When the first All Schools Touch football event was conducted the world was a different place. The top hit song in Brisbane at the time was “Australiana” by Austen Tayshus and a few of you would remember the lyrics “do you wanna go-anna?” The price of a Big Mac was $1.60, and a litre of petrol was 45 cents.
There was no NRL and no Brisbane Broncos. The NSWRL Grand Final was won by Parramatta Eels over Manly, and Easts defeated Redcliffe in the Brisbane Grand Final. This was also the first year where a try was increased from 3 points to 4 points.
In touch footy they had just reduced numbers from 8 players to 7 and some competitions were still being played in bare feet. At the first All Schools played at Balmoral High school, the Open Boys was won by St Edmunds (Ipswich) and the Open girls was won by Ipswich SHS. Other schools who competed for the first time were Wynnum SHS, All Hallows, St Laurence’s, Springwood SHS, Balmoral SHS, Centenary Heights. (Toowoomba) and Burnside SHS (Sunshine Coast). The game then was played with a marker and the acting (dummy) half could score.
The standard varied quite a bit from school to school. Some schools that had teachers who were involved in representative touch or students who played some club touch, were quite good but generally the boy’s teams had a few good ‘touch type’ players and the rest played much like league/union. Consequently, there was a little bit of niggle and frustration with the rule’s application, such as a fair bit of interference at the “play the ball” because of the marker being on top of the player playing the ball. Also, most players still used their foot to play the ball rather than the modern roll ball. You would see a bit of pushing, grabbing and slapping with the touches in games, but generally, the games were played in a good spirit. In the boy’s games most tries came from either the speed or agility of an attacker who could isolate a defender and subsequently creating and exploiting an overlap, rather than any structure.
The girl’s teams had quite a wide range of abilities. Generally, they did not pass particularly well (certainly nowhere near the amazing standards of today) and there were lots of intercepts of ‘loopy’ passes and a fair amount of dropped ball. The girls tended to get cross with other girls who ‘touched’ too hard. Many girls at the time had a netball background where contact was not on, and certainly there wasn’t a lot of contact sports offered to girls back then. The girls would become upset when opponents played on after a touch was called and their touch was ignored. Most tries were scored simply by running around a slower opponent.
The biggest error of all at the time, (both boys and girls) was where attackers would continue to overrun when touched and had to return to the mark, which made the game annoyingly, a stop start affair (much like tag is today). It took a bit of time (and coaching) for players to get the idea of handling this. Some teams did try and use “moves”, basically wraps and or switches. No one really ‘rucked’ to any pattern and play often went across the field and even backwards. It was much less direct and respectful of field position than it is now. The ball was often thrown around like there was ‘no tomorrow’, and players rarely played set positions during the game. Teams were limited to 12 players at the time, but not every team had 12 as interchange wasn’t a big thing. Hence the aerobic nature of the game – you recovered on the field – usually the wing. Overall, there was much less specialisation than occurred later. There were no ‘half scoops” in the 80’s as the marker would pick off anyone who wanted to run from there and of course, the team would lose possession. Most memorable moments came when tries were scored and teams celebrated as if they had won a grand final!
At the school level Touch was not yet recognised as a school sport and this would not come until the following year (1984) with the formation of the Queensland Secondary Schools Touch Association. The first Chairperson was Ken Edwards. Qld was the first in Australia to set up an organisation and first to run an Interstate challenge.
Fast forward forty years later and it is truly mind boggling to see how big the sport of Touch football has become within schools not only in Queensland, but in the whole country. I don’t think anyone back in 1983 would have imagined that this very same idea for a school sporting opportunity, has now evolved to one where over 6,000 students are playing over 1,700 games across 30 fields for 5 days. And even more astonishingly for an old PE teacher – that there are now schools who run Touch football Academies where students can specialize in this game and take it to the very highest level of skill and fitness excellence!