Dr Henry Seamonds, president of the New South Wales Federation of Soccer Clubs first put forward the plan in 1961, but it did not proceed that year, some said because of Victorian opposition.[i] <#_edn1> Initially the competition was confined to New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and South Australian clubs and the draw included 16 teams—four each from Victoria and the Sydney competition in New South Wales, three from South Australia and Queensland, and two from Northern New South Wales.
It was not the first attempt at a national competition for football clubs as distinct from state sides for the Ampol Company had sponsored a play-off series in March 1960 for the winners of the Ampol Cups in the four eastern states. On that occasion JUST from Victoria came out on top after a round-robin involving Hellenic from Queensland, Juventus from South Australia and Wallsend from Newcastle, which had earlier knocked-out the Sydney favourites, Budapest in a pre-tournament play-off. The series, which took place in Sydney, was not well attended as a result and it showed that the focus on state activities would take some effort to overcome. There was no interstate champions team cup played in 1961.
In 1962 the dominance of the Sydney sides was re-asserted as Yugal hammered Budapest 8–1 at Wentworth Park in the final. Thereafter the victories were shared fairly evenly between New South Wales and Victoria.
Two Melbourne clubs contested the final in 1963, as Slavia beat Polonia 3–2, in a replay, after a scoreless draw. Des Palmer scored a hat-trick for the winners. Tasmania had four teams taking part that year—Olympia, Juventus, Ulverstone and Rangers. The big Sydney and Melbourne clubs came in at the second round, and Olympia from Hobart bowed out at the quarter-final stage against Adelaide Juventus. In the semi-finals Polonia beat Prague from Sydney by three-one and Slavia accounted for Juventus by two-nil.
Melbourne’s George Cross was the winner in 1964 after downing APIA from Sydney by three goals to two in front of an estimated 15,000 at Olympic Park. Archie Campbell scored the winner in extra-time. The Georgies’ line-up included Norm Hobson, John McDaid, Bobby Adams, Tom McPherson, John Brown, Archie Campbell, David Goldie, Don Hodgson, Hans Petersen, and Billy Copeland.
Hakoah from Sydney beat APIA the following year by the same score, but finally APIA claimed the title in 1966 by reversing the result against Hakoah.
The Hungarians from the Melbourne club defeated APIA by four-three in the final in 1967. Irish internationalist Bill Walsh was coach. In the cup final, Atti Abonyi, who was to play with the Socceroos for a decade including the World Cup in Germany in 1974, scored a hat-trick. The 1967 Hungaria squad in the State League included Henry Surma, Tony Gregal, Bill McGowan, Ian Shanks, Alistair Scott, Bob Connolly, Peter Kurta, Atti Abonyi, Frank Stoffels, Bill Deszofi, Tom Fowler and Col Myers.
In what proved to be the final year of Australia Cup competition in 1968 the Hakoah clubs of Melbourne and Sydney won through to the final, with the Sydneysiders triumphing by six goals to one over the two legs.
The prize money for the first competition was £5,000, claimed to be the richest football prize in the country. Fred Villiers, in the Victorian Soccer News wrote that the first competition was so successful the New South Wales rugby league administration had stolen the idea to promote their game.[ii] <#_edn2> Yet the tournament never proved to be a financial success. Supporters were much more interested in their domestic league competitions and visits by overseas touring sides, than they were in interstate club competitions.[iii] <#_edn3> If there was not a local interest in the grand final, the theatre-goers stayed away, and home crowds were seldom sufficient to generate great atmosphere or revenue. By contrast, the 1963 New South Wales first division grand final in Sydney between South Coast and APIA drew 30,158. George Cross and South Melbourne played a league game in front of an estimated 25,000 at Olympic Park on 1 July 1962. In 1966, A S Roma attracted 35,856 to Olympic Park in Melbourne for the first match against Victoria, with many more watching from vantage points outside the stadium.
Meanwhile the state Ampol cups continued drawing big crowds. The Victorian final in early 1963 had 16,437 for the match between Hellas and Polonia. Over 93,000 watched the ten games, more than double the attendance in 1962.
The Australia Cup proved that a national cup competition could be staged, but also showed up many of the problems of such a concept. If strictly knock-out from the beginning it risked losing the big draw-cards early, while a seeded draw potentially reduced the attractiveness to smaller teams who might be faced with prohibitive travel costs if they succeeded in getting through early rounds. On the other hand, it was an early indication that the focus of the game in the Australia was beginning to shift away from the states to the national and international level. In 1965 Australia set off on attempted qualification for the World Cup for the first time, and just over a decade later the first national league of any of the football codes was established.
Roy Hay, ‘Marmaras’s oyster or Seamonds’ baby? The formation of the Victorian Soccer Federation, 1956-1964’, Sporting Traditions, 10, No 2, 1994, p. 8; Lance Robinson, ‘Ambitious plan for national soccer,’ Soccer News, 16 September 1961, p. 2.
Fred Villiers, ‘Record two million to see soccer,’ Soccer News, 28 March 1963, p. 1.
The 1963 New South Wales first division grand final in Sydney between South Coast and APIA drew 30,158. Soccer World, 27 September 1963, p. 1; George Cross and South Melbourne played a league game in front of an estimated 25,000 at Olympic Park on 1 July 1962. Soccer Weekly, 5 July 1962, p. 1. In 1966, A S Roma attracted 35,856 to Olympic Park in Melbourne for the first match against Victoria, with many more watching from vantage points outside the stadium. Age, 30 May 1966, p. 18.