Harrison Questioned as “Father of the Game”

   H.C.A. Harrison

Henry Harrison has long been recognized as ‘The Father of Australian Football’.  A term he earned after a long life spent as a player, administrator and umpire of the game.  He was born near Picton NSW in 1836 and his family moved to Melbourne in 1850.  He was an athlete who excelled at pedestrianism (athletics) then went on to play in the early games of Australian (then Victorian) Football in 1859. [1]

He played for three clubs, Richmond, Melbourne and Geelong and Melbourne again, at all of which he was captain but probably gained more notoriety as allegedly being solely responsible for drafting the second revision of the rules of the game in 1866. [2]  These changes were adopted unanimously.

The following paragraph written in 1908 by a journalist with the non de plume of ‘Cynic’ from the Referee Newspaper, quotes from page 363 of the Sydney Mail of 25 August 1883, which validates the suggestion that Harrison was not involved with the initial founding of those first rules (the game).  History credits Tom Wills as the man most instrumental in the introduction of ‘the game’, but as you can read, it says “Tom Wills suggested the Rugby rules, but nobody understood them except himself…”  This leads to the speculation that perhaps all four were ‘fathers of the game’ and possibility W.J. Hammersley, and Englishman, may well not have received the recognition due to him.

“In ‘The Referee’ (17/8/’08) I touched on the origin of the Australian Game of Football, and quoted evidence to show that the title, ‘The Father of the Game’, has been incorrectly conferred, by the Press of Melbourne upon Mr. H. C. A. Harrison. The evidence was from the writings of Messrs, T W Wills and J. B. Thompson, two of the committee of four which drafted the first set of rules just 50 years ago. I have received two letters on the subject from Melbourne footballers, but while agreeing with the statements I put forward, they throw no fresh light on the matter. As Mr. Harrison is still quoted on all sides, in the Press and at official functions, as ‘the father of the game’, further reference to the first code of rules for what is to-day known as the Australian Game having been drawn up by a committee consisting of Messrs. T. W. Wills, W.J. Hammersley, J. B. Thompson, and T Smith, is timely. The evidence of Messrs. Wills and Thompson is thoroughly borne out by the late Mr. Hammersley, who, for 18 years. was sporting editor of ‘The Australasian’. In 1883, after he had withdrawn from regular journalistic harness, Mr. Hammersley, in an article referring to football in Victoria, made the following statement :— When the game was first started in Victoria on anything like a sound footing (that was in 1857), it was a very rough game and no mistake. My shins now show honourable scars, and often I had the blood trickling down my legs. No wonder, for hacking was permitted and no objection was taken to spiked shoes. One day, however, after a severe fight in the old Richmond paddock, when blood had been drawn freely and some smart rape exchanged, and a leg broken, it occurred to some of us that if we had rules to play under it would be better. Tom Wills suggested the Rugby rules, but nobody understood them except himself and the result was – adjourn to the Parade Hotel close by and think the matter out. This we did, with the following result: Several drinks and the formation of a committee consisting of Tom Wills, myself, J.B. Thompson and Football Smith, as he was termed, a master in the Scotch College, a rattling fine player, and splendid kick, but of a very peppery temper. We decided to draw up a simple code of rules and as few as possible, so that anyone could quickly under-stand. We did so and the result was the rules then drawn up form the basis of the present code under which the game is universally played in Victoria and most other parts of Australia. I feel sure that neither Rugby nor the Association code will ever supplant them. In the light of this indisputable, corroboratory evidence, ”there cannot be any possible doubt that Mr. H. C. A. Harrison is not ‘the father of the game.’ In the article from which I have quoted, Mr. Hammersley made some reference to the early days of cricket in Victoria and to the ‘old Identities,’ and in this he paid a tribute to the good work done in the interests of that game and athletic sports by Mr, Harrison : There are not many left ; but amongst all the men I remember who have worked hard for the game in Australia, Mr. W. H. Handfield, Mr. T. F. Hamilton, and the late Mr. D.S. Campbell deserve the most credit for their disinterested labor in the game of cricket. And another name I may add to the list, I think, in the promotion of not cricket only, but of all athletic sports that of Mr. H. C. Harrison.” [3]

[1]  Australian Dictionary of Biography
[2]  Wilipedia – H.C.A. Harrison
[3]  Referee (Sydney, NSW : 1886 – 1939), Wednesday 9 September 1908, page 8

Newspaper Man Not Happy

Before the Sydney Swans became the focal point of football in Sydney, newspapers gave coverage of the game and the Sydney competition reasonably good exposure, so much so that it enables us to write stories like this.

