WWI Book Launched

2015-04-15 Book Launch - crowd 2 thumbnailOver forty people joined together for the launch of the Society’s book on the effect WWI had on Australian Football in Sydney; A Game to be Played.

Speakers included the Society’s president, Ian Granland, author and vice president, Paul Macpherson together with two direct relatives of a first war digger and Sydney footballer, Freddie McGargill.

Mr Macpherson spoke on the depth of research and what it produced.  He told the audience of the problems associated with finding some footballers who had enlisted but because little was known2015-04-15 Book Launch - Paul Macpherson thumbnail of them besides a common surname, not even their first name or an initial, many had to be put aside and could not be included in the eventual list of 200 Sydney footballers identified as serving in the first world war.

He mentioned the tragic case of Bertram (Bert) Watts who not only served in the 1914-18 conflict but was part of the contingent that went to South Africa in the Boer War.

Watts played and captained the Paddington club for a number of seasons between 1903-13 also during this period he captained and represented NSW.  For a year or so around the same time he served on the isolated outpost of Thursday Island but even then was selected to represent Queensland in an interstate clash.

He was very well thought of and respected in the football community of Sydney.  Paddington, the forerunner of the Eastern Suburbs Club, recruited quite a number of soldiers who were either based at Victoria Barracks or the adjoining Engineers Depot at Moore Park.

At his demise, Watts had been promoted to the rank of Lt Colonel and was in the field arranging artillery tactics when a German shell landed on the tent killing him, his medical officer, adjutant and orderly officer.  His wife, to whom he had been married to for a short time, died of heart failure in 1918, shortly after giving birth to a son.  The fate of the boy is unknown.

2015-04-15 Book Launch - Lesley Brydon thumbnailThe launch was performed by Mrs Lesley Brydon and her brother, an ex Eastern Suburbs player, Ian Blackeby.

Also at the event was ABC Radio’s popular host, Ian McNamara of the Sunday show, Australia All Over.  Ian will interview Paul Macpherson after 8:00am this Sunday on air.2015-04-15 Book Launch - crowd 1 thumbnail

Books are now available at $25 each plus postage.  You can make your purchase by clicking the link on the front page of the website and following the instructions.

A Famous Old Player in Sydney Football

Bert Watts 4We have written many times that Australian football was first played in Sydney in 1880.

Following some ups and downs it again got on its feet in 1903 and during the following number of years there was a particular player of some significance who was in the army and based at Victoria Barracks, Paddington who played for many years on and off in the Sydney competition.

He was killed in WWI when, as a Lt Colonel, a shell hit the foxhole he and some of his staff were sheltering in.

His name is Bert Watts and was the most highly decorated Sydney footballer we know in WWI.  His life and time as a footballer and soldier are highlighted in our soon to be released book on Sydney Football and the First World War. As you will read, he also served in the Boer War.

The image below shows him on the left with an unknown soldier serving in the Boer War, South Africa.

We have been very fortunate to have found a newspaper article about Bert;  his thoughts and experiences, where he mentions some of his ideas on the game and what rules should be introduced to make it a faster and a more attractive sport.  Ironically, many of these have since been introduced to our game over recent years.

The fact that he was an outstanding Sydney footballer and man has been lost on us all.  We knew nothing of Bert Watts and his colleagues, such is the fragility of the history of the game in the nation’s largest city.

Here is the article, taken verbatim, so any mistakes are from the article itself.  We hope you enjoy the read:

One of the most striking personalities in the Australian ‘game in Sydney is Captain Bert Watts. A tall, dashing fellow, with shoulders which might well excite the envy of a champion wrestler; straight, well-shaped legs, he is the beau ideal of an athlete. Was it ever your lot, reader, to see him kick a football? No! Well, when at his best he would open your eyes to their fullest extent.

