In 1923 Harry Hedger travelled with the NSW team which played Victoria on the MCG.
Hedger was not particularly involved in football during that period but if it were not for his foresight and enthusiasm the game may not have been revived in the NSW capital twenty years before.
Henry or Harry Hedger, to his friends was from Tasmania. He moved to Sydney in 1880 to take up a job as teacher at the Industrial Blind Institution Woolloomooloo. Harry was a footballer but not just an ordinary footballer, he was committed to his sport.
He firstly played for the new East Sydney club and later three other clubs between 1881-94, During this period he represented NSW on 16 occasions, almost all of the representative matches the state participated in.
He was captain of several clubs and the state and took on official positions at club level. While the game was poorly administered which eventually led to its demise, he never once shirked his responsibilities. One of his assets was his kick and for a number of years held an Australian record of kicking the ball just over 59 metres
In 1903 it was he who visited Melbourne and spoke passionately at a meeting of the VFL pleading for help to have the game re-established in Sydney. This resulted in two leading clubs of the time, Collingwood and Fitzroy playing a premiership match on the SCG in May of that year. This was the catalyst for the start of an eleven team competition in Sydney in 1903.
Hedger had little to do with football after that. He attended a few meetings, his sons played with the then YMCA club and later East Sydney but he devoted himself to his work in the school for the blind which by this stage had shifted its premises to Ashfield where Hedger was manager.
He attended the official welcome for the NSW team in Melbourne in 1923 and was called upon to respond on the team’s behalf at a function in their honour.
He told the gathering that he played in the first interstate game for New South Wales in 1881 and in the first game ever in Sydney. He could never forget what the Victorian Football League had done and recalled his first visit to the league rooms in 1903 when they first aroused the sympathy of the Victorian League and enlisted their support. It was not until half-past two in the morning of the same meeting that he had managed to get Fitzroy and Collingwood to agree to play their premiership match in Sydney. Since then, he said, the NSW league had received encouragement and financial assistance from Victoria for which they were eternally grateful. He finished by saying he was satisfied after seeing every kind of football that the Australian game was easily the best.
And yet, who remembers Hedger and what he did for the game in NSW and most particularly Sydney? No-one. He was honoured by the queen in 1935 for his services to the blind when awarded an MBE, he also had a street in Ashfield named after him.
Hedger spent 58 years of his life working for the blind, 44 of those as manager of the Sydney Institute. It was a fall at work in 1937 which eventually took his life that forced him out of the environment he loved. Two weeks later he died aged 78.
The image shows him in the 1886 NSW team which played Queensland at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
When he pioneered the return of the game he put so much effort in that in his forties he turned out to play with the YMCA with his son. YMCA was a team in the first grade competition between 1903-11. We have unearthed a wonderful etching of him in a newspaper interview from 1903 and have reproduced it here.