Moving the Goalposts

By Rod Gillett

                            Giants players put AFL goal-posts back up at the Olympic Park Stadium at Homebush this week

AFL goal-posts are back up at the Olympic Park Stadium, now known as Accor Stadium.

The GWS Giants will host cross-town rivals the Sydney Swans at the stadium on Saturday (19 March) in Round 1 of the 2022 AFL season with the anticipation that Lance Franklin might kick the five goals he requires to reach the magic 1,000 figure.

The last AFL match to be played at the Stadium was 2016 qualifying final between the Swans and Giants which attracted a crowd of 60,222 won by the Giants.  

This is the 53 rd AFL match to be played by the Swans at this venue. They played a series of “blockbusters” and finals games at the Olympic Stadium from 2002 through until 2015; this included ten finals.

                       Callum Ward helping with directing
                                  the posts into the ground

As a matter of interest in the 10 games played against Collingwood the crowd was in excess of 50,000 each time.

” The game was opened up to a greater range of people from all over Sydney, especially western Sydney, as well as those to the north and south of the metropolitan area”, former Swans chairman Richard Colless, who was the key driver of the push to Olympic Park, told me in an interview recently in his office suite in Edgecliff.

Colless convinced the AFL hierarchy to invest in the re-configuration of the ground after the 2000 Olympic Games to provide for an oval – suitable for AFL football.  The cost to the AFL was a modest annual rent. Neither Cricket Australia nor Cricket NSW were involved in any of the negotiations but were potential beneficiaries. 

Colless told me, “The prevailing view was that post the Olympics the facility would be naturally configured for football codes that used a rectangular field”. He took the view this was literally a once in a century opportunity to take the game (i.e., AFL) to the people. Rather than the reverse given half Sydney’s population lived west of Homebush and found it difficult and at times impossible to get to the SCG. 

“It required a compelling pitch to the AFL for them to grasp the opportunity as well as a strong argument to a cross-section of Swans administrators including coaching staff, of the benefits”, he added.

In summary, it exposed the game to an additional 2 million people (in the west of Sydney) and broke the monopoly the SCG held as to where AFL games could be staged. 

The Sydney Swans set a record crowd for a home-and-away game outside of Victoria when 72,393 attended the Swans v Collingwood match on 23 August 2003. This was followed by a crowd of 71,019 at the preliminary final that year, between the Swans and (eventual premier) the Brisbane Lions.

AFL matches at Homebush enabled the Swans to leverage a better relationship with the SCG. In 2016 they played all their games at the SCG under a new 30-year deal with which to probably for the first time both parties were genuinely comfortable.

Richard Colless

According to Colless, who served on the SCG Trust from 2014-2016, the first Australian football official since original trustee Phillip Sheridan (1876-1909), “The relationship is today an extremely professional one and it’s doubtful there is a more shared vision between any sporting facility landlord and a major tenant.  For example, on two occasions when major work was being undertaken at the ground the Trust took the opportunity to extend its length.  And it is now circa 10 metres longer than it was when the club first played there”.

For the Giants it will be just their third game at the Olympic Stadium. Their first-ever game in the AFL was Round 1 2012 when they were “home” to the Sydney Swans; they were convincingly beaten by 63 points, 5.7(37) to 14.16 (100). The crowd was an impressive 38,203. As already noted, they beat the Swans at the venue in the 2016 qualifying final.

The ledger going into Round 1 2022 is Swans 13 wins to the Giants nine.

(The extracts from the interview with Richard Colless are from an article published in the NSW Australian Football History Society’s forthcoming journal, Time On, to be released in April. This year’s special edition will be published at a commercial printery and  again sent to all members of the Society.

The views expressed by Mr Colless are his, and his alone, and are not to be construed as the official view of the Sydney Swans Football Club)

If you haven’t yet joined the NSW Australian Football History Society click this link to become part of saving Australian football history in this state.  You can join and pay online.

Footy on the Banks of the Murray

    Grand Final day at the Tocumwal Recreation Reserve 2009
        (From Miles Wilks, Australian Football Clubs in NSW)

By Dr Rodney Gillett

VFL club St Kilda, in 1960, on the cusp of the club’s most successful period in history, sensationally lost to the Murray Football League in a mid-season match in Tocumwal, a small town on the Murray River situated half-way between Echuca and Yarrawonga on the NSW side.

While matches between VFL clubs and local clubs/leagues were common up until 1970, usually when there was a bye for an interstate game, it was very rare for the locals to beat the big boys from the city.

Research by Paul Daffey, who wrote about this game for The Age in 2010, shows that there were only two other wins by country teams over VFL visitors: in 1901 Rutherglen beat South Melbourne, and in 1914, a Goulburn Valley rep team beat Carlton at Tatura.

St Kilda, missing Brownlow medallists, Neil Roberts and Verdun Howell who were both playing for Victoria, shot out to a seven-goal quarter time lead, led by four goals at half-time, and two at the final break. The lead changed four times in the final quarter, then the Murray league team drew clear to win by 14 points.

The Murray league-St Kilda match was also significant because it was Allan Jean’s last game. He had played for Murray league clubs Tocumwal and Finley before joining the Saints.

In 1960, when was 26, Jeans was battling to overcome strained rib cartilages, but according to Daffey, he was determined to play against the Murray league. After the game, he succumbed to his injury and became St Kilda’s non-playing Reserves coach.

The next season he was appointed senior coach and in a sixteen-year period coached St Kilda to its one and only premiership in 1966, as well as grand finals in 1965 and 1971. Later, of course, he coached Hawthorn to three premierships.

