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.

– Football in Newcastle prior to the Competition

1947 Newcastle v
South Sydney match

After the war, football began to get a stronger foothold or become more established in Newcastle.

The game had flourished around the area and into the Hunter  in the late 19th century but its continuance in the 1900s was very much ad-hoc and most of it centred around interstate workers at the BHP.

The apparent reason the game took on a more serious identity in the coal city was the influx of interstate servicemen who settled there following the cessation of hostilities. [1]

A letter to the local newspaper in July 1946 from W L Jones of Tighes Hill[2] urged the formation of a club to play the game.  He received a reasons response [3] from his suggestion and following a meeting at Islington Oval on 17 August [4] a team was formed to play in Sydney the following month.

They were made up of: backs- G. Ross, T. Coles, D. Higglns; half backs: A. Waller. W. Jones capt., P. Gurner, centres- J. Lines, W. Brisbane vlce-capt., W. Scammell; half-forwards- K. Figgers, C. Wilson, W. Trevor; forwards– D. Brown, P. Deveraux, Ian Shugg; rucks- K. Smith, G. Gordon; rover- R. Tummell. It had been arranged for the team to play the curtain raiser to the NSW v Richmond match at Trumper Park on September 8. [5]

The Newcastle 18 were captained and coached by Bill Jones.  It was said he was a former North Melbourne player, unfortunately this could not be substantiated. Apparently a team was got together the previous year who played against Army sides but no other details were available. [6]

One of the problems the team had was in the ruck division and so Sydney clubs loaned W. Brown, J. Smith, A. Trevors and K. Gordon for the match.

The match was played before 15,000 at Trumper Park and the Combined Sydney team 9-11 (65) defeated the Newcastle combination 6-6 (42).  Former Collingwood player and Stawell Gift winner, Ron McCann kicked 4 goals for Newcastle while Bill Scammell Newtown player, Alf Pate also kicked goals.  McCann and Pate were added to strengthen the Newcastle side.

The team had to hire a bus to get to Sydney on the Sunday Morning when train timetables did not co-ordinate with match arrangements.

Following the game officials met with the NSW Football League executives to explore the possibility of a club being formed in Newcastle to include first and reserves grades which could play in the Sydney competition. [7]

This did not eventuate however in May the following year a Newcastle Combination played a combined Metropolitan (Second Division) team also in a leadup to an interstate clash at Trumper Park.

They were defeated in what was described as “a fast and exciting game played under adverse weather conditions, 8-9 (57) to 5-7 (37). P. Devereaux scored four goals and Billy Scannell the other for Newcastle. Arrangements were made for a return match on the following Sunday.” [8]

The Newcastle player in the dark jumper in the attached image appears to be Bill Elliott, one of the founders of the Newcastle FL and after whom the local B & F Medal was named.

[1] Newcastle Sun – 27 August 1946, p.8
[2] Newcastle Sun – 27 July 1946, p.10
[3] Newcastle Sun – 12 August 1946, p.16
[4] Newcastle Sun – 12 August 1946, p.16
[5] Newcastle Sun – 27 August 1946, p.15
[6] Newcastle Sun – 27 August 1946, p.8
[7] NSWANFL Football Record – 14 September 1946 p.5
[8] Newcastle Herald – 26 May 1947, p.10

– Junior Football Part II

A A Laird

As written previously, football was resurrected in Sydney in 1903 after disintegrating in 1895.

This meant that organisers had to start from scratch but there appeared to be tremendous enthusiasm within those who had put their shoulders to the wheel to see the game once again played in the NSW capital.

The first annual report of the NSW League read, in part: “The first annual meeting of the New South Wales Football League was held in the Y.M.C.A. Hall, where there was a large attendance. The Hon. E. W. O’Sullivan occupied the chair. The annual report set out that the League was constituted in 1903 by the association of eleven newly formed club, but as one club became absorbed into another the present League comprised ten clubs. Great attention was paid by the League in introducing the game into the, public schools. In June last Mr. Nash formed a special committee to undertake that work, and their efforts had met with extraordinary success.”

Mr Mr. E. W. O’Sullivan was Minister for Public Works and a former Tasmanian.

