Football and War: Australia and Vietnam 1967-1972

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Roy Hay’s book delves into the soft power diplomacy role that football played during the Vietnam War and its effect within the Asian Football confederation.

‘Football and War: Australia and Vietnam 1967-1972’ is a one-off exploratory novel that was published in 2016. The author, Roy Hay, is an honorary fellow at Deakin University.

The book is well-constructed, and explores the unofficial role that football had during the five-year period of the Vietnam War between 1967 and 1972.

It exposes the early financial troubles that engulfed the game within Australia, with the ASF in a position in which international exhibition matches were the only way of recovering the outgoing costs of attempted World Cup qualification.

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Financial troubles were a predominant reason for the failure to qualify for a World Cup between 1960 and 1988.

This provided an opportunity for entry into South Vietnam in 1967, 1970 and 1972, as a form of improving international relations during the wartime period.

It resulted in the Roos winning their first ever international tournament, despite the  financial difficulties and not having the best players unavailable for the tour.

Eight teams from countries involved in the war took part, with Australia defeating South Korea 3-2 in the final.

In a mirror image to the sport’s current climate, the media narrative was largely absent aside from a few organisations.

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Other sports such as the ‘ashes’ rugby between Australia and England dominated the sports media landscape, and those that did cover the tour in South Vietnam weren’t experts in the sport.

The lack of official documents is another interesting development throughout the book. The government was careful not to leave behind a paper trail regarding the national team’s sporting-political venture into South Vietnam during a heavy-handed war.

It also effectively explores the reasoning as to why this chapter isn’t included in the national narrative. Without giving it away, other sports that fulfilled the same purpose would likely have been awarded medals and provided with some form of national recognition for their efforts.

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The mix between text and images really helps to paint a picture of the time and situation that faced players, officials and fans during the war. It transports your mind to a place in which you can visualise the struggles and benefits of this period in time, and is a unique strength to how the book has been published.

Because of the lack of open-ended documents, you are left with questions that haven’t been answered. This isn’t the author’s fault, but leaves you questioning certain aspects and follow-up research is certainly an option after reading the book.

Hay has done an excellent job in collating the available sources and facts so that it reads in a similar format to an investigative article. It leaves you wanting to keep reading and finding out more information, which isn’t always the case with dry topics such as the crossover between sports and politics.

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I would recommend any Australian football fans with an interest in the history of the game and how we ended up in the Asian Football Confederation should give this book a try.

It is a relatively light read that may leave you craving more information, which is perfect for those inclined towards investigate pieces.

This book gets a rating of 4/5 stars. It is extremely informative and an easy-read.

Feature image credit: Tourism Victoria

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Dillon Izon
Marketing graduate at Monash University. Sports addicted, fan of Manchester United and Melbourne City. My gran “knows” Gareth Bale.

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