The 1960 match was played at the Tocumwal Recreation Reserve, which has been the scene for the biggest games in the area, including representative fixtures and Murray league grand finals from 1931 until the Toc footy club left the league for the Picola league in 2014.

The ground is in an idyllic setting alongside the Murray River set amongst the river gums. And it’s a long ground: 190 metres from fence-to-fence and 150 metres wide.

It has first-rate facilities including a pavilion that includes a viewing area and social rooms on one level, and change-rooms below. Levee banks built up over the years protect the ground from flooding.

“It’s a big ground to play on” testifies Jim Cullen, who played 319 games for the Bloods from 1957-77 and is widely regarded as Tocumwal’s greatest player ever, having won the competition best and fairest in 1965 and played in the much-celebrated 1967 premiership.

“You could move about anywhere you wanted to”, Cullen who played in the centre told me in an interview for this piece. “There was plenty of room to move. I liked it very much”.

Cullen was pitted against some of the best players in the league that at that time who were ex VFL players coaching in the Murray league including former Footscray 1961 grand final star Graham Ion (Deniliquin), ex St Kilda back pocket player Brian Walsh (Cobram), and former champion St Kilda centreman Lance Oswald at Strathmerton.

He missed the St Kilda match in 1960 due to injury but played against Hawthorn, North Melbourne and Footscray – all games were played on the Tocumwal Recreation Reserve.

The Tocumwal Recreation Reserve which consists of 61 acres was gazetted as a public park in 1882. Football was first played on the reserve in 1893 on the site of the Pony Club when the newly formed Tocumwal Football Club took on cross-river rivals Cobram. They commenced playing on the current site in 1909.

Tocumwal were a foundation club of the Murray Football League formed in 1931; their two greatest rivals, Finley and Berrigan, joined two years later.

The Bloods’ finest moment in the Murray league came in 1967 with a premiership win over Cobram coming after grand final losses to Berrigan (1965) and Deniliquin (1966) to break a premiership drought of twenty-one years.

      Julian Vise

Coached by Don Whitten, who played in Yarraville’s 1961 VFA premiership team after playing with his brother Ted at Footscray from 1956-58, came to coach Toc in 1964 and took over the licence of the Tattersall’s Hotel.

In a match-winning move, Whitten placed star centreman Jim Cullen at full-forward where he booted 5 goals. Jim told me, “We got a good start, and hung on all day”. Other good players were former Rochester and Collingwood player Julian Vise at centre-half forward and key defender Jeff Beasley.

Tocumwal won its tenth and last Murray league premiership in 2009 when the new complex on the river side of the oval was opened. Julian Vise

The new scoreboard named in honour of Jim Cullen was constructed in 1977 following Jim’s retirement from playing and coaching. He then served on the committee for 20 years including ten as president as well as a trustee of the Recreation Reserve.

Meanwhile, the toilet block that a young Allan Jeans had helped build in the early 1950s has been replaced by more modern conveniences.

Acknowledgements: Jeff Seamer, Alan Jones, Jim Cullen and Greg Whatmore

Trumper Park – Spiritual Home of Football in Sydney

Dr Rodney Gillett continues the series on famous grounds in NSW with a look at the oldest oval in Sydney still being used for Australian football named after Victor Trumper

On any Sunday in the wintertime of the 1960s the big bookies in Sydney would go to the footy at Trumper Park. After fielding at the races on the Saturday, the bookies would huddle together in the front section of the Frank Dixon Grandstand and ply their trade.

“They would take bets on anything”, the late Jack Dean told me in an interview back in 2008, “Result of the game, half-time, quarter-by-quarter, whether a bloke would kick a goal or not. And it was quite obvious what was going on. Punters lined up to get a bet on.”

Back in this period Trumper Park would host the match-of-the day at Trumper Park. Most of the finals were also played here including grand finals from 1956-1978 as well as representative fixtures against interstate teams and VFL clubs.

Jack Dean played for Eastern Suburbs in the 1950s, and then after a stint coaching Ardelthan in the Riverina, he returned to play for Sydney Naval in the early 1960s. It was the home-ground for both clubs. “It was tough, hard footy, being such a small ground (138 m x 114m ) there wasn’t much room to move. It suited me!”, Jack, a tough no-nonsense ruckman, told me.

Trumper Park was the home-ground for the club known as “Easts” (alternatively East Sydney or Eastern Suburbs) since the reformation of the NSW Australian Football League in 1903. It was only with the merger with the University of NSW club in 1999, and the subsequent relocation to the Village Green at the university, that Easts left Trumper Park.

The University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) club formed in 2000 took the place of East Sydney and made Trumper Park its home-ground. However, with the Bats elevation to the Premier League from the 2011 season, Waverly Oval has gradually become the senior team’s home ground with lower division teams playing at Trumper.

However, the ground remains the base for the East Sydney Junior footy club which is reputedly the largest junior AFL club in NSW with over 700 boys and girls playing Auskick and in junior competitions.

Trumper Park was named after the legendary cricketer Victor Trumper in 1931. Trumper played cricket for Paddington at the ground. He also played football for the Sydney club in the 1890s, but these games were played on Moore Park.

The ground was originally known as the Hampden Park Oval, in honour of Viscount Hampden, who was Governor of NSW (1895-99), and was opened in 1897.

At the opening of the oval there was a great demonstration of community feeling – the owners of produce stores gave bags of potatoes, butchers in the district gave a sheep each, bakers gave bread and grocers gave jams and tea. A bullock was roasted whole and various games were held, including a fancy-dress football match (Sydney Morning Herald 23 June 1897.

               Hampden Oval 1903

However, it’s the East Sydney football club that is inextricably linked to Trumper Park.