Initially newspapers would send a representative to each senior game and quite often a photographer.  Later, part time reporters from AAP and other news agencies would cover the games which saved papers the cost of sending individual journalists out to various sporting events in Sydney.

Going through some 1948 newspapers we came across this article in the Sydney Truth by a reporter who was obviously very upset at the facilities available for those reporting on our game:

Truth (Sydney, NSW : 1894 – 1954), Sunday 23 May 1948, page 17


“WHY ‘RULERS CANT RULE

Australian Rules teams played good games on four Sydney ovals yesterday. The attendance at each ground was small.

League officials often express surprise that the game does not become more popular in N.S.W. Truth (Newspaper) can tell them why.

No encouragement whatever is given to those who would give the game publicity, and they are many. No facilities are made available to the Press, and often there is not even a form upon which they can write their copy. Phones, supposed to be reserved served for the Press are used by S.P. bookies, punters in search of results, and amorous youths trying to make appointments with girl friends. The result is that a lot of copy misses out. This year the committee is offering £1 to a supporter who happens to buy a programme which bears a certain number. These programmes cost six pence each, and often do not contain the names of more than four players who actually take the field. Under these circumstances, the programmes would be dear at one penny.

The spectators are left in the air; and have no method of ascertaining who is playing and who is not. Boys are employed to keep the score. More often than not the figures shown are wrong, and even if they are right the youthful scorekeepers stand in front of the board and so prevent it being read. The scores are often removed from the board before the final bell has stopped ringing.

If the League wants the game to progress it must, first of all, consider the public. Without support the game is not worth two bob, and, whether they believe it or not, at present the average follower of the game is annoyed and rapidly becoming disgusted. Scores in all games yesterday South Sydney 15-17 (107) beat St, George 13-14 (92); North Shore 16-17 (113) beat University 4-9 (33); Newtown 20-23 (143) beat Balmain 8-9 (57); Eastern Suburbs 12-18 (90) beat Western Suburbs 10-15 (75).”


Sydney University’s         first win

1948 saw the introduction of three new clubs into the Sydney competition: Balmain, Sydney University and Western Suburbs and they are all still there, with the same name.  The only change in these three is Balmain’s colours.

Sadly three from that era have gone and another has combined with another Sydney Club.  St George and North Shore are two that remain from that era.

We have located an interesting article published in the Sydney Sun on 16 May 1948 which relates Sydney University’s first win.  Although there was a team from the University formed in 1888, it only played about three games and was mostly put together to play a couple of games in Melbourne, particularly against the University of Melbourne.

Rep Games in 1947

One of the gun NSW Players from 1947: Frank Larkin

During the past ten months or so we have written a number of stories on the year 1947 but we found there is more to be said.

In that year the NSW Football League (NSWANFL) played TWELVE representative matches – four of which were played on consecutive days over respective weekends (see green shade). Three of these games were played in Sydney and the other in Broken Hill;  all were against different opponents.  Of course the respective NSW teams that played on the both days of these same weekends were made up of different players.

Now if you have ever been involved with representative football or even club football, putting a team on the field requires a fair amount of planning, commitment and work.  The team which travelled to Tasmania comprised of players from Sydney, Broken Hill, Riverina and Albury.

Now granted 1947 was a year of a national carnival, played in Hobart (shaded in yellow) which made up four of the games, but nevertheless the other matches required players, managers, trainers, jumpers, shorts and socks and the list goes on.

In one of our earlier posts about 1947 we mentioned that the league secretary of the time, Ken Ferguson, made a public appeal for ‘clothing coupons’ in order to purchase player ‘clothing.’  Remember, this was just two years after the finish of WWII and the general public were still operating under the coupon system for food and clothing etc.