He went on to say “He looked upon New South Wales as a big paddock, and If they wanted to play the Australian game he thought they were entitled to do so ….. There was some doubt at the time of its inception, of its success, but after the lapse of twelve months there could be no doubt, because the ground covered was so great that further success was sure to be secured. ” [1]

Speaking at the same meeting, Mr. J. J. Virgo,  secretary of the Australasian Union of YMCA, said that “when, three years , ago, some half-dozen gentlemen met for the purpose of endeavouring to start anew the Australian game In Sydney none of them, even the most optimistic, dreamt that within such a short space of time the game would have grown locally to anything like Its present proportions,

“When one came to think of the conditions then existing regarding football mutters . it was a fine performance that the league had accomplished. Now it was beyond dispute that the game was firmly established,, and It was accepted as one of the things that had to be. Needless to say, that had not been brought about without the exercise of much forethought and patient, unceasing perseverance on the part of those at the head of affairs. Considering all the circumstances the progress made by the Australian game In Sydney was little short of wonderful. No doubt a great deal ‘of the success, was due to the foresight of the league In establishing competitions In the public schools and the Catholic primary schools of the city and suburbs.

“Work was commenced In 1904, and so many schools took the game up, and with such enthusiasm continued playing it, that when the 1905 season came round the question arose regarding the necessity of providing some competition to meet the requirements if the lads who had left school in the Interim, and might be desirous of continuing playing the national game from then onwards. With the object of filling that need, A. A. Laird (a government shorthand writer) took the matter in hand.”

“Considering that the lads had only had one season’s experience of the rules the most that was expected was that some half-dozen clubs might be formed, and that number would have been thought entirely, satisfactory. Advertisements were inserted (in newspapers) and meetings held in various centres, with the result that the following clubs were formed to play Australian rules:—

Balmain ‘A’ Balmain ‘B’ Dulwich Hill Eastern Suburbs Kegworth Maristonians
Newtown Petersham North Shore Redfern St Peters St Vincents

double the number anticipated. Two delegates were appointed by each club, and these met at the Y.M.C.A. Hall (thanks to that sterling supporter of, the game, Mr. J. J. Virgo) on the 7th May -last. In the good .times corning .for the game locally It will be interesting’ to know the names of the delegates who were present on that occasion and formed the association that means absolute success for the game here.”

“Rules were adopted, and a competition arranged, the. conditions regarding the latter being. ‘that no player taking part should be over the age of 19 years at the commencement of the first round’ and interest was keenly sustained In that competition throughout the season. [2]

So you can see that while the schools competitions were well catered for the weekend ‘juniors’ at that stage were not really boys at all, but young men.

Three or four officials, in particular, A A Laird, Harry Cave and J A Kelso put all their efforts into promoting the game in the schools, which for the first few years and before Rugby woke up and began to reoganise saw a great number of Sydney schools regularly playing the game:

Following is the draw for the first round of the 1904 Schools Competition, under the auspices of the N.S.W. League (Australian Rules) :
No. 1 District (Central).— Cleveland-street, v Crown-street, on Friday; William-street v Redfern West, on Friday; Blackfriars v Ultimo, on Thursday; Pyrmont v Glebe, on Thursday; Forest Lodge a bye.
No. 3 District (Eastern Suburbs). — Plunket-street v Double Bay, on Friday; Woollahra v Bondi,- on Thursday; Waverley v Randwick, on Friday Coogee -v. Kensington, on Thursday.
No. 4 District (Southern Suburbs) — Gardners-road v Waterloo, on Thursday; Alexandria v Erskinevlle on Thursday; Camdenville v Redfern A, on Friday; Redfern B v. Newtown North, on Friday; St. Peters, a bye.
No. 5 District (Illawarra Suburbs – St George) Tempe v Arncliffe on Thursday; Rockdale v Kogarah on Thursday; Hurstville West v Canterbury; on Thursday; Dulwich Hill v Marrickville, on Friday;- Marrickville West a bye.
No. 6 District (Western Suburbs). — Petersham v Summer Hill, on Friday; Ashfield v Croydon Park; on Thursday; Croydon v Burwood, on Friday; Homebush v Auburn, on Thursday.
No. 7 District (North-Western Suburbs).— Balmain v Darling-road, on Thursday; Birch grove v Nicholson-street, on Friday; Smith-street v Leichhardt, on Thursday; Leichhardt West v Drummoyne on Friday; Kegworth a bye. [3]

Before the match on the 28th May between VFL Clubs, Essendon and Melbourne at the SCG, there were matches between a combined team from the northern and eastern district schools, and game from schools from the southern v the western districts schools.