Former East Sydney player and official Bob Wilton, now the convenor of the Past Players’ Association, remembers first going to the ground as a seven-year old with his father Bill in 1950 to watch a game, “It was a magical place for me. So lively, all the players were big and strong and were smothered in oil. I was entranced”, Bob told me in an interview for this piece.

Bob, who lived close by the ground and went to Glenmore Public School, started playing for his beloved Easts in the Under 12s when he was 9 years old. He and his brother, Garry, and school-mates, Brian Ratcliffe, the Gray brothers, Jim and John, and Ken and Brian Airth, all started in the juniors and went onto play senior footy for the Bulldogs.

1973 East Sydney’s Bob Wilton marking .

“Our coach Roy Hayes (Easts’ star player) was a god to us”, Bob told me. “We played against teams from Newtown, South Sydney, and Balmain at the Bat and Ball Oval on Moore Park”.

In the 1950s and early 60s the match of the round was played at Trumper Park on Sundays. At the time the NSW Rugby League matches on Saturdays at the SCG. “There was always a good game on particularly involving Easts, Newtown, Wests, and even Sydney Naval” recalls Bob Wilton (pictured right marking over a Wests opponent in the 1971 grand final at Trumper Park), “and they attracted pretty good crowds, the grandstand and the hill would be packed with spectators”.

“It (Trumper Park) was a little colosseum with an emotion-charged atmosphere, the crowds came to watch the gladiator ruckmen like Jack Dean take on Jacky Armstrong from Souths or Newtown’s Ellis Noack. Also big Freddy Pemberton from Wests, who used to coach

“Grand Final day every year had a terrific atmosphere; people would come from all over Sydney by train, or tram, or by foot, to crowd into Trumper Park. The bookies would be there, and you could buy a beer, even on a Sunday from the tuck shop under the grandstand”.

“Änd invariably there’d be an all-in brawl to start the game, Sydney football”, Bob recalled wistfully of the ground that remains close to his heart and many other older footy fans in Sydney.

John Foord Oval, Corowa

Peter Clark continues our series on famous football grounds in New South Wales.

In this story of Corowa’s John Foord Oval we will look at the riverside sporting venue’s history and take a nostalgic trip back to a typical winter Saturday at the ground in the 1960s.

As football leagues were starting to spring-up in country places throughout Victoria and the Riverina, a popular movement was initiated in the Murray River town of Corowa that helped build the pathway to Federation. The ‘Corowa Conference’, organised by the Corowa Federation League, was held in the winter of 1893, the same year the Ovens and Murray Football Association was formed. This first People’s Convention set in train the practical measures essential for the acceptance of a federal constitution. Hence, Corowa is known as the “Birthplace of Federation.”

European settler, John Foord (1819-83), took up land south of the Murray in the 1850s and established the ‘Wahgunyah Run’. Apart from his agricultural pursuits, Foord became a punt owner and bridge builder. He established Wahgunyah in 1856 and three years later purchased land north of the river for a new settlement to be known as North Wahgunyah (Corowa). The settlement thrived amid the north east Victorian goldfields at a time when river transport was prosperous. In 1892 an iron bridge was built over the Murray at Corowa, later named after pioneer John Foord.

A football ground is also named in his honour. John Foord Oval is situated just above the banks of the Murray River at Corowa, right beside that historic bridge. The ground was officially known for many years as the Corowa Recreation Reserve. In 1884, 20 acres of land along the Murray River near the bridge was set aside by the NSW Department of Lands as a recreational reserve.  The location of the ground presented one serious, recurrent obstacle – inundation by floods. Year after year damage was done to the fencing and the surface of the ground by wash-outs and the unwanted deposition of sand.

Let’s go back 60 football seasons, to July 1961, and visualise the atmosphere at John Foord Oval during a game between the home side and Wodonga.

The sign at the entrance to the reserve boasts the name ‘John Foord Oval’, home of the Corowa ‘Spiders’. Cars carrying families of home team and visiting supporters roll through the gates and head for the prized boundary-side spaces on the river side of the ground.

The savoury-smell of steaming saveloys wafts through the air as spectators settle into their seats around the fence in readiness for the game. Many in the crowd read their ‘Critic’ football programs to learn snippets of club news and check on the names and numbers of opposition players.

A roar suddenly explodes from the Spider’s change room as the door springs open and twenty players emerge. In single-file they run and skip towards the ground entrance gate, before spilling out onto the oval greeted by toots of car horns, cheers and claps from the home crowd. The visitors soon follow with a slightly more subdued reception.

The crowd has built up nicely and Corowa supporters are shoulder-to-shoulder near the clubrooms on the north western side. Clothed in felt hats and grey coats, men puff on their smokes as the anticipation of the contest grows. Women chat, some dextrously knitting, as they wait and watch. By their sides sit cane baskets filled with afternoon tea and a thermos or two. Fully sun-lit, the ground is ready for the afternoon’s action as a hush falls over the crowd. As players take their designated positions the shrill sound of the umpire’s whistle signals the imminent start of the game. Cheers and supporter’s calls break out, “Carn the Spiders!” and “Come on Bulldogs!” The orange-red leather is bounced and play gets under way.

Today, visitors to the ground are welcomed by a tree sculpture featuring footballers rising to mark the ‘Sherrin’. The sculpture symbolises the unique character of the ground and the game – the football being contested amid the backdrop of river red gum trees. Another iconic feature of John Foord Oval is the Fred Swift Stand, named in honour of Corowa’s 1968 rags-to-riches premiership captain coach. The original wooden grandstand, named after 1932 premiership captain coach Ray ‘Nana’ Baker, was destroyed by fire. The wire netting fence, with its concrete posts, together with the scoreboard on the south eastern flank are other reminders that we are at the home of football in Corowa.