When the NSW Carnival team returned from Hobart, as if they didn’t have enough football, the league arranged for this side to play “The Rest” on the following weekend.

‘The Rest’ were made up from players not chosen in the NSW Carnival contingent but were Sydney players selected in the other NSW teams whilst the main team was in Tasmania.

So from a competition of seven Sydney clubs a total of 66 players were involved in representative football during that year. A further six were selected from clubs outside the metropolitan area.

Here are the matches:

DATE VENUE OPPOSITION NSW SCORE OPPOSITION
SCORE
WON/LOST
1947-05-25 Sydney Queensland 20.13 (133) 15-17 (107) Won
1947-06-01 Sydney Broken Hill 18-15 (123) 8-13 (61) Won
1947-06-14 Broken Hill Broken Hill 12-12 (84) 11-9 (75) Lost
1947-06-15 Sydney Canberra 21-9 (135) 19-16 (130) Won
1947-06-21 Brisbane Queensland 18-22 (130) 18-24 (132) Won
1947-07-30 Hobart Canberra 13-18 (96) 7-8 (50) Won
1947-08-01 Hobart Tasmania 6-10 (46) 16-10 (106) Lost
1947-08-06 Hobart South Australia 14-12 (86) 17-9 (111) Lost
1947-08-08 Hobart Queensland 8-11 (59) 5-12 (42) Won
1947-08-09 Sydney Subiaco FC 12-6 (76) 11-10 (76) Lost
1947-08-10 Sydney East Fremantle FC 20-13 (133) 15-11 (101) Lost
1947-08-17 Sydney “The Rest” 21-18 (144) 13-16 (94) Won

You can see by the last score that the better players in the Sydney competition were chosen for the main NSW team.
All NSW games from 1881-1947, together with all their details, players, umpires and scores are listed here.

Ref.
NSWAFL 1947 annual report
NSWAFFL 1947 Football Records
Metropolitan and Broken Hill newspapers of the day

– Visit by AFLNSWACT

On Tuesday this week two high level employees from the AFLNSWACT made a visit to the History Society offices at Croydon Park; they were Simon Wilson, Regional Manager, Sydney Harbour and Illawarra and Jonathan Drennan, State Manager, Media & Communications.

Both spoke at length about recent developments and changes with the league and the goals the organisation has within the foreseeable future.  The duo also showed a great deal of interest in the operation of the Society and were at pains to demonstrate their appreciation and admiration they and the staff at the league has for the work the History Society have undertaken.

Jonathan told those on the committee who were in attendance that the work the Society undertakes in the recording of history of the game in NSW is more than likely unique in Australia.  He also said other major sports were beginning to realise the importance of their history with a number establishing fulltime archival departments within their organisations.

Simon confirmed that a memorandum of understanding between the league and the society will be drawn up so that the relationship and responsibilities are more easily identified and lines of communication firmly established.

Image shows from left: Jonothan Drennan, Society President, Ian Granland and Simon Wilson

– Player availability at the 1947 Carnival

In past days, the Australian National Football Council (ANFC) the peak body for the game in Australia, since absorbed by the AFL, conducted regular interstate carnivals where states played against other states in a round robin situation.  Since WWII, because of the obvious disparity in standard, these carnivals were comprised of two divisions. They do not hold these type of events any more.

In 1947 Hobart hosted the first carnival following the war, the overall attendance and gate was marginally larger than the 1924 carnival, also held at Hobart (see image).

Carnivals of this nature are a testing time for players.  The 1947 event was conducted over 10 days (including rest days) which is a fair commitment for all the players and officials who also at that time had to hold down a job, so it meant taking holidays.

New South Wales played four games:

  1.   defeated Canberra (as the nation’s capital team was then known, now ACT) 18-22 (130) to 7-8 (50)
  2.   lost to Tasmania in what was described as a fantastic match 16-10 (106) to 13-18 (96)
  3.   lost to South Australia 17-9 (111) to 5-10 (40)
  4.   defeated Queensland 14-16 (100) to 5-12 (42)

The major issue of the carnival was the weather.  Before their third game against South Australia officials seriously considered cancelling the game.  The North Hobart Oval was described as a “mud pie – again” and “atrocious” by a number of newspapers.  It was so bad that the umpire could not bounce the ball and for the division 1 games officials decided to use a new ball each quarter however the poor old division 2 matches could only get a new ball at half time in their games!

