– Birchgrove Oval

The earliest game the Balmain Club participated in was a scratch match with teams chosen by the captain and vice captain on Church-hill, Balmain  The game was witness by a large crowd “who thoroughly enjoyed it” [1]

The first Balmain club was formed on Wednesday 9 May 1888 at a meeting held at Dick’s Hotel in Beattie Street Balmain.  Further meetings were held to appoint a committee and set the rules.[2]

Then on 30 June they played their first match against the “2nd Sydney (club) team” at Moore Park which they won eight goals to nil.  [then behinds were not counted in the team’s total score and goals were worth only one point]

The following year the secretary, Bill Fordham advertised a practice match on St Thomas’Ground, Darling Road West on Saturday 4 May but little more was heard of the club.

A Balmain club became part of the resurrected NSW Football League in 1903 and participated until 1909, they were nicknamed ‘The Seaguls’.  It was during this period that they and the Australian Football League, regularly used Birchgrove Oval for matches however whether by design or not, the game failed to be part of the game’s venues after Balmain fell over in 1910. [3]

It would appear that Australian Football has never been played on that ground in an official capacity since 1909, despite the resurrection of the club.

[1] Referee Newspaper, 14 June 1888, page 6
[2] Balmain Observer & Western Subs Advertiser, 26 May 1888, p.5
[3] Referee Newspaper, 13 March 1910 page 11

– What Could Have Been and What Didn’t Happen

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.

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 talked the executive into him approaching the then, Australian National Football Council (ANFC) for a loan of $10,000 to establish a licensed club in Sydney.

Dixon, a staunch Labor man who ended up Deputy Lord Mayor or Sydney City Council, travelled to Melbourne by train in 1949 to attend a ANFC Meeting.  Incidentally, on the train happened to be the prime minister, Ben Chifley.  Dixon returned with the guarantee of the $10,000 from the ANFC 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 a 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.  Liverpool joined the competition in 1954 after a couple of successful seasons in the Metropolitan Australian National Football Assn (MANFA – or really a Second Division, which folded in 1953).  It was a time when the league should have bitten the bullet and formed two divisions.  It didn’t.  Sydney was a growing city and the league should have capitalised on the popularity of the game during the war and immediately after.

This was particularly the case again in the early 1960s after Uni had dropped out in 1958 but replaced by new club, 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 football on the smaller Sydney grounds and perhaps encourage the formation of new clubs and reduce the instances of backing up to a minimal.

The purists were enraged with this change and by mid-season clubs forced the hand of the league executive to return to the traditional eighteen aside.

The basically unsuccessful club of Liverpool joined forces with the other battler, Bankstown in 1962 then two years later encouraged another new club, Parramatta to combine with them to form a new club: Southern Districts.  Initially this venture  produced a competitive club but eventually failed.  What it did do in particular was rob a team playing Australian Game from the then far western suburbs.  Parramatta then played out of Mona Park, Auburn.

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).

The prime mover in this action unfortunately died and so without a leader the whole issue fell flat.

Eastern Suburbs had a licensed club at Bondi Junction but as successful as it was could not maintain the repayments to a very expensive loan which funded the addition to the premises and the club fell by the wayside.  North Shore went all out to gain a license in the premises of Polonia Northside soccer club in Walker Street North Sydney. They were successful in this enterprise but unfortunately too this eventually failed.

St George 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 between 2007-2014 soon realised there were problems when he took over the reigns.

He listened to the gripes, he looked how they do it in soccer and 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 of apparent equal strength 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, been 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 there a four new clubs now participating in the competition. (this article was initially published in 2012)

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 the establishment of more clubs but most particularly, nearly all competitions in Sydney senior football 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 and officials have had to commit themselves to turn up,  in all probability in these circumstances, there would be not players to back up in the event there is not a full team to take the field.  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 but apparently with those purists at it again is now up for change

 

 

– Ryde and Drummoyne Clubs Combine

In 1911 a new club was formed.  It was called the Northern Districts Australian Football Club and its formation meeting was held in St. Anne’s Hall, Ryde, in late March of that year. The club was an amalgamation of the  Drummoyne and Ryde Australian football clubs. It was intended to enter two teams In the *Young Australian Competition. The following officers were elected : Patrons, Messrs. W. Thompson and Howley; president, Mr. Henry Graff;  secretary and assistant treasurer, Mr. Geo. Drury; treasurer and assistant secretary, Mr. C. D. O’Connell; captain, Mr. Andy Ratcliffe; vlce captaln, Mr. A. McWhlrter; selection committee, Messrs. A. Ratcliffe, A. McWhlrter and Graff junior. Royal blue was adopted as the club color.

