Contributed by Barry Smith
My name is Barry Smith. In 2014 I passed through Narrandera and stopped at the park. There were at least six soccer teams training on the field. My, how mighty oak trees from little acorns grow. Well, I assumed they were soccer teams. If not, I will tell the story anyway.
It is 2018 and I am 66 now, but I cast my mind back to the first soccer ball being kicked in Narrandera. Only three people were there at the start, and one has since passed on. To the pen before the ink dries up.
The credit for starting soccer in Narrandera probably starts with Stuart Mills’ father, not Stuart himself. Stuart and 32 other boys boarded at the CWA Hostel in Twynam Street, along with sixty eight girls. The hostel was a home away from home for families too far away to catch buses to high school. Stuart Mills, John Powell (Chook) and I were boarders and good friends. We were about seventeen at the time.
Back to soccer. Stuart’s father ran a farm near Yanco. Narrandera was an AFL and Rugby league town. The High school had many of these football teams. About 1964, Stuart’s father foolishly bought him a SOCCER BALL. It was a cruel present, as Stuart had to put up with a lot of derision. We called it the “wog” ball. You can’t print that, but that’s the way it was.
Stuart was a strong character, as you will see as this story develops. After school, we were allowed to go to the park before the evening meal. Stuart brought the ball. He, Chook and I kicked it between the palm trees. Two trees (I assume they are still there) were the goal. After a while, some other hostel kids joined us, and we had half a dozen kids. You can see where this is going.
I digress, but in 1964 Stuart also formed the Narrandera High School Chess team which won the Weekes White Chess Trophy. I said he was a strong character. Chook and I played chess, but we were not in the team; I was playing rugby league; Chook was busy playing cricket.
The high school started playing soccer in as a sport about 1965. The teams Narrandera played included places like Griffith, which was populated by Italian wine growers, and they knew how to play soccer. The school Magazine for 1966-67 records that we lost to Griffith 14-0. Stuart, Chook and I played in the school team. The team didn’t win any trophies. Stuart was not to be daunted. He decided to form a NARRANDERA SOCCER TEAM! He entered a team in the 1968 intertown Competition.
This was starting to get serious. This also meant that kids from the town could be in team, not just hostel kids. We had training on Thursday nights. No-one came. Stuart imposed a fine of 5c for anyone not coming to training. (I have spoken to him, he doesn’t remember this; don’t believe him). 5c was a lot of money, especially for me. I came, so did my brother, Neville. Next, he appointed himself the striker. We couldn’t argue – he owned the ball. He soon earned the nickname “Sprayfoot”. He will probably deny that too.
The competition included Junee, Wagga Wagga, Hay, Griffith and other towns. Small problem. Some of these towns were up to 150 kilometres away, and we couldn’t drive and had no cars. Stuart to the rescue. He convinced two of the teachers to play – they had cars. One was a good goalie! We played and got thrashed every week.
In 1969 he raised the ante by moving us up to Division 2. This is not the end of the story. Having a good goalie meant that the losses got smaller. We were younger than most of the teams, and we were gaining experience. We even started winning some. By the end of the season, we got into the Grand Final. It rained. We won – pictured is the team photo and the clipping from the Wagga Wagga Daily Advertiser.
The players in the team photo above were: back row – Mark Lettie, Stuart Mills, John Powell, Warren Smith, Graeme Prior, John Gavell; front row: Diddy Kirk, Cal Makim, Tony Buckeridge, Geoffrey Driscoll, Barry Smith, Neville Smith.
And, that is how soccer started in Narrandera. My hat is off to Stuart Mills. Still a stupid present though. Stuart still plays soccer for the Pittwater RSL over 35’s Division 6.