Local Sports History: the scramble to salvage the past

For the past few months I have been working with local football (soccer) club Hurlstone Park Wanderers. We have been trying to recover records of a metropolitan-wide football tournament that ran through the 1950s called the Canterbury Cup. Hurlstone Park won the tournament numerous times and calls this period its ‘golden era’.
An issue that I have come across in my research is access to archival material. Local sporting organizations are invariably run by a handful of dedicated individuals who have precious little time for preserving and maintaining archives. There is also a high turnover in these administrative roles, making it very easy for records to go missing. A more general problem is that these materials are almost always held in private collections (i.e. in a box in someone’s garage). A huge chunk of my work has been making phone calls to many very willing but mostly bewildered former players and administrators.
This week I met with the President of the Canterbury Football Association, Ian Holmes. Ian is typical of many people working in local sport. He spends countless unpaid hours dealing with complaints, negotiating with uncooperative councils and, interestingly for me, tracking down lost archives. Ian explained that although the association is nearly 100 years old, it has very little record of that history. Most of the archives were destroyed in a fire many years ago. Recovering records from personal collections has become a matter of great urgency as many older players pass away. Ian’s work is as much genealogical as it is historical. It is quite literally a race against the clock to recover these records.
The history of local sporting organizations should not be forgotten (or lost). The place of sports in local communities can reflect wider cultural phenomena (e.g. race, class, gender). Often, sport can be a vehicle for social change, as was the case with the influx of non-British migrants into the Canterbury area in the 1950s. It is to history’s great benefit that in sporting organizations around the country there are likely to be hundreds of people like Ian, doggedly salvaging what remains of the past.

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