John Foord Oval has been the home ground of: the Border United FC (1877- 1905; 1914-19; 1944-47); the Corowa FC (1906-1913; 1920-43; 1948-78); the forerunner to the Corowa Reserves, the Corowa Stars (1922-1952); and in the last four decades, the Corowa-Rutherglen FC (1979- present). Corowa won two O&MFL premierships (1932 and 1968) prior to amalgamating with neighbours Rutherglen in 1979, with another two flags following (2000 and 2003).

The club and the oval are linked with local football names such as: Baker, Sandral, Longmire, Chisnall, Lane, Lambert, Tait, Tobias, Way, O’Donoghue, Houlihan, Spencer and Bartlett. But they are also associated with footballers who came to Corowa from further afield and had a big impact. Fred Swift, Frank Tuck, Bill King, John Hoiles, Tommy Lahiff, Jack Clancy and Peter Tossol fit that category.

The Corowa ground was one of the regular venues for Ovens and Murray League grand finals and other finals in the era between the wars. Let’s look at one of those matches.

The 1919 Ovens and Murray Football Association premiership-decider between Lake Rovers and Howlong, played at Corowa, featured “a count” and a thrilling finish. In the third quarter the captain of the Rovers called on umpire Chrisfield to line up the Howlong players for a count. The check revealed that Howlong had 19 men on the ground. Under the rules, Lake Rovers were entitled to have their opponent’s scored ‘wiped off’, but they decided against it. Play resumed and Howlong put up a strong challenge in the last quarter, coming to within two points of the lead, but responding with two goals, the premiership went to Lake Rovers. Final scores: Lake Rovers 6.7 (43) d. Howlong 4.4 (28).

The winners of Ovens and Murray League grand finals played at Corowa were: 1923 (St. Patricks); 1926 (St. Patricks); 1929 (West Albury); 1933 (Wangaratta by one point over Border United); 1935 (Rutherglen); and 1936 (Wangaratta).

A new structure, the Federation Bridge, spans the Murray River at Corowa, while the John Foord Bridge remains as a local traffic crossing. A new chapter in the story of the union of the ‘colonies’ was written in 1979 with the merger of cross-border rivals Corowa (NSW) and Rutherglen (Victoria). The picturesque oval beside the John Foord Bridge lives on proudly as the local home of Ovens and Murray League football.


40 Years of Footy at the SCG – The Big Games Part 2

As the game celebrates 140 years and the Swans celebrate four decades of Aussie Rules at the SCG, Neil Cordy looks back at some of the games which have made the code a key ingredient in Sydney’s sporting history.

Plugger’s Record.

Tony Lockett kicks goal 1300 to pass Gordon Coventry as game’s greatest goal kicker.

Round 10 v Collingwood 1999

When Tony Lockett went past the 1,000 goal mark in his first season at the Swans (1995) it was just a matter of time before he was threatening Gordon Coventry’s long standing record of 1,299 career goals.

He overtook Doug Wade (1,057) mid-way through 1996 and then there was only Coventry in front of him.

Appropriately the opportunity to claim the record would come against Coventry’s old team Collingwood in round 10, 1999 at the SCG.

Needing four goals to make the record his Plugger had a day out kicking nine.

He would retire at the end of the year on 1,353 before making a three game comeback in 2002 and adding another seven majors to finish on 1,360.


Nick Davis comes to save us.

Semi Final v Geelong 2005.

Four last quarter goals sink Cats and keep the dream alive.

After losing a four point heart breaker to West Coast the week before in Perth Sydney looked set for a straight sets exit when they trailed Geelong by 22 points with just over 13 minutes left in the match.

The Swans star studded forward line of Barry Hall, Michael O’Loughlin, Ryan O’Keefe and Nick Davis had managed just three goals in the first three and half quarters. Four in just over 10 minutes seemed impossible to everybody except Davis.

His first came from a snap from a stoppage close to the boundary. The second from a contested mark close to goal and the third from another snap 40 metres out.

Each goal sent the Sydney fans further into delirium. His third had them at fever pitch.

With only seconds left a perfect Jason Ball hit out helped Davis to his fourth, a left foot snap. Anthony Hudson’s call “I see it but I don’t believe it,” instantly etched into Sydney’s memory banks.

Davis’s heroics created an indisputable feeling of destiny. The Swans beat St Kilda in the Preliminary Final the following week and then West Coast by four points to break a 72 year premiership drought.


The ‘RESPECT’ match.

Round 18 v Adelaide 2015.

In the midst of the ugliest episode in the AFL’s modern history Sydney Swans fans rallied around their hero Adam Goodes.

After two years of continual booing from opposition fans and abuse and bigotry from sections of the media, Goodes walked away from the game. In his absence Swans fans, players and staff produced an outpouring of support at the round 18 match against Adelaide at the SCG.

Before the game thousands of red and white T shirts bearing Goodes number 37, produced by sympathetic fans, were handed out for free.

The Sydney banner had one word on it, ‘RESPECT.’

Lewis Jetta celebrated his opening goal to the match with his own Indigenous ‘Bird’ dance in honour of Goodes. At the seven minute mark of the third quarter, acknowledging Goodes number 37, the entire stadium rose to applaud Goodes.

The champ returned to the team the following week as Sydney took on Geelong at Kardinia Park but announced his retirement six games later after the elimination final loss to North Melbourne.


Buddy Brilliant.

Lance Franklin’s lands fourth Coleman Medal

Round 23 v Carlton 2017.

