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
Now the footy season has started, who does the work?
We can’t say how many players or administrators read this site but the attached we purloined from a footy publication really says it all. It might not be in chronological order but all VERY true. Click the image to read it.
Society officials, President Ian Granland and Vice President Paul Macpherson met with executives from the Sydney Swans Football Club today to discuss football heritage in NSW, as well as what the club has achieved prior to 1982 and within the sport in this State.
For some time the History Society has been gathering as much material as possible on the game from throughout NSW, both tangible and digital, to add to its ever expanding repository of significant historical items and events of the game.
The Swans intention is aimed at documenting the heritage of their club, including the days of South Melbourne FC, and educating their steadily growing membership, which is likely to top 60,000 by year’s end, with not only their history but the history of football in NSW.
Swans CEO Andrew Ireland was very positive in his endeavours to promote the concept and could not have chosen a better mentor than Paul Macpherson, an archivist and librarian by occupation. His expertise will afford an solid guide to those trainees regarding what is expected in the serious business of seeking out and preserving the heritage of the club during an era which extends well over a period of one hundred years.
The promoter of the concept, former Swans Chairman and now a member of the SCG Trust, Richard Colless AM, was passionate in his efforts to facilitate this gathering of the two parties.
Finally, Society Vice President, Paul Macpherson said “our group looks forward to the next practical steps with the Swans in spreading more widely the knowledge of the long and fascinating history of football in NSW.”
In early 1963 the NSW Football League formed a committee to investigate ways of improving the code in New South Wales and most particularly in Sydney.
Football had had its ups and downs but thankfully this group felt the need to push the game in a better direction.
Looking at the names involved in the league’s management committee that year one stands out and that is Rhys Giddey. He grew up in Western Sydney and was formerly a ruckman with the Western Suburbs Club who later transferred to the then new Bankstown side (1958-62) that played out of Memorial Oval. In those years Giddey described himself as a ‘teacher’.
As a player, Giddey was all arms and legs but gave no quarter if it came to who was in charge on the field. He was a big man. In many circles his business judgement perhaps did not get the respect it eventually deserved and in not so many years he had ditched football to become a millionaire in the business world.
But nevertheless he moved from a player with Bankstown to a member of the League’s Board of Management in 1962 during a period of absolute turmoil for the competition.
At the time it was subject to litigation from a former league secretary and the league itself was broke after what seemed a generation of debt; but no-one seemed to care, they just kept rolling along season after season continuing declaring a debit balance, a situation that was quite the opposite to what happened in 1954 when a healthy profit was revealed. For a league this size, these figures were big money in those days. The average yearly wage for male managers and clerks in 1950 was £433 1s 4d
These figures have been rounded off
Giddey declared in his 1963 report to the league as fulltime secretary (General Manager):
“ …. it has also been under pressures which, in 60 years, had not previously been experienced.
The season saw the League once again with a new Secretary, the third in as many years and also saw the unprecedented action of the immediate past Secretary issuing three writs against members of the Board, a writ against the President, together with a summons against the members of the Board. The writ against the President and two of the other writs have had judgment signed in favour of the defendants. The latest writ and the summons is still current….”
The group charged with formulating the report was the NSWANFL Advisory Board, sometimes seen as a bunch of old timers whose opinions really did not count. The Advisory Board was somewhere to park these men who had formerly been involved in the game.
But this time their beliefs did count and they tabled their report in late August 1963.
The league then was comprised of only eleven clubs:
Western Suburbs, Newtown, North Shore, Eastern Suburbs, St George, Sydney Naval, Sydney University, South Sydney, Balmain, Liverpool/Bankstown (they combined at the start of 1963) and new club Parramatta.
Over the previous number of years then, there had been six or so stand out clubs: Western Suburbs, Sydney Naval, St George, Eastern Suburbs, Newtown and North Shore, then came the rest.
It was reported that the calibre of the bottom five clubs was “sub-standard” and Giddey said
“…in the main, the Senior League Clubs are run by men with some commercial acumen. These men realise that there is no such thing as a stable position – that you either progress or fall behind. The onus is on the executive of all Clubs to consider the affairs of their Club in the light of this axiom.
He continued in what is very positive and futuristic speak “…The time has come when the people holding office in the Clubs must consider and equate the interests of their Club in relation to the overall aims and objects of the League which they go to make up.
