As a result of years of meticulous research and diligent data-keeping, Andrew Howe has established himself as the go-to figure for statistical recordkeeping in Australian football.
Having displayed a natural inclination towards numbers from a young age, Howe was able to seamlessly merge his work as a demographer for the Australian Bureau of Statistics with his newfound love of Australian football once the game had endeared itself to him in the late 1980s National Soccer League era.
With the Socceroos celebrating the 100-year anniversary of their first-ever international against New Zealand in 1922, Howe has released an updated version of his book ‘Encyclopedia of Socceroos’ to lineup with the Socceroos’ historic fifth consecutive World Cup qualification.
This ‘Centenary Edition’ of the Encyclopedia documents just over 950 players, including an additional 325 ’non-A’ international players who represented the green and gold in games against international clubs and World XIs.
Sitting down with Soccerscene, Howe discusses his excitement for the release of the Centenary Edition, the links between eras of migration and the impact on the Socceroos, his natural fascination and love for football, and why Australia must embrace both the Indigenous population and newer generations of migrants arriving in the country.
You’ve obviously been privy to the changing landscape of Australia in your role as a demographer for the ABS and have subsequently seen how that has shaped the Socceroos. Where does your fascination for the link between multiculturalism and football stem from?
Andrew Howe: When I grew up in Sydney, in the Shire (good old Shire), I grew up on rugby league as the area is very much an Anglo-Saxon, monocultural area. At twenty-years-old I went to my first NSL game – this was 1988 – which was an Italian derby between APIA and Marconi at Lambert Park in inner Sydney. I went there with a group of mates for something to do on a Sunday and had no idea what I was in for at this packed little venue. There were about 5,000 people there.
APIA had a guest player Francesco Graziani who played for Italy at the 1982 World Cup, and there was just this atmosphere that I’d never experienced at any sporting event or event in general. I was infected by the atmosphere but also, I just wanted to know more about the teams; about these fans. I was used to being in a more monocultural environment and suddenly I’m around people of Italian origins supporting these sides that aren’t necessarily representing Leichardt or Fairfield, they’re more representing these Italian communities.
I just became obsessed with the game but the information was so hard to find, so in a sense, I just started a quest of collecting my own information about football in Australia. Originally the NSL but that verged onto the national teams; the clubs; the players; the stats.
Without a doubt much of your work has been self-motivated, what is the driving force behind you as a statistician?
Andrew Howe: On top of my interest on that multicultural side, is that I’ve always been a stats-y person. As long as I can remember I’ve been into numbers, as a kid (from the sporting side of things) at the end of each round of rugby league games I’d compile a little table on an exercise book as an updated premiership ladder. I don’t really know how to answer that apart from saying it’s an obsession that some people have with numbers, but basically what I did is blend in my data obsession with my sudden and sound love of the round ball code just over 30 years ago.
A statistician and numbers person like to quantify things. People explore their passions for things like football history in different ways by reading, collating, collecting photographs, and talking with historical figures – my bent is the numbers side so I’m really focused on quantifying that history. And we all like to think that football is multicultural, the Australian national team has a history of players coming from different countries and regions within Australia. My bend is to quantify that: how multicultural? How many different countries have Socceroos been born in? How many regional towns and capital cities have had players represent the Socceroos?
2022 obviously marks the Socceroos’ Centenary, hence the book. The Encyclopedia’s release marks this moment, but can you put into words just how important of a companion piece this book is for fans looking for this quantified version of the Socceroos’ history?
Andrew Howe: I guess I’m known as a statistician and a numbers person, and 90% of this book is words. So, it’s basically all 954 players who have played for the men’s team since the first game in 1922 that I have written a short biography for. Within the biography there’s still a handful of stats and then in the back part of the encyclopedia there’s dozens of pages of those stats that a lot of us like to look through in terms of the basic numbers for each player. But there are also tables which track where players have come from in terms of birthplaces. And also mapping out the players’ careers in terms of the clubs they were at in the period that they played for Australia, plus an analysis of how those clubs have changed over time.