Ratcliffe would go on to represent NSW in the 1914 National Carnival and also play cricket for Australia, NSW and Victoria.Andrew Ratcliffe

Ryde was very much an outer suburb of Sydney.  It had been created a Municipality in 1870 but much of the region was confined to farming and its population was minimal.  Despite this the Patrician Brothers opened a Boarding College at Ryde in 1883, Holy Cross College which became a landmark in the area with its towering sandstone building in Victoria Road.  I wouldn’ t be surprised if this Catholic Order encouraged the formation of the club.

Prior to this both Drummoyne and Ryde clubs competed in the Young Australian Competition.  In two years previous Drummoyne had two teams;  one in the A division and the other in the B.

Games were played at both Ryde and Drummoyne.  The fact that Ryde was on the main north rail line was certainly helpful in the days of horse and dray.  While we are unsure of the venue for the Ryde games, those at Drummoyne were played at Drummoyne Oval.

In 1912 the Young Australian Association changed its title to the NSW Australian Football Second Grade.  This then encouraged the separately administered teams in Sydney playing under the one club banner to amalgamate enabling a free flow of players between the second grade and league teams.  Amazingly enough, prior to this, if a player from a club’s Young Australian Team was required to play first grade in the same club he had to obtain a clearance.

In 1914 the Northern Districts Club amalgamated with the Balmain club to form a new side: Central Western.  This club lasted only a couple of seasons before they changed its name to Balmain Australian Football Club.

*The Young Australian Competition was separate but aligned with the NSW Football League.  It initially catered for young men aged 20 and under then in 1908 introduced an under 17 division;  later the old grade was revised to 21.  When the group altered their name it dispensed with age limitations.

Movement in the Seventies

The development and expansion of NSW football took place mostly in the 1970s really makes you ask why?

The last major addition to Sydney football was in 1948 when Western Suburbs and Balmain re-emerged and Sydney University were formed.

But in the seventies not only did new clubs appear in Sydney, including Manly, St Ives, Sutherland, Blacktown, Mac Uni, Bankstown Sports, Campbelltown, Pennant Hills etc. but new leagues developed on the South Coast, the Illawarra and Central Coast  all spawning new teams.

One reason offered for the expansion of the game was that the baby boomers began moving out to the suburbs and regional areas.

City clubs like Sydney Naval, South Sydney and later Newtown felt that exit and went out of business.  These were inner city clubs that excelled during the first half of the last century but struggled when the youth was no longer there to take over.

The East Sydney Club, formerly Eastern Suburbs, emerged out of an amalgamation of Paddington and East Sydney Clubs in 1926.  They withstood the exodus for most of the century however they began to rely heavily on interstate players and players from out of their area.  They kept a junior division but it struggled to sustain the re-supply of players needed at senior club level.  Eventually they combined with the University of NSW in 2000 to form a new club, UNSW-ES.

This was the first time their officials saw the need to merge whilst Sydney (Naval) on the other hand had combined with the reserve grade Public Service Club in 1923 and not that much later with Balmain in 1926.  On both occasions they stuck with their given name.  They did however toy with the idea of changing the title to Glebe in about 1930, shortly after shifting their home ground to Wentworth Park, but, they maintained the title, Sydney, until 1944 when the naval influence in the club resolved to alter it to Sydney Naval.

Clubs have come and gone;  the present Blacktown club for example is the third to assume that name.

While Newtown faded off to oblivion there did appear to be a whisker of light with the emergence of a new Newtown junior club some years ago. The aging South Sydney faithful may hold out a glimmer of hope that one day the Randwick Saints might work their way to the purpose built Australian football ground at Kensington Oval.  But, like Trumper Park, the grandstand there has been demolished.

FASCINATING STATISTICS

Some of us are into statistics, some are not.

Obviously the honorary secretary of the NSWAFL from 1936-60 and then fulltime secretary between 1966-69, Ken Ferguson, was. (A young Ken Ferguson is pictured)

In a meticulous effort, Ferguson, a clerk with NSW Railways, maintained a chart of the gate takings from the attendances at all grounds in Sydney between 1930-50.

Right up until the early 1980s, the league took the gate takings at all games.  They paid gate keepers and also for the hire of the grounds and kept club affiliation fees to a minimum.

Ferguson kept a record of gate takings in each year; The competition matches, finals, the particular ground at which the income was received as well the takings at interstate matches that were held in Sydney.  His details were all recorded in Australia’s former currency of pounds, however, in our main graph (left)  we have converted the figures to dollars.  The problem is we don’t, at this stage, have sufficient information to provide the changes in gate charges and their respective increases over the years.  Also, there was an additional charge for those who wanted seating in grandstands at the grounds.  This was only available in that period at Trumper Park and Erskineville Oval.  The difference between the actual gate charges and the additional payment for grandstand seating was was never separated.

Another statistic we have not shown is say, the average male wage of the day, to the admission charge, which would give you some idea of the depth of the fee.

