– Females Playing Football

Pinnafore Dress
         Pinafore Dress

Women playing football is really nothing new.  But now it is much more serious and intense.

The fact that the AFL are sponsoring a women’s national competition from next year supports that statement.

One place we found where females played was, of all places, Broken Hill but the matches they were involved in then were more of a novelty than real football.

During WWI a group of ladies got together to play a match to assist with fund raising for the Red Cross.

Two teams were scheduled in one match only.  One represented the local hospital and the other, Pellew & Moores, a large department store in the city’s main roadway, Argent Street.

They met on the Western Oval without any prior practice or training. All wore pinafore dresses with knee length bloomers and stockings.  Most wore caps to keep their hair out of their eyes.

The game was willing with no beg your pardons and it had its share of spite with the players heatedly complaining about the pushes and knocks they received during the game.  When time was called they were a very tired bunch of girls.

The department store side won the match defeating their opponents who wore the colours of brown with blue trimmings.

The game was a great success with the proceeds forwarded on to help those supporting the welfare of the men at war.

No further game between the girls was played until October 1941 when a game between teams called the Spitfires and Bombers was played on Jubilee Oval – the city’s main football venue. This time the teams used more up to date uniforms with each borrowing a set of jumpers from the North and South Broken Hill Clubs.  Spitfires wore the red & white of the South club and the Bombers, blue and white of North.  The match was played on a Sunday.1941 Broken Hill womens game

A good crowd turned up to watch although most were women, the men were restricted to the stand.  The gate for the day was recorded at £32.14.0 ($2500.00 today) which is nothing to be sneezed at.

The Silver City Ladies Band played as the two teams entered the ground.

The game had some amusing features with the players often marking the ball from their own kicks. Another incident was the carrying of lollies in a pram.

1941-10-20 - Barrier Daily Truth p.3 - Womens FootballThat said, the women were determined to “give the men nothing on them.”  Most of the spectators were undoubtedly surprised at the exhibition by the women, who, while they gave the crowd plenty of amusement at the way they fell over the ball at times when attempting to kick it, stuck to it like experienced footballers. At half-time they drank from a water bag taken onto the field.

In the third term, the Spitfires went into a lightning attack and Victoria (Kathy) McLennan goaling. In the excitement some of the women kicked the ball the-wrong way, but the rest of the team soon corrected this.

Leading South BH footballer, Danzil Pryor umpired the match which was won by the Spitfires 8-8 (56) to 4-5 (29).  This prompted the Bombers team to call for a further game a  week later.  Again the honours went to the Spitfires 8-3 (53) to 7-6 (48) but the crowd was not as many with the gate realising only £5.10.0 ($423.00 today).

The Spitfire Fund
It was early in World War II when Lord Beaverbrook, the Minister for Wartime Production, originated the idea of the “presentation aircraft”. The idea was a morale boosting exercise for a population that was facing, almost alone, the onslaught of the German war machine in 1940 and towns and communities were encouraged to raise funds.  It almost became a competition to see who could raise the most.Spitfire Fund

 A “price list” was set out with £5,000 for a single-engine aircraft, £20,000 for a twin-engine aircraft and £40,000 for a four-engine aircraft. These did not represent the actual cost of the type of aircraft, but was considered a fair value to have one’s assigned name in four inch high yellow characters on the fuselage forward of the cockpit, as in the Spitfire‘s case.

In Australia, one example where permission was requested for the establishment of such a Spitfire Fund, the “Western Australian Spitfire Fund” during 1941 to purchase a Spitfire for UK operations.
In Broken Hill too a movement  in March 1941 known as the Barrier District Spitfire Fund was established to raise funds for the purchase of one or more Spitfires.  This was generated through a meeting of members of the local Police Force held at the Courthouse  on 10 March. Donations from local police officers at that early stage raised £85.
In June of that year the Strathfield-Burwood Womens Spitfire fund sent £3750.00 to England as a contribution and it was reported that the Illawarra District had close to £10,000 in hand for a fund with organisers there keen to have the plane named the Spirit of Illawarra.
Whether all these efforts came to anything is unknown.
So the girls now playing the game in Broken Hill have a wonderful history of women’s football before them.

Sixteen a side

Sixteen a side, an interesting concept isn’t it?

