– 1903 Collingwood v Fitzroy in Sydney – it nearly didn’t happen!

Mostly through bad management and petty squabbles, the game failed and ceased to exist in Sydney in 1895.

This had been after a long and arduous period of getting the game established and accepted in Sydney.  The first clubs, Sydney and East Sydney were formed in 1881 which played under the NSW Football Association formed the year before.

Despite its demise, many of the proponents of the game were still keen about in the early 1900s and one, Harry Hedger, who had put his heart and sole into the game as a player and official in the aforementioned period, was very keen to see it rekindled.

After the NSW Football League had been formed in January 1903, he visited Melbourne late in the next month especially to attend a meeting of the VFL and club delegates where he outlined the need for support to have the game re-established in the NSW capital.

After Hedger harangued delegates until 2.30am, “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, on behalf of the Collingwood club, agreed to make the trip. The cost to each of these clubs will probably be about £300, and they will each lose the proceeds of the match, which, under ordinary circumstances, would have been played in Melbourne. Thus either the Fitzroy or the Collingwood ground will lose one of its most productive games. In order to compensate the two clubs for the sacrifice it was decided that the proceeds of the games played in Victoria on that day shall be pooled and divided equally between all the clubs in the league; and, further, that the ground which suffers by the arrangement shall be awarded one of the semi-final matches. ” [1]

But the Collingwood membership were not all that too happy with the decision.  At the annual meeting of the Collingwood Football Club on March 9, some members of the club resented the action of their committee in making the interstate arrangement.  One member, a Mr. Mansergh, said “that he thought the committee had exceeded its powers in committing the club to such a course. The members had a right to be consulted, and they should have decided. The match with Fitzroy was the most popular game of the season, and he did not think it fair that members should be deprived of the game.”

Mansergh then move that  “This meeting disagrees with the action of the committee of the club in deciding to play a premiership match in Sydney.  The motion was declared carried on a show of hands.” [2]

The decision of the members of the Collingwood club did not affect the Sydney visit, but had the potential to rob the match of its interest as far as the premiership was concerned”

In the meantime football euphoria had gripped Sydney with the two biggest clubs in Australia to visit in May.  Sydney was a Rugby town (Rugby League had not yet been introduced) and as well, soccer was played but not as popular as it is today.  Despite all this, eleven new first grade clubs were formed – and there were others.

However Collingwood had more problems when it comes to impediments to their proposed match. In May 1903 Victoria was gripped with a rail strike which subjected the match to a good deal of uncertainty.  The May 9 game of Geelong v Carlton game had to be postponed because of the strike.  The sudden impact of the strike had stifled any arrangements for travel to Geelong by boat because any such arrangements had not been considered early enough. [3]

There is more to this story …. stay tuned.

[1] Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser – 4 March 1903, p.570
[2} The Argus 10 March 1903 p.7
[3] 1903 VFL results

1919 Schoolboys Tour

Rupert BrowneWay back in 1919, only months after the Great War finished, Sydney school sports officials arranged with their Victorian counterparts for an interstate visit by a combined schools team after the finish of the season.  This was seen as the continuation of an interstate interchange in school football started between the two in 1905.

In July of 1919, the VFL agreed to pay forty pounds, estimated with inflation today at $2893.00, to assist with NSW costs.  The boys would be billeted with the number restricted to 20 and they not be over the age of 16 years.

The lads were selected from the following public schools: Ashfield, Burwood, Double Bay and Gardeners Road.  They left by Express train at Central on 28 August and at that stage were looking at spending up to two weeks in the Melbourne capital.

The group was under the management of Rupert Browne (pictured), sports master of the Gardeners Road School and a Mr Stutchbury from the Schools Amateur Athletics Association.

They played three games against combined Victorian State Schools and won the lot:

 

Date

NSW

Schools Score

Victorian

Schools Score

Venue

30 August

8-8 (56)

7-8  (50)

Amateur Sports Ground

6 Sept

3-5 (23)

1-10 (16)

Collingwood
Cricket Ground

9 Sept

5-7 (37)

5-6  (36)

Amateur Sports Ground

 

Following their first match the boys were taken to Punt Road Oval, where they saw the Richmond v St Kilda game.

