1961

The 1961 season in Sydney was one full of action, the employment of a full time employee, the tragic death of an up and coming footballer, accusations of missing money, stuff ups in the final series but best of all, great football.

This is a long read, so grab a cup of coffee and sit down a learn a bit of Sydney footy history.

Sydney University were readmitted to the competition but not in the first grade.Uni Blues, Uni Bolds,   Instead they  fielded two teams in the reserve grade: Uni Blues and Uni Golds.  Neither won the premiership but cleaned up in the League Best & Fairest, the Sanders Medal, with the top three places going to Uni players.

Balmain failed to turn up for a pre-season game against North Shore at Trumper Park.  This brought their tenure in the competition under some scrutiny.  The following week they came out and cleaned up the strong Eastern Suburbs club by four goals in round 1.

The competition started with a dramatic change to 16-aside, a decision which was continually ridiculed as being anti-football and almost unAustralian until the league was almost forced to revert to the normal 18 per team, mid season.

Long term Sydney tough player and coach, Jack Armstrong, turned his hand to umpiring and was ultimately appointed to the competition’s 1st semi final..

South Melbourne FC defeated a combined Sydney team 17.29 (131) to 6.6. (42) at Trumper Park before a good crowd on 28 May.

Eventual premiers, North Shore, kicked 2.13 (25) to defeat the lowly Bankstown side 2.11 (23).  This was one of the lowest post WWII scores in Sydney football.

Bankstown were known by the very bizarre name as the Boomerangs.  Western Suburbs were the Pirates, Balmain the Magpies, St George the Tigers and North Shore the Bears.

There was an Umpires strike in round 15 but football went ahead with the league using stand-in personnel.  The forty year old South Sydney captain-coach, Jack Atkins, umpired a second grade game then backed up as boundary for the firsts only to eventually replace central umpire, the University and NSW coach, Frank Bird, who broke down.

The competition was shocked when 20 year old soldier, Roger Challis, was killed whilst hitch hiking from Puckapunyal in Victoria to play with the South Sydney club.  This talented full forward had played in the Sydney team against South Melbourne the previous month.  He was buried at the Waverley Cemetery with full Military Honours.  Read Football Records article here.

In a bit of embarrassing news, the league full time secretary, Jack Holman, was reported to be admitted to hospital in July. The Football Record had to print a retraction when Jack, who never did get there, had several people visit the hospital and others send get-well wishes and flowers with many wondering where he was.  We guess they could have accepted this had it happened on April 1.

The Australian Football Club Limited (a licensed club venture) held weekly get togethers at Aarons Hotel in Pitt Street.  Membership was an expensive thirty shillings per year ($3).  Sylvania accountant and league board member, Arthur Davey was the prime mover in this project which never did get off the ground.

The league relocated their offices from the NSW Sports Club in Hunter Street, Sydney to Trumper Park, Paddington.

Western Suburbs club were granted a liquor licence, the first for an Australian football club in NSW.  Future league long term president, Bill Hart was in his eighth season as football club secretary at Wests.

A Parramatta Club was formed in July with Ron Cameron elected its president, Kevin Little secretary and Peter Clark, the treasurer.  They adopted pale blue and white as their colours with a jumper design in alternate panel colours.  The meeting was held at the Parramatta Town Hall.  This new club had a four goal win against Newcastle at Trumper Park on 2 September.

In the popular annual Army v Navy game at Trumper Park, the Navy side recorded an easy 14.18 to 11.12 win with all proceeds raised on the day going to the Royal NSW Institute for the Deaf and Blind Children.

The game received good media coverage after reportedly securing the services of a promotion company, Recreation International, to market the game in Sydney.

The last round saw St George, South Sydney and Eastern Suburbs all on equal points in fourth place.  Saints had to play the stronger third placed Sydney Naval in their final game, Souths were opposed the seventh place, Western Suburbs while East were up against the hapless Liverpool team.

St George lost, Souths had a 10 goal win over Wests but Easts belted Liverpool by 165 points to grab fourth place with a percentage 122.2 just in front of South Sydney’s 120.0.  Souths therefore missed their opportunity to play in the finals for the first time since 1949 when, ironically, they were beaten by Easts by one point in the first semi.

Voting for the Phelan, Sanders and Kealey Medals, league B & F Medals, was counted on the second semi final day at Trumper Park with the winners announced over the PA system.  How times have changed.

And now for the fun….

Newtown FC protested the result of their six point preliminary final loss to Sydney Naval at Trumper Park when it was revealed that the siren sounded 12 MINUTES early to end the first quarter.

This came about when the president of marching girls team (who were to perform at half time), plugged her music into the power board and when she tested it, pressed the wrong switch which sounded the siren.  Nothing could be done because the players stopped and changed ends (there was no quarter time huddles then).

This certainly caused an conundrum with officials quickly deciding to spread those 12 minutes over the next three quarters, but they failed to tell anyone.  Was that a wise move, AND, was it within the rules or maybe a situation like this had not been considered possible?

(But wait, theres more…)  To add insult to injury, at the end of the game the (only) central umpire failed to hear the final siren with both teams level on 88 points.  Sydney Naval player, Jack Harding had  marked 40m out but his kick failed to reach the goal just as the siren sounded.  Oblivious to this, umpire Colbert called “play on” which allowed Naval player, Alan Waack to gather the ball and boot a goal.  Sydney Naval by six points!

The umpire even returned to the centre of the ground for the bounce before he acknowledged ‘time’.

The Newtown protest was upheld and the game replayed.  By the way, the marching girls raised a goodly twenty pounds ($40) in their blanket collection for the day.

