Ever wonder why the Alder Park Sports Club puts on discounted drinks whenever the Socceroos are playing a game?
The Socceroos victory over the UAE this week took them one win away from re-qualifying for the World Cup finals. The do-or-die game against Peru in Doha set for early June 14 comes almost 100 years to the day after Australia played its first full international, against New Zealand in Dunedin (which is the Scottish-Gaelic name for Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland).
It was actually a budding New Lambton football legend who scored Australia’s very first goal. William (Bill) Maunder was just 18 years of age when he etched his name in the sporting history books with a bullet-like goal in the 40th minute. (On that maiden tour, the Australian players wore a light-blue strip with maroon hoops on their socks – representing NSW and Queensland – and the badge involved an upper-case “A” with a kangaroo and twig of wattle. The nickname “Socceroos” would not emerge from a journalist’s typewriter until half a century later!)
Bill Maunder, originally part of the great West Wallsend Bluebells dynasty, was credited with popularising soccer in Northern NSW during the 1920s. “Podge”, as he was sarcastically known and loved due to his skinny frame, was a superstar of his time who scored more than 500 goals in Northern NSW competitions. Talent scouts from Scottish club St Mirren FC – och aye, yet another Scottish link – even came knocking with a contract in hand for the prolific striker but they couldn’t prise him away from the coalfields.
During a Super League-style split between the soccer states, he joined the New Lambton Chatrocks (as the Eagles were then known, a name for fine gravel derived from the suburb’s mining heritage) and led them to the “loyalist” first-division premiership in 1928. His older brother, Henry Maunder, who became a Socceroo like his brother, later coached and played for all-conquering New Lambton South teams, as did his son John and grandson Tony.
You could more than fill a squad with New Lambton players and coaches whose pedigree includes donning the gold and green of the Socceroos or the Matlidas. Podge is just the start. He’s officially Socceroo No.8.
The Maunders lead those who became entwined in New Lambton folklore.” Podge” might have fleetingly been the baron of Bridges Road but his niece, Tessa, probably trumps him for producing magical footwork over decades. Internationally renowned as a ballet teacher, she was the matriarch to generations of stellar dancers out of her backyard studio near Harker Oval, which by the way was a cherished round-ball ground before being appropriated by rugby league..
Rumour has it that Tessa – a revered taskmistress – offered secret agility lessons to New Lambton footballers, as long as they left their muddy boots outside in a perfect line and promised not to disrupt the real dancers. And they never stepped out of line. And not because dad and uncle were both Socceroo pioneers. Because no one dared mess with Miss Maunder!
If (when) the Socceroos get up against Peru, they will be heading to their fifth-straight World Cup finals. The New Lambton lineage of internationals includes two players from the Australian squad who carved the way to our Cup debut in 1974. One of them, Ray Baartz, was cruelly clobbered in a warm-up “friendly” and never played again. The other was his childhood mate Col Curran, who is still the only Novocastrian to have played at the men’s World Cup. Both of them served apprenticeships with Manchester United. Both are ranked among the country’s best ever in their positions. Both are New Lambton juniors who found their feet at Alder Park. New Lambton juniors? That sounds like another Socceroos story altogether…