Lance Franklin started the round 23 match against Carlton five goals behind Coleman Medal leader Josh Kennedy.

But very quickly it became clear he was in for a day out at the SCG.

In one of his very best games in red and white Buddy kicked 10 goals, picked up 25 disposals and took 10 marks. He beat Kennedy, who had won the last two Coleman Medals, by four after the Eagles star kicked just one goal four behinds against Adelaide at Subiaco.

It continued Franklin’s run of winning the Coleman Medal every three years.




Sydney Derby Final

The first All Sydney final at the SCG.

Elimination Final Swans v GWS, 2018.

Derby finals between non-Victorian teams are extremely rare. Adelaide’s 89 point semi-final win over Port Adelaide in 2005 is was the first and only one in the AFL era before the GWS Giants arrived in 2012.

Remarkably the 10 years of the GWS Giants time in Sydney has already seen two.

The first, a qualifying final in 2016 at Stadium Australia, saw the Giants beat the Swans by 36 points.

The first at the SCG came in the 2018 Elimination Final.

40,350 packed into the SCG to watch the Giants inflict even more pain on their cross town rivals with an easy 49 point win. Lance Franklin was held goal less and the Swans managed just four goals on their home deck. Toby Greene led the way for the Giants with three goals.


Swansong for Sydney greats as Buddy celebrates 300-

Round 23, v St Kilda 2019. 

There have been a lot of pressure packed moments at the SCG over the last four decades but the round 23 clash against St Kilda in 2019 wasn’t one of them.

This was a party.

With finals out of reach for the first time since 2009 there was nothing to do but celebrate the careers of premiership heroes Jarrad McVeigh, Kieren Jack, Heath Grundy and Nick Smith.

In a perfect confluence of milestone’s and farewells Lance Franklin also played his

Grundy and Smith had finished up earlier in the year but McVeigh and Jack got to go out with their boots on. Both put icing on the celebration cake with goals which lifted the roof off the SCG grandstands. They also got to sing the Swans song one more time when they ran out comfortable 45 point winners.

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.

Walbundrie Sports Ground – Part II

by Peter Clark

In Part I of the Walbundrie Sports Ground story we looked at the iconic features of the show ground/sports ground and its treasured place in the Walbundrie and the Hume Football Netball League communities.

The theme of Part II is memorable matches of football played at Walbundrie. We also glance at the historical context surrounding one of those unforgettable matches.

More than 200 finals games and about 1000 home and away games have been played at the Walbundrie Sports Ground over the past 110 years. It should be no surprise that some of the most memorable football matches in Hume League history have been witnessed at the ‘Riverina cross roads’ venue.

What are the elements that make some football matches memorable, in fact, so clear in the minds of football followers that incidents from matches played 40 or 50 years ago can be recalled in an instant? They can be: inspirational and brilliant performances by players; meetings of traditional rivals in grand finals; hotly contested local derbies; remarkable comebacks; heart-stopping moments in close contests; premiership-winning goals (and points); match-deciding umpiring decisions; knock-out blows and all-in-brawls, and often, a combination of several of those incidents.

Let’s start with one the most remarkable comebacks in Hume League history.

Trailing by seven goals at three quarter time in the 1978 HFL grand final did not faze the Walbundrie Tigers, well known for their gregarious nature. Many Walla supporters, believing victory was in the bag, left the ground early. Walbundrie stormed home in the final term to snatch the flag from fierce close-town rivals Walla. The Border Mail (16/9/78) headline told the story: “TIGERS DUMP WALLA WITH A 7 GOAL BLITZ’.

Legendary coach Tim Robb belts out the club song
                                   with Walbundrie players and supporters

In 1973 Walla played minor premiers Burrumbuttock in the grand final. The two sides had met in the second semi-final two weeks earlier in a remarkable match dominated by a strong wind, which blew for the entire game.  Walla won the toss and with that the match, scoring six goals in the first quarter while Burrumbuttock failed to register a score. For the rest of the game scoring seesawed under the effect of the wind. Halted by the gale in the last quarter, Walla had done enough with their downwind opportunities to win their way through to the grand final. Burrumbuttock regrouped and won the preliminary final against Rand, setting the stage for another crack at Walla.

The grand final was played in more benign weather conditions and produced a classic country football premiership-decider. Scores were close all afternoon and at the 27 minute mark of the last quarter were locked at 67 all. The crowd went wild with excitement at that point and a draw seemed certain.  With time running out, Walla wingman Graham Scholz broke clear sending his team into attack where a match-winning point was scored by former coach Bruce Diffey, who was playing his 252nd game. The final scores read: Walla 9.14 (68) to Burrumbuttock 10.7 (67). It was also a great day in the long career of 37 year-old Walla ruckman and club president Merv Wegener. He was playing his 280th game for the Grasshoppers. It was another record Hume League ‘gate’ at Walbundrie and the second year that all finals were played at the crossroads location.

The 1999 HFL grand final was just as close when Lockhart, undefeated all season, met Osborne at Walbundrie. The Cats timed their run perfectly and upstaged the raging favourite Demons to take out their sixth HFL premiership in eight seasons. The question of whether Lockhart had printed premiership t-shirts in expectation of victory remains unanswered, but myth or fact it has added to the intense rivalry between the clubs. That day a 15 year-old local lad named Adam Schneider kicked three goals, including two in the last quarter. Six sets of brothers (Hosie, Clarke, O’Connell, Gooden, Schneider and Gleeson brothers) represented Osborne in their massive boil-over win.