In between their interstate contests, the NSW boys travelled to Geelong on 2 September where they played and were defeated by the Geelong High School side, 7-11 (53) to 7-4 (48).  And then, with not much rest, the following day the team played a game against Melbourne High School where they suffered their second defeat on tour, 6-12 (48) to 3-15 (33).

In between all this, on 4 September they were entertained by the Collingwood Football Club and the following day the VFL put on a picnic for the boys at Heidelburg.

After an exhaustive but very enjoyable time away the contingent returned to Sydney on 10 September.

But this did not finish their interstate commitments.

In late September 1919, the combined team of Victorian State Schoolboys travelled to Sydney to play a reciprocal match against their Sydney Metropolitan opponents.  The VFL paid their train fare.

Because it was late in the season a venue was very difficult to procure with officials searching near and far for a ground on which to play.  They eventually had to settle for the Sydney Domain (behind NSW Parliament House) but the Victorians fared no better in the match and were soundly beaten by NSW 10-18 (78) to 4-6 (30).

Those who represented the Metropolitan Schools included: Chipperfield, Kell, Armstrong, Curry, Lording and King (Ashfield PS), Sherwood, Rogers, Harris, Spencer and Martin (Burwood PS), George McCure (Double Bay PS), Orme, Paul Flynn, Burns, Walker, Les Stiff and Yates (Gardeners Road PS), Owen and Mackay were the reserves.

The only one of any note who went on in senior football was Paul Flynn.  He represented the state in 1925 and won Sydney’s goalkicking award in 1928 playing for South Sydney.

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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HOW MANY REP GAMES CAN YOU PLAY?

Mick Grace smallNSW normally participates in one or two interstate games a year.  This then placates the representative faction so domestic football can continue.

However in 1910, the NSW Football League played an incredible eleven representative games over a six week period which restricted their home and away games and pushed the finals deep into September.

On three occasions during the season, the league had to field two representative teams on the same day just to fulfill their obligations.

It was no secret that the NSW Football League were poor managers of their finances and continually finished their seasons in the red.  The main reason for this was that many games were played on Moore Park, which was and still is an open and unfenced arena near Sydney central.  They might well have attracted 2-3,000 spectators to these free games but it didn’t reflect in the finances of the league when they were the ones who manned and took the gate.

Fortunately the league entered the 1910 season with a very rare surplus of one hundred and twenty three pounds ($246.00), thanks to a round robin series between South Melbourne, Geelong, Collingwood Clubs plus the NSW League state team in Sydney the previous year.  The then VFL clubs made no claim on the gate and left the entire amount with the league.

Queensland games were one source of continuing wastage.  Games would attract a poor crowd when they played in Sydney and conversely a big-hearted NSW would not make a full claim on the gate at their Brisbane matches.  In 1910, NSW played Queensland twice, once in Brisbane and an additional match in Sydney. In the middle of all these games, Queensland too played Riverina in Sydney, but were easily outclassed.

DATE

VENUE

NSW Team

Local Team Score

RESULT

OPPOSITION

SCORE

1910-06-11

Erskineville Oval

NSW

12-7 (7(9)

Lost

Nth Adelaide FC

18-12 (120)

1910-06-11

Brisbane

NSW

9-15 (69)

Won

Queensland

5-7 (37)

1910-06-15

Erskineville Oval

NSW

6-6 (42)

Lost

Nth Adelaide Fc

10-14 (74)

1910-07-30

Erskineville Oval

Comb Metro

9-11 (65)

Won

Nth Broken Hill FC

9-8 (62)

1910-08-10

Erskineville Oval

NSW

19-12 (128)

Won

Geelong FC

16-12 (108)

1910-08-13

Erskineville Oval

NSW

11-3 (69)

