East Sydney – The Early Years

   1903 Image of the
  East Sydney Team

This Saturday (14 March) the UNSW-Eastern Suburbs Australian Football Club will commence celebrations for a grand history of one hundred and forty years of football in Sydney with a reunion of past players, officials and supporters at the Paddington RSL Club. Below NSW AFL History Society president Ian Granland and vice-president Rod Gillett trace the beginnings of the East Sydney Football Club.

“That the gentlemen present form themselves into a club to be called the East Sydney Football Club” (Sydney Morning Herald, 12 August 1880).

The East Sydney Football Club was formed on 10 August 1880 at the Cambridge Club Hotel in Oxford St. It is the oldest Australian football in New South Wales and this year celebrates its 140th year. Despite several name changes, the core of the club has always been in the eastern suburbs of Sydney where it is still based and draws its players and supporters from.

The attendance at the formation meeting was high with over forty members were enrolled for the new football club. Mr John Davis MLA was elected as president, Mr Frank Wiess as secretary and Mr W.C. “Wattie” Marshall as treasurer along with vice-presidents and a committee of thirteen members. Marshall was the convener of the meeting and was a driving force behind the establishment of the game in Sydney from its inception in 1880.

The new club resolved to affiliate with the recently formed New South Wales Football Association and to play under its rules, which were adopted from the “Victorian Rules” of football.

Harry Hedger, MBE. A person vitally involved in the development of the game 1880-95 and responsible for the resurgence of it in 1903. He played with several club it is believed in an effort to strengthen the numbers in their compliment.  He captained East in 1888.

The original club colors were a blue and white jersey and hose, and blue knickerbockers and cap. Upon the reformation of the NSW Australian National Football League in 1903, East Sydney colors were blue with a yellow sash. It was not until 1926 that the current colors of red, white and blue were adopted when the Sydney competition was reorganized on “district lines” and the East Sydney and Paddington clubs merged.

The first match involving players from the East Sydney Football Club was on 14 August 1880 when they combined with players from the then recently formed Sydney Football Club to play Waratahs (a rugby club that had played Carlton in a match under “Victorian Rules” in 1877) at Moore Park. Waratahs won by two goals (Sydney Daily Telegraph 16 August 1880).

In a return match on the following Saturday, the combined team won 5 goals to three (Sydney Daily Telegraph 23 August 1880).

The following season a series of matches were played against the Sydney club which resulted in East Sydney being declared “Champions”. This was the first of twenty-eight titles won by “Easts” including the 2019 Sydney AFL premiership (http://sydneyafl.com.au/first-grade-mens-premiers-premier-division/ ).

In the final and fourth game of the 1881 season East Sydney 2-4 defeated Sydney 1-4. on 23 July at Moore Park. East Sydney were captained by Charlie Clay who later went on to play in Melbourne. Best players were Randall, Nash, Weaton, A.R.Watson, Harry Hedger and J. Terry (Sydney Morning Herald 25 July 1881).

At the club’s annual general meeting in 1882, the secretary W.C. Marshall reported that in the previous season the club had “come out of all engagements with local teams victorious”.

Mr Arthur Young was the recipient of a handsome trophy for “Best All-round” player in 1881 (Sydney Morning Herald 21 April 1882).

– Junior Football In Sydney – part I

1889 St Ignatius (Australian) Football Team

Junior football and for that matter much of junior sport in Sydney and probably the rest of NSW was very centred on school activities in the early 1900s.

The Southern (NSW) Rugby Football Union had established a junior competition by 1887 playing for John McGregor’s Cup [1] while the first recorded junior game of Australian football in Sydney was in early June 1888 in a match comprising junior players played between boys from West Sydney and Moore Park at the East Sydney club’s ground on Moore Park.  The event was treated almost as if some type of novelty but the players were encouraged to continue with their efforts.  There was no mention of their age. [2]

The first recorded schools game was in 1888 and recorded as “Two juvenile teams under these rules played a very exciting match on Moore Park on Saturday (4 August), the teams being the boys from St Augustines School (Balmain) and what are known as Junior Sydneys.  An amusing part of the proceedings was the discovery  that the youthful ‘Sydneys’ had increased their numbers to considerably over thirty, and when the umpire, under protest from St Augustine’s, arranged both teams for a count the Sydney youths numbered nearly forty.  It is a pity for the school teams that the juvenile matches are nor played in enclosures.  It is expected that the return match will be played in an enclosure, and a strict count made in future to stop the growth of juvenile twenties.” [3]

Then, and at last an item on junior football appeared in the Referee Newspaper when a team representing the Sydney Juniors played the Imperials on Moore Park on 1 June 1889.  The players were all aged under 16 and the smaller Sydney boys won the match 3 goals to 1. [4] (In those days goals only recorded the score although at times behinds were shown in the tally). 

The 1890 annual report of the NSW Football Association stated that “in past seasons junior football has been almost neglected, the result being that junior clubs and second twenties have been a failure.  For the coming season (1890), however, twenty silver medals have been offered for competition among the juniors, and these medals ought to give an impetus to junior football.” [5] [6]

On many occasions in their reporting, newspapers and club officials would often use the term ‘juniors’ when referring to under age players or a second eighteen and determining one or the other  took a judicious view of the records.

