The 1919 season for football in NSW was a particularly difficult one.
The war was over in the previous November but the return of servicemen from England and Europe was slow. Many of these were country based so, unlike when they were posted to Sydney, they did not stay.
Of those footballers who signed up, some did not return, some returned with permanent injuries, some were just not fit to play for one reason or another and the number who did again take up the game were limited.
All this was coupled with the world wide outbreak of Spanish Influenza which killed between 50-100 million people world wide, 10,000 of whom were in Australia. Because of the country’s relative isolation, the flu didn’t really hit here until 1919 and with no anti-biotics, authorities were virtually powerless to prevent its evolution.
In Sydney there were only five senior clubs in 1919: Paddington, Newtown, Balmain, East Sydney and Sydney with the South Sydney club failing to reappear from the previous year.
A forerunner to the Western Suburbs club of the 1920s, Ashfield Old Boys, who played on Ashfield Park, competed in the reserve grade competition.
At the last minute negotiations to play on the league’s former venue, the Australian Football Ground at Mascot, failed and while they were able to secure some dates for SCG No. 2, a number of games had to be played on the fenceless Moore Park, opposite the Bat & Ball Hotel, which was and still is a venue for the game over the years. There, when officials remembered, the boundary was marked with small flags. Rushcutters Bay and Alexandria Oval were also used as venues while Erskineville Oval was the only permanent ground where a gate could be charged.
During the first war period, the VFL had lent the NSW Football League one hundred and fifty pounds, perhaps in an effort to overcome their dire financial position resulting from major problems in 1914. Early in 1919, the NSWFL repaid seventy five pounds of their debt.
On a brighter side there was a third grade or junior division for players 17 years and under. This was composed of teams from Paddington, Newtown, Western Suburbs, Ashfield Old Boys and Gardeners Road School. These teams were charged ten shillings and six pence ($1.05) affiliation fee and required to pay two shilling and six pence (25c) umpire fee per game.
Late in the season there was a complaint by the Gardeners Road team which identified three Newtown juniors as being over age in a finals game.
Mid season the Gardeners Road School had made arrangements to play a game at the new Duntroon College but the match had to be cancelled because of an influenza outbreak at the school.
A number of country associations affiliated with the NSWFL including Bolagamy & Dist, Culcairn & Dist., South Wests Dist Football Assn., Kamarah, Wagga United, Southern Riverina, as well as the Beckom and Barellan football Association.
1919 was the first year Stan Milton made an appearance in Sydney football playing for Paddington. He went on to kick over 1200 goals in the competition and 150 in representative football. The Sydney competition’s senior goalkicking award is named after him.
East Sydney travelled to Lithgow, where a team which included some former VFL players, to play a game. The umpire who travelled with the team complained that his expenses were not paid. The South West Dist Football Association also asked for Sydney umpires for their finals. For this they had to pay two pounds each.
An interesting comment came from the league minutes in August 1919 after a club goal umpire had made a decision in an East Sydney v Balmain match which altered the make up of the final four. An official said following a complaint ” …. the league has done everything possible, short of securing paid appointees, which is an impossibility”
The league put two proposals forward at the Australian National Football Council’s December meeting. One, that throwing of the ball be permitted and secondly that a cross bar be place between the two goal posts. Both were rejected.
Another to allow injured players to be replaced up until the end of the second quarter was also not entertained. Prior to this no player could be replaced on the field and if one was injured and had to leave the field, the team just played short.
Shortly we will be posting NSW Football League minutes for 1919 & 20 on the website, accessible through the Collections Box on the bottom right or the main page.