Unlocking the Past | The golden age of soccer in Neath

JUBILATION: The Neath under-14 football team (pictured) won the competition in 1922.
Back row: J Turner, secretary and coach; T Turner, A Horne, J Roddom, Treasurer; J. Pickering.
Standing: A Bartley, J Purcell, G Hinchcliffe, J Scanlon, C Rouse, E Robinson, A Roddom.
Sitting: A Whitsun, K Russell, A Horne (capt), C Purcell, W Leighton, J Hartley.
Front row: C Burnett, G Stevens, J Roddom, J Greig, A Matchett.
Picture: Cessnock City Library Local Studies Collection
JUBILATION: The Neath under-14 football team (pictured) won the competition in 1922. Back row: J Turner, secretary and coach; T Turner, A Horne, J Roddom, Treasurer; J. Pickering. Standing: A Bartley, J Purcell, G Hinchcliffe, J Scanlon, C Rouse, E Robinson, A Roddom. Sitting: A Whitsun, K Russell, A Horne (capt), C Purcell, W Leighton, J Hartley. Front row: C Burnett, G Stevens, J Roddom, J Greig, A Matchett. Picture: Cessnock City Library Local Studies Collection

Soccer historians believe that junior soccer in Neath was first played in 1910.

The town had many outstanding teams, so much so there was always a demand for a Neath senior team, so that that these talented juniors could continue to play.

In 1913 Neath entered the second grade Newcastle soccer competition and by 1922 Neath soccer players had entered the Gardiner Cup, the Coalfields Senior Grade and other Newcastle competitions. They were on their way.

Great jubilation broke out in 1923 when Neath was admitted to the top grade of Newcastle soccer, in the competition run by the South Maitland British Football Association. Formed in 1884, the SMBFA was the governing body of soccer in NSW. It reflected the keen interest in the 'round ball game' in the Hunter Valley which was brought to our region by Welsh, English and Scottish miners.

The first local soccer games were played in Greta in 1887. Many soccer commentators see the game's golden age in the Hunter as the 1920s - it certainly was Neath's. Regular games were played on the Neath Football Ground and at the conclusion afternoon tea was served, sometimes accompanied by a musical performance. Sport, tea and a concert, what great free weekend entertainment!

In a lovely show of bipartisan support, other Hunter towns: Kurri Kurri, West, Cessnock, West Wallsend, Wallsend and Adamstown supported Neath's entry into the competitive top level of the Newcastle soccer competition.

Neath's place in the senior grade competition was short-lived though, by 1926 it was over.

Not so the junior teams, which went from strength to strength.

In 1920 the under-14 years of age Neath team won their age competition. The town was jubilant. A mid-week celebration was held in the Neath School of Arts Hall and a silver cup and gold medals were presented to the team. Mr SJ Eades, Head Master at Neath Public School, hosted the event, it seemed apt as all the boys were pupils at the local school.

It capped a winning streak for the Neath team, who had been regularly getting to the finals and semi-finals on previous occasions. As well as a sumptuous spread of food, described as a 'banquet', the evening's entertainment included music and dancing which went on until midnight.

It wasn't to be the end of their success. In 1922 they did it again, winning the under 14 years of age competition and the following year the team were semi-finalists. Go Neath!

  • Kimberly O'Sullivan is the Local Studies Librarian at Cessnock City Library. Email her on kimberly.osullivan@cessnock.nsw.gov.au.

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