“We didn’t invent Touch, Touch was just something that was ad-libbed by people running around parks and beaches and it was something that was never harnessed into a competition. We thought we’d harness it…we got a few players to go down and we finished up with six teams and that’s how it started and it grew from there. You wouldn’t believe how it grew. It was just something that went so easy, when the word got around ‘what do we do now, we’ve all retired from football’ well that was the answer, Touch.” (Ray Vawdon, co-founder of Touch Football).
It was in 1968 that the first recognised competition took place with the formation of the South Sydney Touch Football Association at Pioneer Park, Malabar. The sport quickly took hold in a number of inner-city areas of Sydney and the New South Wales Touch Association was formed in 1972, catering for six affiliated associations and approximately 1500 registered players.
“Queensland, they came in next and then Tasmania and Victoria and then the others followed. And then we suddenly had a national spread. The first big game we had internationally was in 1976 where we took a team to New Zealand.” (Vawdon)
The first country association was in Wagga Wagga, which was formed in 1973, and women’s touch was first played at a representative level in 1979. The earliest interstate clashes in Touch occurred when the Brisbane Touch Association representative team played a NSW (South Sydney) team in 1973, 1974, and 1975. NSW wanted to have this match played ten-a-side but Brisbane would not allow this and the matches were played 8-a-side on a standard Rugby League field. One of the games in the series was played as a curtain raiser to an interstate Rugby League clash. In 1976, Touch was played as a curtain raiser to the Sydney Rugby League Grand Final.
As the sport began to grow in numbers, it also began to diversify to include female participation, school competitions and age divisions. At this point, the sport had spread through all the states which led to the progression of interstate competition. With this came the requirement of a clear set of playing rules, as well as qualified referees to officiate matches. Peter Rooney, who was the first Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Touch Association, was instrumental in the initial progress of referees and the development structures to educate and mentor them. “From a personal perspective I couldn’t be happier to see the development that has taken place, the growth of the referees. The development of the sport, it took off and it was really a matter of putting systems into place that were going to stand the test of time.” (Rooney)
As competitions grew and began to filter out from city centers, the need for uniformity arose. State associations were formed and in 1978 the Australian Touch Association was founded. Two years later, 1980, the first national championship was held. It was during this period that Touch Football began to develop its own unique set of rules and culture, to become a sport in its own right.
The rules, skills and concepts of the game have evolved progressively throughout the years, and Touch Football has developed into its own unique sport, attracting people from all walks of life, and for differing reasons. “we used to play with a marker and we used to have a kick on the last, we used to be seven-a-side. The skills that people now are capable of producing are nothing link what we could have imagined 30 years ago.” (Dennis Coffey, Secretary General of the Federation of International Touch)
Touch Football was originally devised as a method of training for Rugby League teams, however, it was quickly evident that touch football was an optimal sport for people of all ages, demographics and sporting ability. It swiftly became recognized as a social sport in which men and women could compete together, and from that point the development and expansion of the sport has been quite rapid.
In the present game, touch football is a thrilling sport that allows all walks of life to achieve their goals, whether that is the thrill of challenging oneself to compete at their best, the thrill of a fast, skillful and exhilarating sport, the thrill of meeting new people of the thrill of being a part of something that can span a lifetime.