In the final at the Australian Football Ground last season Watts obtained a mark a tremendous distance from the posts. He placed the ball, and many of the spectators jeered. Even those possessed of the knowledge of his exceptional kicking abilities considered he put the ball on the ground with the idea of sending it in front of goal to give his forwards a chance to do the heedful. Now, that was evidently not Watts’ idea. He walked back a few yards, and then came at the ball like a speedy Rugby three-quarter back, who, when near the line, has visions of a try. ‘Boof!’ went his right foot, into the ball. Through the air at rocket-like pace it went, keeping low. All eyes were on that ball. Will it go between the uprights after all must, have been in the minds of not a few. When the ball neared the posts it took a rise, and the players jumped high in their endeavours to reach it. The sphere went gaily on and six points were hoisted for Paddington. Bert Watts was a hero! Everybody cheered him. Well they might, for rarely has such a kick been seen anywhere. In the course of a conversation he said:

“I learnt to play football in South Australia, and was captain of my State School team at Allendale. I also, played with school teams at Broken Hill. In 1902 I regularly took Bert Watts in South Africa 1part in the practice matches for South Melbourne, and in 1898 I played with the Royal Australian Artillery team. QueenscIiffe, Victoria. I was in South Africa in 1900-1, and we ran a competition between the squadron of the regiment (the Victorian Imperial Bushmen), and played Australian football in Rhodesia, Cape Colony, and the Transvaal. We had some fine players, too, notably Charlie Moore, one of Essendon’s best, who was killed in action; ˜Joker” Cameron, who figured in South Melbourne’s colours for ten years; and George Angus, who was a similar period with Collingwood, and was captain when they won the Victorian premiership.

In 1902 I was stationed at Newcastle, in Natal, and captained an Army Soccer team. But the two succeeding seasons I played for the R.A.A. (Royal Aust Artillery) team at Queenscliff (Victoria), though I was offered a place in several of the Victorian League clubs. I donned the Paddington colours in 1905, and represented New South Wales in the first inter State match against Victoria after the resuscitation of the game in Sydney. The season after found me in Brisbane, and I played for Brisbane and Ipswich clubs, and also represented Queensland against New South Wales.

In 1907-8 I was stationed at Thursday Island, and had a go at Rugby Union, but in 1908 I was once again in Brisbane. I represented Queensland at the first Australasian Carnival at Melbourne. I have played for Paddington since the beginning of 1909, and I play the Northern Union rules with regimental teams at present. Of the 1905 New South Wales representative team only Ralph Robertson and I now remain on the active list.

I consider Ralph Robertson the headiest player I have ever been associated with. Any scientific footballer would have no difficulty in teaming with him. I recommend young players to study his methods. You see, he never misses an opportunity of passing to a comrade in a better position than himself. And his play is always for the side, irrespective of self.”

ADVICE TO YOUNG PLAYERS
“As an old player, I would like to give a word of advice to young footballers. One of the first things I would impress upon them is to avoid cliqueism (sic). Don’t have particular pals to play to; always put your team before everything else on the field. Select a comrade in a good position to pass to as soon as you get the ball, and send it on to him at once. Never mind a tricky, pretty run. Get rid of the ball quickly before opponents have time to form up to meet your attack.

If a forward, try and escape from your opponent; if a back, follow your man wherever I he goes. Centres should not wander from their place. On a large ground they get more opportunities by keeping their proper position than by wandering towards the backs or forwards. Obey your captain without argument; you put him in that position, and should stand by him. When the hall is being kicked from a mark, arrange who is to fly and who is to stay down. One should be in front and the other behind the high-markers. The ball comes to the ‘floor’ offener (sic) than it is marked. Don’t bounce the ball when, beginning your run; travel a full ten yards first. But run as little as possible; kick the sphere hard and often, but always to a mate. Only handball to a man in a better position; handball is easily overdone. Don’t be selfish; you play a better game for yourself when you consider your side first.”

SUGGESTED IMPROVEMENTS IN THE GAME
Yes, although our game is now grand, I think it could be still further improved. I favour the erection of a bar, with 6 points for an untouched kick over the bar, 2 points if under, and 1 point touched over or under the bar and 1 point for a behind. This would improve the game by making a goal harder to get, and therefore of more value. It would give the full-back a better chance to participate in the play than he now enjoys. Then, again, dribbled goals are not worth six points.

“I suggested similar alterations in the ‘Referee’ some years ago. Many correspondents wrote, some in favour, some against. But, like you, I am of opinion they would immensely improve the game. But proceed.

Well, when the regulation size of the ground cannot be obtained, I favour the reduction of the teams to 15. We boast of the openness of our game, but 36 men on small areas make play congested. Instead of the ‘throw-in,’ when the ball goes out of bounds, I think a free kick should be given to opponents when the ball goes out on the full; at other times the ‘throw-in’ to be adhered to.

“I also suggested a similar rule, with the exception that a certain portion of the ground at each end should be exempt. It would certainly make the game much faster.