Previously, we have shown a graph of the total gate takings over the years and in fact up to 1960.  We have replicated this graph for our story.  The income is shown in pounds.

Our primary graph showing the yearly takings at the respective grounds may be a little difficult to understand, particularly when reading from 1948-50 because more grounds came online when three additional clubs, Western Suburbs, Balmain and University, joined the competition.  Additionally the programme does not allow us to feature more colours and/or line designs to differentiate the many number of grounds displayed.

You will see in green, the enormous jump in gate takings when Sunday football at Trumper Park was introduced during the war.

Sunday football was not primarily introduced in an attempt to raise more revenue for the league.  Sport played on Sundays was not only frowned upon but virtually illegal and the league almost found themselves in court over the issue.

They were however, the first sport (in particular, of all football codes) to play on Sundays.  This came about because of the lack of grounds at which they could charge a gate and gate money was by far the largest income stream for the league.

Fortuitously, and as we have mentioned, this occurred during WWII, and because there were so many servicemen in Sydney, many of whom were star players from other states, patrons (and in particular, other servicemen) thronged to Trumper Park to watch them play.

In retrospect it was an element of their time that officials in Sydney not only failed to recognize but more importantly, failed to capitalise upon this boost in popularity in the sport.  This increased income from the gate, as you can see, grew into the thousands, but where did the money go?  Another opportunity lost for Sydney football.

NO CLUB CONTINUOUS

Several requests have been received about what club has been participating in the Sydney competition the longest.

In the Premier Division, North Shore are the only contenders.  They joined the NSW Australian Football League when the game was revised in Sydney in 1903 however the club went into recession in 1915 because of WWI only to return to the competition in 1921 to incredibly win the premiership in that year!!!  Now thats a story well worth researching.

They again went into recession in 1942 because of the drain on manpower during WWII, returning in 1946.

St George is next in line but they first played in the league in 1929 after a season in the reserve grade.

Wests have been in and out.  A Western Suburbs club competed in the league between 1926-29 playing out of Marrickville Oval.  We are not sure why they faded out but this was the time of the big depression and many would have suffered.

Then, along with Balmain and Sydney Uni, they returned to the competition in 1948.

Balmain affiliated with the league between 1903-09.  Then re-emerged briefly for the 1913 season before they combined with another side to play as the Central Western Football Club during 1914-15 however were back as Balmain in 1916-17.  This was the time of the first world war so times were grim and they disappeared in 1918 but returned to participate in the league for the 1919-25 seasons then folded.

Pennant Hills and Campbelltown both formed in the 1970s and spent a period in what was known as Second Division before their elevation to the top league.  Both have been very successful in the competition.

East Coast Eagles, formerly known as Baulkham Hills, first played in the Second and Third Divisions starting in 1986 following the formation of a very strong junior club.

Sydney University made a brief appearance in the competition in around 1887 for a season and a half. From reading the results and manpower problems, their participation was not a really serious effort and they disappeared until their return with the two other clubs in 1948.

Uni played, rather unsuccessfully during the fifties when many of the team was made up of students studying Vet. Science – the only university in Australia offering the course so these young blokes came to Sydney from all over Australia to play for the club.

They dropped out of the competition in 1958 only to return in 1961 when they entered two teams in the reserve grade competition, Uni Blues and Uni Golds.  From then they were in and out of the premier division reverting to almost static participation in the Second Division from the early 1970s.

The Wollongong team first appeared in the Second Division in 1989 after participating in the Illawarra Football League for a number of years.  Between the 1949 & 1950 seasons however an Illawarra club, playing out of the Wollongong Showground, competed in the league.

UTS (University of Technology) first began playing in Division III in 2000.

UNSW-ES Club was formed in 2000 following an amalgamation of the University of NSW and East Sydney Clubs.

Prior to this UNSW participated in the reserves and Second Division from the mid 1960s while East Sydney, who changed their name from Eastern Suburbs in 1972, were formed at the end of the 1925 season following an amalgamation between the Paddington and East Sydney Clubs.  The assertion that ‘East Sydney ‘ can claim a heritage back to 1881 when an East Sydney Club was first formed is drawing a long bow.

Manly Warringah was formed in 1970 under the direction of president, Harry Marston.  They are a very successful club and spent most of their time in the Sydney Second Division winning ten premierships until they were elevated to the premier division in 2013 where they won the flag in their first year of participation.

So there is no premier league club in Sydney which have played continuously in the league since day 1.

Of those current clubs, a number have changed their name, while more still have altered their colours and motifs.

To answer the question, if any club wants to claim some type of link to the past it has to be Sydney University but, it is too drawing a very long bow.

North Shore, who went from being known as The Bridgewalkers, The Robins, The Bears and now the Bombers are the only club that can almost claim some type of continuum.

Other divisions will be listed soon.