The Moot Point: honouring Charles Perkins is overdue

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Football can sit back at the bus stop, as it has done for years, and let every bus pass by. Begrudgingly at times it can also look to the other codes of football, such as Rugby League and Australian Rules, with a tinge of envy of how they honour their history.

Well it is time now to right a wrong and go straight to the top of the class. There is one person that no other sport can claim and that’s the late Charles Perkins. Football can and should posthumously honour Dr Perkins in 2022. It is time and it is decades overdue.

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This is not some ‘trendy thought of the day’ type thing. Over five years ago I first raised the idea on SBS’s now defunct The World Game website. Then a few months later in a very similar type article the Sydney Morning Herald took up the baton. Both articles are still available through a simple Google search of Charles Perkins TWG or Charles Perkins soccer SMH.

Football Australia too has a lovely piece on their website about how he was inducted in the Football Hall of Fame in 2000, the year that he died. That’s over two decades ago but unless you dig up the article, that’s it from our code’s governing body.

Dr Charles Nelson Perrule Perkins need no introduction. An Australian icon, activist and campaigner for human rights and justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, he played our code of football – soccer in his day.

And he just didn’t play soccer for Adelaide Croatia and Pan Hellenic (now Sydney Olympic) to make up the numbers. He was invited to trial with Manchester United none the less while he was in England but, in the end, he decided to return to Australia to continue his work for Indigenous peoples.

One cannot do justice to Dr Perkins’ life in any article – a university thesis wouldn’t be enough. However, a brief summary would include: The Freedom Rides, Sydney University, Dr Charles Perkins Centre, Indigenous Affairs, Order of Australia and countless campaigns for equality and justice.

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So where does that leave soccer – our code of football in honouring the late Charlie Perkins? Surely had he played the other codes, dare I say, the NRL or AFL would have acted by now.

We have some bits and pieces which is a start: the Football Hall of Fame induction and Macarthur FC’s has the Charles Perkins Soccer Academy named after him. But there is nothing much else. There is no trophy, no player medal and no annual match in his honour.

The A-League is played for a trophy that is affectionately called the ‘toilet seat’. Is that what we really want? The grand final victors putting this thing around their necks and social media having a field day every year. And what is it even officially called?

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Trophies can be changed. The World Cup trophy was changed after Brazil won it for a third time in 1970 and the current solid gold version designed by Italian sculptor Sivio Gazzaniga was introduced at the 1974 World Cup – Australia’s first, but that’s a story for another day.

The A-League trophy should be changed, remodelled and named in honour of Charles Perkins. The NRL has the Provan-Summons Trophy as the main prize and it is revered. The current A-League trophy is ridiculed.

It’s time to move from class dunce to class dux – the name of Charles Perkins should be on the trophy and it should be designed, I would imagine, in consultation with his family. The trophy should then be presented by his family on grand final day to the victors.

It would appropriately honour a great Australian who played our code of football with pride. It would cut ties with a trophy that is, at best, farcical. It would demonstrate that soccer has grown up into football, real football, reflecting an inclusive, vibrant and modern game which is proud to honour its past.

The Greek and Croatian clubs in Adelaide, and later the Pan Hellenic club in Sydney, were the first Australians to recognise him as a person to be treated equally. He did so much for so many people and that he was such a big part of football makes me very proud.” The late Johnny Warren in his biography discussing his great friend’s legacy.

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It says a lot really about Australia of that particular era and the role that soccer played in some many lives. History is forever looking down on us in football and with a bit of initiative we should warmly embrace it. These things matter. Dr Charles Perkins matters to football. Let 2022 be the year that we finally recognise a true icon of our game.

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Joe Russo
Joe is a football supporter who accidentally fell into covering the great game. When he grew up it was called soccer but accepts the modern reality of football. After annoying editors, he was finally given the opportunity of contributing to the famous old paper Australian & British Soccer Weekly where he remained for 12 years. The rest as they say is history; Joe has featured on radio programs, websites, match day programs and Italian language publications covering the sport he loves. And, a quarter of a century later, he continues to chase the dream.

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