Illustrated Guide to Christchurch and Neighbourhood
Football in Christchurch
Football in Christchurch.
As the historians of the cities of the ancients deemed it necessary to describe the athletic exercises and pastimes, by means of which their young men trained themselves in strength and hardihood, so we think no account of Christchurch would be complete without some notice of the sports and games which tend so greatly to fortify the bodies of our youth, aye, and their minds too, for the struggle with the world. The nature of the country surrounding Christchurch is specially adapted for cricket and football; and these games have flourished here from the earliest days, and are very popular with our citizens. Cricket, certainly, has always held first place, but great interest is now being manifested in the winter game, and the general adoption of a fast and scientific style of play, of late years, has brought it into far greater favour with spectators.
Christ's College Grammar School has, since the earliest days of Canterbury, been a nursery for footballers, and the game was played there from the foundation of the institution. The first copy of rules we have been able to find bears the date of 1862, though the game had been in full swing long before this. These rules, which consisted of an amalgamation of several styles of play, which were then in vogue at Home, were devised in the colony, and were, with some slight modifications, played at the school until as recent a date as 1880. Under them the chief feature of play was "dribbling;" and to this is due the fact that, whatever Canterbury's weakness in football in other respects may have been, our teams have always contained good fast forwards.page 120
The Christchurch Football Club was started about 1861 or 1862, and, in spite of the many rivals which the last few years have called into existence, still continues to hold a leading position amongst the clubs of the colony. As early as 1863 this Club played a match with Lyttelton, but its chief opponents for many years were the College Boys; and the games with the Club are still looked forward to with the greatest interest at the school, though the youngsters have not as good a chance under the Rugby Union Code as they had under the old rules.
In 1875 it was announced that a team from Auckland would make a tour round the colony, but would only play Rugby Union—a game, until that date, quite unknown in Christchurch, so that it was necessary for our men to learn and practise these rules; and, with this end in view, a match with South Canterbury was arranged to be played at Ashburton. The comments of the Press on the new style of. play were anything but complimentary. The Auckland team visited Christchurch in due course, but it was by no means strong, and our men, under the captainship of Mr. John Anderson (who had played for Scotland in 1871), won a fairly easy victory. As it was found that the Rugby Union rules were played in all other parts of the colony, in 1876 it was finally decided to adopt them in Christchurch, though not without considerable opposition. About this time a strong club was organised in South Canterbury, comprising in its ranks such stalwart players as the Potts Brothers, F Barker, and Hamerton; and, under the leadership of Mr. A. St. G Hammersley (erstwhile captain of the English International Team), it played several exciting matches with Christchurch.
In return for the visit of the Auckland men, a team was sent North in 1876, and although its members were wanting in combined play and knowledge of the game, they were a strong and active lot. Mr. John Anderson was the captain, and although beaten in Auckland after an exciting contest, be led his men on to easy victories in Nelson and Wellington. In the following year the residents of Merivale got together a good fifteen, and played some even matches with the Christchurch Club. This year, too, Otago followed our example, and sent a team to Auckland, which played Christchurch on its way North. The local men were decidedly worsted, the superior training of the Southerners enabling them to score two tries in the last half-hour. The latter, too, were better up in the rules, and showed our men the important part passing takes in the Rugby Union games. It was now arranged to play annual interprovincial matches with Otago, and in 1878 a drawn game was played in Dunedin. neither side scoring. This contest took place in a howling sou'-page 121wester, and consisted mainly of a succession of close-packed scrimmages. The Eastern Football Club sprang into existence about this date, but did not survive more than two seasons.
In 1879 the Canterbury Rugby Union was founded, at a meeting of representatives of the various Clubs in the Province, held at Timaru, and has ever since had the management of football affairs in Canterbury. This example has since been followed in Otago, Auckland, and Wellington.
Under the auspices of the Union, a football tournament took place in Christchurch, to which teams were sent from Otago and Wellington. Otago played a drawn match with Canterbury, but Wellington managed, after severe struggles, to inflict defeats on both.
The match in 1880, in Dunedin, was also drawn. In this year two clubs were started in Christchurch on the ruins of the Eastern Football Club, viz.—'The Ravens, who had but a brief existence, and the East Christchurch Football Club, which has gone on and prospered exceedingly, and now numbers on its member-roll considerably more players than any other club in Canterbury.
In 1881 the interprovincial match was played on the College ground, and resulted in a win for Otago by a goal and a try to nothing; and this was followed up in the next year by a still more crushing defeat. Our Southeru opponents had picked up the fast style of play, which had been recently introduced at Home, and its superiority over the old style was most conclusively proved by the score—five goals and three tries to nothing. From this time forth the fast game has been adopted through-out the colony, and the interest in football taken by the public has thereby been greatly increased. Profiting by the lesson taught them in this match, the Canterbury men set to work steadily to improve their play; and the good effect was shown, by the fine game they played against the New South Wales team, later on in the year. Though worsted, they certainly had the best of the game, especially towards the end; and it was only by the greatest good luck that their opponents were enabled to hold the advantage they had gained in the earlier part of the game.
