Again the Football History Society’s, Vice President, Dr Rod Gillett, has sought out a great period in NSW football:
Western Suburbs were the most successful club in Sydney football in the 1960s. The Magpies, which had been re-formed in 1948, played in seven grand finals winning four.
Under dual Melbourne premiership player Athol Webb, Wests convincingly beat St George in the 1965 grand final at Trumper Park, 17-15 (117) to 12-9 (81).
Wests had become a powerhouse through sound administration, access to its own ground in Picken Oval and the establishment of the first licensed club for Australian football in NSW in 1962.
Club secretary Bill Hart, later to be president of the NSWANFL from 1966-1978, was instrumental in getting Webb to come to Sydney from Tasmania. The previous year he had coached the East Launceston FC (1962-63) in the NTFA and prior, the New Norfolk FC (1960-61) after finishing up in the VFL where he played with the Melbourne club from 1955-59.
Webb was essentially a full-time coach with Wests. In addition to coaching duties, he worked in the licensed club and ran school programs in the inner west. He resided in a house next to the club which they also owned.
Western Suburbs finished on top of the table with 15 wins in 1965 and only two losses in the home-and-away matches to St George and North Shore. Wests lost to St George under Col Harris in the second semi final but came back to comfortably beat Newtown in the preliminary final.
Statistics were provided in the NSWANFL Football Record (19 September 1965) that show the following:
Wests ruckman Russ Lockett, later a long-term secretary-manager of the licensed club, led the ruck division to a decisive advantage over Newtown, 53 hit-outs to 30.
In an interview for this piece, Athol Webb, now aged 85 and living in The Rock where he went to coach after Wests, recalled it was a “very hot day, 97° F” but “we were pretty well set-up to win”.
The grand final victory which was described by the President Herb Conlon in the club’s annual report for 1965 as “an inspired performance to outplay St George in every position”.
Amongst the best players for Wests were “close-playing” full back Peter Burgess, “fearless rover” Cliff Hayes (later an umpire), key forward John Godwin “a former rugby player” and “versatile” vice-captain Roger Nobes (quotes from the Football Record for the Grand Final).
Wests went on an end-of-season trip to Auckland to play an exhibition match. A party of 43 players, officials and committeemen journeyed to New Zealand. The match played at Cromwell Park attracted a crowd of 7000. The Kiwi team proved to good for Wests. The game covered on the national television news on the Sunday following the game.
The next year, Athol Webb was enticed to southern NSW to coach The Rock-Yerong Creek in the strong Farrer League. Webb coached TR-YC for three seasons and stayed on as a player for a further six years.
Athol told me that The Rock was a “terrific little spot” and a great place to raise a family.
Asked to name the highlights of his career, Athol modestly told me, “Kicking 5 goals in the 1956 VFL grand final against Collingwood, I suppose”, but then he lit up when he said “also winning the Tassie One Thousand (professional foot race) at Burnie”. When pressed about his share of the purse he said, “750 quid!”.
Athol Webb (pictured left in Tasmanian jumper) is described in the Encyclopedia of VFL/AFL Footballers Since 1897 (2003) as a “former Tasmanian forward whose speed and elusive style made him a constant menace to opposition sides”. He played 74 games and kicked 146 goals for Melbourne from 1955-59.
He told me that Norm Smith was a “master coach”, “…he knew how to get the best out of everyone, every week”
He was captain-coach of NSW in 1965 and also in 1964 in matches against North Melbourne and Hawthorn in Sydney.
He also represented Victoria and Tasmania and kicked the match-sealing goal when Tassie famously beat Victoria at York Park, Launceston in 1960.
Athol Webb has been nominated for a place in the inaugural AFL NSW Hall of Fame.
Here is an article by Society member, Jim McSweeney, a former umpire in the Sydney competition and later in Masters Rules. He was an official with the St George Junior Association and also umpired in that competition. The article provides details of a ‘boycott’, not a strike, by Sydney umpires in 1974. This was a period when Sydney Newspapers frequently published articles of happenings in the code in the city (sadly no more), so we are able to bring you associated newspapers articles.
“I am sure that over the years’ clubs have expressed concern over certain umpires and expressed a wish that these umpires no be appointed to their matches. No doubt on some occasions these wishes may well have been granted.
However, in early July 1974, the fourth year of my Presidency, the Umpires Association was informed by the League that the Western Suburbs Club had informed them that they would not play if Umpire Earl Beeck was appointed to any of their matches. No reasons were given for this ultimatum.
This led to a very long and heavily debated Umpires’ Association meeting and brought back to me memories of the 1961 Strike. There were many actions proposed and debated. A large number were very determined to withdraw all umpiring services until this ultimatum was withdrawn.
After much debate and different proposals considered it was agreed that all clubs should not be penalised because of the action of one. It was then unanimously resolved that Association Members would not umpire any Western Suburbs matches whist this ultimatum was in place. This decision was passed to the League as soon as possible after the meeting.