It is to be regretted that the majority of the Senior League Clubs have shirked their responsibilities in regard to the promotion of Third Grade teams. This short-sighted attitude is flying in the face of established precedent. Every successful Senior Club has always been supported by a strong Junior Team.”
The report forecast two divisions in Sydney. “It would” the report said “ensure a better standard of play in what would be the number one division.”
Of course history will record that it all came to nothing. Even Giddey’s words of encouragement fell on deaf ears.
Clubs in that time of democratic administration, had two votes apiece plus that of each board member so with the five clubs subject to relegation representing ten votes together with any sympathetic life member (life members also had a vote at league meetings) there was no chance the system could be changed.
So the strong got stronger and the weak stumbled through. A second division was not introduced until 1971 and even then it was more made up of new clubs within the Sydney area. At the same time new leagues also began to pop up in areas forever considered rugby strongholds in the state.
But time changes everything.
Who would ever think in 1963 that today four of the clubs are no more, another has joined with one of the newer clubs while a ‘fringy’, having gone through so many name changes will probably never aspire to the senior league, not that they would probably want to.
When Giddey said in 1963 “The Board will consider carefully the possibility of promoting football in suburban areas which fringe the city Clubs.” Basically he was right, although ‘the Board’ didn’t do any promoting of football in the burgeoning areas of Sydney and beyond. It was footy people who moved there to start new clubs for the most part with little or no assistance, that changed the character and the structure of the league and football in NSW.
There have been about four published reviews of Sydney football over the years with this one in 1963, the first.
Most contained idealistic words of growth, development and success.
In 2017 football is definitely better; the competitions are better structured and there is a more diverse group of people running the game now who appear much more informed generally.
NSWAFL Annual Reports 1954-64
SMH 25 August 1963
State Library of Victoria, Wages in Victora
The development and expansion of NSW football took place mostly in the 1970s really makes you ask why?
The last major addition to Sydney football was in 1948 when Western Suburbs and Balmain re-emerged and Sydney University were formed.
But in the seventies not only did new clubs appear in Sydney, including Manly, St Ives, Sutherland, Blacktown, Mac Uni, Bankstown Sports, Campbelltown, Pennant Hills etc. but new leagues developed on the South Coast, the Illawarra and Central Coast all spawning new teams.
One reason offered for the expansion of the game was that the baby boomers began moving out to the suburbs and regional areas.
City clubs like Sydney Naval, South Sydney and later Newtown felt that exit and went out of business. These were inner city clubs that excelled during the first half of the last century but struggled when the youth was no longer there to take over.
The East Sydney Club, formerly Eastern Suburbs, emerged out of an amalgamation of Paddington and East Sydney Clubs in 1926. They withstood the exodus for most of the century however they began to rely heavily on interstate players and players from out of their area. They kept a junior division but it struggled to sustain the re-supply of players needed at senior club level. Eventually they combined with the University of NSW in 2000 to form a new club, UNSW-ES.
This was the first time their officials saw the need to merge whilst Sydney (Naval) on the other hand had combined with the reserve grade Public Service Club in 1923 and not that much later with Balmain in 1926. On both occasions they stuck with their given name. They did however toy with the idea of changing the title to Glebe in about 1930, shortly after shifting their home ground to Wentworth Park, but, they maintained the title, Sydney, until 1944 when the naval influence in the club resolved to alter it to Sydney Naval.
Clubs have come and gone; the present Blacktown club for example is the third to assume that name.
While Newtown faded off to oblivion there did appear to be a whisker of light with the emergence of a new Newtown junior club some years ago. The aging South Sydney faithful may hold out a glimmer of hope that one day the Randwick Saints might work their way to the purpose built Australian football ground at Kensington Oval. But, like Trumper Park, the grandstand there has been demolished.
How long is it since South Melbourne relocated to Sydney and went on to become the Sydney Swans?
If you said thirty-three years you would be right.
They have now established themselves as part of the Sydney sporting scene, trend setters in a number of ways and accepted by many whom 30 years ago could not spell Australian football. Of course now its the turn of GWS to make their mark in Sydney.
But those who orchestrated the move, who pushed the VFL into playing outside of Melbourne, a move which eventually led to the creation of a national competition? Who were they? Well, they now have all but gone.
You might ask, who was it that came up with the Sydney idea and why?
The VFL president at the time, Allen Aylett, (pictured) certainly was in the box seat for the change and history will probably recognize him as the man responsible for change.