[1]  Australian Star 9 April 1904, p.2
[2}  Australian Star 17 April 1906, p.3
[3}  Evening News 18 May 1904, p.2

– Umpires’ Association

Probably a little known fact in Sydney football was the folding of the NSW Australian National Football Umpires’ Association.

The Association was formed in 1911 but appeared not to continue as a combined group.  They were reformed in 1920 under the guidance of Leo Harry, a former umpire in a minor Melbourne League who went on to be the Associations secretary for nine years.  However the association was refused representation at league league level while umpires themselves were refused a seasons ticket for entry to games and boundary umpires were not allowed to report players unless they were officially appointed by the league.  

In that year Field Umpires were paid seven and six pence (75c) per club match and twenty five shillings ($2.50) for interstate games with the boundaries umpires receiving five shillings or 50c a match.

In the same year in an ambitious move, the NSW Football League resolved to provide umpires for the South West Football Association (Riverina) providing that they pay the umpires’ fees of £2 ($4) per game and travel expenses. Following an inquiry from the Culcairn Assn in July, as to the cost of obtaining umpires it was resolved that the fee would be three guineas ($6.60) with return rail fare and 6/- (60c) living expenses.

Towards the end of 1933, during the deep world wide depression, umpires refused to officiate during the finals unless they received a pay increase.  The league utilised other competent personnel to officiate and “the competition was brought to a successful conclusion.”  The umpires were further refused a pay rise at the commencement of the 1934 season with a result that the Umpires’ Association folded. 1

Umpires went without an association until the end of 1935 when a visit to the northern States by Bill Blackburn, a leading Victorian Football League umpire who officiated at the St George v North Shore match in early August following his exhibition in the Collingwood South Melbourne fixture at the Sydney Cricket Ground on the previous Saturday.  L.C. Keating from the Victorian Amateur Football Association  also came to Sydney in an effort to help.  He officiated in the 1935 Sydney grand final. 2

Since that demise of the association a lack of uniformity on the part of field umpires in interpreting rules particularly in relation to the then recent amendments had become apparent and members of the league’s executive committee were favourably disposed towards the proposal to reform the association so that umpires coaching classes can be commenced early in 1936.

With this end in view the members of the umpires appointment board attended one of the weekly referees coaching classes of the New South Wales Rugby League where the methods adopted by that body were closely studied.

Tom King one of the leading Australian Rules umpires at the time called a meeting of umpires at the Sydney Sports Club in Hunter Street in an effort to resuscitate the association.

The result of this meeting is unknown but in all probably it resumed its activities but still unrepresented on the League.SMH – 5 September 1935 p.161.  NSWANFL Annual Report

  1. 1935 NSWANFL Annual Report
    2.  SMH 5 September 1935 p.13

– Marngrook Again

The subject of Marngrook, the perceived game played by Aborigines in the 19th century, has once again surfaced this time by other academics who apparently and whole heartedly support the premise that the game of Australian Football was based or influenced by a game played by aborigines.

Many have debunked this notion as mere speculation but some seem to want it to become a fact and want the AFL to recognize it as such.

In 2012, the president of the NSW Football History Society, Ian Granland, provided the AFL with a version of the facts as he knew them.

Not an academic nor a person who has a PhD, Granland, if anything, is certainly a student of the game, having been deeply involved in it since the early 1960s.  He is widely read on football and is known to have written and spoken on many subjects relating to the code over the years.  He was awarded an Order of Australia medal for his services to the game in 2002.

In 2012 Granland was flown to Melbourne where he gave a recorded version on his opinion of the origin of the game; the origins of the game in NSW and how the AFL should treat VFA premierships and players records prior to the establishment of the VFL in 1897.

Recently, ABC’s Radio National interviewed Professor Jenny Hocking of the School of Journalism, Australian and Indigenous Studies at Monash University, particularly on the subject of Marngrook and its influence on Australian Football.  The interview can be heard here.