Western Suburbs were due to play Southern Districts the following weekend at Rosedale Oval, Warwick Farm and no Association umpires were appointed. It was an interesting lead up, because a number of people associated with the home club were involved with junior football in the area. One of their first grade players also umpired local junior football. The Umpires’ executive were required to talk with these people and request that they support the Umpires in this matter. They all agreed to fall in line. The match went ahead with Bill Hart, the 48 year old League President, along with vice president Doug Bouch initially set down as umpires. (I’d love to see those two running around the paddock, Bill may have represented the state in 1948 and Doug Bouch won the Sanders Medal in 1959, but please … it can be, no it is, hard work out there in the centre and Doug was one who loved a drink on a hot day). However the two with the whistles was later altered to Wests president and former VFA player, John Donovan and Southern Districts official, Arthur Clark taking on the officiating duties.
Following this, the ultimatum was withdrawn and everything went back to as normal as it can be in the Football world.”
Top of the table Western Suburbs had no trouble defeating ‘Districts in the game by over fourteen goals to continue their unbeaten run.
During the 1960s the NSW Australian Football League, operating under a separate title and office bearers, attempted to obtain a liquor licence and operate a licensed club.
This was in the days when licensed clubs in NSW proliferated and were making money hand over fist – all tax free. Basically, because they were non-profit organisations (the profits ostensibly being reinvested into benefits for their members) they were not subject to paying tax!! In this case however, although they tried had and did have some smart people in charge their actions were eventually unsuccessful.
Here, we reproduce part of the organisation’s ninth annual report from 1966 which outlines the progress thus far and written by the secretary, Jack Hammond who was also on the Western Suburbs FC Board of Management and for some years, treasurer of the NSWAFL. It provides a rather in-depth look of what action the group had taken over the previous 12 months and although a long read, is very interesting. (we do not have any other annual reports from the applicant)
“…. Legal advice is that the Board wind up the club as it now stands, as it would not be possible to approach the Licensing Court successfully under the present Articles of Association because they have been breached on too many occasions, therefore a new club be formed in the very near future to take its place. The Board was hoping for the winding up of the club to be carried out in conjunction with or immediately following this Annual Meeting so as to avoid putting you to the trouble of coming out again on another night, but evidently the time is not yet opportune for this step to be taken. Future reports will be in the name of the new club, New South Wales Australian Football Club Ltd., which name was selected by the present Board and who will be the signatories of the new Memorandum and Articles of Association. Prior to the 1965 Annual Meeting the retiring Board of Directors were given the legal opinion they had little opportunity of obtaining a liquor licence unless the club became closely identified with the New South Wales Australian National Football League and to their credit, with two exceptions, they did not stand for office so as to allow the members of the League to take over from them to concur with the said legal opinion. Just how fully this move was taken advantage of by the League can be gauged from the fact that eight out of eleven of the Board of Management of the League became Directors as well as being permitted the use of their premises, 64 Regent Street, as the club’s registered office and meeting rooms. I personally sympathise with those gentlemen whose efforts over the years were so frustrated, as I myself was connected with an unsuccessful application for a licence, so I have some idea what their feeling of disappointment was like. Later on I was connected with the successful application of the Western Suburbs club, so when the above information was brought down to the League I took the opportunity of accepting the position of Secretary to see if the experience gained in the two prior applications mentioned can be applied again successfully on behalf of the League.
I am fortunate in this present venture of having the services of the foundation President and Secretary of Wests in the persons of Charlie Stephens and Bill Hart, respectively. Both these gentlemen’s knowledge and experience of licensing laws and court procedure is proving of immeasurable value. This report should cover the period of January to December, 1965, but unfortunately I have little knowledge of what took place before May. A lack of interest due to the aforementioned legal opinion found the club (the writer refers to ‘the club’ as the group he is writing about) in a run-down condition. This prevented a quorum being obtained at the Annual Meeting. It was thus found necessary to hold a further two adjourned meetings, which took us well into May before being able to finalise the original Annual Meeting. Therefore it was on the last day of May before the present Directors were able to hold their first Board meeting. The first assignment confronting the new Board was to bring the Board up to its full complement of Dire:tors and Office Bearers. Under the Articles the President of the League is an automatic appointment, plus a further two members to be appointed by the League. A letter to the League soon put this matter in order and bringing back the information that
President Tom McGrath was prepared to conform with the Articles and accept a position of Director, and the other two appointees were League Secretary Jack Regan and Reg Symes. This brought the Board up to full strength; as a matter of fact, when counted up it was found there was one Director too many. I feel this was a small sign of the interest that was to be aroused in the next six months. Mr. Jack Maher, who had other commitments on sub-committees of the League, decided to resign, which resignation the Board accepted and thanked Jack for his co-operation. The offices that were vacant were two Vice-Presidents. These were filled by Messrs. John Stewart and Ken Stephens, and an Assistant Secretary, Mr. Graham Pile accepting this position. With the Board and Office Bearers at full strength the next move was to bring the Club into line with the Registrar of Companies, which necessitated a notification of change of address from Sussex Street to Regent Street, and the change in Directors. Whilst on this subject I would like to thank Treasurer Sid Smith, whose help was invaluable to me in the filing of these documents with the Registrar General’s Department, as I had no knowledge of the workings of this Government Department. Sid’s nicely typed copies of the above documents for my own files will be an asset when forming the new club. The next step to be taken was the all important approach to our legal firm of Smithers, Warren and Lyons, to see if they were still prepared to carry on with our brief, as contact with them had been lost by the previous Board. This contact took longer than expected and it was mainly through the efforts of Director John Stewart that contact was finally made. We were unfortunate that the Empire Law Conference was being held in Sydney at the time we wanted to see our solicitor. He held a very high position at this conference, which made him a very busy man. A deputation from the Board was very cordially received and given the good news that they were still prepared to act on our behalf. We were also given the information of the winding up of the club, as mentioned in the first paragraph. This is the stage we have reached at present. This may not appear as though we have progressed very far, but I fed we have laid a solid foundation which you will agree is necessary if a firm structure is to be built.
