On Sunday, Australia will start the defence of its Asian Cup title, the biggest prize ever won in the Socceroos' long history.

What a heart stopping night that final was four years ago in Sydney! And what an end to such a memorable festival of Australian and Asian football. Let's hope the title defence will produce more even  epic stories.

We should always celebrate these fabulous moments in our international life, just as we should remember the first dreamers who took the earliest steps in Asia which set us on our way to the top of the mountain.

After all, our long march in Asia is closing in on its hundredth year.

We'll never forget Asian Cup skipper Mile Jedinak or player of the tournament Massimo Luongo, just as we'll always have a place in our hearts for Jimmy Mackay, scorer of the thunderbolt in 1973 which took Australia to the World Cup for the first time the following year, or Les Scheinflug, who led out the team to face North Korea in Australia's first World Cup matches in 1965. 

We should also honour the people who pushed the boat out in the first place and who dreamed of seeing  Australia on the world stage. People like Ern Lukeman. Ern who?

Ernest Stephen Lukeman was involved with the Australian national team for all of the first ten years of the team's life, a total of 77 matches against overseas opposition.

During that first ten years from 1922 to 1931, Lukeman worked as the secretary of the national association, Australian point of contact for other national associations as well as the Football Association and FIFA, match referee, journalist reporting on Australia's games as well as general football matters, team selector, and tour manager.

He argued the case for linking up with FIFA and lodged an application to join in 1924. He tried to get Australia to the Olympics in 1928. He proposed a world tour in the 1920s, a plan which gained the implicit support of FIFA Secretary Carl Hirschmann, and which would have been the world's first had it gone ahead. 

Clearly, not all of his plans got up, but he certainly gave it a red hot go. 

He should most definitely be recognised in this Asian champion country for one historic achievement. He is the man who took Australia's football  to Asia.

In 1928, when Australia's football administration was being torn apart by political upheaval, Lukeman succeeded in gaining support from the national association to send a team on an extensive tour of the Dutch East Indies, a territory we now know as Indonesia. There would also be a side trip to Singapore.

His devotion to the Australian team and the trip to Java cost him his job. His myriad football roles paid him a little or not at all. His regular job was as a training officer with the Australian Army.

He applied for leave to lead the tour but became edgy about not hearing back. He was told not to worry, it was just the slow turning of the wheels of bureaucracy. 

The day before his ship was due to leave, he received a phone message. His application for leave had been rejected. He had to make an important decision on that day - to leave with the team or to lose his livelihood. He stayed with the team. 

The political battles at home dragged on for years and Lukeman kept the national flag flying with a second tour to the East Indies in 1931. When the domestic battles were over, Lukeman departed the official stage.

Ernest Lukeman collapsed and died in 1936 while walking along the street near his home in the inner west of Sydney. 

Australia's international football life went in to serious decline in the 1930s. There were many reasons for this, but the new regime's failure to find another figure to press the national team cause was certainly one of them.

Let's hope Graham Arnold's side can excite us in the UAE and write a new chapter in our evolving Asian football history. Whatever the outcome, let's take the time to remember the people who wrote the first chapter. Men like Ern Lukeman. 

Trevor Thompson's book, Playing for Australia - The First Socceroos, Asia and World Footballwas published last month and is available in good bookstores, Amazon (in paperback and digital) and direct from the publisher, Fair Play Publishing. 

Categories: Opinion | People | Asia | Football Life

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