Granland’s presentation to the AFL in 2012 is as follows:

What role did Marngrook play in the formation of Australian Football?

I take a purely pragmatic view of this subject and ask that it be viewed as such.

This is no evidence of which I am aware, that supports the theory that Marngrook influenced the game of Australian Football whatsoever.

Writing in the Sydney Mail of 25 August 1883, William Hammersley a journalist and one of the signatories to the first recognized set of rules of the game, said, at the time these first rules were written:That “Tom Wills suggested the Rugby rules but no-body understood them but himself.”

Following this statement, (and a game) a group of men retired to the Parade Hotel where, after a period, they resolved to form themselves into a committee to “draw up a simple code of rules, and as few as possible, so that anyone could quickly understand.”

These rules were principally for the Melbourne Football Club and written by the aforementioned, all of whom were of European heritage.  One would think they are simple, straight forward and quite logical to act as a guide for people of the day to adopt and play by.

Thomas Wills was the only one of the seven who is recognized as having had any involvement with aborigines.  And yet it would appear that the rules do not reflect any abnormal deviation from what a reasonably minded person of the day would write.

Had Wills had a more dominant say in the construction of these rules, one would think that with his history and involvement in the rugby game, together with his abovementioned and a subsequently disregarded suggestion that those rules be adopted, would have held sway.  It clearly was not and I therefore submit that had he made any suggestion at the time to involve any part of the Marngrook game, these proposals would have been similarly treated.

These original rules were amended in July 1859 at a meeting where Tom Wills was not present.  The amendment was put by William Hammersley, an Englishman. 1

In terms of the original rules that were adopted and in particular, the distance between goal posts, the size of the ground, that captains should toss as to who should kick off, how a goal should be scored, what is meant as kicking ‘behind’ the goal and that a player shall call mark if he catches the ball – were very similar, if not the same as the rules used in the rugby game.

That the ball may be taken in hand “only” when caught from the foot, or on the hop and in “no case” shall it be “lifted” from the ground I believe was inserted to placate both rugby and soccer enthusiasts just the same as the rule prohibiting throwing was inserted in the interests of the soccer playing fraternity.

To quote from an article by A G Daws in a 1958 edition of the Quandrant Magazine, “the main aim of the early rules was to do away with the Rugby practice of running with the ball, because of the inevitable frequent scrimmages, hacking and tripping that went with it”

The rules were first amended in 1860 with an eventual redrafting of the laws in 1866 by H C A Harrison, at which Wills again was not present.  None of these changes in any way suggest an aboriginal influence.

The 1860 changes included:

Rule 8: Was deleted and replaced with: “The ball may not be lifted from the ground under any circumstances, or taken in hand, except as, provided for in rule 6 (catch from the foot), or when on the first hop. It shall not be run with in any case.” 2 

It is said, the most significant change was the provision for captains and umpiring in the newly added Rule 11: “In case of a deliberate infringement of any of the above rules, by either side, the captain of the opposite side may claim that any one of his party may have a free kick from the place where the breach of the rules was made; the two captains in all cases, save where umpires are appointed, to be the sole judges of “infringements”

A newspaper article further reports that “The remaining rules were confirmed without opposition. ”  I must ask,  “what remaining rules?”  Already I have found mention in a somewhat official medium of changes to rules 3 and 7 that were adopted however several newspaper articles of the time rebuke any alterations to those rules at that stage.  The article does go on to say “The Melbourne Football Club may fairly congratulate themselves on the fact, that their rules, with one exception, were formally adopted by the representatives of the (eight)  different clubs present. ” So clearly the rules the respective clubs abided by in 1860 and what we accept today as the foundation of the Laws of the Game, were still those of the Melbourne Football Club.

Therefore to say that Marngrook somehow motivated or shaped the early rules of the game is, to my mind, pure fantasy.  There is no real evidence nor is there any trace of anything that could support such a proposition and if the games were similar in some respects, I believe this was simply a co-incidence.

Without prejudice, let us not forget the social status of aborigines of the day and what we can surmise Europeans would have thought of incorporating rules of the aboriginal game into an effort to standardise what was purely a game of football played, at that time, and for the most part, by Europeans.  Today, it would well be different.