The other problem for New South Wales, in particular, was the growing injury list.  By the last game they had ten injured players and under normal circumstances these men would not have played but the team had no replacements.

It was so bad that an application was made to the authorities to allow the NSW coach, 38 year old Frank Dixon to play.  Initially the request was granted along with permission for an Eastern Suburbs player, Jack Nicholls, a visitor to the carnival but subsequently permission was withdrawn because other teams did not have the same luxury.  Dixon who had successfully captained and coached the South Sydney Club before the war had not played since his return to Australia following a severe wound received at El Alemein in North Africa during WWII.

These were the days before interchange and NSW took the field with the bare eighteeen players along with Newtown’s injured Frank Larkin standing by, hoping not to play as 19th man.  And that was their complement for the match. Queensland, by the way, had similar problems.

Frank Larkin

NSW won the game easily however Larkin had to take the field late in the last quarter as a replacement for another injured player.  When the game finished, Larkin was the only player standing with a clean, sky blue jumper.  In an act of frivolity his team mates rushed to Larkin and rolled him in the mud so he finished up in the same fashion as themselves.

In the evening the North Hobart Club organised a ball for the wounded NSW team.

You can check out the games on our site here.

94 and still going

Dick Wilson
today

A story from our president, Ian Granland:

“Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting a 94 year old gentleman at his home in Carlingford, Sydney.

My purpose was to conduct and record an oral interview with Dick Wilson, a former player with both the St George and Eastern Suburbs Clubs.

My knowledge of Dick was provoked by his nephew, Andy Horton a former player and official with the Liverpool Club in Sydney.  Andy visited our rooms at Croydon Park for some research last year when he mentioned that ‘Uncle Dick’, who represented NSW, was alive and well and living at Carlingford.

Dick Wilson
in 1949

I kept this information in my memory bank until I began researching players for the Society’s Representative Games section which was started some time ago beginning with NSW representative games in 1881;  I am now up to the 1947 All States Carnival in Hobart.  Since starting, I have loaded 221 games together with their details as well over 1200 players and their bios and in many cases, images.

I saw Dick’s name pop up when documenting rep games after the war in 1946.  In that year he played against Queensland, Broken Hill, Perth and Richmond Football Clubs.  My interest in him deepened when I found that he was a local and had never played football until the same year.

Letter to Dick Wilson enclosing
entry tickets to game

Dick was a marvellous candidate to interview, now living alone in a modest cottage he built for himself and his family in the mid 1950s.

He loaned me some of his ‘football treasurers’ which included photographs, football records, letters and invitations which we shall scan and add to our digital collection.

I set up our digital recording equipment in his back room and as I asked him questions he gave an amazing account of his life, as a child born in Kensington, Sydney, only 300m from South Sydney’s home ground, his early working experience, a detailed record of his time in WWII, his football and how he moved into working with his brother as builders.

Unfortunately I failed to gain a photograph of Dick, although we do have a number of him when he played.

We will load the interview on our website in the podcast section and hope to have it available for listening in the very near future.”

The photograph we have posted here is from 1990 when the league invited all known members of the 1949 NSW team that played the VFL at the SCG to attend a function at the ground prior to another game against the VFL rep team.  Dick is at the bottom right.

– 1947 Job Offers

 The 1947 NSW
Carnival Team Opening
Parade @ Hobart

In 1947, an All-States Carnival was played in Hobart.

These seven team contests were played about every four years.  After World War II because of the disparity in standard, the Australian National Football Council,  divided the competition into two divisions.  New South Wales found themselves in division two along with Queensland, Tasmania and Canberra.  This meant in Hobart they should have played three matches;  They won their games quite handsomely against Queensland Canberra then went down in the final game against Tasmania by ten points 13-18 (96) to 16-10 (106).  They also played South Australia who were a Division I team however were convincingly defeated.

A 1950 pic
of Jim Cracknell
at his best

Following the game it was reported that five of the New South Wales Australian players in their carnival team were offered contracts by two Tasmanian clubs.