The old VFA played sixteen a side for years, with great success I might add and there are probably many leagues throughout our land which still play with the same number.

Ever wonder why soccer is so popular?  Besides the fact that Mum thinks little Johnny won’t get hurt, here is the answer:

There are eleven players on each side;  not many to rustle up for a kick around is it?  Team A kicks (or faces) one way and Team B kicks the other.  The object is by not touching the ball with the hand, kick it through those goal posts at the other end.  Simple isn’t it?

If you are a junior coach in soccer how easy is it?  “You face this way and if the ball comes near you, kick it that way.”  And if you win the comp everyone thinks you are a genius. I have often thought “what a simple principle”  But what do we do?  We invent the best game in the world and muddle it up by introducing all these rules.  In 1859 there were 12.  How many are there now?

Plus, now the central umpire – there are three in the big time where this booming voice comes from secreted part of the ground to Intermittently adjudicate on a score – has the discretion to allow a free kick to go unheeded in order to ‘keep the game flowing.’   Great idea, but what pressure does that put on our umpires while Waldo Bloggs, who might be watching the game for the first time must ask himself, “what is going on?”

Anyhow16aside, enough of that.  The game was started with 20 players on each side with NO reserves or interchange.  All that changed in the 1890s when the new competition, the Victorian Football League, changed it to 18 aside.  Still no reserves.

Did you know that in 1935 the Eastern Suburbs Club in Sydney, a club long lost in the mix-up of clubs, names and teams put forward a proposal to cut the number of players from 18 to 16 (great idea).  At the same time they proposed a crossbar be put between the goalposts and a goal had to be kicked through and under the crossbar (I dont know about that one).  Starting to complicate things, isn’t it?  Well the concept went off to the long gone Australian National Football Council which failed to give it any support.

Then along came a ‘new broom’  in 1960-61  when Joe Boulus, from Broken Hill was appointed fulltime secretary of the NSW AFL (it was all honorary before then).  He followed Ken Ferguson who gave the league 35 years of his time as league secretary.  A fair effort and Ken was a lovely bloke.

They introduced sixteen aside in the Sydney competition.  However the traditionalists of the game howled it down, although they agreed they were playing on smaller grounds than most of Australia “but it wasn’t real football if there weren’t eighteen on the paddock.”  One reason Sydney football has failed is because some couldn’t see 16aside 3the forest for the trees.

So six months later and mid-season it was back to 18 aside.

Then in 1998 when the AFL usurped control over the game in NSW with an appointed administration as opposed to an one elected, John Livvy, the new CEO changed Sydney team numbers to 16. GOOD!  But it too didn’t last long so here we are, the majority of the teams in a what can broadly be described as a successful but sometimes struggling code in NSW, where if you can’t get the required numbers, you forfeit and yet we are still yet to get to where they would be happy with numbers playing the game.

Or is it that the majority of our young now play their sport on a tablet?

Do you know that in some soccer comps play 5 aside?

A Famous Old Player in Sydney Football

Bert Watts 4
         Bert Watts

We have written many times that Australian football was first played in Sydney in 1880.

Following some ups and downs it again got on its feet in 1903 and during the following number of years there was a particular player of some significance who was in the army and based at Victoria Barracks, Paddington who played for many years on and off in the Sydney competition.

He was killed in WWI when, as a Lt Colonel, a shell hit the foxhole he and some of his staff were sheltering in.

His name is Bert Watts and was the most highly decorated Sydney footballer we know in WWI.  His life and time as a footballer and soldier are highlighted in our soon to be released book on Sydney Football and the First World War. As you will read, he also served in the Boer War.

The image below shows him on the left with an unknown soldier serving in the Boer War, South Africa.

We have been very fortunate to have found a newspaper article about Bert;  his thoughts and experiences, where he mentions some of his ideas on the game and what rules should be introduced to make it a faster and a more attractive sport.  Ironically, many of these have since been introduced to our game over recent years.

The fact that he was an outstanding Sydney footballer and man has been lost on us all.  We knew nothing of Bert Watts and his colleagues, such is the fragility of the history of the game in the nation’s largest city.