These are a must for a club and second only to the all-important licence. I did not realise when we assumed office that almost immediately we would start inspecting premises or that so many offers would come to hand. Our first offer came through Mr. Rod Dixon, of the Sydney-Naval Club, and it was for the first floor of Mick Simmons Sports Store in George Street. Upon inspection, the size of this floor was quite surprising, extending from Hay to Goulburn Streets. These premises sparked off a debate on the Board as to the suitability of city as opposed to suburban premises. Pre-war there would have been no doubts but today the city is being slowly superseded by the suburbs in commercial life, as instanced by the demise of big stores at that end of town in Marcus Clarks and Sydney Snow. Anthony Horderns, perhaps the best known store in Sydney, who have been operating for over a century, have traded at a loss over the last few years. This no doubt is due to the fact that motor car people will just not come into the city, with its parking problems. The trend today is the building of projects like Roselands, with its multiple storey parking area. A club can be taken on the same lines as the above if you take into consideration the 10 district Rugby League Clubs, who are all prospering immensely and are in the main outer suburbs, so at the present it looks as though the suburbs will win out if and when we get started.
Our second offer was the Concord R.S.L. Club. President Charlie Stephens put a lot of hard work into obtaining these premises and at one stage, through his efforts we had an option on this building. Concord Council refused to keep the area as licensed premises, thus causing us a bitter disappointment. These premises were just what we wanted to commence operations, being quite within our scope financially, no opposition from hotels or other clubs, and situated in the midst of a thickly populated area, which would have provided us with ready made patronage. On our visit to our legal firm we mentioned this club and the danger area that could be seen in it was its situation for a headquarters club. After discussion it was found Concord was near the centre of Sydney, so quite within easy travelling distance for the 10 local affiliated clubs. In passing, I would like to mention the part played by Director Tom McGrath, who on our second visit to Concord to meet the committee formed to dispose of these premises stood in for President C. Stephens, who was interstate on business, and presented our case very ably and swayed them over to our side from other bidders, thus finalising the deal started off so well by Charlie. A third offer was received from one of our members in the person of Mr. W. C. Allen. These premises were under review some few years ago by the previous Board, but I believe their financial arran~ements were not acceptable to either their legal representative or the licensing authorities. A deputation from the new Board carried out an inspection of these premises at the invitation of Mr. Allen. We stated our views and financial standing to Mr. Allen, who agreed to draw up a -proposition for consideration by us. We are at present awaitin~ his reply.
A fourth offer came from another member, Mr. C. H. King, whose premises are in Rockdale. The Board is reviewing this last offer so they will be reported on in the next year’s renort. These two gentlemen followed my reports in the Bulletin of the Concord R.S.L. and when they fell through they came to hand with the premises I have mentioned and owned by them. If nothing comes of any of the above propositions we have a gentleman prepared to back us financially and if necessary build new premises on a leasing basis, so I feel we are well covered in the area of premises.
I have in my possession a letter dated 1956 which was in reply to my original application to join the club. In the intervening years I have been a member on and off, simply because there was no contact from those in authority and one did not know if the club was still operating until a new committee had taken office and fresh approaches made to once again become financial, so when I accepted the position of Secretary, I had the idea of avoiding what had happened in the past and somehow keep in touch with the members, thus keeping them informed of the club’s progress and the work being carried out by the Board on their behalf, hence our news sheet, the Bulletin. Through it I have gained much valuable information about the membership. Many notifications have been received about changes of address, some retiring to holiday resorts, others leaving the forces to return to civil life. Some have left addresses without leaving a forwarding address, and most unfortunately I have received notification that some half-dozen members have passed away. The last two offers of premises were received through the medium of the Bulletin by the two gentlemen mentioned earlier, they following our efforts to obtain a club site through the Bulletin. When I started the Bulletin I had no idea it would become a much travelled news sheet. Quite a few of our members belong to the fighting forces, becoming members when based in Sydney. Over the years some have been transferred to fields apart, but this has not let their enthusiasm wane towards the club. These members notified me of their transfer and that they still wished to receive the Bulletin. It goes into the airfields of Richmond, Williamtown and Darwin, the Victoria Barracks, army camps lngleburn and Holsworthy, to an army camp at Canberra; it goes onto many of Her Majesty’s Naval ships including the aircraft carrier Melbourne, also the Naval Base at Nowra. It also goes to civilians who have shifted out to country centres like Leura on the Blue Mountains and Condobolin. My gratitude goes to Jack Magner for giving me the introduction to the people who produce the Bulletin gratis for us, and to them, Mr. Dave Willoughby and his competent typiste Mrs. Abbott, many thanks from all club members. To Director Bill Hart we owe a debt of gratitude for the conveyance of the Bulletin to the members. It is surprising the amount of people who have approached me through the Bulletin. Most have expressed their appreciation of it and look forward each month to its arrival. This in itself gives me the incentive to keep on with it as well as compensating a little for the efforts that go into it.