Allen is now 82 and there is no doubting his footballing talent. He played 220 games with the North Melbourne club, captain and later president leading North to change its image from also-rans into that of a football powerhouse.
But the VFL had to tread on egg-shells in their effort, not so much to make a presence in Sydney, but to convince their clubs of the move, to overcome the straitlaced Victorian Government’s ‘no football on Sunday policy’ (apart from the VFA) and at the same time appease the struggling grass roots football fraternity in Sydney.
In 1980 the fractured NSW Football League administration met with Aylett and VFL General Manager, Jack Hamilton with regards to the possible establishment of a VFL club in Sydney.
The then erstwhile secretary of the NSWAFL, Kevin Taylor, a fastidious administrator who left no stone unturned in documenting a record of the meeting, gave a very factual account of the gathering in the league’s 1980 annual report which can be read here.
More specifically, Kevin’s record of the meeting and what was said is set out here.
Let us not forget that certainly in the first year of South Melbourne’s move to Sydney, the VFL: rostered a Sydney Football League match as curtain raiser to the main game, paid the Sydney Football League $1,000 as compensation (for what is unsure) each time a VFL game was played at the SCG and most importantly negotiated with the VFL television carrier to telecast the match Australia wide.
And how will history judge Allen Aylett, the dentist who gave so much of his time and energy to change only to have his wings clipped by the VFL in 1983. We hope people see Allen as a true champion and leader of our great game.
Alas these memories are soon cast aside as life moves on through time and some other issue grabs the attention of the footballing public. But never so much as the time of the VFL’s move to Sydney.
Many times the statement has been said Sydney football is not what it used to be.
Well I guess there could be agreement and disagreement to this statement. Anyone playing or involved in a particular era may well say that football in their time was the strongest.
How do you judge? Well you can’t.
The strength of clubs come and go. Who in their wildest dreams would have imagined that the strongest and most successful club in the competition for decades, Newtown, would fold?
They produced quite a number of VFL (now AFL) players, one of whom went on to captain and coach St Kilda.
The quality of football in Sydney, the nation’s largest city, remains pretty much as it has always been, good, fair and reasonable. But it would never compare with the VFL, SANFL or WAFL.
Generally the strength of the game moved to areas where juniors were encouraged in growing and developing pockets in the city. But it is true that clubs like East Sydney (formerly Eastern Suburbs) thrived on the talent of young footballers who moved to Sydney and took up residence in the Eastern Suburbs.
But all that has changed. Yes, there is still a migration of players but living in the eastern suburbs is quite expensive, in fact anywhere in Sydney is costly.
And let us not forgot those servicemen who played their part in Sydney football.
The army had several bases in and around Sydney as did the navy which had a number of land bases besides the ships whose home port was Garden Island. And later the influence of the RAAF from Richmond and bases near Bankstown. At any one time most Sydney clubs boasted service personnel in their number. Many of these bases though have either been abandoned or moved interstate.
And, on the former subject, from what we can glean there are not the numbers of players relocating to Sydney even temporarily. Certainly not the glut of blue collar workers there used to be. Most of those who now make the move are office workers, IT specialists, professionals and the like. It’s now left to Sydney’s outer suburbs to supply the tradies and labourers in football. Now remember, this is a general statement, not specific.
In most clubs there is that thin veneer of dedicated officials who keep the club afloat. One enthusiast encourages another and another. Success breeds success but it never lasts, just look at the Campbelltown Club. But so long as these officials can hang in success will eventually come. It’s a big ask.
Has Sydney footy grown? Well that’s questionable. No definite figures have been kept on the growth of the game since WWII, and if a real push to increase the participation rate exists, they need to be. They need to be so some comparison can be made. The advice to contemporary officials: don’t reinvent the wheel and certainly do not repeat the mistakes of the past. Probably a well worn statement but unless these mistakes and for that fact successes, are documented then they will occur again.
Are the annual team/player figures accessible at both junior and senior level? Most probably but it would take some digging.
We look to junior clubs to produce our senior footballers. Are there the same number of junior clubs say, 10, 20, 30 or even 40 years ago and are they churning out the same numbers today?
You would be surprised at the depth of Sydney junior football in the seventies and eighties and officials of today probably look back at those years saying “we are doing it better.” Maybe you can now get chilli sauce on your hotdog at the canteen, but so far as doing it better, I doubt it. It’s all about the passion.
Is it subjective, well do the maths. Look at the number of juniors going through to senior football today and those who have made the AFL ranks as compared to yesteryear.
