– 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

And in the Beginning….

1888 Footballer 2 smallAustralian football has been played competitively in Sydney since 1880, save for the period between 1895-1903.

It has had its ups and downs in all of that period;  successes and failures and of course some were minor catastrophes for the code here.  There are too many to list at this juncture but it makes for good copy in future postings on the website.

And yet with this pessimistic opening to this story there were often glimpses of hope, just like the feelings of a league official in 1908 when he wrote:

“There is no smooth path for workers in the cause in Sydney; It is filled with rocks thorns and interminable bush, which have to be cut away by real hard graft and whole-hearted enthusiasm. There is a light shining through the bush, however,   and that is the increased attendance at matches.

True, there has not been any charge for admission at most of the games; still, one could not help being struck with the sangfroid of hundreds while standing round the boundary in drenching rain watching the semi-final,   East Sydney v. Redfern. It said much for their enthusiasm and love of the pastime. The final last Saturday attracted a large crowd to Erskineville Oval, where a charge was made for admission, the pavilion being crowded with ladies.

It was a very pleasing sight, and gladdening to the heart of the enthusiast.

If an enclosed ground can be secured next season, revenue will come in, ladies will be able to attend matches, and an increased inducement given to many young fellows to don a jersey. An official ground as the headquartcrs of the game in Sydney is badly needed, and must be obtained somehow.

Perhaps that prince of organisers, Mr. J. J. Virgo, may do something in this connection for his club and incidentally for the League and the game generally. Should he set the machinery in motion, success is almost assured for he is Napoleonic in his ideas regarding that small word, ‘impossible.’ ”

Well the league did purchase a ground;  an old racecourse which was located on the north-west corner of Botany and Gardeners Roads, Mascot, now overtaken by factories.  After spending thousands of dollars on this project an over enthusiastic administration saw it swallowed up in debt as the first world war began.Australian Football Ground  Click the image to show where it was located.

One of the major problems with the advancement of football in Sydney was the lack of enclosed grounds, where an admission fee could be charged.  Normally there was at least one ground where a fee could be applied but the remaining games were played on open parks like Birchgrove Oval, Rushcutters Bay Park, Alexandria Oval and Moore Park.  Yes hundreds, if not thousands, watched the games in those early days but without money, and the main source was from gate takings, the exercise was futile and it did not get any better as time went on.

At one stage in the 1920s, League Secretary, Jim Phelan, advocated a reduction in teams which would then lower expenses and give the league full control over the two grounds over which they, for the most part, had control, Erskineville Oval and Trumper Park.

This attitude, of course, was a nonsense.  Sydney was expanding and yet the league did nothing to facilitate new clubs in the developing areas.  For many decades their focus was on established and populated areas such as Newtown, East Sydney, South Sydney and Sydney itself.  All of these clubs have since disappeared.

Even in 1963 when a successful effort was made to establish a club at Parramatta, there were no real concessions.  They were given lip service until a year or two later when coerced into amalgamating with the Liverpool/Bankstown club, which itself was a combination of two sides in a burgeoning Sydney.  They formed the Southern Districts Club, now, they too are long since gone.

Its all well and good to preach “what if” now but even if a little foresight could have been applied then, some planning some forecasting, football in Sydney may well have developed differently.

[i]   Up to about 1980, grounds used by the league were managed and operated by the league.  They took the gate receipts and paid the bills relating to the ground.
[ii]   The Erskineville Oval referred to in this article is the old Erskineville Oval, situated about 100m west of the present ground with an east-west orientation.
[iii]  The ground at Moore Park is still used for Australian football and now the home of the Moore Park Tigers junior football club.

Norwood FC 1908 Visit to Sydney

1908-05-20 SMH P.12 printed smallLeading up to 1911, Australian football in Sydney was played on a number of grounds, unfortunately most were arenas which were not enclosed and accordingly football suffered from two major issues.

These were:

  1. Crowds continued to encroach on grounds during play and in some circumstances this caused games to be called off.  In fact this was not just common to Australian football.  Other codes suffered the same fate and this was a time in Sydney where there were a limited number of fenced grounds.
  2. No admission could be charged at grounds and with this the major source of revenue for the league (the league took the gate) the NSWAFL continually finished their season well  in debt.

Some of the grounds used in this early period in Sydney football included: Moore Park (opposite the Bat & Ball Hotel), Redfern Park (now known as Redfern Oval), Birchgrove Oval, Hampden Oval (Trumper Park – then unenclosed) and many others.

Nothing highlights the then growing problem of grounds better than a letter published in the Sydney Morning Herald in May 1908 prior to a visit by South Australia’s leading football club, Norwood who were fresh from a victory over VFL premiers, Carlton in Melbourne.

At that early stage and prior to the visit, Norwood were scheduled to play their games as curtain raisers to major Rugby Union matches, at the SCG.

We have republished the letter which expresses a degree of concern that the SA premier club, which travelled “1000 miles – at their own expense” should be relegated to the inferior position of the early game before another code.

Nevertheless, the two Saturdays of 13 & 20 June, Norwood played at the SCG,were in fact played before major Rugby Union fixtures.  We have since1908-05-13 Referee Newspaper, Wed P.9 printed smaller discovered that the Metropolitan Rugby Union, who had the winter lease of the SCG, offered the league use of the ground for the two dates but were over ruled by the SCG Trust who did not want to miss the opportunity of a major Rugby match at the ground where the rental was calculated on a percentage of the gate takings.  It is obvious that that Rugby matches drew a far greater crowd than a Norwood game could attract.

The third of the 1908 Norwood FC contests was played at the SCG on Wednesday 17 May as the major contest for the day with a Public Schools v Catholic Schools as the early game.  The attendance was described as ‘scanty’ which indicates a poor turnout for this midweek encounter.

Norwood left behind a shield valued at £40 ($80) for the Sydney premiers in the Sydney competition when they departed.  We wrote about it a few weeks ago and it is still on display at the league rooms at Moore Park.  The Reserve Bank has calculated this amount in today’s terms, with inflation, at $5,163.03

The question of grounds and particularly enclosed ones at the time, is a very interesting subject and should we get time may well be the subject of either a chapter in this year’s Society Journal or other publication.