I would like to touch lightly on this subject in passing. I do not intend to intrude into the Treasurer’s area, as this department is in very capable hands, but there are two things I would like to say, firstly we have operated in the past year on a minimum of finance, on a shoestring as the saying goes. This fact is due in the main to help from two sources which consist of Boards and for obvious reasons I cannot mention names. Secondly, we are all unfinancial members and it was the decision of the Board at one of its earliest meetings that subscriptions would not be called for until we can see our way clear for an approach to the Court and the obtaining of suitable premises. As you can see by this report these two subjects are being pursued fully. I hope the time is not too distant when that all important approach can be made to once again become financial. When that time does come you will receive notification through the Bulletin.
The need of a club was never more vital to the League than at the present time. The game itself is moving forward, as instanced by the backing of some big business houses, and the visits of Melbourne League clubs – seven out of the twelve in the past two years. The League has nowhere to entertain these teams, who number amongst their supporters some of the most prominent men in Australia. When North Melbourne came up the season before last, Mr. Arthur Calwell, the Leader of the Opposition in Federal Parliament, accompanied them. He is the No. 1 ticket holder of this club, and he had to be entertained under the grandstand at Trumper Park – not a very satisfactory place for the entertainment of such a prominent person. The League could have found itself in the same position with our recently retired Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, had the Carlton Club visited Sydney, as he is a member of that club and watches as many of their matches as possible. Last year two teams from Melbourne played a match on the Sydney Cricket Ground, with the League having no place to entertain them. They had to depend on an affiliated district club, thus forcing their own officials into the background, which is far from a satisfactory position to be in, being the hosts of these teams whilst in Sydney. Football teams from every State in Australia are now visiting us, both in and out of season, like the Western Australian club side who will be here next January.
The Melbourne and Geelong teams passed through Sydney, both coming and going on a trip to America, with the Melbourne side being entertained by the N.S.W. Rugby League Club, a fine gesture to a rival code of football, but a ridiculous position for our League to be in as the governing body of a major sport in this State. I thought I would mention these facts in passing, as I feel this proves the need for a club as required by the Licensing Court and a major reason why we were advised legally for the two to be joined together. The Court does not look too favourably on those forming a club for purely financial reasons, whilst admittedly money is all important as a propagation medium for our code. A very fine liaison exists at present between the Board of Management of the League and the Directors of the Club, and I hope these cordial relations continue in the future. On behalf of the Directors I would like to thank the League Board for its co-operation and help in the last year.
My report would not be complete if I did not pay tribute to my fellow Directors. The unity and co-operation shown to me in my first year of office was really wonderful and in the long run can only spell success, and I look forward to the future with pleasure and enthtisiasm and not the little misgivings I had when accepting the position’ of Secretary last year. At the grand final of the football last year Director Tom McGrath was badly affected by the heat of that day and had a sojourn in hospital, thus causing us to lose his most valuable services for a few months at the end of last year. We were all pleased to learn that Tom is back to good health again. Another blow suffered by the Board is the announced resignation of League Secretary Jack Regan, who is also a Director. I will miss Jack immensely as he often went out of his way to perform many acts of courtesy for me, and no matter what I asked of him it was always done with a smile and without ever the slightest hint of trouble. A great help to me through the year has been my assistant,
Grahame Pile, who at all times is prepared to help with the running around so necessary in a venture as large as ours. Grahame is also prepared to carry out many jobs on my behalf. One that readily comes to mind is our dub shingle at the entrance to Regent Street, which was made and erected by him. I can’t imagine how I would have got this erected without Grahame’s help. So to each and every Director, thanks for your help and co-operation in the past year.
In conclusion, as in all reports such as this at the last moment they have a tendency to become rushed, and mine is no exception, so if I have missed some item or some person I offer my sincere apologies. For and on behalf of the Board of Directors,
Jack indeed was a hard working and dedicated disciple of Australian Football in Sydney. He held several positions in a number of football organisations and was a very hard worker for the code and his parent club, Western Suburbs. An interview with Jack can be heard on our podcast section here. If you want to listen, it is in two parts and you will have to go back to the podcast section to download the second edition.
Although there were 200 odd members of the club, as you can read was a certain amount of apathy, Their efforts to establish a licensed club was unsuccessful not only because of this but two of the main ‘promoters’ of the scheme, died, plus the group had next to no money.
There would not be too many still involved in Sydney football who would remember the NSWAFL Headquarters at 64 Regent Street, Chippendale.
It was purchased by the League, with the help of loans from the Western Suburbs Licensed Club and a four thousand pounds advance from the Australian Football Council in 1964.
At the time it was a disused shop with residence above and part of a group of five similar adjoined buildings constructed in 1920. All of these have recently been demolished to be replaced by a residential complex with most probably a series of commercial premises at street level.
The 1964 purchase by the league was a bold move by a body which had seen a series of homes since its disconnection from the NSW Sports Club in George Street, Sydney in about 1960. The Sports Club had been the league’s home for almost 50 years and it too closed its doors recently. They had use of a meeting room and minimal storage facilities.