The drop-off at 15-17 years of age in all sport will probably never really be curtailed but it could be challenged. Now with all these divisions in Sydney footy, if there is not one in existence for ‘turn up and play’ participants, a strategy could be developed to encourage these young men, some of whom may have struggled at the game, to reconnect and play in this or another of those divisions. Maybe, as we said it’s where you just turn up and play. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?
The game needs as many participants as possible, not just stars. More bums on seats. Many young guys may not be standouts in the game but if they stay involved they become supporters and/or officials and eventually parents, the game will need their sons and daughters and as time goes on, their children participating as well.
Its a big job with a lot of smart thinking required.
After the resuscitation of the game in Sydney in 1903, administrators of the Australian became quite concerned that players disqualified in one code could cross and play with another, be that Australian, rugby or under British rules (to use the term of the day now known as soccer).
So the following year they arranged a conference between officials from the three codes to discuss the matter with the ensuing result:
“On the Initiation of the N.S.W. Football League (Australian Rules), a meeting of delegates from the N.S.W League (Australian Rules), the N.S.W. Association (British Rules – soccer), and the Metropolitan Rugby Union, (Rugby League had not then been introduced in Australia) was held at the Sports Depot (NSW Sports Club) Hunter Street on Friday, to consider tho subject of reciprocity in disqualification. It has been considered for sometime that it is desirable that disqualification by one executive should carry disqualification by all. The delegates meeting fully endorsed this view and unanimously agreed to record to their various executives the following :
That in the event of any player being disqualified, the N.S.W. Football League (Australian Rules), the Metropolitan Rugby Union, or the N.S.W. Football Association – (British Rules), the disqualification shall be endorsed by tho remaining bodies.
That no application from a disqualified player be entertained by any of the three bodies until the disqualification is removed by the body disqualifying.Â That this shall not be retrospective except in the case of disqualification for life.
As disqualification is not enforced except for a serious offence, it should help to keep, up the tone of football if the penalty is recognised by all the bodies. The action of the League in taking the Initiative in ‘this matter Is to be commended.”
It has to make you wonder how long these rules existed for and how committed the three bodies were in their application. Which one defaulted first?
This is the first time we have read of any such rule and today it certainly would be an eye opener for readers in states other than NSW and Queensland where Australian football reigns supreme.
By 1904 Rugby Union was a massive winter sport in NSW and it was only with the introduction of Rugby League in 1908 that ‘Rugby’ lost its strangle hold on the men and boys of these two states.
You have probably never heard of the phrase ˜District football”.
Well ˜District football” was first introduced into Sydney in 1912. It was a concept which already had been adopted in football and club sports throughout much of Australia and most certainly in the Sydney rugby codes. The scheme was set aside during the first war only to be reintroduced in 1926 when Australian football in Sydney was rejuvenated through a number of changes.
Jim Phelan, after whom the Sydney competition’s best and fairest medal is named, was the main advocate of District Football.
Basically it meant that a club had to represent an electoral district and have the title of that district in its name. Also, and probably more importantly, players had to reside in the district in which they played. Should a player move his residence and want to change clubs, he had to provide at least two months notification of such move before a clearance could be granted. In some cases, the player might have to stand out for up to eight games.
So if you were a coach or administrator and knew of a gun player who moved to Sydney but did not live in ˜your district”, what would you do?
Correct, you would register him under a bodgie address a process that was practiced far and wide in Sydney. Almost every club did it and it became a standing joke. All officials knew, but very few took any action of reporting such incidents to the league.
In some cases up to twenty players could be illegally registered as living at the address of the club secretary or some other officials.
To play football, players have always had to first sign a registration form which provided their name, address, date of birth, any club/s they had previously played with and whether or not they were under suspension. These forms were signed by the player and counter signed by a club official.
Subsequently, completed player registration forms would be taken by the club delegate to the league Match and Permit Committee meetings which were held each Friday evening at the league offices. There, they were tabled and the names of the intending players were read out before the committee and other club delegates. So if there were any shenanigans, it was here that objections could initially be raised.
Only the sharpest of club delegates would be awake to any underhandedness.
Anecdotally, one player who wanted a clearance from Balmain to East Sydney in the mid 1970s, actually had his clothes and other belongings in a spare bedroom in a Paddington house as pseudo proof of residence, although he still resided at Ermington.
Over the years there were the odd reports of erroneous information being supplied on the player registration forms. If substantiated, the club would be subject to a possible fine and the player to immediate suspension. Few of these happenings were actually followed through.