Lost

Geelong FC

16-12 (108)

1910-08-13

Erskineville Oval

NSW

6-8 (44)

Lost

Fitzroy FC

6-17 (53)

1910-08-17

Erskineville Oval

NSW

6-11 (47

Lost

Fitzroy FC

9-14 (68)

1910-08-20

Erskineville Oval

NSW

10-14 (74)

Won

Queensland

5-11 (41)

1910-08-20

Erskineville Oval

Comb Metro

13-21 (99)

Won

Riverina

8-4 (52)

1910-08-27

Erskineville Oval

Comb Metro

14-22 (106)

Won

Riverina

4-11 (35)

In this year the NSW League employed the services of Mick Grace as coach.  He was a very well known VFL footballer who had played with Fitzroy, Carlton and also St Kilda, the latter in a captain-coach capacity.

Grace lived in Sydney for almost two years, coaching NSW.  In 1911 he coached the state at the National Carnival ion Adelaide, but when he took ill, Grace returned to Melbourne where he died a year later from tuberculosis at the age of 37.  Although he was in the employ of the league, it is unknown who actually paid his salary but considering the league finished 1910 with a debt of one hundred and sixty six pounds ($332.00), the revenue stream of which included all the rep games, most h & a and finals – some of which attracted crowds in their thousands, it is difficult to say that they did not.

The acquisition of Erskineville Oval in 1910 was a real bonus for the league.  For the most part, it was the only ground where a gate could be charged with the then three remaining weekly fixtures played at different venues on the expansive Moore Park.

The league put up one hundred pounds ($200) to the trustees of Erskineville Park as rent in advance for the facility. (In that era, the old Erskineville Oval was located more west of the present site, about where the Department of Housing flats are situated with an east-west configuration.)

1909

1909In August 1909 three VFL teams, Collingwood, Geelong and South Melbourne visited Sydney to play a series of matches which included games against NSW.

They each brought their best teams with each of the games played at (the old) Erskineville Oval over a period of about two weeks.

That year, South Melbourne would go on to win the premiership, and remarkably enough, their game against NSW was very competitive.

Jack Incoll
Jack Incoll

Unlike the other two games (against Geelong & Collingwood), the South Melbourne encounter was played on a Saturday.  This very much impacted on the crowd and with one shilling entry (10c) plus an extra six pence (5c) to the stand, the game raised a gate of one hundred and twenty pounds ($240), certainly was not a bad take for the day.

NSW fielded about the best team available.  All players chosen were from Sydney.  One was Jack Incoll, a 30 year old Newtown player who had turned out for both  South Melbourne and Collingwood during the seasons prior to coming to Sydney.  Another, was team mate Con McCormack, a former Collingwood player who, at 31 had not lost his touch.

Con McCormack
Con McCormack

Balmain player Jack Ashley was selected in the forward pocket for NSW.  He was a big man who would go on to win the Magarey Medal playing for Port Adelaide a few years later.  So the NSW team was peppered with quite a number of talented players.

Of course Ralph Robertson, the mercurial East Sydney then North Shore player was almost a permanent fixture in the state team from 1903-14.  He had played for St Kilda as a youngster and was another who was in constant form.  Already there is a contemporary push to have him included in the AFL’s Hall of Fame.

NSW were two points down at quarter time, one point at the long break but let their opponents draw five goals ahead at three quarter time.  The Blues however rallied and were a chance to take the game but the bounce of the ball favoured South during the final term who went on to win 10-19 to 7-10.

The following Wednesday, NSW with six changes from their team of the previous weekend, put up a great performance.  Geelong had taken out the wooden spoon in 1908 and in 1909 finished second last.

The Blues led the Pivitonians at all of the breaks except the one that counted and were eventually defeated 15-12 (102) to 12-17 (89) before a mid week crowd which was described as ‘fair’.