The Hobart Club offered Sydney’s captain-coach, Jim Cracknell, Albury FC’s star centre Jim Mathews, and Newtown’s Emrys Owen £10 a week, including a job. Clarence Football Club offered Roy Watterson from the Newtown Club, who would later go on to coach in the Riverina, and South Sydney’s Ron Matthews a job at £8 a week and a retainer of £3 a week.

The report said that the offers would hold good for the following season. Apparently the players are considering the offers, but unknown if they took them up.

– Books to Libraries

The Committee of the Football History Society has resolved to donate copies of their World War I publication to various public libraries throughout the state.

This, the committee thought, will give many people the opportunity of reading about Australian football in the early days in New South Wales, the game in Sydney during the first world world war and the situation with football following the conflict.

The Society has sold around 200 of the books however still have a number over and part of this number are the ones which will be donated.

Anyone interested who would like their local library to receive a copy can contact the Society with the library’s particulars to ensure their branch is on the list.

– Footy at Bowral

Harry Hedger

In 1892 a game of Australian Football was played at Bowral, NSW.

The match, Bowral v East Sydney was arranged by a Mr Charles Church,[1] schoolteacher, and a resident of Bowral, who had previously played for the East Sydney Club in the late 1880s, represented NSW against Queensland and was at one time a member of the East Sydney Club’s committee.

The game was initially scheduled for mid-August but fell through.  Church persisted and the match was re-organised for Saturday 10 September at Athletic Grounds in Bowral.

The condition of the ground was in a very poor state because of rain and a soccer match having previously been played there.[2]

Nevertheless a large crowd gathered to witness the game with East flying to an early lead by four goals to one at half time.

In those early days, goals were the only score counted and the game was played in two halves.  Certainly in this game it was the case.

The second half saw the locals equalise their opponents score and but for fulltime might certainly have overtaken them.  It was said that Bowral’s team was made up entirely “of former Melbourne players.”[3]

Be that as it may, they were encouraged to continue to play the following season by Harry Hedger, captain of the East Sydney team but no more was heard of Australian football in Bowral.[4]

In  recent years though the Southern Highland Hawks junior club has emerged. It participates in the Illawarra junior league.

An Auskick Centre is located at Loseby Park, Bowral Tuesday afternoons at 4.30 p.m.  for approx. 5-7 year olds.

Older players [8-14) play in club teams. The Hawks [Under 11s] won the Club’s  first premiership in 2007, and after the Under 12s and Under 15s won flags in 2008 with the future looking bright.

The club play and train at Loseby Park in Bowral, training Tuesdays 4 – 5:3. Game day is Sunday.

[1] Bowral Free Press and Berrima District Intelligencer 7 September 1892, p.3
[2]  Bowral Free Press and Berrima District Intelligencer 7 September 1892, p.3

[3] Bowral Free Press and Berrima District Intelligencer 7 September 1892, p.3
[4]  Referee Newspaper, 14 September 1892 p.8

– Jim Knocks Himself Out

Society member, Jim McSweeney had a bit of bad luck when umpiring a game at Trumper Park between Eastern Suburbs and South Sydney in 1960.

During the third quarter, Jim knocked himself out after a ball-up in play.  He bounced the ball then ran into it as the ruckmen attempted to punch the ball.

He fell to the ground and lay there unconscious while play continued after which the game was held up for about five minutes while St Johns Ambulancemen attended to him.  He was not especially hurt and continued on with the game.

It certainly was a firey encounter.

  • Players and spectators threw punches as the match ended;
  • One of the punches struck the boundary umpire;
  • Club officials were forced to call in police while a number of people demonstrated outside the umpires’  room after the match.
  • The League president, Wilf Holmes, warned one spectator to leave the ground and told him his admittance would be refused at future games.

McSweeney reported three players for fighting during the match he also reported a reserve grade player for abusing him after the game.

When the match finished a number of spectators rushed at the umpire attempting to strike him, one punch hitting boundary umpire, Ray McMullen.

There was a a fair bit of both on and off-field violence following WWII right up to the seventies.  Thankfully, such is not the case today.

Image shows Jim McSweeney in 1969.  He is the shortest one in the centre of the photograph.