There has been discussion about the legality of the tap before the overhead bicycle kick goal by Jack Higgins towards the end of the third quarter in last weekend’s game between Richmond and Collingwood. The ABC said Higgins’ ‘effort on the goal line … was as controversial as it was outrageous’. Pies coach Nathan Buckley was reported as saying ‘I don’t know the rule – is it a throw?’ and Tigers coach Damien Hardwick said ‘We were a little bit puzzled ourselves’. Hardwick declared it, however, ‘a spectacular goal’ (ABC News).
A dissection of the rules involved in the incident appeared in the media, with Higgins saying ‘I just put it up and I was hoping it wasn’t a throw but I thought it was a throw but I got onto it, so it was good’. Debate and rules aside was we thought it ‘was good’ too and that we should take a look at big kicking and goals in footy’s past.
In 1923 the Ballarat Star reported that a goal-kicking championship was to be held. The festivities planned also included a match between the Criteron ‘Clinkers’ and Camp ‘Wagons’ of players who ‘must carry the hall mark of infirmity or old age’. ‘[No] weight limit’ on players were going to be imposed. ‘It is hinted that one of the teams is aiming at gaining a victory by sheer avoirdupois [weight]’ (24 October 1923, p.6). The match was set for the 4 quarters of 15 minutes which was said ‘will tax the stamina of some of the bulky members of the teams’. The prize for the winners was a to be a dinner paid for by the losing side (Ballarat Star, 27 October 1923, p.7).
Not unsurprisingly, this was not the serious side of the planned event. There was to be a ‘contest at passing the ball’ but that was abandoned due to the large numbers entered in the goal kicking contest. Alongside this, an attempt was to be made by then St Kilda player, and later coach, ‘the champion distance kicker of Australia’ Dave McNamara to improve on his record. McNamara was due to arrive on the last train on Saturday night and was said to be ‘keen on improving his figures for the distance record’. He’d kicked 86 yards 1 foot [79.04m] ‘Under normal conditions’ (Ballarat Star, 24 October 1923, p.6). Not only could McNamara kick a football ‘phenomenal distances’, his accuracy and ‘superb high mark’ had ‘placed the big left-footer on a pedestal’ (Ballarat Star, 27 October 1923, p.7). According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, the ‘big left-footer’ was firmly for keeping footy an amateur game. McNamara believed that ‘true footballers could never be fully professional: only a player who loved the game for itself could play to his real potential’. We’re not sure if today’s players would agree about being paid and accessing their ‘real potential’.
Back to Ballarat in 1923, the promised goal-kicking championship didn’t eventuate as ‘Time did not allow’ but McNamara ‘was present, and gave a taste of his quality’. He ‘kicked late in the afternoon in a dead calm’ and established ‘phenomenal figures’. His three best kicks in each style of kick were reported:
- 60 yards 2 feet [55.47m]
- 65 yards [59.46m]
- 69 yards 1 foot 6 inches [63.55]
- Drop kick
- 62 yards [56.69m]
- 71 yards 2 foot 4 inches [65.63]
- Place kick
- 79 yards 1 ft [72.64m]
- 84 yards 2 foot 3 inches [77.50m]
- 87 yards 1 foot 9 inches [80.09m]
The article concluded with some neat product placement connected to the local town – McNamara was reported as using a football manufactured by Mr Bob Don ‘a former resident of Ballarat’ (Ballarat Star, 29 October 1923, p.6).
While last weekend Jack Higgins couldn’t have been closer to the goal line when he scored, other players of the past and present have done so from further down the field. In 1910 Mr W E Watts attempted to make a record on the recreation reserve in Hamilton Victoria – he took 25 ‘place kicks’ from 35 yards [32m] and ‘succeeded in registering 16 goals, 9 behinds’ and hit the post twice (Hamilton Spectator, 8 September 1910, p.6).
The historical use of language to talk about scoring in the game is worthy of noting. We were somewhat surprised to read in the 1930 Glenelg Guardian of a player ‘goaling after a few moments of play’ – we had thought of this as a more contemporary shift in language. (In case you were wondering, as part of this display of ‘Phenomenal Goal Kicking’ between Glenelgand Port Adelaide, one player, Owens, ended the day with 10 goals and 2 behinds in 13 attempts and another player, Daymen, also scored 10 goals but his record wasn’t as good as he ‘had many behinds coming from his foot’) (21 May 1930, p. 1). ‘Goaling’ was used to report on scoring in many sports, including basketball and hockey as well as football. The Demon’s player and later coach, Allan La Fontaine’s ‘Goaling’ at the MCG made headlines in the Sporting Globe in 1934 (28 April, p. 4) and in 1926 in Adelaide the Saturday Journal featured an article with the byline ‘Great Pace and Goaling Accuracy’ (22 May, p. 14).
While not wanting to claim high degrees of our own accuracy, we can see broad trends of the use of the word ‘goaling’ in digitised Australian newspapers, alongside the more specific, and relevant to us here ‘football goaling’ over the years.
With this historical context in mind, we hope that your team does do well on the goaling front this weekend!