These restrictions on player movements were straightened out in the late 1970s or early eighties when club boundaries, all of which were documented in the league rules, were abolished.
Here are a couple of early examples of club boundaries first documented in 1913:
East Sydney “ Starting at a point on the west side of Phillip Street and Elizabeth Street (Sydney) from Circular Quay to Cleveland Street. On the south by Cleveland Street, on the east by Randwick Road (part of Anzac Parade), Greens Road and Glenmore Road to Darling Point, thence along harbor line to point of commencement.
Balmain – From Sydney Football Club boundary at Epping Race course (Harold Park Paceway) along a harbour line around Rozelle to Balmain, including Five Dock, Drummoyne, Hen and Chicken Bay to Parramatta Road and along Annandale boundary to starting point.
Another ruse clubs used was to put an unregistered player on the field under a different name. Some clubs had two or three names of players who simply did not exist and these bodgie players would play under one of these. Others put the new or temporary player under the name of one of their players who was absent.
The problems with this was that should the player be reported he would have to appear before the tribunal or if the name used over a period, received a number of best and fairest votes from the umpire, the bodgie player could well be in the running for a league best and fairest award. This was particularly the case in the lower grades.
But, with computerisation of player registrations and clearances, it is all different now. Or, do some clubs still use some of these nefarious practices?
The depth and spread of AFL football in Sydney continues. This season sixty-two senior teams compete in the Sydney AFL competition.
These teams are spread across six divisions. Additionally, there are two teams in the NEAFL, Sydney University and the Sydney Hills Eagles. Plus there are fifteen teams in the two Under 19 divisions. That’s a grand total of 79 footy teams.
The Sydney competition now includes clubs from Gosford in the north to Wollongong in the south and to Penrith in the west, down to Camden in the south west and out to Hawkesbury in the north west.
This is a far cry from twenty years ago when there were only twenty two teams in two divisions. And if we go back to 1904 there were just ten teams. Only three clubs survive from this period, North Shore, Balmain, and East Sydney albeit in a merged form with the University of New South Wales.
However, the structure of the current Sydney competition is not based on geography but rather on performance. The teams are placed in the respective division based on their final placing at the end of the previous season. Some clubs such as the Macarthur Giants and the Wollondilly Knights field only one team while Sydney Uni has teams in every division except division two.
The genesis of the spread was the uni clubs in Sydney instituting a ‘fourth grade’ to accommodate an excess of players, mainly on a social basis on a Saturday morning in the late 90s. It was informal competition to begin but the Sydney AFL administration eventually embraced it as a way for forward for new clubs.
Many new clubs had been formed in Sydney over the past century but had always struggled to get established while playing in the one senior competition. Over the years clubs such as Bankstown, Parramatta and Liverpool had entered and exited the main competition unable to match it with the established clubs.
The formation by the NSW AFL in 1971 of a second division provided a competition for new clubs to emerge. Three of the six clubs in the new division were from the universities: Sydney, UNSW (which had formerly competed disproportionately in the senior competition) and Macquarie, while a fourth, Salesians, were based on a boys home in the Sutherland Shire operated by the De La Salle order. South Sydney, a foundation club that had struggled since WWII, and new club, Warringah on the northern beaches made up the rest of the division.
Warringah, became Manly-Warringah in 1979, and became a powerhouse in the second division. The Wolves rise as a club in Sydney culminated in them winning the Premier division title last year. Manly, as they are most commonly known, have a strong junior base and an upgraded home ground. This season they field teams in three divisions and the Under 19s.
Alas South Sydney folded at the end of the 1976 season and Salesians lasted only the one season. But the pathway was established for new clubs to find a suitable competition; in the 70s new clubs from Pennant Hills, St Ives, and Campbelltown came through. In the 1980s further new clubs such as Baulkham Hills, Parramatta, and Penrith got their start in the second division.
Baulkham Hills, now known as the Sydney Hills Eagles, finished last in the first season in 1983. Thirty years later, the club from the Hills is in the semi national NEAFL after a strong run of success in the 2000s in the Sydney Premier division.
Now clubs such as the Randwick City Saints, the Blacktown Magic, and the Moorebank Magpies have an appropriate level of competition in which to play and prosper. Aligned with the AFL NSW-ACT’s approach to secure grounds by working closely with local council on development it augurs well for the continued spread of the game in Sydney.