Times when people actually went to see a particular Sydney club player and drag in the crowd with his talent and ability are quickly diminishing. Today’s crowds are somewhat disappointing although the unique players might still be there amidst the couple of hundred running around each weekend during the winter.
Of course a contrary view is evidenced by Brendan Favola’s effort this year when he turned out for Corowra-Rutherglen in the O & M League. Crowds in their thousands were a regular occurrence to watch the extraverted former AFL player.
But who was the last hero of Sydney footy?
Was it Peter Ruscuklic who booted over 100 goals in successive seasons for East Sydney between 1979-81, kicking a record 213 in the last of those years?
Or was it Stan Milton, after whom Sydney’s leading goalkicking award is named? He kicked over 1200 goals for East Sydney and later Eastern Suburbs in his 15 or seasons from 1919?Â In his 26 appearances for NSW during that time he also booted 151 goals.
Or maybe it was another Eastern Suburbs player, Jack Williamson, who won four Phelan Medals in 1933, 35, 37 & 38.
Sydney lost their heroes when football went national in 1982 and television overtook what used to be seen at Trumper Park, the heart of Sydney footy, each Sunday afternoon when crowds of 2000 plus were not uncommon watching the titans of the competition compete against each other.
All these players named above are members of AFL Sydney’s Hall of Fame, but they were imports. None were natives of our city, so it takes you back further to uncover a local born player who was a draw card, and there were a number.
Sydney had its share its share of them but none more outstanding than the diminutive South Sydney rover of the 1930s, Jimmy Stiff (pictured). He was an outstanding sportsman and fortunately enough, Australian football had the use of his services for a period of his short adult life.
His family were market gardeners along O’Riordan Street at Mascot and young Jim worked his way through an apprenticeship as a motor mechanic. He had attended Gardeners Road Public School and thats where he learned his football.
At 17, Jimmy won the Sanders Medal, B & F in the competition’s reserve grade. From then on he was consistently selected to represent NSW as the No. 1 rover. At 1.6m and 64kg he was one tough nut and took no prisoners. Stiff declined a number of offers to play in Melbourne.
In 1933 and representing NSW, Stiff won the best player trophy from all players in the All-States Carnival held in Sydney. Wanting more, he later went on to play first grade for South Sydney rugby League Side. Unfortunately this dare devil standout was killed in a motor cycle accident in 1938.
Reg Garvin was another local who could drag people to the football. He played for Newtown and was outstanding in the ruck. He was eventually recruited by St Kilda and went on to captain and later coach the side. He was fourth in the 1941 Brownlow Medal, the same year as he won the Saints B & F, a feat he repeated in 1944.
Wests had two great coaches who could also attract the crowds. One was former Melbourne FC full forward, and a prodigious drop-kick, Athol Webb, who coached the Magpies in 1964-65 and John ‘Swoop’ Northey, who joined Wests in 1971 from Richmond FC where he had played in their 1967 & 69 premiership teams.
Yes, there probably were others who helped kicked the gate receipts along during their time in Sydney and if you think you know some, send us some names we will attempt to bring up their profile and time in Sydney.
Nevertheless with the advent of our national AFL competition and the leaning towards televised games it is not only Sydney who have lost their icons. Many other local competitions throughout Australia have suffered the same fate. It is a shame that the amount of young boys wearing the number of their favourite local club player is almost finished.