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With the entry of the Footscray Rangers Football Clubs into Football Victoria’s Metropolitan Leagues, the drought of Footscray football clubs association status with Victoria’s highest football governing body is over after 33 long years.
8 clubs have laid claim to being Footscray’s football club over the years since the city’s first building, the Punt Hotel was erected in 1839 after a cable river car service was established to travel along the Maribyrnong River to service Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo and Castlemaine. Football fever took a long time to take hold though, with the first football club to service the area being the Anglo-Celtic club, Footscray Thistle.
Footscray Thistle FC (1912 – 1940)
A group of football loving Scotsman had moved into the Footscray Municipality to begin working in noxious industries and quarrying (more on that later at the site of Hansen Reserve), and wanted to bring a slice of Glasgow with them. As a result, the foundation of the Footscray Thistle Football club occurred in 1914, with a subtle nod to the mid-table North-Glaswegian side Partick Thistle FC which to this day still plays in Scotland’s Premier Division.
Footscray Thistle had a long and storied existence with their team playing from 1913 to 1940 winning 5 Metropolitan League Division 1 titles, 2 conference championships and 4 Dockerty Cups. The Dockerty cup was the forerunner to the now active Australia Cup, where clubs from around Australia competed to be known as the best club in the land, and with the club achieving outstanding success in the competition over their history.
The boys in navy blue (with a large Thistle emblazoned up their left breast), achieved great success throughout their history, but found the football scene tougher going with the onset of World War 2 in 1939 following on from a low point in the team’s success on the field. The team were relegated with comprehensive results in 1937, bounced back immediately the following year and were then subsequently relegated again in 1939. The clubs final season in 1940 was a solid one winning 6 games and losing 6 games to finish mid-table in fourth, scoring 40 goals in 12 games.
The demise of the Footscray Thistle was down in no small part to the enlistment of 17 members of the clubs playing group were conscripted into the 7th Division of the 1 Army Corps, with the team in combat in places such as North Africa, New Guinea and Borneo. Sadly, as the team fought under conscription laws, vandals back home in Australia destroyed part of the clubs shed (read changing rooms), with the remaining members of the club offering to pull the shed down given the cost they had already accepted.
Footscray Thistle to this day are one of the most successful clubs in Australia’s Football History, given their success in both the Metropolitan state league and in the Dockerty Cup. They also during their time were known as Melbourne Thistle, in an attempt to disassociate themselves from our next Footscray team, and our forebearers…. Footscray United.
Footscray United FC (1912 – 1936)
Unfortunately during the research for this article, very little meaningful information about the original Footscray United. The earliest records of this club commence in 1912, when Footscray United joined the third consecutive year of the Division 1 Victorian League. Footscray United finished 8th, one place below Footscray Thistle, on 8 points (2 points per win for three games, and two draws the equalled 1 point at this time) while Thistle achieved 13 points with 5 wins and 3 draws in the 20 game season.
A glance at the Victorian Football Club Archive depicts Footscray United as the preeminent yo-yo club, bouncing between the first and second division with regularity over the course of their history. The club achieved it’s maiden Division 1 title following the re-establishment of the Victorian Football League in 1919, pipping Footscray Thistle by 1 point in a 7 game season who finished in second place. It was during this time the club had been rebranded to Northumberland and Durham United, a nod to a 45 mile stretch of English countryside, which also took in Newcastle upon Tyne which now resides as a powerhouse of modern football ostensibly to reflect the heritage of it’s playing list, from the North of England.
Footscray United/Northumberland and Durham United achieved their second champions title three years later in 1922, with 11 wins achieved in the season which was the clubs greatest ever haul. In a bizarre piece of history, United became the first club in Australian soccer history to be champions with their conference, and to be relegated the following year. The club took two years to regain their status as a top flight Victorian team, achieving promotion as champions of the Division 2 1925 season, however were unable to continue their good work and were subsequently relegated again. The club continued their yo-yoing between the leagues, having dropped as far as Division 3 but eventually dissolving the club in 1935 when they were relegated from the Division 2.
The First Dark Age (1940 – 1945)
All football competitions lost many players due to the conscription of many young Australian men into the 1 Army Corps, with Footscray baring a significant load losing both of it’s two soccer teams during this period. The Footscray municipality struggled to establish any teams during the subsequent six years while the countries migration heaved with the push and pull of the White Australia Policy and the mass migration of European refugees into outer Melbourne suburbs beginning to lay the foundations of the melting pot diverse population that now makes up Footscray.
Footscray Capri SC (1946 – 1960)
The 1940’s saw the second coming of factory Football teams in Australia, with Bradford Cotton Mills’ team entering the Metropolitan Division 2 North league. The textile factory was based in Moreland Street, a stones throw from the Maribyrnong River and the Footscray Road Bridge. The club was based out of Henry Turner Reserve (now known as the memorial park), sharing the reserve with the Footscray Cricket club. Players would make the 2.5km trek from the cotton mills to the Reserve to train and play after a shift at the textile factory.
Footscray’s newest team in the mid 1940’s was named after the picturesque isle of Capri, a small island village directly due-south of the bustling city of Naples. Capri had served as a picturesque resort town since the times of the Roman Empire, with beautiful coastlines and precipitous mountain views. Famed for their beautiful textile work, Capri immigrants travelled abroad to try their hand at making a new life in a country with a number taking up residence in Footscray with their industrial complex seeming like a great place to start.