The game against Collingwood was played on the following Wednesday, 18 September.  On this occasion NSW really had to squeeze to get their numbers. Eight of their regular representatives were not in the eighteen. In those days, people worked six days a week and even then, more hours than eight a day and yet it was this game that drew the biggest crowd.  The exact number is not enumerated but reports tell us that the attendance “was larger than that against South Melbourne, but the gate was about the same”.

All of the VFL teams made no claim on the gate which left the NSW League in the black at the end of the season.  They started the year with a debt of well over one hundred pounds ($200) which provided the opportunity for the League to further investigate, with now some justification, the purchase of a ground which would be their own.  But that is another, and a very, very interesting story.

The weakened NSW team had no chance against Collingwood where they could only manage three goals.  They were beaten 12-12 (84) to 3-10 (28).

It is interesting to read what the South Melbourne team got up to during their 1909 stay in Sydney:NSS Sobraon small

The South Melbourne team are having a splendid time, having enjoyed a *drag drive to Coogee on Wednesday, a launch trip to Middle Head on Thursday, launch trip to Parramatta, lunch a Correy’s Gardens on the return trip and an afternoon on board the **N.S.S. Sobraon yesterday, with a theatre party each evening since their arrival here.  At 10 o’clock this morning they leave the Hotel Grand Central for a drive round the Domain and Centennial Park.  There will be a theatre party after the match.”

*A drag was vehicular carriage normally pulled by four or six horses.  It had seats along the centre of its length facing outwards on each side.
**Sobraon was a ‘training ship’ for wayward boys.

 

Looking back at the future

Jim Phelan 1920Jim Phelan is virtually regarded as the father of football in Sydney.  This is not our description of him because none of today’s people had the privilege of knowing him but was a quote often appearing in various publications before his death in 1939.

He came to Sydney in about 1886 from Bendigo via Ballarat and Melbourne and subsequently played with Waratah and the East Sydney clubs.  From our research Jim was not an outstanding player but he was an outstanding administrator and they are the ones who make a success or failure of an organisation.

He was founding treasurer of the Newtown club and later their secretary.  When the game almost fell over after the start of WWI he took on the position of Secretary of the NSW Football League, a position he held for ten consecutive years and during his tenure saw the game return to its status as a recognized and strong sport in Sydney.

Besides a life member of the Newtown club, he was elected life member of the NSW Football League and the Australian National Fooball Council, of which he was this state’s delegate for a number of years.

Erskineville Oval in 1988

During his time with football, Jim wrote on the game for a number of Sydney newspapers, including the Sydney Morning Herald.  He had a deft hand with the pen and it is with this in mind that we reprint a little known article written by Jim and published in a Sydney Football Record in 1939, only months before his passing.  The main subject was Erskineville Oval and its re-construction at its present location pictured on the right.  Jim penned several like articles during the 1930s almost all of which referred to Sydney’s football past and, as he says in this article, if there was anyone who knew about the game then, it was him:

As the new oval progresses towards completion, numberless questions have been asked as to its future tenancy.  To one and all my answer has been that such is in the lap of the Gods. 

The present day anxiety being evinced has been displaced the one time aversion and antipathy to Erskineville Oval.  One sees many changes in the relatively short space of 40 years.  Evolution is all around us working perhaps slowly, but nevertheless surely.  Such can be said of the game itself.

The 20 aside game of my day, and the concomitant little marks have improved, others in the mind of enthusiastic old timers, have declined and the day is not far distant when a halt will surely be called to the alternation of rules of the game.  So much, by the way.

By reason of the many changes in the administrative personnel of the NSW League since its inception in 1903, and the fact that early books and records are not in possession of present officials, a complete history of the league operations is well nigh impossible.  However, as one (and the only one) who can lay claim to have been present at every annual meeting of the League since its inception, I am confident that memory will serve me right in this effort to set forth details in connection with playing grounds and Erskineville Oval in particular.