Here is the article, taken verbatim, so any mistakes are from the article itself.  We hope you enjoy the read:

One of the most striking personalities in the Australian ‘game in Sydney is Captain Bert Watts. A tall, dashing fellow, with shoulders which might well excite the envy of a champion wrestler; straight, well-shaped legs, he is the beau ideal of an athlete. Was it ever your lot, reader, to see him kick a football? No! Well, when at his best he would open your eyes to their fullest extent.

In the final at the Australian Football Ground last season Watts obtained a mark a tremendous distance from the posts. He placed the ball, and many of the spectators jeered. Even those possessed of the knowledge of his exceptional kicking abilities considered he put the ball on the ground with the idea of sending it in front of goal to give his forwards a chance to do the heedful. Now, that was evidently not Watts’ idea. He walked back a few yards, and then came at the ball like a speedy Rugby three-quarter back, who, when near the line, has visions of a try. ‘Boof!’ went his right foot, into the ball. Through the air at rocket-like pace it went, keeping low. All eyes were on that ball. Will it go between the uprights after all must, have been in the minds of not a few. When the ball neared the posts it took a rise, and the players jumped high in their endeavours to reach it. The sphere went gaily on and six points were hoisted for Paddington. Bert Watts was a hero! Everybody cheered him. Well they might, for rarely has such a kick been seen anywhere. In the course of a conversation he said:

“I learnt to play football in South Australia, and was captain of my State School team at Allendale. I also, played with school teams at Broken Hill. In 1902 I regularly took Bert Watts in South Africa 1part in the practice matches for South Melbourne, and in 1898 I played with the Royal Australian Artillery team. QueenscIiffe, Victoria. I was in South Africa in 1900-1, and we ran a competition between the squadron of the regiment (the Victorian Imperial Bushmen), and played Australian football in Rhodesia, Cape Colony, and the Transvaal. We had some fine players, too, notably Charlie Moore, one of Essendon’s best, who was killed in action; ˜Joker” Cameron, who figured in South Melbourne’s colours for ten years; and George Angus, who was a similar period with Collingwood, and was captain when they won the Victorian premiership.

In 1902 I was stationed at Newcastle, in Natal, and captained an Army Soccer team. But the two succeeding seasons I played for the R.A.A. (Royal Aust Artillery) team at Queenscliff (Victoria), though I was offered a place in several of the Victorian League clubs. I donned the Paddington colours in 1905, and represented New South Wales in the first inter State match against Victoria after the resuscitation of the game in Sydney. The season after found me in Brisbane, and I played for Brisbane and Ipswich clubs, and also represented Queensland against New South Wales.

In 1907-8 I was stationed at Thursday Island, and had a go at Rugby Union, but in 1908 I was once again in Brisbane. I represented Queensland at the first Australasian Carnival at Melbourne. I have played for Paddington since the beginning of 1909, and I play the Northern Union rules with regimental teams at present. Of the 1905 New South Wales representative team only Ralph Robertson and I now remain on the active list.

I consider Ralph Robertson the headiest player I have ever been associated with. Any scientific footballer would have no difficulty in teaming with him. I recommend young players to study his methods. You see, he never misses an opportunity of passing to a comrade in a better position than himself. And his play is always for the side, irrespective of self.”

“As an old player, I would like to give a word of advice to young footballers. One of the first things I would impress upon them is to avoid cliqueism (sic). Don’t have particular pals to play to; always put your team before everything else on the field. Select a comrade in a good position to pass to as soon as you get the ball, and send it on to him at once. Never mind a tricky, pretty run. Get rid of the ball quickly before opponents have time to form up to meet your attack.

If a forward, try and escape from your opponent; if a back, follow your man wherever I he goes. Centres should not wander from their place. On a large ground they get more opportunities by keeping their proper position than by wandering towards the backs or forwards. Obey your captain without argument; you put him in that position, and should stand by him. When the hall is being kicked from a mark, arrange who is to fly and who is to stay down. One should be in front and the other behind the high-markers. The ball comes to the ‘floor’ offener (sic) than it is marked. Don’t bounce the ball when, beginning your run; travel a full ten yards first. But run as little as possible; kick the sphere hard and often, but always to a mate. Only handball to a man in a better position; handball is easily overdone. Don’t be selfish; you play a better game for yourself when you consider your side first.”