The management committee of the league at the time were very proud of their new acquisition. This committee was comprised of a number of men most of whom were also involved with various clubs Many of these put their hearts and soul into making something of this old building.
It wasn’t long before a ground floor brick extension was added which took the boundary of the building back to the fence which borders the main Sydney rail line. The front too had its timber and glass façade removed and replaced with brick surrounding an aluminium framed entry.
Initially it accommodated a fulltime secretary and typist and then over the years became a venue for all facets and committees of the league.
The building was lost to football when a coup in 1978 voted the long serving league president, Bill Hart out of office. Eventually most of his loyal lieutenants followed and the replacement group forced the sale of the premises in 1981 for $77,500 with the league moving their offices to the Newtown Rules Club at the nearby 303 Cleveland Street, Redfern. One of the reasons given for the sale was that the building was alive with white ants and yet it stood for another 36 years. The electric sign you see in the top black and white image protruding over the footpath remained attached to the building for over 20 years after its sale.
Since 1981, the building has changed hands several times with the last sale in 2016 realising $1,300,000.00.
With its demolition goes part of football history in NSW.
We have found an article in a popular 1970 sporting magazine about Sydney Football.
The NSWAFL had purchased their own premises in 64 Regent Street, Chippendale with the help of the Australian Football Council and licensed club of the Western Suburbs Aussie Rules Club, Croydon Park.
Within a few years of that purchase they had renovated the building and added a single storey brick addition at the rear. This then almost backed onto the rail lines which ran between Central and Redfern. It is still there but now not owned by the football league.
Things were looking up; The management of the league was in good hands, they were making a profit each year, the competition was expanding with football being introduced to areas where it was not normally played nor accepted.
You will see in this article (click here) that those in charge were ambitious and keen to see the game develop and they had big ideas for the future of the code in New South Wales.
Some of these did come to fruition but maybe in a different manner than these people envisaged.
As time goes by, so do the people and three of those in these images are now deceased.
Its 46 years since a triumphant Newtown won the flag in Sydney – their last. And looking back makes you realise how old we are getting.
We have selected a page from the then popular Football Record which highlights an article on the proposed sale of Picken Oval by its owner.
Wests had use of the ground for almost 20 years before ‘an incident’ occurred between the licensed club and a member of the owner’s family. This resulted in the owner banning use of the ground by the club.
This event took Wests for a spin. They could not longer train nor play on the ground, in fact the league also lost use of the ground which was a great blow to the game in Sydney.
It might be said that at the time the Wests licensed club were negotiating with the owner to purchase the land, of course this all fell through.
Wests were then forced to look for an alternate venue which included Bankstown’s Jensen Oval and Mac Uni’s Roger Sheeran Oval, Henson Park before they settled on the disused brickpit which became Wagener Oval, Ashbury. The title of the oval was named after a former umpire and president of Wests in their halcyon days, Bill Wagener.
The owner then began talks with developers with one proposal to build a super mall containing Coles and other variety stores on the parcel of land. Following urging of local residents, many of whom were Wests supporters, the local council took the matter to the Land and Environment Court which disallowed any development and decreed that the site be maintained as open space/recreational.
So while the land never did end up in the hands of Wests, the club was granted use of the as their home ground.
The page also provides advertisements, one from Allen Sigsworth, a player with the Newtown Club who later went on to become an umpire and Jim Mitchell who conducted a sports store in Crofts Avenue Hurstville. Jim was a former player with St George and most if not all clubs in Sydney did their business with Jim.
It provides the names and contact numbers of the Sydney club secretaries, some of whom have passed but a number are still with us and at least two, John Armstrong and George McGifford are members of the Football History Society.
The photograph shows Newtown’s captain and coach, David Sykes (also a member), accepting the trophy after winning the 1970 premiership. League president, Bill Hart is on his right along with a delightful young lady who also managed to get into view. She would be well in her fifties by now!
In the early 1960s, Sydney, and for that matter, NSW football went through some very dramatic administrative issues.
We have mentioned this before but it is worthwhile recording the actual events, so far as we can ascertain. After all, the major players at that time are no longer with us so we have to rely on historical documentation, one thing Sydney football is not known for.
1959 was the last season that long serving league secretary, Ken Ferguson held the position in an honorary capacity. Ken was an employee of the NSW Railway and with 24 years continuous service for the league, decided not to recontest the position. He was 55 and thinking of the need to consolidate his superannuation and other government entitlements.
The then president of the NSWAFL, Alf Snow (pictured top) said of Ken “In this state the name Ken Ferguson is synonymous with Aussie Rules . It is difficult to estimate the value of Ken’s work for our game. In my opinion the greatest single factor in keeping the game of Australian football going during the dark days of 1941-42 was the enthusiasm and work which he put into the task.”
Ken’s retirement came at a time when the league was moving into the appointment of a permanent secretary (general manager) with offices at Trumper Park, Paddington. Ken declined the role but with his shorthand and typing skills, he remained on in the minor position as Minute Secretary.
So as the league moved into a new period it did so with a brand new secretary, Jack Holman, who was almost an unknown in Sydney football. Also new was the shipping executive president, Wilf Holmes, from Western Australia.