Finally, some contemporary writers fail to recognize how unstructured sport and in particular, football was in the mid-nineteenth century, and how racism was more than an accepted practice by the white community of the time.”

1.   Argus Newspaper, 4 July 1959 page 6
2.  Argus Newspaper, 28 May 1860 page 4
3.  Argus Newspaper, 29 May 1860 page 4

– Sunday Football – Not All That Easy

Playing football or any sport for that matter on the weekend is just a given these days, but that wasn’t always the case.

The Commonwealth Arbitration Court gave approval of the 40-hour five-day working week nationally beginning on 1 January 1948.

Prior to this most of Australia’s workers laboured on Saturday Morning which in turn impacted on football:
• Games started later on Saturday afternoons. In Sydney, senior matches commenced at 3:00pm while the reserve grade started at 1:30pm, normally with limited quarters and no time on. Rugby League started their games at 3:15pm and Rugby Union 3:20pm.

• The development of junior football was restricted because of the needs of adults to work on Saturday Mornings. In some areas this led to Sunday Morning football. Most, but not all junior football was left to schools. There was however the Metropolitan Australian National Football Association which was like a Second Division in Sydney, supporting at times, grades as low as Under 16s.

• Many senior games in the country were played of a Sunday but in a number of cases this incurred the wrath of the church and many politicians. Some country councils would not allow any sport at all on Sunday so this then restricted the limits of football competitions, particularly in the country, where time would not permit distant travel to an opposition town to play.

When senior sport attempted to play or apply for use of grounds in Sydney on Sunday in the late 1930s they were met with attitudes like this from the Town Clerk (General Manager) of the Randwick Council: “that Sabbatarianism and muddied oafs is a blend that may not be quaffed on grounds under his council’s control.”

But this wasn’t the stance in all parts of NSW. Sunday games had been played on and off in Broken Hill since the early part of the 20th century but it wasn’t until 1939 that a Sunday Football League was established.

In June 1919 the Temora Rugby League Club presented a petition signed by 600 inhabitants of the town requesting that the resolution to ban the use of the Recreation Ground for football on Sundays be lifted. It was not successful so in September of the same year, Temora chose to play Junee on a private piece of land in the town.

By 1920 Rugby League in Junee area was being regularly played of a Sunday,  but perhaps not in all parts of the Riverina.

By December 1936 Bathurst remained the only town in the Central West where Sunday football was not sanctioned however by 1937 ‘the extension of Sunday football in country areas ’had pretty much crept throughout the rugby league community.

The South West District (Australian) Football League in the Riverina was reformed just before WWII and they began to play of a Sunday, which proved exceptionally popular. The league was comprised of clubs moving from other competitions.

With Sydney though it would appear the matter was a very vexed question when the Australian Football body considered playing games on a Sunday in early 1938.

Newtown FC secretary, Les Blackmore said “Sunday football has never been officially discussed by our club and until it comes before my committee, nobody can assert that we are ln favour of the proposal. There might have been some unofficial talks on the subject, and, from what I can gather, opinions are about equally divided. Personally, I am against, the Idea.”

Why did Sydney football administrators consider moving to Sunday?

Ostensibly they said it was because of a lack of three grounds where an entry fee could be charged. So one way or the other, it was all about money.

At the adjourned 1938 annual meeting of the New South Wales Australian National Football League, Mr. J. McKeown, president of the Sydney club, moved a motion that the competition matches should be divided, two games to be played on Saturdays and one game on the Sunday. It was resolved to refer a decision to the individual clubs for an expression of opinion.

Mr. McKeown said that, “for many reasons, Saturday football was not revenue producing, and the trend now was wholly in favour of Sunday football. Owing to the Housing Board having taken charge of Erskineville Park, the approaches were in such a bad state that people would not visit the oval, and if Erskineville Oval could not pay, as it had always done, for the other grounds, the results at the end of the season would not be as good as they had been in the past.”

[Note: This was when the old Erskineville Oval was being demolished and moved to its present location.  The ground in this year was playable but the venue was not attractive.]

Bruce O’Grady, the Sydney Club secretary said “Erskineville Oval gets a big crowd on Saturday, because the best game is staged there. Trumper Park is not as good while Kensington Oval is useless, we are lucky if we get 50 shillings at Kensington but if we can get £50 out of the ‘gate’ on a Sunday at Trumper we will be satisfied.”

