“Jim Smith, a former captain of St. Kilda, has conceived the idea of taking two teams of footballers round the world.” He was the first VFL player to play 100 games who later umpired but then returned to the Saints to coach the side in 1909, 1915 and to the finals in 1918.
So reported the Referee Sporting Newspaper in 1914 about his proposed tour. The scheme also appeared in other national papers but on this occasion Mr Smith gave a detailed report of his plan to delegates of the Australian National Football Council at their 1914 meeting immediately prior to the Sydney national carnival.
Mr. Smith’s idea was to form a company, with a capital of £9,000, (in today’s terms $971,241.22, with inflation) to finance the project.
But this was in 1914, just before the announcement of the first world war.
His idea involved a party of 45, who would serve as two teams which would leave Australia in January, 1915, for Vancouver, Canada. It was intended they would then work their way down the west coast of the US to San Francisco in time for the World Fair which was held in conjunction with the opening of the Panama Canal. Then they would travel across America, and onto England and France.
It was estimated the £9,000 would have provided cover for all expenses, but that, by playing 25 matches, Smith estimated the tour would have realised a substantial profit.
He stated that he had about £1,000 had already been subscribed in Melbourne by mid-1914 and that the balance of the capital would be ‘readily subscribed’. It was suggested that shareholders be invited at £1 per share. Further, it was anticipated that in view of the fact that the accomplishment of the project would yield a ‘big advertisement’ of the project, ‘there would be no difficulty in obtaining the necessary money’.
The proposal allegedly had the approval of leading officials of the Australasian Football Council (then the peak body of football in Australia), who saw in the project an opportunity to advertise the Australian game throughout the world.
Smith gave the following budget:
TOTALS – £
TODAY’S MONEY $
|Fares||45 x £70||3150.00||348,391.00|
|Allowances (payment)||43 x £2 per week||1800.00||199,080.00|
|Accommodation||45 x 12 weeks @ £3 each||1620.00||179.172.00|
|Incidentals incl advertising||1530.00||169,218.00|
Smith said “it would only be necessary for teams to get a £350 ($38,710) gate at each of the 25 matches or an average attendance of 3,000 paying one shilling ($5.50) and 2,000 at two shillings ($11.00) entry” – a fairly optimistic assumption.
Apart what appeared in the subscription area as income, Smith proposed income would be derived from the 25 proposed matches with ‘the right to sell pictures’ (assumed as photographs), no other details were listed to pay for the trip. Although Smith did say the weekly payments to the players could be reduced to £2 which would save £900. Australian soldiers in WWI received just over £2 a week.
Some donations towards a fund had already been promised, and it was said, those interested would “shortly meet, to elect, officials.”
But then the First World War intervened. And Jim died in 1948, aged 71 never realising his dream although the Argus said of him “in 1917 just prior to the outbreak of the war he almost completed arrangements; in fact, the financial matter, which was the big difficulty, had been satisfactorily settled for the touring of the world with two teams of Australian footballers, but, of course, the war stopped further progress, and he had perforce to abandon the scheme.” So the idea may not have been as far fetched as we might imagine.
Strangely enough this is not the first time there was talk of a football world tour. In the 1880s it was suggested a team tour England but this, like Smith’s was nothing more than talk. And not let us forget the Galahs 1967 tour of Ireland and the USA resulting in a six-match series of course playing a hybrid game.
In 1968, a second representative team, consisting of elite players from the Victorian Football League, South Australian National Football League, West Australian Football League and the Vicgtorian Football Association, was undefeated in the series, playing against Gaelic football teams at Wembley Stadium and Croke Park in Dublin, Meath, Kerry and New York were among the opponents. The Galahs also played exhibition matches of Australian Football throughout the tour, including a game in Bucharest, Romania.