Victorian soccer, cruelly ­interrupted by the war. 

Not cruel because it interrupted a sporting competition; that is merely unfortunate. But cruel because of the damage it inflicted on a ­community. 

Irymple, then a satellite ­settlement of Mildura, was ­ravaged by the war. 

During research on the subject an image of the Irymple team in 1913 emerged courtesy of the ­Mildura Rural City Council Library Service. 

In a mix of awe and horror the research team noticed that five of the players (the ones asterisked on the image at left) were killed in World War I. 

It was confusing because, in the stories of sporting sacrifice, soccer enlistments and deaths are rarely mentioned.  Other sports that make a bigger deal of Australian war dead leave soccer in the shade on Anzac Day.

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