It would,” replied Bert. There is still another rule I would like to see introduced, and that is, the umpire should have the power to order an offending player off the field. The argument that it places too much power in his hands will not hold water. We must trust our umpires. Occasions are rare when an umpire spoils a game, and a man who strikes an opponent should not be allowed to play. Clubs would soon drop ‘fightable’ (sic) players, who are a disgrace to any game.

PROMISING PLAYERS
Well, there are many young players who are showing excellent football, namely, McLean (North Shore), McConville and Stewart (East Sydney), Chapman, McCann, Mahoney (Paddington), Ratcliffe and the McLarens (Balmain), Hortin (Newtown), and Mack and O’Grady (Sydney).

The best players’ I have been associated with? I am afraid the task is far too difficult; A flood of names of good,  in fact, great footballers fly to my mind; but to name some means leaving out dozens of others.

Yes, I – have found Australian football as played in New South Wales a beautiful game. It is nearly always fought out in the best possible spirit. Both, contesting teams leave the ground pals, ‘and the spirit at’ strenuous rivalry is only maintained as it should be on the field. The game is clean. I have played – all codes, and, and whilst I enjoy any game of football, I consider the Australian invented pastime’s greatest charm is that .it seems to possess all the good and leaves out the bad points of the other codes. ‘It is strenuous, requiring well-trained men; it is fast, and – therefore attractive to spectators; it is clean, though not by any means ladylike, as its opponent’s endeavour to paint it. Then it is open, onlookers seeing all the game, and the scoring is fast, and therefore exciting. Drawn games ”always unsatisfactory ” are rare, and a match between two good teams always furnishes a clever exhibition. In short, it is full of incident; dull moments being very rare.

FUTURE OF THE GAME IN NEW SOUTH WALES
‘I consider the game should be developed principally by local talent. Second Graders should be taught that selection in the First Grade should be their ambition. There seems to be too much difficulty in getting the Association (second grade) players to come into the League. This is radically wrong. The club that builds up a complete team of local lads will have the biggest following. Besides, players living in the same district will have a chance working up combination, so necessary to success it is hard on a captain each year to have a new set of players. They are strange to each other, and the season, is well advanced before a thorough understanding exists between them.”

There should be only one club in each district, which should select its players for each grade. The selectors would have to watch the schools. The Third Grade team could be picked principally from schoolboys, who could work their way up to the seniors. Young players’ ambition should be to represent their districts in inter-State- matches.

‘Bert Watts, who is a Captain in the State Artillery, has had vast experience in his long football career. This interview is particularly instructive from the players’ and managerial sides. It is to be hoped his remarks will bear fruit. His own football has been of a most exemplary character. “The ball all the time” is always his motto, and his influence on the Paddington team, which he captains, is most marked. Players would do well to select skippers of the calibre of Watts. The matches would always improve enjoyable under such leadership. Captain Watts left Sydney for England yesterday, where he will pursue his studies in the British Army.”

[ENDS]

Bert Watts married in the UK.  They had a son but unfortunately his wife died soon after the birth of the child.  What happened to the son is unknown.

WWI BOOK GAINS MOMENTUM

Sportsmens Recruitment Poster smallGood news following the society committee meeting today where officials took time out to work through the outline of the proposed book on the Impact WWI had on Sydney Football.

The sub-committee have already looked at the pre-war period in Sydney and how the game was shaping, then 1915, where many of the local footballers enlisted for the front.

Players names too are beginning to pop up and already well over 100 Sydney players have been identified as volunteering to fight in the conflict.  Not all of these were in the army.  A minority of naval personnel have been found to have been in the navy.  In the early years of the war, East Sydney relied very heavily on sailors and their departure caused a number of forfeits in the latter part of the 1915 season.

The youngest player to go on our list was  18 year old Ernie Groves from the Balmain club. The oldest we could find was Frank Barber, a storeman from 146 Bourke Street, Sydney who was 45 when he enlisted in 1916.  Barber was an official of both the league and the East Sydney Club.
Bert Watts 4

No doubt the saddest incident was the death of Bert Watts (pictured), a senior ranked permanent army officer, who had captained and coached the Paddington Club, represented both NSW as well as Queensland, along with three others was killed when a shell hit their foxhole on the Western Front.  There were several eye  witness accounts of the deaths of these soldiers which will be published in the book.  Ironically Watt’s wife, a young girl from a property near Gunnedah, died suddenly in England 12 months after her husband.