Following the great success of the Fitzroy-Collingwood initial match on the Sydney Cricket Ground in 1903 the following clubs were formed:- Sydney, Paddington, East Sydney, Balmain, North Shore, West Sydney, Redfern, Newtown,  Ashfield, Y.M.C.A. and Alexandria.  As Rugby League was then non-existent the securing of playing grounds was simply a question of ability to pay for the use of them.

The formation of eleven clubs following the Fitzroy-Collingwood game is indicative of the enthusiasm aroused at the time.  The wisdom of accepting such a number of clubs was questioned at the time by some of the then League members.  Within a short space of time Ashfield and Alexandria clubs dropped out.  The remaining clubs, however, continued to exist for some years.

Since the inception of the League, premiership final games have been played on the following grounds:- 1903, 1904, 1908 and 1909, Sydney Cricket Ground No. 1; 1905 and 1915 Sydney Cricket Ground No. 2; 1906, 1916, 1917 and 1918 Agricultural Showground (now Fox Studios); 1907 Kensington Racecourse (now the site of  the University of NSW), 1911, 1912 and 1913, Australian Football Ground, Alexandria; 1910, 1914, 1919 and from thence on, Erskineville Oval – pictured left.

1935 Erskineville Oval (old) 001 smallThe foregoing supplies a most effective answer to those who continually assail me for my advocacy of Erskineville Oval, with the one plea “that the game generally, and the finals in particular should be played on a central ground, to wit the Sydney Cricket Ground, or the Agricultural Showground”  In their ignorance, or antipathy to Erskineville Oval, they did not know, or if knowing would not admit the fact that central grounds had been tried and financial results were overwhelmingly in favour of Erskineville Oval.

While I have always thought, and expressed myself as occasion arose, that false modesty is as bad an attribute as overweening vanity, I feel that it would not be desirable to set forth in this short article the various episodes that arose in connection with the retention of Erskineville Oval as the home ground for the game in Sydney.

The concern that was almost wholly mine, during the past 21 years is now being shared by others as the time approaches when farewell must be said to the ground that has served the League for a generation, and whose atmosphere is, on the whole, more congenial in a football sense than that of any other playing ground controlled by the League.

Gone from the old home, gentlemen, moved up into the now, will, I trust, be the greeting to patrons of the game in 1940.”

Jim was a great man for football and to have the league’s best and fairest medal (re)named after him is a fitting reward for his work and commitment to the game.

WHY DIDN’T FOOTY KICK ON IN SYDNEY?

Football logo 2We have often been asked why Australian football never did take on in Sydney?

The explanation is long and drawn out and possibly a controversial one.

The Society’s president, Ian Granland, has written a comprehensive but yet to be published account of Australian football in Sydney between 1877-1895 and in it he attempts to explain why the game failed to get off the ground in the NSW capital.

Here, he offers a frank and previously unexplored explanation.  In it Granland provided us with a brief but factual account of his theory why: “Bascially, it all started with politics,” Granland said.

Victoria, or Port Phillip (District), as it was then known, was part of the colony of NSW up until 1851 when under acrimonious circumstances (as far as the NSW authorities were concerned) it was granted separation and autonomy by Britain as a separate colony.

Those in control in Sydney were not happy.  Ironically though, it was they who had treated the Port Phillip district with disdain, but at the same time, did not want to lose the area from NSW control.

So there was this underlying current of unease, particularly for example when things like custom duties were introduced between the two colonies and collection officials were placed at various points along the Murray River.

There were other issues as well and these festering differences received a further shot in the arm in of all places on the cricket field in 1863  during an intercolonial cricket match between Victoria and New South Wales played on Sydney’s Domain.

During the game, Victorian wicket keeper, George Marshall, removed the bails when New South Wales batsman, Jones was wandering out of his crease, reigniting a similar incident when the two colonies had met previously.  The Victorian umpire, Jack Smith gave Jones out but the home state umpire, Richard Driver, president of the NSW Cricket Association and after whom the road in front of the SCG is named, decreed he was not out and said he had called ˜over” prior to Marshall’s action.