In what can only be described as a weak move, instead of making the decision themselves, the N.S.W. Australian National Football League decided to ask the clubs to ascertain the views of players and to report back to the League by April 4, 1938.

At a subsequent meeting of the N.S.W. National Football League the introduction of Sunday football in Sydney was soundly defeated by an overwhelming majority .  Strangely, the decision followed a vote by the players, of whom 73 were against and 29 in favour. The South Sydney Club was the only club to support the scheme. Following this vote, the chairman, Mr. W. H. Fitt, said that “it would have been impossible to carry out the idea, owing the lack of grounds. ”We canvassed all councils for a ground without success.”

By 1943 however it was all different. The League president, Mr N P Joseph announced that “with the admission of an R.A.A.F. team into the competition, (virtually replacing North Shore FC which withdrew during WWII) it would be necessary to play one match each Sunday. A shortage of playing area would not allow of three games being played on Saturday.”  And so we ask, “What changed?”

And boy did it improve the gate takings.

Of course there is more to the story which we shall go into in a later story. Below is the graph of gate takings at Sydney football between 1930-60.

References:
Daily Advertiser, Wagga Wagga
Barrier Miner, Broken Hill
Sydney Morning Herald 16 March 1943 p.7
Sydney Morning Herald, 23 March 1938, p.21
Sun, Sydney, 23 March 1938, p.21
Sun, Sydney, 24 March 1938, p.47
Truth, Sydney, 27 March 1938, p. 7
Cootamundra Herald, 6 April 1938, p.2
NSWANFL 1938 & 1943 Annual Reports

– Services Team Struggled

In 1940 the New South Wales Australian Football League resolved to hold a fund raising match between a NSW representative side and an Services team comprised of men in the military from camps in and around Sydney.

The NSW team was reasonably strong mostly made-up of players who had already represented the state in previous years.

The services side, with most if not all, playing for Sydney clubs came from camps such as the Sydney Showground and Ingleburn.  Some were in the RAAF based at Lindfield, Camden and Richmond.  There were no representatives from the Navy so the term Combined Services is really a misnomer.

Micky Stiff

Unfortunately selected players Smith, Ron Stoll, Colin Metherall and Hayes from the camp at Ingleburn did not arrive so the Services team was left short.  One who volunteered to play in their stead was state rover, Micky Stiff.  Stiff, at 24 had already represented NSW on over a dozen occasions from 1935 and his exploits on the football field were quite often extolled in delightful superlatives.  He was the brother of another courageous and talented NSW rover, Jimmy Stiff, who was killed in 1937.

The game was played on the Sydney Cricket Ground, No. 2, which was a small ground, with grandstand, immediately north of the SCG itself and since encompassed by the Sydney Football Stadium.

The pace was on from the first bell, and it was obvious early that both teams were out to keep the game open. NSW picked out their men better along the wings, but in the first half the services were more successful in the air. Mickey Stiff  was responsible for more than half of their goals in the first half — several from his own boot, and others coming from attacks initiated by the wiry little South Sydney star. Stephens, Whitbourne, Carlaw. and Baker were others largely responsible for the services lead at 10-5 to 6-15.

John Cruise from the Ingleburn camp was carried off with an injured ankle just on the half time break leaving the services side again short.

Reg Garvin

His place was taken by 29 year old Reg Garvin, a former Newtown player who had been recruited by St Kilda (that wouldn’t happen today) in 1937 and by this stage had played over 60 games with the Saints and would go on to captain-coach the club in 1942-43.  A fireman in Melbourne, he was in Sydney on holidays visiting his parents at Erskineville and just happened to be at the game.

Obviously his presence in the ruck added strength to the side when adopted a straight down the centre play combined with hard ruck work.  The Servlces had New South Wales unbalanced for a time but the better understanding between the New South Wales players more than equalised matters as the quarter progressed.

Their play in this term contrasted with Its earlier failures and with the Services lacking in condition they were unable to find a counter In stopping the brilliant play of their opponents adding 8-7 to 0-1.  New South Wales had a winning lead at three-quarter time of 14-22 lo 10-6.

The Services came back in the final quarter but it was too late.  They booted six goals to New South Wale’s five with the latter winning 19-23 (114) to 16-12 (108).