Besides this the league adopted a new management system where all power and authority was vested in the office bearers and an elected board of management.
Some on the Board had served in previous administrative positions with the league while others were new to the job. They met every Monday Night during the season.
Prior to this club delegates held sway on major decisions of the league. This system, adopted in many leagues and associations throughout the country, does not always produce a fair and balanced view on issues because of possible club bias.
The other former sub-committee which was morphed into the management was that of league finance committee. This was one group which did have some power.
So the league sailed into 1960 with virtually a new team and new structure.
It appears though that the treasurer was not keeping up his job and the finances became a mess. It was recorded that for half of 1961 “receipts had not been written up and bank deposit slips did not show particulars of deposits.” After the league treasurer resigned, his replacement was scathing in his report on the league’s administration.
The clubs were part funding the fulltime secretary’s salary of almost $29,000 (in today’s money) along with the Australian Football Council. The latter though stopped payment when the state of the league’s finances were revealed. This resulted in the suspension of the secretary. In August 1961 Joe Boulus was appointed temporary league secretary, on a salary of $650.00 (in today’s money) per week, plus expenses. This continued until one week after the grand final. By November his salary had dropped to $277.00 a week. Some in the league thought the organisation did not need a fulltime employee and were not in favourinf the continuance of the position.
Ern McFarlane, for years a Newtown FC stalwart who replaced Wilf Holmes after only one year at the helm said of season 1961 that it was “the most turbulent and troublesome in the history of the NSW League.”
However, like many disasters, “from chaos comes order.” But it took its time.
From 1956 certainly through to the mid 1960s the league consistently recorded deficits. The period of 1960-62 was particularly challenging and one would imagine any normal business in a similar situation would have been declared insolvent. 1960 – £473, ($13,1107 today) 1961 – £619 ($16,782), 1962 – £543 ( $14,768).
By 1966 Ferguson had retired from his clerical position with the Railway and was appointed to the post of fulltime secretary of the league. He was honest, meticulous with an eye for detail. Although aging, the very experienced Ferguson held his own at the league and the game again began to move through another era.
The days of deficits were over. The league had the financial support of the Australian National Football Council and the Western Suburbs Licensed Club who in particular, poured thousands into supporting the game and its administration in Sydney.
The last picture is a unique combination of Sydney heavyweights from the 1950-60s. From left, Syd Felstead, long term St George president and league vice president, Bill Hart, league president, the grey haired Ken Ferguson and on the right is Eastern Suburbs Club legend, Roy Hayes.
Football in NSW or more particularly, Sydney, has undergone scores of changes over the years. Different name, different administration but in the end, its all just football. Much like government departments when a new party gets into power or a new bureaucrat takes over, “Change the name, it will produce a better result.
Here the changes over the years:
New South Wales Football Association
New South Wales Football League
New South Wales Australian National Football League
New South Wales Australian Football League
NSWAFL (Sydney Football League)
NSWAFL (NSW State Football League)
NSWAFL (Sydney Football League)
AFL (NSW-ACT) – AFL Sydney
What does it really mean and did these changes produce a better result?
Well when football was resurrected in 1903 after an eight year hiatus, it was a good thing. Apart from a road bump in 1915 when the game nearly again fell over, the next change was in 1926. This year brought with it other changes:
East Sydney FC combined with the Paddington FC to form a brand new, Eastern Suburbs Australian Football Club. With the reintroduction of District Football, where the name of a club had to represent an electoral district, the Railway Club disappeared, oddly so too did Balmain. The North Shore and the Eastern Suburbs Clubs somehow both slid under the radar with this district business. The north side club changed their name from ˜North Sydney” back to North Shore. A further change was the introduction of the Western Suburbs Club into the competition.
In the opinion of officials, adding of the word ˜National” to the the league’s title gave it and the game more of an Australian embracing influence. So yes, here too, the change in the name did coincide with other changes to the competition. In response, the attendance figures increased in the 1926 season.
But by now other competitions throughout NSW began to question the value of affiliation with the NSW Body.
These leagues included those in the Riverina, Broken Hill as well as an on-again, off-again competition in Newcastle. There were no others. The Victorian Country Football League (VCFL) was formed in 1927 and by 1933 all the leagues in the Riverina, led by Digger Carroll, had gone over to the VCFL, leaving the NSWANFL as an almost solitary beacon for Australian football within the state.
Really, the NSWANFL could offer very little to other leagues. Unlike the major associations in the rest of Australia and certainly footballing centres in country Victoria and southern NSW, attendances in Sydney, by comparison were very meagre resulting in little money coming into the system. Just as importantly the NSWANFL were saddled with a poor profile which in turn did not attract skilled and solid leadership.
So, incorporated in all the responsibilities of a state sporting body, the same group had to conduct a football competition in Sydney on a shoestring budget, all run by volunteers.
Through to 1974 then without any fanfare, the word ˜National” was removed from the title . There was no significant changes to the competition, nor the game in general in that period. It was, and had been for decades, the poor relation in Sydney sport and yet it continued to survive.
1979 saw the emergence of a reform group who rolled the incumbent and long term NSWAFL president, Bill Hart, the previous December.