Yes, although our game is now grand, I think it could be still further improved. I favour the erection of a bar, with 6 points for an untouched kick over the bar, 2 points if under, and 1 point touched over or under the bar and 1 point for a behind. This would improve the game by making a goal harder to get, and therefore of more value. It would give the full-back a better chance to participate in the play than he now enjoys. Then, again, dribbled goals are not worth six points.

“I suggested similar alterations in the ‘Referee’ some years ago. Many correspondents wrote, some in favour, some against. But, like you, I am of opinion they would immensely improve the game. But proceed.

Well, when the regulation size of the ground cannot be obtained, I favour the reduction of the teams to 15. We boast of the openness of our game, but 36 men on small areas make play congested. Instead of the ‘throw-in,’ when the ball goes out of bounds, I think a free kick should be given to opponents when the ball goes out on the full; at other times the ‘throw-in’ to be adhered to.

“I also suggested a similar rule, with the exception that a certain portion of the ground at each end should be exempt. It would certainly make the game much faster.

It would,” replied Bert. There is still another rule I would like to see introduced, and that is, the umpire should have the power to order an offending player off the field. The argument that it places too much power in his hands will not hold water. We must trust our umpires. Occasions are rare when an umpire spoils a game, and a man who strikes an opponent should not be allowed to play. Clubs would soon drop ‘fightable’ (sic) players, who are a disgrace to any game.

Well, there are many young players who are showing excellent football, namely, McLean (North Shore), McConville and Stewart (East Sydney), Chapman, McCann, Mahoney (Paddington), Ratcliffe and the McLarens (Balmain), Hortin (Newtown), and Mack and O’Grady (Sydney).

The best players’ I have been associated with? I am afraid the task is far too difficult; A flood of names of good,  in fact, great footballers fly to my mind; but to name some means leaving out dozens of others.

Yes, I – have found Australian football as played in New South Wales a beautiful game. It is nearly always fought out in the best possible spirit. Both, contesting teams leave the ground pals, ‘and the spirit at’ strenuous rivalry is only maintained as it should be on the field. The game is clean. I have played – all codes, and, and whilst I enjoy any game of football, I consider the Australian invented pastime’s greatest charm is that .it seems to possess all the good and leaves out the bad points of the other codes. ‘It is strenuous, requiring well-trained men; it is fast, and – therefore attractive to spectators; it is clean, though not by any means ladylike, as its opponent’s endeavour to paint it. Then it is open, onlookers seeing all the game, and the scoring is fast, and therefore exciting. Drawn games ”always unsatisfactory ” are rare, and a match between two good teams always furnishes a clever exhibition. In short, it is full of incident; dull moments being very rare.

‘I consider the game should be developed principally by local talent. Second Graders should be taught that selection in the First Grade should be their ambition. There seems to be too much difficulty in getting the Association (second grade) players to come into the League. This is radically wrong. The club that builds up a complete team of local lads will have the biggest following. Besides, players living in the same district will have a chance working up combination, so necessary to success it is hard on a captain each year to have a new set of players. They are strange to each other, and the season, is well advanced before a thorough understanding exists between them.”

There should be only one club in each district, which should select its players for each grade. The selectors would have to watch the schools. The Third Grade team could be picked principally from schoolboys, who could work their way up to the seniors. Young players’ ambition should be to represent their districts in inter-State- matches.

‘Bert Watts, who is a Captain in the State Artillery, has had vast experience in his long football career. This interview is particularly instructive from the players’ and managerial sides. It is to be hoped his remarks will bear fruit. His own football has been of a most exemplary character. “The ball all the time” is always his motto, and his influence on the Paddington team, which he captains, is most marked. Players would do well to select skippers of the calibre of Watts. The matches would always improve enjoyable under such leadership. Captain Watts left Sydney for England yesterday, where he will pursue his studies in the British Army.”


Bert Watts married in the UK.  They had a son but unfortunately his wife died soon after the birth of the child.  What happened to the son is unknown.


NSW Football LeagueFootball 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:



1880-1994 New South Wales Football Association
1903-25 New South Wales Football League
1926-73 New South Wales Australian National Football League
1974-79 New South Wales Australian Football League
1980-86 NSWAFL (Sydney Football League)
1987-90 NSWAFL (NSW State Football League)
1991-98 NSWAFL (Sydney Football League)
1999- 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.

NSWANFLIn 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.

NSWAFLThrough 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 Scan.BMPNewtown 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.

NSW State FLBy 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?