My involvement with the Goannas started 1989 not long after I arrived in Japan and my first game was on a hot summer day. There were Aussies, Irish, Americans, Canadians and Japanese everywhere. In those years we played as the Tokyo Battlers but I didn’t know we had a name. My thoughts were so many expats. to have a kick, a game and of course a beer in Japan ….amazing!
These games had started before I arrived and continued for about a year until a young Tasmanian and his wife arrived on the scene. His name was Peter Calver and he had a great way about himself except he barracked for Hawthorn. Peter had been an exchange student and so he could speak the language. In 1991 he was doing language training at the embassy and was going to work as an embassy man after he finished his training. While he was a student he toyed with the name Go –Anna as a name for a footy side!
Pete and a few others got the ball rolling. The announcement came during 1991 to start a footy Club Grand Final and the meeting took place in the middle of October. It was held an infamous pub in Ikebukuro called Prestos. At the meeting there were so many young heads, who had made tracks for Japan on account of the recession in Oz. There were boys who had lost jobs and those who couldn’t start. They had all ended up in Japan looking for work. Peter told us about the Goanna – Go meaning Australia in Japanese and Anna – you can look it up for yourself. Next on the agenda was the logo and one of the boys, Jim Dean put his hand up. He said he would put something together. Little did we know that he had won the young achiever award for Australia in design and was at that time working freelance design work for Honda!
Needless to say he did well and that Goanna has endured twenty years. After that it was an election of office holders and I foolishly went to the “loo” at that time and came back to be President, Robbie Miller was Vice President and Kim Bebbington was the secretary. That year Peter escaped the bullet (president that is!) but was a general member as was Gerry Moran one of the boys who was involved with the Tokyo battlers.
Once we had a club and a name we set about getting all sorts of stuff that a club needs jumpers T-shirts and even a first aid kit. That Christmas I was in Melbourne and I went begging to the AFL and other clubs. The AFL kindly donated a set of Swans Jumpers , footies and Aussie rules videos. A Richmond connection got us a set of drink Drive you bloody idiot jumpers. So by the start of the 1992 season we had a logo, a team song a team, a news letter, jumpers and polo shirts which we thought was a great achievment and that was the beginning of the Tokyo Goannas. There were many incidents and lots of fun over the years but far too many too bore you with. Below I have summarized some of the major achievements of the Goannas and the early years.
The key to the success of the Goannas has always been the social life. We didn’t have a pub to watch footy and so we made it up along the way. We had many great ideas to have fun. Of course the Goanna Ball, Hanami parties, Pub reviews and even a buck’s night for the emperor’s son! The Goannas Ball has always been a great success and we have always tried to make it as cheap andas entertaining as possible.
The Ball became so famous many people confused our Ball with the Australian Society extravaganza. The secret of our success were the Goanna Wags and other great girls in the club! There are so many but the girls in those years were Julie and Julie, Catriona and Melissa, Liz Darton and of course Mary Ellen Egawa.
The Tokyo Goannas would not have been half as successful if it wasn’t for the support of the Irish community. At that time Ireland had a scholarship program which brought many young Irish engineers to do work experience in Japan. That provided the Goannas with many young and fit Irish boys who were out for some fun and a few beers of course. Finally after a year or so we developed the Ned Kelly Cup the fun day between the Aussies and the Irish. Gerry Moran and Neil Day were the linchpins in this effort. The games were great and the craic afterwards was even better. The games were played in the true spirit of sportsmanship. One game held at the American base, Camp Zama, the Irish won the game but lost the sing-song. Tony Byrne, who co-wrote the Goanna team song with snake, had beautiful voice, led us to a choral victory over the Celts,. These games were a regular fixture in the early years and boys like Ronan McLaughlin and Tommy Callanan regularly toured with us. Finally it would be hard to imagine the Goannas without the Irish in those years.
Kim held every position on the Goannas from President to Besso caretaker. The work he did was invaluable to the club. Especially when it came to writing the Bungarra to
sending out the telephone lists. The lists were a constant chore that we all had to take on and Kim had the unwanted job of having to send these out. It was a great success that everyone took on. Until one game when we only had a couple of players and Kim asked the gentleman in charge of the list that week did he call everyone? The answer was yes he called everyone he wanted to come. All five of them!
The boy from New castle he was fierce at the Ball and won a Gomi Trophy. His other claim to fame was to keep the boys amused with tales of his falling asleep after more than few beer fueled nights. Probably John travelled more trains in Tokyo asleep that any 9-5 Salaryman to bad he would never remember. John was always reliable too he jumped into presidency when Hrab’s had to go home and continued into the next year.
Peter was a great footballer and a character and a half. He always kept us amused with his tales of the night. His other claim to fame was that Peter was the Phantom. The conscience of the club and he was one of the best kept secrets. After every Bungarra the boys would wonder who the Phantom was and why they had been singled out.
Overseas guest teams – Hong Kong & Singapore
In those years we hosted the Hong Kong and Singapore. These tours stretched the resources of the goannas as we did not have any good grounds to play on. The Hong Kong boys had beaten us in Hong Kong and heard that we were below strength so they decided to come to Japan. They had not reckoned on our secret weapon the Goanna Girls who had taken them out on the Friday night they arrived. Many of them did not finish drinking until the early hours of the morning and then had to play football. We won the game and the drinking afterwards. The only casualty was Liz Darton who eventually married the boy she had drunk with.
The Singapore boys were harder to lead astray but the problem Kim and I had was that the ground that had been reserved for the game was a Baseball pitch at Senshu university and it wasn’t going to used on Sunday for our game until a catastrophe happened. Senshu had drawn their game on Tuesday and so they were going to play it on Sunday at the time we were going to use the ground! That afternoon the sky had fallen so I thought why not ring the American Base at Yokota they had plenty of grounds. I started with the gateman, got switched to a number of sergeants, lieutenants, a colonel and ended up with the headmaster! He said yes and I told Kim, who raced out on his motorbike in the rain and got the relevant papers. One day we had nothing and the next we had something! The game was played on the Sunday and was a great success and a tribute to Kim and his motorcycle!
The Goannas were always lucky to have the support of the embassy in terms of using the facility and the young and old diplomats who supported us we have been lucky. The embassy started out showing the grand final and later let us uses the premises to have small parties and quiz nights. This was essential to the growth of the Goannas and without the help of the embassy the Goannas would have found it more difficult.
In those years we had two overseas trips one to Hong Kong and the other to Singapore. These were great as it gave the boys time to see some other Asian countries. We lost both games but we kept our heads high and full of alcohol. There was one incident that came to mind when a few of us were leaving a very “Posh” establishment called Joe Bananas. Outside of this establishment we thought it was sad that a poor Hong Kong Chinese gentlemanwas in the gutter face down…but alas it was not a Gentle Chinese fellow but a Goanna (Name withheld!) Who had eaten some bad chop-suey that day!
Finally the highlights of these years were the fun of creating a football club that has lasted more than twenty years. The friendships developed among the Aussie boys, Japanese and anyone else who wanted to kick a footy or a beer. Finally as the Irish would say the Craic.