In 1883 Canterbury's representatives were beaten in all their matches, but still showed that they were improving in their play. The game with Otago was played on Lancaster Park—which was then new and soft—in showers of rain and sleet. The ground got churned into a perfect pool of mud, and anything like good play was an impossi-page 122bility. The Canterbury team which went to Wellington this year was very weak, several of our best men being unable to go, Nevertheless, Wellington only won by a try, and had none the best of the game. The match with Auckland was an exceedingly interesting one, as the two teams were fairly even, but played different styles of game; the visitors depending entirely on their back play, while the home team placed more reliance on the dribbling of the forwards. Canterbury scored in the first spell, but the superior condition of the Auckland men told in the end, and enabled them to win by a goal and a try to a try. In all three of the matches played in 1883, the most noticeable feature on the Canterbury side was the brilliant forward play of F. Archer, whose smart dashes and good collaring have set an example which has been invaluable to his fellow-players. Canterbury supplied four players for the team which had such a victorious career in New South Wales in 1884, viz.:— G H. N. Helmore, R. J. Wilson, E. B. Millton, and W. V. Millton, the latter of whom had the honour of captaining the team.
Last season, too, Canterbury at last scored a win over Otago. The number of clubs now playing in and around Christchurch, gave the selection committee ample material to pick from, and a team was chosen, consisting of a lot of smart forwards, who could dribble and collar well, and backs whose strong points were activity and good kicking. The game was played in Dunedin, on a lovely day, and the immense crowd of spectators showed the popularity of football, and the great interest taken in this particular match. In about five minutes from the start Francis cleverly dropped a goal from the field, and Otago were never able to beat this Score, although one try was obtained on their side. Our men's superiority in the smart collaring of the forwards, and the judicious kicking of the backs was particularly noticeable. Helmore played a splendid game for the winners.
This success is certain to do a vast amount of good to football in this province, and we think we can safely prophesy that it will be some years before we shall suffer such a reverse as that of 1882.
In this account of football in Christchurch we have necessarily had to chronicle, to a certain extent, the doings of the whole province, for the greater number of the interprovincial players are chosen from the town clubs.
In addition to the Christchurch, College, and East Christchurch Clubs already mentioned, numerous strong clubs have of late sprung into existence—notably the Sydenham and Merivale. page 123To go further afield, there is the North Canterbury Club, which in the past season won pride of place in the district. This Club succeeded in beating all opponents, though it may be placed as about equal with the Christchurch, as the final match of the season between these two resulted in a drawn game, in which neither side could be said to have gained any advantage. The N.C.F.C. had beaten the C.F.C. in the first match, but the latter Club was unable to play nearly its full strength on this occasion. Next to these come the East Christchurch and the Sydenham, who are very much on a par, although the former had rather the best of it in the first trial of strength, between them, the return match being drawn.
As we said before, Christchurch is particularly well off for football grounds. The College have a fine dry and level ground, the soil of which is sandy, and never gets muddy. The C.F.C. used to play in Cranmer-square, but of late years have occupied the portion of the park on which the exhibition stood. A fine-new ground has lately been laid down for this Club in the North Park which is sure to prove dry and fast; and the Merivale have also laid out their field of play in the same locality. The East Christchurch F.C. has, we hear, rented Lancaster Park for the ensuing winter, and will have a splendid level turf to perform on; while the Sydenham Club have also a good ground of their own. With all these fine grounds, football is sure to go ahead. The equality and keen rivalry of the different leading clubs must develop plenty of good players, while the number of junior clubs springing up will keep up a continual supply of fresh, blood.
Within the last few months a gentleman, representing the football players of Victoria, has been taking a tour through. New Zealand, with a view to having established some universal code of football rules for Australasia; but though the attainment of this object is greatly to be desired, we are afraid that the differences of style between the Rugby Union and Victorian games are so radical, that it will be many years before any such code will be agreed upon. Rugby Union has taken such deep root in New Zealand, and the Victorians are so convinced of the superiority of their own rules, that it will prove extremely difficult to induce the players of either colony to sacrifice any of the cardinal points of their respectives games, and, without some such sacrifice, any amalgamation would be impossible.
The modifications which of late years have been made in the Rugby Union code, and the fast style of game now in vogue, have made the game infinitely more interesting to watch; and page 124we have more spectators for our local matches than will turn up to see the contests between our cricket clubs. As we have once more placed ourselves on a par with Otago, the interprovincial games are certain to attract more attention than of yore, and we need have no doubts as to the future success and popularity of football in our city.