140 Years of Footy at the SCG – First Intercolonial Game

Dr Rod Gillett continues the series on the SCG as a venue for football for 140 years.

                   The 1933 Carnival Game – NSW v WA
     NSW player Powditch outmarks his WA opponent

The Sydney Cricket Ground has been the venue for the biggest Australian football games in Sydney since it started with the first intercolonial football match of any code between NSW and Victoria on 6 August 1881.

The Victorian easily won the match 9-17 to NSW 1-6; however, only goals were counted in this period. It was a return match as NSW and Victoria had played their first intercolonial match at the MCG on 1 June which Victoria won 9-24 to 0-1.  (Note: behinds were shown but not counted in the score; goals had the value of one point)

The attendance was estimated at 5000, which The Sydney Morning Herald (8 August 1881) reported was “…the largest concourse of spectators that ever attended a football match in Sydney.”

The then governing body, NSW Football Association, had only been formed the previous year while the Victorians had been playing football since the late 1850s and had formed an Association in 1877. The rules had been first written by committee members of the Melbourne Cricket Club in 1859.

The New South Wales team wore a blue guernsey and knickerbockers with scarlet caps and stockings with the Victorian representatives played in red, white and blue.

The respective teams which consisted of twenty players were as follows:

New South Wales: Kellett (captain), Randall, Nash, Young, Phillips, Clay, Martin, Terry, Jackson, Daly (East Sydney), O’Brien, Burns, Bull, Jackson, A. MacNamara, J. MacNamara, Pierce, Crisp, Hedger (Sydney), and Bull (Petersham)

Victoria: Austin (captain), Collins, Murphy, Robertson, Steadman (Geelong), Neely, Patterson, Weld, Ley (Hotham), Goer (vice-captain), Coventry, Spear, McIntosh (Carlton), Carter, Griffiths (Essendon), Dougall, Cody, Tindall, Dunn, Manderson (East Melbourne)

The match report in The Sydney Morning Herald (8 August 1881) stated that:

“…although the Victorian side scored nine goals to one, they were frequently hard pressed by their opponents, and had the latter exercised a little more judgement and skill in little marking in front of the Victorian goal-posts the points scored would not have been so unevenly
balanced.   It must be admitted that the Victorians deserved their victory. They kept their places admirably which our men as a rule failed to do and the skill displayed by them in dodging and weaving were remarkable. “….they (the spectators) were frequently carried away with the
excitement of the competition, and cordially applauded both sides throughout the game”.

The victors were best served by their skipper Austin and his Geelong team-mates Robertson and Steadman and Essendon’s Carter while the best players for NSW were Albert Young, who kicked their only goal with a 60-yard place kick, and Thomas Nash (both East Sydney), and Sydney pair George Pierce and George Crisp.

Despite the strong support for this first intercolonial game in Sydney a Victorian representative team did not play NSW at the SCG again until the ANFC Carnival in 1914, and then again for the 1933 carnival. NSW lost both games as it did for inter-state matches in 1948 and 1948.

However, NSW finally triumphed over Victoria at the SCG in their first-ever state-of-origin clash in 1990, winning 13-8 (86) to 10-16 (76).

In his history of the Sydney Cricket Ground entitled The Grand Old Game (1981), Philip Derriman states the first intercolonial match in 1881 opened the door for the other football codes, “the most important (sic) … was the first-ever NSW – Queensland rugby match in 1882”.

Derriman fails to mention the ANFC National Interstate Carnivals which were played on the SCG in 1914 and 1933 when arguably the best footballers in the country competed at the SCG.

He has written chapters in the book on the other football codes of Rugby Union and Rugby League, and even Pedestrianism (athletics) and Cycling, and of course, Cricket but no chapter on Australian Football which has a rich history at the SCG. It must be noted that the history has been further enriched with the arrival of the Swans in 1982, but that it all began 140 years ago.

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