Another calamity happened in the replay
When starting to pack up towards the end of the replayed preliminary final, league acting secretary, Joe Boulus in dismantling the public address system, accidentally sounded the siren 8 MINUTES before the end of the last quarter – don’t you just hate that?  League Vice President, George Henry, jumped the fence and ran to tell the umpire but it was too late.  Sydney Naval won 10.14 (74) to 7.10 (52).

No protest was lodged after this game.

This impediment put the grand final back a week and because Trumper Park was unavailable and the only ground of some consequence which the league could use was the RAS Showground at Moore Park.  So, on the same day, the Rugby Union held their grand final on the Sydney Sports Ground, the NSW Rugby League grand final on the SCG and the AFL decider next door.  All grounds adjoin each other so besides general bedlam, parking and public transport would have been at a premium.

On top of all this was the resignation of the treasurer in June when it was revealed that the accounts were in a mess.  This was quickly followed by the suspension of the full time secretary when questions were asked about missing money and work that simply had not been done.  But all this will be told in a later story.  Your eyes must be getting sore?

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The Coup of 1978

Towards the end of the 1970s a certain section of the Sydney football community were tiring of the league administration led by long term president, Bill Hart.

As successful as it was in its own way, it was seen as old fashion, not up with the times, anti VFL and still followed doctrine that had been laid out earlier in the century.

Added to this was the growing interest the VFL was showing to extend their influence into Sydney.  In 1974 Victoria v South Australia played at the SCG which attracted 20,000 fans but more importantly the game was televised live to W.A., Tasmania, South Australia, ACT and most country areas of NSW.

In those days the Victorian Government would not permit the VFL to play their games on Sundays in that state so they began looking for different venues where their football could be televised back into Melbourne.  Sydney was one such location which had the potential to fill the void most admirably.  It is safe to say at that stage, there was no premeditated vision to expand the competition interstate.

A lot of the acrimony in Sydney had to do with the NSWAFL’s participation in the Escort Championships.  This was a separate knock-out competition which began in 1977 involving then only the 12 VFL clubs but by 1979 it also included all WAFL clubs, NSW, Tasmania and the ACT.  The following year all clubs in the SANFL became involved along with Queensland.

NSW’s involvement was not without distress when the NSWAFL Board of Management resolved in August, 1978 to involve the state in the series but only after a fairly volatile debate which was then followed by a very close vote.

So with this underlying feeling that the old school would not move with the time plus and rancour in NSW’s involvement in the Escort Championships, a clandestine group began to meet at the then Newtown Rules Club, 303 Cleveland Street, Redfern, with the ultimate aim of unseating the administration of the league at the December 1978 AGM.  At that time and for the previous 75 years, the NSWAFL conducted not only the football affairs of part of NSW but also the Sydney competitions.

If successful the group were promised by the VFL the appointment of a ‘fulltime professional administrator for the league.’  This was despite the fact that the NSWAFL had had a fulltime secretary with assistant, since 1964.

In October 1978, part-time television personality, Kevin Taylor, who, by that time, had been sacked by the league as their media representative, laid out the plans of the new group in an article in a local inner-city newspaper, The Sydney Shout, so it was quite clear that the clandestine tag had been quickly lost with the machinations of the time.

Along with Taylor, Bern Heafey was one of the prime movers in the Sydney football power play.  He was an affable character who had football at heart.  Heafey had one year as president of the North Shore Club in 1951 but later involved himself with St Ives, a second division club, where he was president.  In time he was to become the face of the new faction but only for a short period.

The idea of change came with the suggestion of new and exciting possibilities and additional meetings were held at other venues, including Easts Rules Club, Bond Junction, St George Clubrooms at Olds Park and even Bankstown Sports Club.  Tension was building with the group’s activities because not all clubs were involved with this action.

The 1978 Annual General Meeting of the NSWAFL was set for Monday 11 December at their offices, 64 Regent Street, Chippendale.

Unusually, the actual meeting was held in the front reception area of the small attached brick building where there was standing room only for most.

League officials were very much aware of the move against them with both camps working overtime to secure sufficient votes to get over the line.

Each of the nine Sydney first division clubs had two votes.  The eight second division clubs each had one vote as did the NSW Junior Football Council, Newcastle AFL, South Coast AFL, NSW Country AFL, Central Coast AFL, Illawarra AFL and each board member of the league.  Life members also had the opportunity to exercise a vote but historically not many of these personnel turned out for the annual meetings.  Perhaps if they had  realised the significance of the possible outcome, they might have made the effort.

The meeting was extremely acrimonious with chairman, Bill Hart, flat out controlling the sometimes raucous attendees who were full of interjections.

Hart (shown here on the left) was defeated by Heafey in a close vote.  Country representative, Allen Baker was appointed to the Vice President’s position.

Many of the incumbent Board of Management were re-elected but several, along with Heafey, only lasted a year or two with a number of resignations listed in 1980.

One of the most disappointing aspects of the change was the sale of premises at 64 Regent Street, which incidentally the purchase of which was mainly funded by the Western Suburbs Football Club Ltd.  The building was far from salubrious but did represent the code with a main street location and somewhere to call ‘home’.

After the sale, League officials were then housed in the top floor at the Newtown Rules Club at 303 Cleveland Street Redfern, a converted picture theatre, until 1985 when they moved to new premises under the Bill O’Reilly stand at the SCG.

The enthusiasm and new Sydney Football League entity which resulted from the coup, did not last and when a new administration took control not that many years later, it all changed again.