It is unknown how much was raised for the Australian Services Comforts Fund but this wasn’t the only game played in Sydney during the war to raise funds for our servicemen.

– Port Adelaide v Suns not the first game in China

The round 8 game AFL between Port Adelaide and the Gold Coast Suns is the first AFL/VFL game to be played in mainland China, but is it the first to be played in China itself?

Given that we have the Hong Kong Dragons which commenced in 1990, the Beijing Bombers which were started in 2004 together with the Shanghai Tigers and a team in the Pokfulam district of Hong Kong that was kicking around in 2014 playing as the Pokfulam Vikings, we have found evidence of another game way back in 1940 before Japan entered the war.

The article, which was published in the May 18 edition of the Sydney Football Record begins with the line: “Some day Australia may be playing Test football against China?

It goes on to report:
“Australian Naval Reservists recently staged an exhibition match on the No. 3 football ground at Causeway Bay, Hong and greatly impressed local sports enthusiasts.

A description of the match was given more than half a column on the main sports page of the South China Morning Post which describes “spectacular high marking and extra ordinary long drop kicks and punts” as features of the Australian Code.

Apparently the paper’s special sports writer ‘Spectator’ was assigned to cover the match.  These are extracts from his story of it:

“The actual progress of play struck me as being twice as fast as the rugby union code, this was probably due to the fact that there are no scrums given for knock-ons or for forward passes.

High Marks Impress
Spectacular high marking was featured throughout and the ball did not have to be caught ‘dead’ for a mark to be given.  On several occasions the ball was taken 10 ten and eleven feet off the ground with several hands reaching up…..

“Given a big ground and normal conditions, the Australian Rules game should prove popular with football followers and it would not come as a surprise to see the Chinese adopt this game, which is a combination of football, rugby and basketball.

“Drop-kicking and punts, some of which were between 40-60 yards occurred at many stages and after the second quarter, players were scoring goals fairly regularly….

“The main scoring tactic is the high mark and spectacular and very accurate punting from player to player, each in turn marking.  This makes the pace very fast and the game thrilling.

“The ball is not allowed to be passed in the traditional rugby union manner, but is either fisted or struck with the palm.  Carrying the ball, as in the case of a football goalkeeper, is not allowed and the ball must be bounced every ten yards or so…..”

[Back to the Football Record text:] If a scratch game by Naval Reservists could make this impression, to what raptures would a Hong Kong Crowd be moved by such Victorian League stars as Ron Todd, Jack Regan, Jack Muller, Jack Dyer, Dick Harris, Bert Mills, Dinny Ryan, Sel Murray, Frank Gill, Ken Baxter, Roy Fountain and a dozen other such exponents, who we see every Saturday on the grounds every Saturday during the winter.”

– A New Sydney Club In 1894

Times for the game in the mid 1890s were getting pretty hard because of a number of reasons.

By the end of 1894 the game would cease to be played in the state’s capital and Newcastle for a period of nine years however some were more optimistic as this report from the June edition from the Australian Town and Country Journal reports:

“Those who play the Australian game in Sydney are taking active steps to popularise their game here, but I am of opinion that the authorities will have an up-hill battle to win the fight. However, I am informed that some of the leading clubs are having their ranks filled by good players from the other colonies, and it may be that if the public have an opportunity of seeing tho game played as it should be played it may be accorded considerable support.

So many good members have recently joined the Redfern Club (later South Sydney), that it has been decided to form another club out of it, to be called the Darlington Club.

In spite of tho protest of the New South Wales Rugby Union, a match under these rules was played on tho Sydney Cricket Ground on Saturday, between the Redfern and East Sydney Clubs. The ground was very slippery, and consequently the exhibition was not as good as it otherwise would have been. The game, however, was very fast and open, and some of the players displayed considerable knowledge of the game.

The match resulted in a win for the Redfernites by 2 goals 5 behinds to 9 behinds. Teams representing the Sydney and West Sydney Clubs also played under these rules on Moore Park, the result being a win for tho former by 3 goals 3 behinds to 2 behinds.”

– Northumberland – Premiers of the Colony

1887 Northumberland Football Team - 1887-09-24 Town & Country Journal -p.643For the present, we are keeping on the northern districts or Newcastle area with this story.