The motivation to this was the perceived backing from influential elements in the VFL who promised funding for an experienced football administrator to run Sydney football and the NSWAFL, subject to support on a national level, for interstate VFL games to be played in Sydney of a Sunday.
The revitalised Sydney league was initially all spirited, enthusiastic and gung-ho. A new man from Melbourne was appointed as the General Manager, the league’s offices at 64 Regent Street Chippendale were sold off and the administration moved to nearby premises at the Newtown Rules Club in Cleveland Street, Redfern.
Eventually the independent Board was replaced by a board of club directors a move which would produce cronyism and ‘caucusing’ where the strong got stronger and the other clubs just rolled along. Football in Sydney now primarily promoted Sydney and the NSWAFL was put on the back burner as other sub-state bodies grew in stature and did their own thing.
By 1987 there was yet a further change. Sydney and the NSWAFL were broke and badly in debt. An independent group managing the affairs of the NSWAFL told the Sydney clubs to sink or swim. Either agree to a change in the administration or go out of business. Really, there was no alternative. That initial energy for change and a more ‘Sydney’ influence had well dissipated.
There was a big transformation in Sydney Football – there had to be – with three divisions again established, most of the sub groups abolished and the NSWAFL was back in charge. The Sydney component became known as the NSW State Football League with a long term view of incorporating clubs from around the state. Thankfully it did not happen but gradually the league moved into a position of financial stability.
In 1991 the NSW State Football League designation was abolished to revert to the Sydney Football League with the administration marginally re-arranged, but not much else took place.
Then in 1998 following yet another report on the state of health of football in NSW, a further change saw the introduction of the AFL(NSW-ACT). This produced a few on-field alterations to Sydney footy like 16 aside etc. yes a major move but again, little else came about in the structure and framework of the actual competition.
AFL Sydney had now assumed full control of the Sydney league with full funding from the major AFL body in Melbourne. They also funded football development throughout the state but unlike the Sydney open age football, most of the leagues in NSW were left to finance their own activities.
The major change came in 2009 when under the then Sydney Football Operations Manager, Garry Burkinshaw, divisionalisation took place. This was the biggest adjustment to Sydney football since 1948 when Balmain, Western Suburbs (both for the second time) and Sydney University were introduced to the competition or perhaps it was 1926 changes?
Australian football has always owned the tag as the poor relation in Sydney.
The game was first introduced to the city in 1880 upon the formation of the NSW Football Association. It took until the following year before any clubs were formed: Sydney and East Sydney were the first and the East Sydney of those days should not be confused with the East Sydney of the 1980s & 90s.
Immediately the game attracted the wrath of rugby officials led by top protagonist, Monty Arnold who said at the Association’s formation “if the Melbourne and Carlton clubs were playing a match in Melbourne, and the Kelly gang were firing within a quarter of a mile of them, he did not believe there would be a soul looking at the football”
Arnold and his co-horts were absolutely opposed and vitriolic to the new game and its introduction was made all the worse when some tried to change the rules of rugby because of its many dangerous aspects. Paradoxically, they welcomed the formation of the soccer association.
A few Sydney journalists were sympathetic to the Victorian game but when it sank into anarchy, in-fighting and bitterness they dropped off and the game failed to move into the 1895 season.
It was left the since unrecognized enthusiast and former player, Harry Hedger, pictured, to lead the resurgence of the game in Sydney in 1903.
Its development went well and the game became stronger reaching out to schools and junior grades. Poor management in the purchase of the original Rosebery Racecourse site on the corner of Botany and Gardeners Road, Mascot and the onset of WWI put the game back to almost a zero base. But with steady work and commitment from officials of the league it clung on, despite being comprised of only five clubs in 1917. There was no second grade during the war and for the most part the junior competition also disappeared.
There was a spark of hope during the 1920s when NSW defeated the VFL in 1923 and again in 1925 but it again slumped into its familiar rung on the ladder as the least favoured game in the city.
The depression years of the thirties brought no solace and for the most part the league was locked with six clubs and only two grounds where they could truly derive a gate â€“ the strength of their income.
Then WWII brought new hope. Australian football was the first sport to move to Sunday football, for no other reason than they desperately needed that additional venue where a gate could be charged. It was during this period that servicemen from interstate were in or moving through Sydney and they played with local clubs.
Names like Collingwood’s captain, Phonse Kyne was the captain and coach of St George, Alby Morrison who was chosen in Footscray’s team of the century was with the RAAF team, future Brownlow Medalist, Bill Morris played with South Sydney while 17 year old Western Australian, Jack Sheedy, another AFL Hall of Famer, turned out for the Sydney Club.
These are just a very few of the football talent in Sydney during the war.
Following hostilities the game was riding high in public opinion, particularly so when three new clubs, Western Suburbs, Balmain and Sydney University were added to the competition in 1948.
During the fifties the image of the game lapsed especially when newspapers highlighted the negative parts of the game: fights and problems in matches.
More clubs were formed and joined the competition leading to twelve in 1962 “a perfect time to turn the competition into two divisions.” It didn’t happen and the change from 18 aside to 16 aside in 1960 was also overturned mid-season.