At the outbreak of war, Watts was undertaking a course in England and when war was announced he was immediately drafted into the AIF.  At the time of her death, Clara Watts had a two year old child.  In an unusual occurrence for the day, her wealthy parents brought her body back from the UK for burial in Australia.

There are other extremely fascinating stories not only of servicemen but also of the situation in Sydney during the time of the conflict.

The book will be launched in April next year and is one you should very much put on your ‘must get’ list.

1908 Australian Football National Carnival

1908 Carnival Sourvenir ProgrammeIn 1908 NSW competed in an All-States Football Carnival in Melbourne which celebrated 50 years since the birth of the game.

Each state was permitted to include a maximum of 25 players which was quite a number in those days considering teams were only permitted 18 on-field players with no reserves or interchange.

The NSW contingent comprised players from Sydney, two from the Wagga district, one from Hay and eight from Broken Hill.

These eight were: A T Conlin, Ethelbert (Bert) Renfrey (picutured, and you can read about him by clicking herea very interesting character), G Colley, RRenfrey Bert - 1908 Scott, Jack Hunter, Bennet Eric Gluyas, Robert Rahilly, and A Millhouse – [details of their given names would be appreciated if known].

Football was a very serious business in Broken Hill in 1908, so a comprehensive agreement was drawn up between the Barrier Ranges Football Association and each player which they were required to sign.

Some of the articles in the agreement included:

  1. That each player must return to Broken Hill within a month of departure, all expenses over 19 days would be borne by the players;
  2. They would be under the control of a manager appointed by the football association (J M Ford) and were to be of good conduct.
  3. Whilst in Adelaide (they travelled by train to Adelaide, then train to Melbourne) they were to remain with the group.
  4. Whilst in Melbourne they were under the charge of the NSW team manager.
  5. They must attend all functions with the team.
  6. They must meet with the managers of the touring party when instructed.
  7. The Barrier Rangers had full power to report any of the players for a breach of conduct.
  8. The Manager was empowered to suspend or disqualify any of the players.

Particular offences were considered as:

  • * Being absent without leave.
  • * Irregularity of hours, insobriety, any action which would prejudice fitness.
  • * Any action which would bring discredit on the team.
  • * Refusal to carry out any reasonable instruction.
  • * That they must appear in the uniform hats supplied for the tour (each player was issued with a straw hat).  These hats had a light blue ribbon with an embroided       waratah.

We have no evidence that others, particularly those from Sydney, had to sign such an agreement.  We can only speculate that the boys from Broken Hill must have been a wild bunch!

The team stayed at the Prince of Wales Hotel, St Kilda.  They trained at the St Kilda Cricket Ground under the direction of former St Kilda player, E L (Curly) Jones.  The captain was Ralph Robertson and manager, E W Butler, both from the East Sydney club.

 

NSW Score

 

Opposition Score

1

NSW 8-14 (62)

Lost

New Zealand 9-9 (63)

2

NSW 4-11 (35)

Lost

Tasmania 8-14 (62)

3

NSW 12-3 (75)

Lost

Western Aust 17-12 (124)

4

NSW 13-15 (93)

Won

Queensland 8-11 (59)

 

1908 Ralph Robertson 1The coaching of Jones, although appreciated, was not considered beneficial, particularly in the loss to New Zealand.  This was in the days when, apart from the very major clubs, captains ran the teams and did the coaching.  Such was the case in Sydney.
(image shows NSW captain, Ralph Robertson)

The carnival was quite a significant milestone in the recognition and evolution of Australian Football in the newly federated country, despite recording a significant loss on the series.  H C A Harrison, acknowledged as the Father of the Game and author of the first rules, was in attendance where he made many speeches and gave several interviews, a number of which reflected on the very beginnings of the game.

Ironically enough, our research has revealed that Bert Watts, a former captain of the Paddington Club who also performed that role when he returned to Sydney from a military posting on Thursday Island, was a member of the Queensland team.

Watts will figure prominently in the book the Society is publishing on the Impact WWI had on Australian Football in Sydney.

Details of NSW’s participation in the 1908 carnival are currently being loaded into the website’s database.  Click here to view the games. (use the date option, 1908, for best results).

Victoria won the championship and each of their players was presented with a silk pennant and gold medal.  We wonder where any of these items are now?