It’s almost 60 years since members of Parade’s pioneering Soccer XI first took to the pitch. That happened in 1963, Kennedy was still in the White House, and the moment was recorded for posterity in The Paradian.
Joseph Chiera, a member of that famed 15-man soccer squad, this week recalled the first of just a handful of soccer games involving the boys of Parade and those of St Joseph’s North Melbourne – some of them near the old Fairlea Women’s Prison in Fairfield, others in a locale that escapes his memory somewhere in North Melbourne town.
“I’m scratching my head a little to remember, as I’m 76 and the boys in that team first came together almost 60 years ago," said Joe, who is pictured with John Pedrotti pouring over a copy of the '63 edition of The Paradian at their final year class's 50-year reunion dinner back in 2013.
I do remember that we basically formed the team ourselves, if memory serves with the support of Br. Robinson - or ‘Robbo’ as we called him, The tournament was never really official and maybe a few Brothers rang around and arranged for us to play. But I got my driver’s licence when I turned 18 in June 1963, the year I completed Year 12 and I remember that when we played in North Melbourne the whole team piled into the family car – a Holden FB station wagon, sky blue with a white roof - and I drove them all to the ground.
A native of Girifalco in the Calabrian region of southern Italy where his parents were also born, Joe was but a boy of ten when he joined his mother, brother and sister on the voyage of a lifetime - traversing the globe aboard the passenger ship Neptunia to be reunited with his father who had migrated some four years previous.
Not long after walking down the gangway, Joe forged friendships with Anthony Chiodo and Anthony Comito, both with whom Joe would one day chase the round ball in those precious soccer contests for the College.
“Tony Chiodo, Tony Comito and I were great friends from day one. They were in Australia for about 18 months before me,” Joe said.
“When we arrived in the mid-1950s we were the 'dagos', which didn’t really matter because we lived in Collingwood and there was more of us than them!
“The two Tonys and myself all lived within 100 metres of eachother, just off Johnston Street Collingwood between Wellington and Hoddle Streets. We all went to St Joseph’s Primary School in Wellington Street and they were very good with English compared to me - I didn’t know a word - so the nuns at St Joseph’s sat me next to Tony Comito, he became my translator and he’s been my solicitor ever since he qualified.”
Joe confirmed that until that pivotal moment in ’63 “there was no soccer at Parade - and I can also tell you that there was no Italian taught at Parade, which is why myself and a few others ended up learning Italian at Melbourne University High School”.
“We were encouraged by a Mr. Gregor, one of our lay teachers at the time, to learn at Uni High in a course run by Co.As.It.,” Joe said, “and if you go to the 1964 edition of The Paradian you will see that a number of us got First Class Honours in Italian, which helped get us into 'uni' . . . ”.
In pouring over the names of his fellow pioneering soccer players, Joe was able to confirm that the team’s captain Anthony Chiodo had since died, as had Paul Paradiso who was godfather to one of his daughters.
But the retired pharmacist confirmed that he still bumped into old teammates like Anthony Comito, Doug Coghlan, Giusto Coppi, Anthony Mariani and Adrian Rossi – and to this day he compares notes with Leon Pezzimenti at Dante Alighieri Society gatherings in Carlton.
Soccer still took a long time to gain a foothold at Parade, even after Joe Chiera and his fellow trailblazers first took to the field in ’63. Not until the Carlton Premiership year of 1970 was the first College soccer team (coached by the then Principal Br Greening) actually photographed for posterity for The Paradian (see below). Team members featured in that pic at the Bundoora Campus include the late Frank Gonano (middle row, far left), the former North Melbourne restaurateur Dom Torre (for years the proprietor of Don Camillo’s Restaurant in West Melbourne, front row, far left) and Ken Scott (later a College teacher, front row, second from the right). Together they earned six victories and twice lost through the course of the ’70 season.
Today, the Bundoora Campus boasts two outstanding soccer pitches for the use of its students – and Joe harbors the great hope that an Old Paradians soccer team might one day take to the field.
“I’m surprised that a team doesn’t already exist,” said Joe, who also shared the accompanying photograph of him, circa 1959, balancing a giant mushroom by the legendary old FB at the then family home at 44 Sheila Street East Preston.
“Back then soccer was a no-no, but the game for a number of years now is more widely played than AFL.”