Although soccer has had a long history in Gunnedah, the round-ball game has basically played second fiddle to rugby league.

Now known as ‘football’, soccer was being played locally in the 1920s, with numbers receiving a boost from the migration of “soccer mad” miners to Gunnedah and Curlewis in a boom period for the coal industry. The principal figures in the game at that time were Archie McLeish, Tom Eyeington and the Gunnedah representative captain Scotty Don, a first former division player in Scotland.

Gunnedah soccer team, holder of the Westerweller Cup 1924. Back row, left, WR Treloar (treasurer), Ernie Eyeington, D. Maddock, C. O’Neill, A. McLeish, Tom Eyeington, G. Hicks (vice-president), J. O’Neill (referee). Middle, from left, G. Dalgleish, EW Westerweller (patron), J. Don (captain), CG Cawood (secretary), F. Paget, P. Phillips (vice-president). Front, left, T. Davis, J. O’Neill, E. Baker.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the game lapsed, however, and it wasn’t until the 1950s that it was rejuvenated. The architect of the revival was Geoff Morgan, who was not only a long-serving president of the soccer association but was instrumental in forming the Northern Soccer Federation.

First moves to re-establish soccer were made in 1955 when local enthusiasts, coached by a former Scottish junior international in Tom McKnight, played social matches against Singleton, Muswellbrook, Scone and Tamworth, three Sydney sides and Newcastle Union teams, Cessnock and Weston.

The following year, with the formation of the New England Soccer Federation, an inter-town competition was launched with two teams from Gunnedah, two from Keepit Dam, when the dam was then under construction, three from Tamworth and three from Armidale, playing on a home-and-away basis. Play in this format ceased in 1960, due to the distance factor and the completion of Keepit, but by then, soccer had grown to such a degree that the local centres had enough players to run their own competitions.

The local competition began in 1959 and among the teams were Ajax, Hassans, Servicemen’s Club, Abattoirs, Narrabri, Mornington, Concordia, Shire Council, Breeza, Police Boys and Wolseley Independents.

Promotional work by the local association gave junior soccer a sound foundation. A leading figure in the game was Bruce Jaeger, who became a NSW selector in the late 1960s.

In 1968 the Gunnedah under 16 side won the inter-town competition and, as a result, six Gunnedah players – Darryl Griffen, Paul Whitton, Gary Cockburn, Greg Turner, Wayne Speering and Graham Sutcliffe – were selected for trials to pick the NSW under 16 team to tour New Zealand. None, however, were selected.

In 1969 Paul Whitton was selected in the NSW junior team to play Queensland in Sydney and the following year the Gunnedah under 18 side played Manly at Tamworth in the NSW finals, going down 9-2.

In 1961 a team from Fiji, on a tour of NSW played a combined North West team (Tamworth, Armidale and Gunnedah) at Tamworth. The Fijians were back in 1968, playing at Wolseley Park. Gunnedah’s Trevor Hart scored the only goal for North West in both matches.

This was the Gunnedah under 16 team which won its age division in the six-a-side carnival in 1963. Back row, left, Len Downes, Bill Hyland, Arc Bergkotte. Front, left, Chris Faulkner, Phillip Morgan and John Davidson.

Although local associations were running their own competition, the New England competition continued in a different format with the donation of the Acropolis Cup by Gunnedah’s Peter Venardos and Theo Souris as the regional championship trophy. The Gunnedah town team won this trophy seven times in the first 20 years.

Geoff Morgan became known as Mr Soccer in the North West and New England, remaining president of Gunnedah Soccer Association until 1975, as well as holding down the positions of president of the New England Soccer Federation and the Northern NSW Soccer Federation.

In the late 1950s he initiated the annual six-a-side carnival, still being played almost 50 years later. With the growth of soccer in this period, it became clear that Wolseley Park was too small. Significantly, Geoff Morgan was the one who secured the sport’s future by spearheading efforts by the local association to obtain its own grounds.

Old minutes record that in June 1964, the Gunnedah District Soccer Football Club and Association passed a resolution authorising the president, secretary and treasurer to arrange for the purchase of six acres of land (Talibah Flat) for 550 pounds.

The minutes of that meeting were signed by President Geoff Morgan and secretary Trevor Hart. The meeting also appointed Geoffrey Morgan, Percy Stenholm and Sidney Hoad as trustees and authorised an overdraft of 550 pounds with the National Australia Bank.

Establishment of the fields was another example of Gunnedah’s community spirit with supporters laying kikuyu grass on five fields and raising funds to build the canteen and amenities, including toilets and dressing sheds.

The Morgan family left Gunnedah in 1980 to live in the Coffs Harbour area. Geoff Morgan died in 1997, a day before his 82nd birthday, but his name lives on in the naming of the Geoff Morgan Soccer Fields.

Soccer became a major sport in Gunnedah with as many as 500 youngsters playing every Saturday. The town also supported two teams in the Northern Inland competition and one team (Imperial) in the Namoi League.

Soccer also had the benefit of a new generation of ‘Geoff Morgans’, who kept the game strong, none more so than president Terry Swain and his wife Christine, whose organisational efforts went far beyond any expected bounds.

As soccer rode a surge in popularity, following Australia’s entry into the last 16 of the 2006 World Cup, the game in Gunnedah looked well-placed for the future. Today the Gunnedah and
District Soccer Association Inc. targets junior players turning five up to the age of 16.

This year a senior team from Gunnedah is playing in a Tamworth-based, third grade competition.

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