Footscray Capri SC the perennial hangers-on, never achieved anything higher than a 7th place finish in the Division 1 of the Metropolitan League Division 1, achieving this feat on three occasions in 1949, 1950 and 1954. The team had their most successful season on the pitch in 1956 scoring 67 goals in 18 games (averaging 3.7 goals per game) in the Division 2 league, which saw them re-established in the Division 1 after their first relegation in 1956. Interestingly, the team took in two name changes, going by Bradford Cotton Mills (1946 – 1949) and Footscray City, when they supposedly ‘amalgamated’ with our next highlighted Footscray Team in 1950. The team resurfaces in the record books again as it’s own entity in 1958, winning the Victorian Division 1 North and subsequent promotion to the Victorian State League. One final relegation followed to the Victorian Division 1 North in 1960, where the club remained until they dissolved in 1961. Footscray Capri rubbed shoulders with the staggeringly successful Footscray JUST during the 1950s, with the alleged amalgamation of the two clubs not able to be identified through primary or secondary sources at the time of this writing.
Footscray JUST (1950 – 1990)
Footscray has seen some incredible teams taking the field over the years, none were quite so fantastical though as the Footscray JUST team.
Serbo-Croatian, Hotelier and Vice President of Brighton Football Club, Ivan Kuketz was taken aback by the footballing qualities of Slavic football players in Victorian and New South Wales migrant camps during the 1950’s. The Bonegilla camp served as a fertile place for finding players, with the team eventually founded as Jugoslav United Soccer Team, basing themselves out of the (now defunct) vacant Schintler Reserve on Footscray Road.
The team barnstormed their way into Division 1, scoring 77 and 73 goals in their Division 2 and Division 3 promotion campaigns, with scintillating attacking play made by former national Yugoslavian players who were playing in a league well below their level. It was during this time that many of the greatest names that Australian soccer has season over it’s journey began to naturalize and become Australian players themselves. The most famous example of this naturalization process was the rise of the great Rale Rasic, oneof Australia’s foremost pioneers for the game as the youngest coach in Australia’s history at the age 34, then ensconcing himself as Australian football royalty when he took the country to it’s first ever World Cup in 1974.
Before that though, Rale had time from 1962-1969 (the year before taking over as coach of the Socceroos) to play and coach the Footscray JUST to a Division 1 title, and again in 1969. Overall, Footscray JUST achieved 5 Division 1 titles, and 3 Dockerty cups in addition to numerous other trophy honours.
Other great football names to grace Schintler’s Reserve was Gary Van Egmond, former Newcastle Jets championship winning coach who played 60 games for the club in his two seasons, and Frank Micic, club icon who played 175 games for the club and won six country appearances for the Socceroos, scoring 1 international goal. Head coach of the Footscray Rangers Football Club Bill Theocharides had this to say about Footscray JUST.
“Oh mate, if you could have seen some of these players. Jugoslav United scored so many beautiful goals, they were a very, very good club”Bill Theocharides during his Famagusta to Footscray interview, 2022
The team’s success began to dwindle in 70’s, until the legandary coup of Dragoslav Sekularac of Red Star Belgrade fame and Serbian midfielder Vlada Stosic propelled them success in 1986. The clubs slide towards mediocrity continued until an Argentinean consortium took over the club in 1990, and adopted the name ‘Melbourne City’ (not to be confused with the A-League club of the same name (which for those who remember, resulted in a swift settlement) and are now based at Edwards Reserve in South Kingsville.
Dark Age 2 (1990 – 2016)
Very little information is documented about the history of Football in Footscray during this time, however Footscray Vardar (according to their private Facebook page) existed between 1978 and 2018) which was a Macedonian based football club who played out of Hansen Reserve in West Footscray, the resurfaced field of the old Tottenham mining quarry. Each Thursday night from around 7pm, alumni Vardar’s old teams come to play small-sided games on the Hansen Reserve pitch. The club has been amalgamated slowly into the Footscray United Rangers club which now is the predominant user of Hansen Reserve.
FC Nepal, an amateur tournament team were also based out of Hansen Reserve for a short while in 2017 and 2018 but have since discontinued playing in Footscray in favour of attending Nepali and Multicultural football tournaments around Victoria.
Footscray United Rangers Football Club (Present)
If you don’t count the clubs 6-year stint in amateur soccer league Vicsoccer, Footscray will finally be represented in Football Victoria’s metropolitan leagues in season 2023. The club has a proud history of being markedly different from other clubs that have moved into Footscray, in that it set’s itself apart by being a multicultural club based on providing an inclusive, welcoming club environment to people regardless of skill, ethnicity or preferences. In season 2022, over 36 distinct ethnicities were represented at the club, embodying the multicultural spirit that makes up Footscray.
Based at Hansen Reserve on Roberts Street in West Footscray, the club will play its senior men’s football on Sunday afternoons, while the clubs junior programs will take place on Saturday mornings. Excitingly for the club, the Hansen Reserve masterplan is nearing it’s finality and will mean a significant upgrade to the playing surface, and improving upon the North Footscray Football Clubs volunteer-built stone block clubrooms.
The Rangers have a long way to go if they are to match the feats of Footscray Thistle, and the quality and longevity of Footscray JUST, but the club has made it’s own significant impact in the community by providing many young men with the opportunity to connect and that’s something to be proud of to start with.
The current club boasts 4 senior men’s teams and provides free football training for their Junior All Abilities team which is the first of its kind in Footscray and the outer west. The club at present prides itself on connecting with the inner-west community, the club are the Victoria Unviersity club of choice for their senior men’s age players, are a current nominee for Sports Club of the year in the Maribyrnong 2023 Civic awards and raise four figure sums for charity year-upon-year.
Here’s to another 40 years of the Footscray United Rangers troubling the scorers in the Football Victoria Metropolitan Leagues!