1884: The football trailblazers in Northern NSW

 In 2021/22, the Newcastle Jets will return to the Gold in a statement that the Club is committed to reconnecting with our origins and upholding the history of football in the region.

As part of that focus, this season’s jersey will also feature the number ‘1884’ boldly on the back – the year in which the first football club in Northern NSW was founded.

In our ‘1884’ series, local award-winning football author, and University of Newcastle Emeritus Professor, John Maynard, travels through the history of football in our region, highlighting some of the heroes that put us on the world map, and ultimately, exploring the historic foundations that have allowed the Jets to flourish.

This edition highlights some of the male footballing legends that paved the way for football in Northern NSW.

More: What ‘1884’ means to football in Northern NSW

John Maynard


Born in 1902, ‘Podge’ Maunder was regarded as a genius player between the years 1921 to 1928 as a revered and feared forward in the north.

From the moment he burst into the senior ranks aged eighteen with West Wallsend he was king of the local competition bagging over 500 goals during his illustrious career. He was a great centre forward capturing all the great qualities of speed, creativity, power, courage under pressure and a stunningly powerful shot. He was also a great leader and inspiring figure for the teams he played for including West Wallsend between 1920-1925 and later a season each at New Lambton, Kurri Kurri, and Wallsend.

‘Podge’ Maunder came from footballing stock his father known as ‘Doughy’ Maunder was a prominent local player between 1896 and 1914. His brother Henry was also a good player. The brothers would enjoy a moment of history both being picked for Australia in an international match against Canada at the Newcastle Showground in 1924. ‘Podge’ Maunder was named captain of the Australian team for the Newcastle match.

‘Podge’ holds an important historical record he played in Australia’s first ever international against New Zealand in 1922 and scored Australia’s first ever international goal in a 3-1 defeat against the Kiwis in Wellington. In a return series in Australia against New Zealand in 1923 Maunder scored again in another significant match that Australia won in Brisbane 2-1 and registered their first ever international victory.

He would play nine times for his country scoring six goals. ‘Podge’ had come through the local junior ranks playing for the “Woodpeckers”. At the height of his career, he was offered a professional contract with top Scottish club St Mirren but preferred to stay at home.

He captained both NSW and Australia. Demonstrating his speed, he also won many professional foot races. He later became country manager for Tooths Brewery. He was inducted into the Australia Football Association Hall of Fame in 1999.


Alf Quill was born in Ultimo in 1910. He holds the record for the most goals scored in NSW senior soccer an incredible 868 between 1927 to 1949.

He had scored over a hundred goals in Sydney playing for Pyrmont and Annandale before he was coaxed to the north in 1931. As he said later it was ‘just to get a job in the depression years.’ Quill had a great shot in both feet, and it was not his physique that terrorised defences and goalkeepers but his speed and quickness around the box to take a chance. Over thirty metres, Quill had a tremendous burst of speed.

Under his leadership Wallsend were arguably the greatest team in Australia and premiership after premiership pennant flew over the Crystal Palace ground during his years with the club. English club Bolton Wanderers tried to sign Quill in 1931 but the offer was rejected.

His most successful season was 1937 when he scored 78 goals in the northern first division and state cup. He formed a deadly partnership with Reg Date. He was very influential in the development of young players that included Date, and ‘Pippy’ Wilkinson.

In his final season with Wallsend aged thirty-nine in 1949 he played in thirteen games and scored fourteen goals. He played seven times for Australia scoring eight goals.

He moved into coaching after he retired including as coach of his beloved Wallsend and oversaw the Australian team that played Yugoslavia’s Hadjuk Split in 1949 in five games. The Australians lost four of the five games against this crack European side. He was inducted into the Australian Football Association Hall of Fame in 1999.


I had the great pleasure of knowing Reg Date and his wife, Millsie, but sadly I was born in 1954 too late to see him play. My uncle Eric Middleton played in junior teams alongside Frank ‘Snip’ Parsons and Alan Johns (both later international players) and he said Reg was the greatest soccer player this country has ever produced.

Regarded as the soccer equivalent of Don Bradman, Reg Date was a goalscoring machine. Born in 1921 he reputedly scored an astonishing 952 goals playing for his junior club Plattsburg and school teams.

Date honed his skills by kicking and heading a small ball against the brick wall of a power substation near where he lived for three hours every day. He was encouraged by his grandmother, who told him that one day he would play for Australia.

Reggie Date made his senior debut for Wallsend in 1937 aged just sixteen. Historian Sid Grant credits Date with scoring 664 goals across his senior career. He had power, style, magic and the most powerful of shots.

Few Australian players before or since had the same scoring ability or magnetism of a following as Reg Date. He was rugged and fast for a big man and had an innate ability to know what he was going to do before he even received the ball. He could impact on to a game in a twinkling. Five times top English clubs tried to lure him to Britain but for various reasons he decided to stay at home in Australia.

Harold ‘Pippy’ Wilkinson former captain and team-mate of Date said: ‘Every moment of playing behind Reg was sheer pleasure. I was with him at Wallsend and Canterbury.’

Joe Marston a teammate of Date with the Australian team rated him ‘as the best Australian player that he had played with or against’, adding, ‘Great player. Great bloke. But boy he could drink. The selectors, they never liked Reggie. He was too much of a larrikin. They couldn’t handle him.’

