First match for points in the VFL played at the SCG

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

Bryan Rush

Bryan Rush smallBryan Rush was one of eight brothers.  He was born at Port Fairy, Victoria in 1893 and was part of a family of footballers.

He and four of his brothers all played with Collingwood.  The elder, Bob, turned out on 143 occasions for the Pies between 1899-1908.  Such was his influence on the club that in 1965 a stand at Victoria Park, Collingwood’s former home ground, was named after him.  Bryan on the other hand, played 17 games for Collingwood prior to the outbreak of WWI and it was probably this conflict that interrupted his football career.

This article is about Bryan and we are indebted to his son, also named Bryan, for supplying information about his father.

I can hear your brain asking, “What is so good about Bryan Rush?”

In 1921, Brian was transferred to Sydney in the Commonwealth Public Service following five years service in the 1st AIF.  He did spend a limited time in Melbourne after the war undertaking a medcial degree but support for his further education was unfortunately removed.

Upon his move to Sydney Bryan took up with the North Shore Club “then called North Sydney, and in 1921 he was part of their incredible premiership in the clubs first year back from a WWI recess.  In 1922 he took over the reigns but could not emulate their previous year’s performance;  they finished fifth.

After a short period in Newcastle as secretary to the Newcastle Gas Company, Bryan returned to Sydney teaming up with a former army cobber to set up an accounting firm which would go on to become a major player in Sydney’s commercial and financial scene over the succeeding number of years.

He gave up football upon his return to Sydney however the 32 year old kept an interest in the game serving several seasons as state selector.  He had represented NSW on 10 occasions: once in 1921, four times in 1922 and five in 1924, which included several appearances for the state in the national carnival at Hobart, so he knew his footy.

Rush was often named as one of the best players in these interstate games.

Fortunately for us, Bryan junior, at 81, amongst other things, recently donated his father’s 1924 representative certificate along with a quite unique service certificate awarded to his father in 1935 for his contribution to the game in NSW over a fourteen year period.  We have never before seen these type of documents.

Bryan Joseph Rush Carnival Certificate 1924 small Bryan Joseph Rush Honour Certificate smaller

Besides his football, Bryan Snr played first grade cricket with Manly.

He rarely talked about his sporting experiences, perhaps due to his dislike of attending meetings in Newtown where selection of the NSW teams were discussed.  It was here, he maintained, that he would have his tyres slashed if no Newtown players were chosen in the NSW team.

At the outbreak of WWII Bryan again served in the army at Victoria Barracks, Paddington where, at the rank of major, he was District Finance Officer.

He died in Melbourne in 1982, aged 89.

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