In 1976 when the “Protestants” (Brocklesby) played the “Germans” (Walla) in a game full of feeling, Walla full forward Garry Mickan dealt the KO premiership punch by goaling from 45 out on a 45 degree angle after a contentious mark. But a Brock player, incensed with Mickan’s in-your-face self congratulation, had other ideas of how things should finish – right on the spot he ‘jobbed’ Walla’s hero in his own version of a knockout blow.

Rivalries persist regardless of the importance of matches. And the outcome of some matches between rivals can be as vital as grand finals to the victors and the vanquished. Such was the case at Walbundrie late in the 1997 season when Walbundrie and Burrumbuttock were engaged in a battle to avoid the wooden spoon. Adding to the feeling, and ultimately the irony, was the fact that a former Burrumbuttock player, Paul Azzi “out of the blue”, was wearing the Tiger’s colours that year. With scores deadlocked who should kick a goal on the siren to sink Burrumbuttock, breaking their hearts and sending them to the bottom of the ladder? Azzi of course, and for Walbundrie it was like a grand final win.

We end by going all the way back to the first decade (1930’s) of the Hume League when 1937 Walbundrie premiership captain Tom Fagan performed a remarkable feat. With only seconds left on the clock in a match against Walla, Fagan’s cousin Dick took a mark and kicked a short pass to him. Sizing up the situation, Fagan casually prepared a mound and from a long way out proceeded to place kick the ball through for a match winning goal right on the final bell.

Tom Fagan went off to the Second World War and became a prisoner of war on the Burma-Thailand Railway. He survived his experiences and returned to his beloved Riverina district after the war. It is fitting that 38 Silky Oak trees were planted around the showgrounds in memory of the district men and women who enlisted for the Second World War. There were also five plane trees planted at the showgrounds (near the old School) as a memorial to the Five Walbundrie men who lost their lives in the First World War. An interpretation board has recently been erected at the site to help perpetuate the remembrance.




Walbundrie football stalwart Rick Clancy and local historian Leo Coyle provided some of the historical information and recounted several football incidents for the Walbundrie Sports Ground stories.

Erskineville Oval – a famous old Sydney Australian Football Ground

Dr Rodney Gillett continues the series on famous football grounds in NSW with a look at Erskineville Oval which was the venue for grand finals and interstate fixtures and the home ground of the extraordinarily successful Newtown club from 1903 until 1986.

Newton captain coach Sam Kekovich, who led the
    Blood-stained Angels onto Erskineville Oval
  in 1980-81, storms forward in the preliminary
          final against North Shore at the SCG.

Erskineville Oval hosted fifty Sydney AFL grand finals in the period 1908 until 1990 during which time it was the major ground for local and interstate fixtures.

It was the home-ground for the Newtown football club that was a powerhouse in the Sydney competition from its foundation in 1903 until its demise at the conclusion of the 1986 season.

The Blood-stained Angels won nineteen flags – of which 15 were accrued from 1928 to 1950 including six in consecutive seasons from 1945-1950.

NSW beat Victoria twice in the 1920s – playing on Erskineville Oval.

In 1923, in front of 8000 spectators, NSW beat Victoria 15-15 (105) to 11-19 (85) with Paddington full forward Stan Milton (after whom the AFL Sydney goal-kicking medal is named) booting three goals. Then in 1925, NSW again beat the Vics, this time by one point, 13-10 (88) to 13-9 (87) with three-time Phelan medalist Billy McKoy of the Sydney Club, starring on the wing.

Long-time Newtown official and NSW league administrator Jim Phelan in a 1930s article in the NSW ANFL Football Record explained that the fundamental reason for Erskineville Oval hosting the Sydney finals and interstate fixtures was financial. A better result was obtained from Erskineville than either the SCG or at the R,A,S., Showground, Moore Park (now FOX Studios)

Further, that the “whole atmosphere is, on the whole, more congenial in a football sense than that of any other playing ground controlled by the League” (NSW ANFL Football Record, 21 September 1935).

Erskineville Oval was originally developed and opened in 1885 as Macdonaldtown Park, however, it was later renamed in 1892 to its current title following the change of the name of the municipality.

The original ground (pictured below in 1935) had an east-west orientation and was located further west than its present position, more near Binning Street, but in 1937 construction started on Department of Housing flats with the ground relocated further east to its present location, adjacent to Mitchell Road.

The ground was enlarged specifically to cater for Australian football and was reconfigured to run north-south. A new grandstand was also constructed. The new oval

1935 Erskineville Oval (old)

was first used for by the Newtown club in season 1940, and it was the venue for the grand final in the same year, won by Newtown.

From a player’s perspective it was a good ground to play on because it was specifically developed for football, according to champion Newtown full-forward Denis Aitken, who won the league’s goal-kicking in 1962 with 96 goals and played in the 1967, 1968 and 1970 premiership teams.

“It was a good-sized ground and provided for more open play, it was also good from a spectator’s point of view and the ground had a good atmosphere with a grandstand as well as good vantage points around the ground” Denis told me in an interview for this article.

“Because the ground was open to the elements, the wind was always tricky. I mainly used a torpedo punt to kick for goals but at the southern end when it was windy I used a drop-punt”.

Denis like so many of his team-mates at the time like key defender Dennis O’Connor, back pocket Greg Schroder, famed boxing trainer Johnny Lewis, speedy winger Alan Sigsworth, half-forward Johnny Egan, rover Max Dean, centreman Graeme and his brother Reg “Sunny” Sambrook and the Free brothers, Ray, Bill and Harry, all grew up in the area.

Denis’s father, Robert, better known as Bert, also played for Newtown and was a member of four premiership teams – 1936, 1939, 1940 and 1942 as well as playing for NSW.  He was later on the committee and a selector.