By this time though, Western Suburbs gained their liquor licence and became very much a supporter and promoter of the game playing out of the same Picken Oval as now, but then it was surrounded by a training trotting track and privately owned. The club though pumped thousands of dollars into the game and supported the league’s purchase of offices in Regent Street, Chippendale.
Football didn’t really move, they had lost many chances though by the seventies two new divisions had been formed.
In 1978 a coup threw out the popular league president Bill Hart and eventually his cronies went with him. The VFL backed move with promised support didn’t last long before the administration in Sydney really struggled.
Then came the Sydney Swans and new VFL money and finance through the Swans licence scheme. This eventually fell over and the club was subsequently taken over by the league. Sydney football though had solidified and were well led with a move to more permanent offices in the Wentworth Park Grandstand, Glebe, where a number of other sports were domiciled.
Of course things always change and in 1998 there was a further takeover by the AFL which has funded the league and NSW football ever since. It resulted in more staff, more people on the ground but are there more playing the game?
The elected officials have gone and the game is run by bureaucrats in their central Moore Park Offices.
Makes you wonder with all the changes the game has endured over the past 134 years, what the future holds for Sydney football?
In some sense it doesn’t have much but in others it has a lot. It certainly has a rich past.
Almost 30 years ago now, yet another new regime took hold of NSW football.
Only a few years prior to this, a new broom under president, Bernie Heafey, in a coup, swept aside the congenial governance of Bill Hart, which, for the most part, had followed the operational football pattern based on that set when the game was resuscitated in Sydney in 1903.
The VFL supported Heafey management lasted no more than half a dozen years following the bluff and bluster of their introduction. In fact it sent a very divided Sydney and NSW football administration almost broke. In late 1986 the NSWAFL auditors advised that the league would be declared bankrupt.
By this time a new regime which followed and was linked to the private ownership of the Sydney Swans, and had, as part of their licence, to guarantee $417,000 per year for development of the game in NSW, had taken root. But in all the manoeuvrings, conivings and plottings which in the end produced poor management as opposed the good and benefit of football, had made its mark.
Players and officials from clubs and country leagues knew little of of the problems and issues of the inner sanctum of NSW/Sydney Football. Their main concern was their little patch and so long as the game went ahead on the weekend, these issues were of little concern.
By mid 1986 the turmoil faltered to an administrative staff of two: the aging former St George official, Bob McConnell whose role was to deal with player clearances together with the office typist, who both conducted the day to day activities of the league.
Queanbeyan FC guru, Ron Fowlie had resigned his job as CEO of the NSW Football League to return to his club while the machinations of the Sydney competition itself started to show signs of self destruction.
NSWAFL was under the direction of the affable and relatively young, Rod Gillett (pictured), who had made a name for himself working at a number of university student unions throughout the state. The vital asset Gillett had over his four man committee of Pritchard, Smith and Thomas was his commitment and passion for the game and in particular NSW football. Fortunately, and in probability with some bias, they made the very important appointment of Ian Granland to the role of CEO of the league.
Important because Granland was a local, he had been a club secretary in Sydney and had an extensive involvement at club and league level. He understood Sydney football and his heart beat for football. He knew and understood the problems, the issues and the politics.
Bob Pritchard, who gained his notoriety with Powerplay in the Edelsten years at the Sydney Swans, called a meeting of Sydney Club presidents at the Western Suburbs Licensed Club premises in late 1986. He laid the options on the table, which included a commission to run the league. Either relinquish ‘power’ to his group and continue as a viable league or go under. He also sold the blueprint of a state wide league to operate in NSW which would incorporate some but not all Sydney clubs. Incidentally this never came to fruition although a similar competition was later tried.
At the same time, Pritchard had arranged for cricket legend, Keith Miller, a former St Kilda, Victoria and NSW player to take on the position of Chief Commissioner ( president) of the NSWAFL. Miller was reluctant but had Gillett as his accomplished offsider.
The clubs acquiesced. Authority was once again vested in the NSW Australian Football League. Change was swift. The NSW Junior Football Union, which had acquired some dominance over junior football in the state, most particularly because of their influence in the selection and promotion of junior state teams, was abolished.
Next to go was the NSW Country Australian Football Leauge, of which Granland had been a leading advocate. Ironically, it was he who wielded the axe.
The roles of both these organisations was then vested in the NSW Football League, of which, Sydney became one and not a dominant partner. Many of the positions undertaken by volunteers were assumed by paid administrators and the coaching of young state representative teams was in time, assigned to professional football people.
Then there were changes to Sydney football. Make no mistake, the league was broke. They had creditors of $50,000 and debtors of $30,000. The competition was split into three divisions, affiliation fees were substantially increased, an individual player registration fee was introduced and those clubs that were in debt to the league were told to pay up or go and play somewhere else. All but one paid. The plan was to make the three divisions pay their way, instead of relying on the major clubs to contribute the lions’ share.
There were other subtle changes The accounts were split, the major one concerning the $417,000 was isolated and the Sydney development officers, all of whom were Sydney Swans players, had their job descriptions better defined to be capably overseen under manager, Greg Harris and later Craig Davis.
Despite some heartache and fractured egos, the foundations were well and truly laid for a revised and viable NSW Australian Football League until the October 1987 world stock market crash bit into the private ownership of the Sydney Swans, effecting the cash flow of the annual $417,000 development money.