Society vice-president Dr Rodney Gillett continues the series on significant matches played on the SCG since Australian football was first played on the ground in 1881.
When was the first VFL/AFL match for points played outside of Victoria?
It was not when the Swans first came to play in Sydney in 1982, nor was it the “National Round” in 1952 when matches were played in country Victoria, Hobart, Brisbane, Albury and Sydney; it was, in fact, in 1903 when then VFL heavy-weights Collingwood and Fitzroy played for match points at the SCG.
The unbeaten Fitzroy defeated the reigning premier Collingwood, 7-20 (62) to 6-9 (45) to move to the head of the VFL ladder after round 6.
The Maroons were led by star forward Gerald Brosnan, who would captain Fitzroy to the 1905 premiership, along with full-back Geoff Moriarty (who became Fitzroy’s first coach in 1911), goal-kicking rover Percy Trotter and follower Herbert “Boxer” Milne.
Collingwod were led by Lawrence “Lardie” Tulloch and included some of the Magpies all-time greats such as rover Dick Condon (who later moved to Sydney where he umpired), winger Charlie Pannan, key forward Ted Rowell, defender Bob Rush, and first-year player Jock McHale, returning to the city of his birth.
An interesting sidelight to the match was that it was the first time that numbers were used on the backs of players’ jumpers in a VFL match. However, it would not be until 1912 that numbers would be fully adopted for all matches.
Collingwood did not lose another game for the rest of the 1903 season. The Magpies won the return match at Victoria Park by 20 points, and then the Grand Final by two points after Fitzroy star Gerald Brosnan missed a shot after the final bell.
Both teams travelled to Sydney by train and took care of all their own expenses as part of a pledge to support the newly reformed NSW Football League. The gate of £600 was passed over by the VFL to the new football league in Sydney to promote their activities.
For the two visiting teams, there were picnics on the harbour, a night at Fitzgerald’s Circus, a trip to Tooth’s Brewery and a “smoke concert” at the Grand Hotel.
The match attracted the political and social elite of Sydney including the Governor-General Lord Tennyson, the State Governor, Admiral Sir Harry Rawson, and former Premier Sir George Reid, who would be elected Prime Minister in 1904.
The match had been arranged by NSW Football League official Harry Hedger, who had been pivotal to the foundation of the game in 1880s, as an official and as a player. Hedger played for NSW against Victoria in the first-ever football match at the SCG in 1881.
After the NSW Football League had been formed in January 1903, he travelled by train at his own expense to Melbourne to attend a meeting of the VFL club delegates where he outlined the need for support to have the game re-established in Sydney.
In a meeting that lasted until 2:30am, Hedger managed to convince the club delegates to support the bid. Mr. C. M. Hickey (Fitzroy) said that his club was willing to go to Sydney at its own expense, and to forego any share of the gate receipts. Eventually Mr. Copeland (for whom Collingwood’s B & F medal is named), on behalf of the Collingwood club, agreed to make the trip.
Later, in the season Geelong and Carlton played a match for points in Sydney on 3 August at the SCG following a rail strike that prevented Carlton from travelling to Corio Oval for the game earlier in the season.
The match was scheduled for Saturday 1 August but heavy rains pushed the game back to the Monday. Geelong won, 8-7 (55) to Carlton’s 6-9 (450. The crowd attendance was 6000.
Footy fans in Sydney had to wait until the national round in 1952, when all VFL matches were played outside Melbourne, to witness another VFL game for points when Collingwood again came to Sydney, this time to play Richmond at the SCG. The attendance was 24,174.
Then there was another long wait until 1979 when the previous year’s grand finalists Hawthorn played North Melbourne at the SCG in front of 31,391 as part of a series of matches in Sydney between 1979-1981 to ascertain the viability of basing a VFL club in Sydney.
South Melbourne played its “home” games at the SCG in 1982 before moving permanently to Sydney in 1983, and becoming the Sydney Swans