Denis remembers going to Erskineville Oval as a young boy with his father, who worked in a factory at Alexandria. They lived at St Peters and took the train to Erskineville station, then walked the half-a-mile to the ground.

History Society President, Ian Granland recalls first going to the grand old ground in the early 1960s to see his club South Sydney play Newtown in a local derby, “Newtown were the best performed and organized club in Sydney at the time, they had strong support, mostly locals who would walk-in from all around the neighborhood, as well as catch the tram from Botany Rd and get off in Mitchell Road”.

“The Newtown supporters were very parochial, they were used to success. After games, which they usually won, they’d stream into the nearby Kurrajong pub to fraternize with the players”.

Newtown won its last premiership in 1970 when it beat North Shore in the grand final at Trumper Park, which became the venue for grand finals from 1956 until 1978.

Newtown’s last “hurrah” was the 1981 grand final under North Melbourne premiership star Sam Kekovich, when they beat traditional rivals East Sydney in the 2nd semi final but two weeks later, lost to Easts who were under first-year captain-coach Greg Harris by 89 points in the decider.

After not winning a game and suffering demoralising defeats in the 1986 season the Newtown club folded.

Erskineville Oval had again become the venue for Sydney league grand finals in 1981. This was after respective grand finals at the Showgrounds (1979) and the SCG (1980) for the same reasons that Jim Phelan outlined in 1935. It continued to host the grand finals until 1990.

However, with no permanent tenant the lease on the ground was taken over by the South Sydney Rugby League Club for training, thus ending over eighty years association with Australian football.

The Walbundrie Sports Ground – Part I

Written by Peter Clarke

As the old saying goes … “a picture is worth a thousand words.” And how true it is looking at an aerial shot of the Walbundrie Sports Ground, which in recent years has featured on the front cover of every Hume Football Netball League (HFNL) Grand Final program.

It is grand final day in the HFNL, which spans the fertile cropping and grazing country in the eastern Riverina northwards of Albury towards Lockhart. The ground is in tip-top condition in readiness for another premiership-decider, the netball grand finals are under way, the facilities for spectators are convenient and the hospitality is typically country-style and plentiful. Cars ring the boundary fence and are parked three deep in places. On the first Monday in October, the “largest one-day show in the Riverina” is held at the Walbundrie Sports Ground, but today the attention is on netball and football.

Two hundred and fifty metres north of Billabong Creek in the centre of the crossroads village of Walbundrie lies the Walbundrie Sports Ground. For over a century it was ‘Tiger’ territory, but since 2016 Walbundrie has been part of the three way Rand-Walbundrie-Walla Football Club that sports the Giants jumper and logo.

The Walbundrie Sports Ground is a typical country football/netball setting with a sprinkling of eucalypts, cypress pine and peppercorn trees surrounding the ground and netball courts. The spacious showgrounds facility makes a perfect place to stage a big football/netball celebration.

On cold Saturday afternoons in winter spectators watch the footy from their cars parked around the perimeter, but if the weather is fine their preference is to set up chairs beside the boundary fence and enjoy the picnic atmosphere. And what a feast of sport: four games of football (under 14s, 17’s, reserves and seniors) and eight games of netball (11 and under, 13’s, 15’s, 17s, A, B and C grades plus C Reserves).

The current location of Walbundrie’s sports ground was established in 1925 after a new site on well-drained sandy loam soil was selected. The previous site was on lower ground subject to inundation after winter rains. Both the sporting community and the show fraternity benefitted from the change of location. The Walbundrie sports ground has a long history not only of weekend sports – cricket, football and netball, but also weekday school sports carnivals and other community celebrations. The show ground buildings were also used as a Technical College from the late 1940s to the late sixties for local school leavers to learn skills in wool classing, mechanics, welding and dressmaking.

The Walbundrie sports ground is managed by the Walbundrie Recreation Ground Committee. Through community fund raising and government grants the facilities for footballers, netballers and spectators have improved greatly in recent years. An electronic scoreboard is another recent addition that has contributed to making the ground one of the best in the bush.

Country football clubs are a reflection of their communities, particularly the demographic history and composition of the towns and districts they represent. The original settlement at Walbundrie, then called Piney Range, was established in the mid 1850s after gold was discovered at nearby Bulgandra (Walbundrie Reefs). Pastoralism and agriculture came next. Among the settlers was a large number of German South Australians who embarked on a second migrational wave to the Albury and Wagga areas between the 1860s and the early 1900s. After those families settled and dispersed within the district, and as the generations unfolded, players with German-sounding names came to the fore in the local football teams. And today, the Rand-Walbundrie-Walla Walla playing lists continue that German heritage.

The Hume Football League was formed in 1933 as a splinter league from the Central Hume Association. Two years later Walla, Walbundrie and Burrumbuttock joined when the Central Hume Association disbanded. Netball came on the scene in 1947 with the formation of the Hume Netball Association. In 1950 the Hume League Junior (under 19s) competition was formed with St. Paul’s College, Balldale, Jindera, Walbundrie and Walla fielding teams.

In 1967 the concept of centralised finals was initiated. Between 1967 and 1971 HFL finals were played at Brocklesby, but due to a lack of government assistance with ground improvements another venue was sought in 1972. Walla and Walbundrie were the two alternative locations closely considered by league delegates. Just six days before the ’72 finals, the nod went to Walbundrie on the basis of its superior crowd facilities, ample parking, ground size and good all weather surface. Since 1972 all finals have been played at Walbundrie, a remarkable accolade for a place with a population of only 190. The showground’s capacity to comfortably cater for crowds of 7000 and the central location of the town make Walbundrie an ideal venue for finals. In 2017 the Hume Football League and the Hume Netball Association merged to form the HFNL, proudly identified as the “Family League”.

