The Sydney Football League, NSW AFL, AFL Sydney or whatever title you want to give it, and its had a number of changes over the years, has really made few ground break decisions in its 124 year history.
In many cases the officials who ruled the game simply missed the boat.
The licensing laws only permitted a certain number of licensed clubs to operate in NSW up until the mid 1950s and this number did not vary.
Despite this and following WWII, Frank Dixon, who captained and coached the South Sydney club in a very successful period in the 1930s was appointed vice president of the league. He was later to become a successful NSW coach.
Dixon talked the executive into him approaching the then, Australian National Football Council for a loan of $10,000 to establish a licensed club in Sydney. He was a man of vision.
Dixon, a staunch Labor man who ended up Deputy Lord Mayor or Sydney City Council, just so happened to travel to Melbourne on the train with prime minister, Ben Chifley. He returned with the guarantee of the $10,000 but a nervous executive in Sydney went cold on the idea and it never went ahead.
In 1948 three new clubs were admitted to the league, Western Suburbs, Balmain and Sydney University. Wests were the only club to go on taste success. They played off in successive grand finals of 1952-53 but had to wait until 1963 until they won their first flag. Neither Balmain nor Sydney University clubs could boast success until much, much later.
In the meantime a team from Illawarra joined the competition in 1949-50 but the travel and their lack of success accounted for their departure.
This was a time when six clubs dominated the competition, Eastern Suburbs, Sydney Naval, Newtown, St George, North Shore and Western Suburbs. And it was a time when the league should have bit the bullet and formed two divisions. It didn’ t.
This was particularly the case in the early 1960s when Uni had dropped out but replaced by Liverpool and a team from Bankstown. Again they should have travelled down the two division track but failed to act.
In 1960 however they did introduce a dramatic change to Sydney football when they reduced the number of players on the field to 16. This was thought to produce better on the smaller Sydney grounds and perhaps encourage the formation of new clubs and reduce the instances of backing up to a minimal.
Another reason was that initially the Australian National Football League were going to conduct their centenary carnival in Melbourne with teams, 16 aside. This decision was reversed early in the season.
The purists were enraged with this change and mid-season clubs forced the hand of the executive to return to the traditional sixteen aside.
As you can see opinion was divided as to course the league should take.
Liverpool joined forces with Bankstown in 1962 then two years later encouraged Parramatta to join and form a new club, Southern Districts. This of course eventually failed but what it did in particular was rob a team playing Australian Game from the then far western suburbs. Parramatta was playing out of Mona Park, Auburn and like other clubs came into the Sydney competition raw, with no actual football experience.
It was around the same time that efforts were being encouraged to form a licensed club for Australian football in Sydney. They had enough members, sufficient commitment and had identified premises at 224 Riley Street Surry Hills, a former hotel which was then trading as a private hotel (boarding house) as a potential site for the club.
The prime mover in this action, Arthur Davey, unfortunately died and so without a leader the whole issue fell flat.
Eastern Suburbs had a licensed club at Bondi Junction but over capitalised in their additions and failed. North Shore went all out to gain a license in the premises of Polonia Northside soccer club in Walker Street North Sydney. Unfortunately this too failed.
St George at least made it to the licensing court but were refused their bid for a license at Olds Park on some technicality.
Despite all this, there has been some success in Sydney football and this was quite recently.
Garry Burkinshaw, the man in charge of Sydney footy soon realised there were problems when he took over the reigns in 2007.
He listened to the gripes, he looked how they do it in soccer and most of all, studied Sydney football.
Burkinshaw maintained that Sydney footy was not as tribal as it is interstate. Players come to play their game and go. They don’t stick around for the next game and they certainly don’t stay all day.
He decided the answer was divisionalisation where teams from various clubs would be best suited playing against each other. So, apart from the Premier League competition, a reserve grade team which might have battled in the senior division was dropped to third or fourth division in the new setup.
He took advice from clubs and said there was no real opposition to the model. He got members from each club in a room and put his proposition. It took over three months in the planning and together with colleague, Bob Robinson, they introduced a competition which has, for the most part, extremely successful.
There are more teams winning games and all but St George, Camden and Illawarra clubs, from twenty four participating in the Sydney league, have participated in finals.
This new and novel competition has promoted success in other clubs too. Penrith who were down to one team now boast three, North-West are fielding more sides along with Camden and their a four new clubs now participating in the competition.
This new system leaves it open for established teams to field more teams and enthuse new or junior clubs to field senior teams. The way is open for more clubs but most particular, nearly all competitions are competitive.
The downside to divisionalisation is that clubs MUST be particularly organised. Three teams could be playing at three different locations so all players must commit themselves to turn up, each team must be a self contained unit: umpire (if required), goal umpire, runner, water boys, manager, runner etc.
At least one Sydney initiative has succeeded. Change can be so very difficult to introduce.
Top photograph shows Frank Dixon, the lower image is of Garry Burkinshaw. The documents are taken from the Football Records of the day.