Blast from the past: Clubs that are no longer with us, No. 3: Hakoah

Goal Weekly, Monday 28 July 2008, p. 11.

Hakoah, one of two clubs which represented the Jewish community in Melbourne, was founded just after the First World War in 1924. It joined the Victorian Amateur British Football Association in 1926. In the following decade it became a powerhouse in the game, winning the first division of the league in 1934, 1935 and 1938. It also won its first Dockerty Cup in 1935.

1935 Dockerty Cup final

Saturday, September 14, 1935
Hakoah 4 (Forrest 2, McIver, Lewis) Caledonians 3 (Johnstone pen, P Young, Gray)
Olympic Park, Melbourne. Referee: J Parker.
HAKOAH: Aguilera, W Yaffe, A Mackey, J Bowman, A Roth, Wise, Tom McCluskey, P Lewis,

Frank McIver, Orr, Forrest. Reserves: Molinski, Shepherd.
CALEDONIANS: Bob Morgan, George Weir, H Beats, Andy Mayne, S Weir, Jim Young, Peter Young,

J Paulsen, B Gray, Johnstone, D Hughes, Sampson, Kirkwood, Lyons.

Hakoah always had a nucleus of Scottish players in its ranks and during the Second World War when the number of teams participating fell, Hakoah joined forces with Scottish backed club Moreland and won the attenuated league in 1943 and the Dockerty Cup in 1945.

After the war Hakoah became independent once again and after some early struggles it got back into the First Division in 1952 and remained there until the State League began in 1958. The team in 1955 included Doenges, Vesovic, McIntosh, Harburn, Tom Jack, Harry Sutherland, Ressler, Sid Thomas, Joe Gottesman, H Rice and Piercy. Hakoah stayed in the top division until 1983.

Hakoah Sports Club was never only a football club and it had basketball, ice hockey and table tennis teams among others. In the league Hakoah was always competitive but in the post war years its highest finish was as runner-up on goal difference to the all-conquering Juventus in 1956. But its cup form was outstanding, winning the Dockerty Cup again four times in succession from 1953 to 1956, and reaching the final from 1959 to 1962 where George Cross was its nemesis, as Hakoah lost three finals out of four to its Maltese rival. But in 1966 and 1973 Hakoah won the Dockerty Cup again. In 1968, in the last year of the Australia Cup, Hakoah Melbourne reached the final where it lost to Hakoah Sydney by 6–1 over two legs.

The Reserve team showed the strength in depth of the club taking out the Armstrong Cup six times in 1956, 1958, 1964, 1970, 1975 and 1980. John O’Neil won the Rothmans’ Medal while at Hakoah in 1969 and David Baker did so twice in 1975 and 1977.

In 1972 Hakoah amalgamated with the St Kilda Club and in 1982 it joined the other club playing on Middle Park, the Greek-backed Hellas. By then South Melbourne Hellas was playing in the National Soccer League, and the St Kilda-Hellas-Hakoah combination maintained a presence in the Victorian State League. In 1983 the club appears as South Melbourne in the fixtures with long time club stalwart Kurt Defris as Secretary.
Melbourne businessman Jack Skolnik was president of the club in the 1950s and its early driving force, but Kurt Defris was a most influential figure. Born in Vienna he played alongside Max Gold, who later coached Rapid Vienna on its tour of Australia in 1955. Defris got out of Vienna as Hitler’s Anschluss brought Austria under Nazi control. He escaped to China, organising 60 football teams and more than 200 table tennis teams in Shanghai. He survived the Japanese occupation and then came to Australia, where his parents had settled, in 1946.

He quickly became involved with Melbourne’s Hakoah and the stories about his enthusiasm and his management style would fill a book, not just a column. He was the first ‘New Australian’, as continental migrants were called in those days, to manage the Victorian and Australian teams which he did in 1955. He was a long-serving member of the Victorian Amateur Soccer Football Association and its successor the Victorian Soccer Federation.

Hakoah in the 1950s continued to have a spine of Scottish (and English) players in its ranks, notably Tom Jack who captained Australia and Victoria, winning 14 full caps for his adopted country. Others included Harry Sutherland, Pat Clarke, H Rice and Sid Thomas. Later Scots-born stars included Socceroo keeper Jack Reilly. Another Scot, Harry Mowbray, played with Hakoah in Sydney.

By the 1980s the Jewish support for football was waning and even Sydney City Hakoah, a founder member of the National Soccer League, was withdrawn by Frank Lowy in 1987, never to return. Maccabi football club in Melbourne had already gone. It played in the lower divisions from 1951 to 1963. In recent years there has been a revival with Maccabi clubs fielding teams in indoor and outdoor football in New South Wales.

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