An eyewitness account of a special day at Walbundrie in 2008 tells of the community spirit which typifies country footy and netball in the district. ABC reporter Shannon Byrne visited the venue for the league’s 75th anniversary and to witness the presentation of an AFL NSW/ACT life membership award to league stalwart Merv Wegener.

It was a miserable, wet, grey and cold day at the Walbundrie Sports Ground for the special celebrations of the League’s 75th anniversary, yet more than six hundred Aussie Rules fans braved the unkind weather to show their support for the league. It was a chance for the league to celebrate its milestone, and there were awards handed out recognizing the outstanding contributions people had made to footy. Performers sang, big drums with fires inside were scattered around to warm the supporters, and the barbecue and coffee lines remained long throughout the day. There was a real buzz around the ground. But it wasn’t all about footy. There was a big surprise for Merv as well. He was made a life member of the AFL NSW/ACT at the league’s celebrations.

And again in 2020 that community spirit was evident. In the absence of an operating hotel during the covid-19 pandemic, the local community organised the ‘Walbundrie Hub’ at the sports ground pavilion where people could get together on Friday evenings for a meal, a drink and a chat.

The Walbundrie Sports Ground/Showground continues to be a vital part of the fabric of community and sporting life in the eastern Riverina.


Part II, ‘Memorable matches at Walbundrie”, will be posted later in 2021.

Robertson Oval is now the HQ for Australian Football in Wagga.

Society vice-president Dr Rod Gillett continues the series on famous football grounds in NSW with a brief history of Robertson Oval in Wagga Wagga.

Robertson Oval is now the headquarters for football in Wagga, again.

This followed an extensive revamp of the well-known old ground in 2012 that involved extending the length of the field, a complete re-turf, upgraded change rooms and installation of lights to meet the requirements for staging AFL fixtures.

Prior to the upgrade, Robertson Oval had shared the premier fixtures for football with Maher Oval, the ground at the Riverina Australian Football Club in south Wagga that was established in 1971.

It remains the home-ground for the Wagga Tigers footy club, which has played on the ground since 1911, when the club was known as Federals (formed in 1887).

Robertson Oval is an enclosed ground located in the Bolton Park sporting complex where it was previously known as No. 1 Oval. A grass embankment runs around three-quarters of the oval with a 350-seat grandstand and social club on western side of the ground. The ground now has a capacity of 12,000.

The ground was named after prominent Wagga businessman Cameron McLean Robertson, who was the president of the Community Advancement Fund, that donated funds to the Wagga City Council for redevelopment of the ground and the construction of a grandstand. He was the father-in-law of ex Tigers player and football benefactor John Braid. It was named Robertson Oval in 1963.

The ground has a rich sporting history having also hosted international cricket and international rugby league matches.

Cricket goes all the way back to 1878 when a Wagga Wagga team comprised of 22 players played an Australian XI that was preparing for the tour of England. Australia was led by Dave Gregory and included the Bannerman brothers, wicket-keeper J.M. Blackham, and W.L. Murdoch who made 93 runs. The visitors won by an innings and 117 runs.

Touring cricket teams from England, New Zealand and India have played Southern NSW teams at Robertson Oval over the years. Colin Cowdrey took 2-9 and Derek Underwood 2-15 when the MCC beat Southern NSW by 6 wickets in a one-day game in January 1971.

Local skipper Stan Dasey dismissed both openers, Geoff Boycott (76) and Brian Luckhurst (62), stumped by Albury’s Steve “Stumper” Rixon, who, of course, later went onto to play for NSW and Australia.

A spinner, Dacey at one stage had 1/12 off three balls – the first two balls were hit out of the ground and landed on the bowling greens of the neighbouring South Wagga Bowling Club.

The crowd record is 11,000 which attended the rugby league international between France and the Riverina – won by the French 25-14 in 1960. In 1954 a crowd of 10,732 attended a match between Great Britain and Riverina won by the Poms, 36-26. Jim Daniher, father of Essendon’s Terry, Anthony, Neale and Chris, scored two tries for Riverina.

Terry Daniher was the “Emperor” of Robertson Oval when he led Wagga Tigers to five premierships in six years in the Riverina Football League in the nineties after finishing his illustrious VFL/AFL career with the Bombers.

The most decorated player from Wagga Tigers is Paul Kelly who had a highly distinguished career at the Sydney Swans where he won the 1995 Brownlow medal and led the Swans into the 1996 AFL Grand Final.

Daniher and Kelly are two of the many great players to have played at Robertson Oval for Wagga Tigers. Others include St Kilda goalkicking great Bill Mohr, John Pitura (Swans/Richmond), Paul Hawke (Swans/Collingwood), Harry Lampe (who played in South Melbourne’s 1899 grand final team), local 418 game champion Gerald Peiper, as well as current AFL player Isaac Smith.

Previous matches involving VFL teams played at Robertson Oval included a combined Wagga team v Hawthorn in 1952 and an Albury & District (forerunner to the Farrer League) representative team took on North Melbourne in 1954.

In recent years, NAB Cup Challenge matches have been played at the venue; last year, 2020, the GWS Giants beat Richmond. Previous matches include the Giants against St Kilda (2013) and North Melbourne and Collingwood (2016).

The Farrer League hosts its grand final at Robertson Oval each season, and the final of the Carroll Cup for the secondary schoolboys’ competition is also played under lights at the ground and attracts crowds of up to1500 spectators.