In the late 1880s senior clubs from Newcastle and the Hunter competed with Sydne  y teams for a premiership.  In 1887 Northumberland won the title.

Northumberland was the name adopted by the team from West Maitland, here is a brief description from a 1887 newspaper of the day on their development and participation.

Firstly though we might say that the club continued quite successfully for a number of years but were last heard of in 1894.  This was a period of deep depression for Australia but certainly did not hit other football codes and we can only suppose this might be one reason for their disappearance, or probably more succinctly there was no-one to take their place.

“In this issue we give the portraits of the crack northern team of New South Wales for the past season; The Northumberland Club was formed in 1883 by Mr. E. J. Young, who saw the club through its first difficulties, acting as honorary secretary for two seasons. This club was the first to adopt the Australian Rules in the northern district of New South Wales; and considerable difficulty was experienced in raising a team of twenty players, as the feeling against the Victorian, game (as it was then called) was rather bitter. During the first season of the club a series of scratch matches was indulged in; and it was thought at first that the club would have to disband, as there were no fields to conquer. However, early in the next season a match was arranged with the West Maitland Rugby team, which defeated the N.F.C. at its own game. Subsequently little difficulty was experienced in getting players together. The renowned Sydney Club visited Maitland, and gave quite an impetus to the game.

Many gentlemen who had at first held back came forward, and by their exertions as players and in other ways greatly helped to place the club in the proud position it now occupies in the north. About this time also a club was started in Newcastle; and, having some able exponents of the game who hailed from Victoria, such as Le Neveu, Murrell, Woodlands, and others, it also managed to defeat the pioneer club. Those reverses naturally gave additional interest to the game, more especially as the rivalry between Newcastle and Maitland in any kind of athletic exorcise is always very keen. Wallsend about this time made its debut; the matches between these three clubs being always close and exciting.

During 1885 and 1880 the Northumberlands, although they never went lower on the list than second for the northern premiership, could not manage to get to the top of the tree. First Newcastle and then Wallsend held the coveted position. During the season just over the Northumberland Club gained that place, and made a bid for the premiership of the colony, having won and lost a match with the renowned metropolitan premiers.

The following summary of the club’s doings for the Season compares favourably with the record of any club in the colony:

Matches Played Won Lost Drawn Goals For Goals Against
17 14 2 1 65 23

Among the office bearers who have stuck to the club since it was started may be mentioned the Rev. Canon Tyrrell, president; messrs; John Bourke and John Gillies, vice presidents ; and the popular and genial Mr. Harry Williams, who has been captain all through the club’s existence. Among the players of the 20 may be found some of the swiftest men in the north on the running track. Many of them are only just commencing to master the difficulties of a game where experience and skill are required to make a team excel. Most of the players are young, and will no doubt greatly improve as the seasons roll on. Consequently we may hear of the N.F.C. making a successful bid of the premiership of the colony in the time to come.”

Then A 1894 Report Shows:
“The Northumberland Club will open their campaign on Saturday, 5th May, at Wallsend, against the local twenty. The Norths this season are not as strong as of yore, but have a fair team, and possibly before the season closes they will beat more than will down them.

The Australian game of football is slowly but surely gaining a strong hold m the Northern district, more especially in the mining districts of Newcastle. There is an additional senior team in the field this year, to wit, the old Hamilton Club, who have returned to the fold, and no less than fourteen junior teams have entered for the junior badges.”

“The game in Sydney also appears to be again likely to thrive, some seven teams having decided to play this season, one of which is composed entirely of Victorian players employed at the firm of Pope and Matter’s foundry. The Norths have their hands pretty full to the date of the commencement of the premiership matches, as the following matches have been arranged :— May 5, Wallsend, at Wallsend ; May 12, Wallsend at Maitland; May 19, Hamilton, at Hamilton; May 24, Burwood, at Maitland ; May 26, Wallsend, at Newcastle; June 2, Merryland Fitz Roy [no idea where this is – ed.], at Maitland ; June 9, Hamilton, at Maitland ; June 16, Charlestown, at Maitland. All these matches should prove interesting and our town representatives should practice during the week and try and keep up their good position at the top of the list for season 1894.”

But alas, there was no more.