At the Association’s 1891 annual meeting held on 21 April at Cambridge Club Hotel which was on the corner of Market and Castlereagh Streets, the secretary’s report eulogised the Association’s activities and praised Mr Henry Alexander for his kindness in donating 20 medals “for the hitherto neglected juniors for competition amongst them.”   Prior to 1890 the juniors were almost ignored by the Association and in previous seasons secretaries seemed to almost despair of ever being able to run junior teams, yet during the 1890 season “no difficulty was experienced in keeping together the second twenties and the members of the other junior clubs.  This highly desirable state of things was brought about by the medal contests.  We should like, by the way, to point out that one of the greatest difficulties against which a secretary of a new club has to contend is that twenty men are required to form a team under our rules.  Under the British Association Rules (soccer) only eleven men are required and under Rugby Rules, fifteen.”   [7]

By the end of July 1891 the following made up the ‘junior’competition:

JUNIOR CUP

CLUB PLAYED WON LOST DRAWN FOR AGAINST
St Josephs College 4 4 16 16
South Sydney 6 5 1 20 24
Young Australians 6 2 2 2 12 24
West Sydney II 7 3 3 1 14 28
Carlton 6 1 4 1   6 24

In 1892 junior clubs started to emerge publicly and were holding their own annual meetings many of which were in March, notably earlier than their senior cousins.  Their numbers were healthy, with 35 registering with the Carlton Junior club who were moving into their fourth season, while 21 new members signed up with the Young Australian side [8] and a another 14 with the successful South Sydney junior club.

Early in May advice was received that St Ignatius College would not play football under Australian rules in 1892 instead changing their allegiance to rugby. [9] Sydney Mail ominously said that “The New South Wales Football Association has gone off into a long sleep from which it will never waken.” [10]  How right this would prove to be.

to be continued ….

[1] Referee – 28 April 1887
[2] Sydney Mail – 26 May 1888
[3] Referee – 9 August 1888
[4] Referee – 5 June 1889
[5] Referee – 16 April 1890
[6] Daily Telegraph – 16 June 1890
[7] Referee – 22 April 1891
[8] Referee – 23 March.1892
[9] SMH – 4 June 1892
[10] Referee – 4 May 1892

GEELONGS HISTORIC VISIT

In July 1882 the Geelong Football Club played a series of games in Sydney.

While such visits by the (then) VFA clubs were seen as supporting the struggling code in NSW, the locals were never any match for these strong Melbourne district clubs.  They kept coming but the press in Sydney soon grew tired of promoting and reporting on contests which were severely one sided.

Charles Brownlow, after whom the Brownlow Medal is named, was playing for Geelong at the time and was one of the 23 players in the Geelong party.

They arrived on the 7:00am train from Melbourne at the Redfern Railway Station – Central had yet to be constructed. There, they were met by a large number of the local footballing community and driven in two drags to the Cambridge Hotel in Oxford Street.

Geelong played four games during their stay, each of which they won decidedly.

On Saturday 10 July they played the East Sydney club at the SCG.  Unfortunately it rained throughout the match, at times quite heavily and to such an extent that officials considered calling the match off.  The conditions were understandably very sloppy with some players flat out holding the ball.

It was estimated that only 300 braved the elements to see the visitors win 7.15 to 0.7 (only goals in that period were counted in the score although behinds were nearly always shown in the results).

The following Tuesday Geelong met the Sydney Club, also at the SCG, this time in fine weather where the crowd was recorded as between 500-600.   Sydney wore a navy blue uniform with scarlet caps and hose (socks).

They could do little to stem the might of the Geelong side who won this encounter 15.22 to 1.1.

Then, two days later, Geelong met the Petersham club at the same ground.  This was a minor side that only last two or three seasons when Petersham was considered a small village outside Sydney.

They were captained by Fred Wedd,  who had previously played with the Melbourne FC and represented Victoria.  His team appeared to have a few local talented ring-ins making up their number.

By this time the Geelong players realised that they could do it pretty easily and won this match 5.17 to 0.2.

On the following Saturday, Geelong played the NSW team who were made up from the 100 or so footballers participating in the game in Sydney at the time.

This game was again at the SCG before a more respectable attendance of around 3,000.

The weather was recorded as splendid and special trams had been put on to transport the spectators to and from the ground.  Former Melbourne FC player, R B Sibley, captained the NSW team which performed much more creditably than Geelong’s three previous encounters.

It is worth noting part of the description of the game in the Sydney Morning Herald where the journalist reported: “Sydney players were believed to have been profitably instructed by the illustrations of their (Geelong’s) intimate knowledge of the game, and hopes were also expressed that their visit to Sydney would be repeated.”

On the 17th, the Geelong contingent left Sydney by train bound for Albury where they were scheduled to play a match against local representatives.  A large muster of Sydney footballers were on hand to bid them farewell.