East Sydney – The Early Years

   1903 Image of the
  East Sydney Team

This Saturday (14 March) the UNSW-Eastern Suburbs Australian Football Club will commence celebrations for a grand history of one hundred and forty years of football in Sydney with a reunion of past players, officials and supporters at the Paddington RSL Club. Below NSW AFL History Society president Ian Granland and vice-president Rod Gillett trace the beginnings of the East Sydney Football Club.

“That the gentlemen present form themselves into a club to be called the East Sydney Football Club” (Sydney Morning Herald, 12 August 1880).

The East Sydney Football Club was formed on 10 August 1880 at the Cambridge Club Hotel in Oxford St. It is the oldest Australian football in New South Wales and this year celebrates its 140th year. Despite several name changes, the core of the club has always been in the eastern suburbs of Sydney where it is still based and draws its players and supporters from.

The attendance at the formation meeting was high with over forty members were enrolled for the new football club. Mr John Davis MLA was elected as president, Mr Frank Wiess as secretary and Mr W.C. “Wattie” Marshall as treasurer along with vice-presidents and a committee of thirteen members. Marshall was the convener of the meeting and was a driving force behind the establishment of the game in Sydney from its inception in 1880.

The new club resolved to affiliate with the recently formed New South Wales Football Association and to play under its rules, which were adopted from the “Victorian Rules” of football.

Harry Hedger, MBE. A person vitally involved in the development of the game 1880-95 and responsible for the resurgence of it in 1903. He played with several club it is believed in an effort to strengthen the numbers in their compliment.  He captained East in 1888.

The original club colors were a blue and white jersey and hose, and blue knickerbockers and cap. Upon the reformation of the NSW Australian National Football League in 1903, East Sydney colors were blue with a yellow sash. It was not until 1926 that the current colors of red, white and blue were adopted when the Sydney competition was reorganized on “district lines” and the East Sydney and Paddington clubs merged.

The first match involving players from the East Sydney Football Club was on 14 August 1880 when they combined with players from the then recently formed Sydney Football Club to play Waratahs (a rugby club that had played Carlton in a match under “Victorian Rules” in 1877) at Moore Park. Waratahs won by two goals (Sydney Daily Telegraph 16 August 1880).

In a return match on the following Saturday, the combined team won 5 goals to three (Sydney Daily Telegraph 23 August 1880).

The following season a series of matches were played against the Sydney club which resulted in East Sydney being declared “Champions”. This was the first of twenty-eight titles won by “Easts” including the 2019 Sydney AFL premiership (http://sydneyafl.com.au/first-grade-mens-premiers-premier-division/ ).

In the final and fourth game of the 1881 season East Sydney 2-4 defeated Sydney 1-4. on 23 July at Moore Park. East Sydney were captained by Charlie Clay who later went on to play in Melbourne. Best players were Randall, Nash, Weaton, A.R.Watson, Harry Hedger and J. Terry (Sydney Morning Herald 25 July 1881).

At the club’s annual general meeting in 1882, the secretary W.C. Marshall reported that in the previous season the club had “come out of all engagements with local teams victorious”.

Mr Arthur Young was the recipient of a handsome trophy for “Best All-round” player in 1881 (Sydney Morning Herald 21 April 1882).

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