Goalkeeper Ron Lord, who represented Australia 10 times, played with and against Date. “He was a truly great player,” Lord remembers. “He was so fast and had a bullet-like shot. An absolutely bullet-like shot. He became my idol, and he still is. I think he would run rings around many of the forwards of today.”

Another national team colleague, centre forward Alan Garside, has described Date as being “something else”. “You see some of the Australian strikers of today on television missing the goal by yards,” Garside says. “But he never did, he was just unbelievable. You could see him hit a ball on the volley two feet off the ground the whole way.”

Date was at the peak of his powers in 1947. Early that year the Australian Soccer Association nominated him for selection to play for a Rest of the World XI against a Great Britain representative team at Glasgow’s Hampden Park. The match was organised to mark the return of the four British Football Associations to FIFA. But sadly, a decision was made that no player outside of Europe was to be picked, with Great Britain instead facing a Rest of Europe selection, which they beat 6-1 in front of 130,00 fans.

Both Glasgow Rangers and Cardiff City tried unsuccessfully to lure him to Britain. Cardiff City reputedly even stating name your own price for a contract. Reg himself would say years later it was Newcastle that kept him here: ‘A beaut place. I’ve never wanted to live anywhere else’. Even when playing in Sydney for Canterbury he would commute down to play and train.

Date made twelve appearances for his country and scored fourteen goals. He was captain of the Australian team in three games against South Africa in Australia in 1947. One of the big controversies surrounding Date’s international career was how he was overlooked for selection with the Australian team that toured South Africa in 1950.

Reg said of the selection process ‘NSW played an important tour trial. We won 7-1 and I scored six. Bob Lawrie the Queensland and Australian captain told me after the game that I ought to be right, yet I missed out. It was politics all the way.’

Australia would go on to win the series with South Africa two games to one. On their return they were given a game against NSW at the Sydney Sports Ground and Date scored three as NSW overpowered the Australian team outlining the shocking omission of Date from the touring team.

Reg Date had a great love of the game: ‘It’s still a hundred miles ahead of any game around… I’m only sorry I can’t still go out and hit in a few.’

Reg Date was inducted into the Australian Football Association Hall of Fame in 1999 and in 2000 was selected in the Australian team of the century wearing the number ten jersey. He was a great character of the Newcastle area in his role as publican of the Albion Hotel at Wickham.

Craig Johnston

Arguably Australia’s greatest ever player certainly on honours won with the great Liverpool side of the 1980s Craig Johnston was a player of star quality.

Johnston learnt his football at Lake Macquarie and playing for Booragul High School. Craigs father Colin had played in the Newcastle first division with Cardiff and had ventured to England during the 1950s to try his luck with Preston North End and Dundee United.

He would instil in the young Craig his love of the game and memories of some of the great local players like ‘Pippy’ Wilkinson and the legendary Reg Date. Craig was even given the nickname ‘Reg’ by his father in honour of Date and the hope he would make a great player. Craig ventured to England as a fifteen-year-old to chase an apprenticeship with Middlesbrough. This was a move that took courage, dedication, and an incredible will to succeed.

He overcame many setbacks to break through with Middlesbrough making his first team debut aged seventeen against Everton. After sixty-four games for Middlesbrough and scoring sixteen goals he was transferred to Liverpool for an at the time English record transfer fee of £650,000.

During his decorated career with Liverpool, he won (5) English first division championships (now the Premier League), (1) FA Cup Final (scoring in the 3-1 final win over Everton), (2) League Cup Finals, (1) FA Charity Shield and (1) European Cup Final. He made 271 appearances for the reds and scored 40 goals.

He played with some of the greatest players in the English game during his period with Liverpool Graham Souness, Kenny Dalglish, Ian Rush and John Barnes to just name a few. During his career with both Middlesbrough and Liverpool he returned to Newcastle to make thirteen guest appearances for his hometown team of Newcastle KB United in the National Soccer League playing at the old Newcastle International Sports Centre and scored four goals.

Craig Johnston retired early after his sister became very ill on a trip to Morocco and had to be flown back home and would require fulltime medical attention. Craig put his hand up to be a part of providing that care and ended his career. He was also an accomplished photographer and was responsible for designing the Adidas Predator Football Boot.

Probably Craigs greatest regret is that he never played for the Socceroos. It was not so simple then and certainly a big club like Liverpool would have opposed such a high-profile player returning halfway round the world to represent his country. Not that there were not occasions when it looked remotely possible.

He once met with legendary Australian coach Frank Arok at the Newcastle Leagues club to disguise the get-together when he was home during the off-season. Arok wanted to sound him out about playing for the Socceroos in the World Cup Qualifiers for the 1986 World Cup. Both men left that meeting in a positive frame of mind that there might be a chance and agreed to keep it quiet until Johnson’s availability could be checked by FIFA.

The sticking point was that he had represented England at Under-23 level, and many felt that this ruled him out of playing for the Socceroos. But it would later be revealed that this was not the case.

Sadly, someone in the Australian Soccer Federation broke the news in the press and the chance was gone. I think if Craig had his time over, he would not have hesitated in taking up Arok’s approach.

More: What ‘1884’ means to football in Northern NSW

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