It wasn’t until 1987 that an overseas-based player was selected to play for Australia. Historically, Sydney, Brisbane, and the coal mining areas based around those two cities – the Hunter, Illawarra, Ipswich – was where the bulk of player selections came from. Obviously, as more Australian players have moved overseas the balance has tipped to more overseas-based players being selected.
As someone who has been privy to many significant Socceroos moments in your life, which have been some of your favourites?
Andrew Howe: When you’re falling in love you remember those moments from the first few years. For me it’s getting over 30 years, so you’ve seen all of this before in a way, but I mean the penalty shootout victory over Peru – I never thought we’d see something like that again so that was just a magic moment. Obviously, the John Aloisi goal in 2005 is a magic moment as well, I was standing behind that goal amongst the green and gold fans going crazy that night.
1993 when Australia played Argentina in the final playoff game, we got really close. Obviously, Argentina is a massive name and made the final of the 1990 World Cup, and we were playing them for that final spot for USA ‘94. That was a great night, 1-1 draw at Sydney Football Stadium first leg.
My first game was Australia vs Hadjuk Split and that was an eye-opener not just because of the colour of the Croatian fans (there was a clear minority of supporters going for Australia). What was really interesting about that Hadjuk Split tour is that it took place as things were heating up in former Yugoslavia as it led up to Croatia declaring their independence. I remember the Hadjuk players lining up before the game with the Yugoslav red star symbol on their jerseys, turning to face the crowd and symbolically ripped their emblems off. It was such a fascinating moment and I really felt the passion. I knew those Croatians weren’t not going for Australia, they were going for Hadjuk, but I also know the Croatians have been the biggest supplier of Australian national team talent per ‘head’.
Having closely observed Australian football for substantial period of your life, what do you believe is essential for Australian football to get right over the next few years?
Andrew Howe: Just the old thing of taking advantage of that high participation and inclusive participation. We have a lot of people playing the game, a lot of kids playing the game, and it’s a lot more of a unisex game than the other football codes. Obviously the overseas born multicultural aspect of it, those recent migrant communities in particular that can be connected by football. And just building on that wholesomeness about our game and taking advantage of that more financially.
We are the most unisex of all the football codes but we still fall behind particularly in Indigenous participation and – thinking about those overseas migrant groups – for the past 20-30 years our major source countries have been China and India and we haven’t got much of an input into those communities. And also, in regional Australia, there are great growth areas here that the game can take advantage of.
How are you feeling about the release of this Centenary Edition of the Encyclopedia? Why do you feel this is an important milestone for you personally?
Andrew Howe: Being the 100-year anniversary it’s obviously a perfect time for such a historical overview of the men’s national team. This is the second edition following the first edition released four years ago in the lead-up to the 2018 World Cup. Now, what we had in that first edition was a biography for every ‘A’ international player, and there were around 600 of those at the time who had played for Australia in an ‘A’ international match.
For the Centenary Edition, I’ve not just updated the current and more recent players, but I’ve also added biographies for all 325 non ‘A’ international players. These are players who essentially played against club teams, and also some higher profile representative teams. For example, in 1999 Australia played a World Star team at the opening of Stadium Australia in Sydney, where the Australians played against a very prestigious international select but it wasn’t an official ‘A’ international.
So, what I’ve done now is capture all of the information from those non ‘A’ international games which were mostly played in the first few decades from the 1920s through to the 1950s. And the variety of players who have played for Australia in those games is just fascinating. Even in the early decades we had players born all over the world. Players born in Egypt, Guyana in northern South America, the United States, Switzerland, and so on. This international connection has been there from the start and it wasn’t just the United Kingdom in those first few decades. Getting those stories out and learning about some of these players, such as one who passed away in the Second World War aged just 23, and one who spent 10 years in Israel as a co-founder of the Israeli Air Force, is just fascinating and people will be able to read about them when the Encyclopedia of Socceroos Centenary is out.
The Encyclopedia of Socceroos Centenary Edition is available now, via Fair Play Publishing www.fairplaypublishing.com.au.