As a result, Victorian captain, Tom Wills (one of those acknowledged as a founder of Australian football) led his protesting team from the field under police escort only to be hit in the face with a stone while his other players were similarly assaulted.  Marshall and fellow professional, Bill Greaves, together with umpire Smith would not continue with the match and left for home by steamer; this was well before the rail line was connected to Albury.

This event created headlines in the two colonies and fuelled the situation.

So in 1877 when Carlton FC visited Sydney to play the rugby club Waratah in two games, one under Victorian rules and the other under the rules of rugby, it gave rugby (and Victorian) opponents the stage on which started their century plus opposition to what would become, the Australian game.

Sport was an easy target and as it turned out fitted the protagonists agenda nicely.

The establishment of football in Sydney followed a more traditional line from the mother country and in the early 1860s they began to play rugby, not soccer. Strangely this was not the case in Victoria whose population exploded upon the discovery of gold in 1853.  Victoria then began to develop into a very rich colony indeed, leaving Sydney authorities more bitter at their territorial and population loss.

Gradually, football clubs began to pop up all over Victoria but with no central theme, most invented their own rules or played a general version with a local bias.

At that stage Tom Wills was a rugby man through and through.  He had been educated at the Rugby School in England and played the game there.

When he involved himself with a bunch of cronies playing ˜football” on the Richmond1891.10.01 - Illustrated Australian News small Paddock in 1859, it was decided they should write some rules for their game.  He suggested the rules of rugby but the others were unfamiliar with the game so his suggestion was dismissed. This group of seven then wrote ten simple rules for their football which would go on to become the foundation for the Australian game of football.  This actual list of rules incidentally, still exist today and is housed in the MCG Museum.

So there you have it.  Sydney playing under Rugby rules and Victoria under a hybrid brand which became their rules.  Sydney had some highly placed people endorsing and promoting rugby, Melbourne apparently did not.

The political differences flowed onto the sporting field or for that matter, in anything that Sydney or NSW had to do with Victoria and yet, over the years, the reverse was not the same.

The early loathing of the Victorian game and the venom from the architects of it, particularly in Sydney, was simply inconceivable and to my thinking quite childish.

I can cite many occasions of pure spite against Australian football in Sydney, none worse than in May 1903 when the VFL assisted to resurrect the game in Sydney by staging a competition match at the SCG between the Collingwood and Fitzroy clubs.

To counter this the NSW Rugby Union (Rugby League was yet to be formed) fixtured a double bill.  One game, at the adjacent Sydney Sports Ground, featured the NZ All-Blacks and another game next door at the RAS Showground.  Each had a (reduced) entry charge of sixpence (5 cents).

Despite the charge at the SCG of one shilling (10 cents), the game attracted 20,000.

So not only did Australian football have to battle generally to introduce the game to Sydney, the Sydney Swans also fought for acceptance when they emerged in 1982. They had to battle with opponents of the game, many of whom saw rugby, not so much with a mortgage on football in NSW – because they offered no opposition to soccer when it was introduced, but as the game of preference.

1908 FootballerThis attitude has gone on year after year, decade after decade, spurred on by some journalists looking for a cheap headline. It has permeated into following generations, many of whom really had no idea why they held such an aversion to Australian football, they simply followed suit.

The approach led to fear of it over taking and to some extent envy at the mere mention of the game of Australian football.

Thankfully this attitude is slowly changing so that all Australians can now enjoy the skills and wonderful features of our great national game.

COLLINGWOOD FANS DIDN’T WANT TO LOSE GAME

In 1903, Harry Hedger, who worked for the NSW Blind Society, visited Melbourne where he addressed a meeting of the VFL asking for two clubs to play a competition match in Sydney as a promotion for the re-establishment of Australian Football.

The game had been played competitively between 1881-95 in Sydney but, mainly due to bad management, it folded.

Born inTasmania, Hedger, was very much a dedicated employee of the NSW Blind Society, eventually receiving an OBE in 1935; his other passion was Australian football, and all this took place in Sydney.

During the 1880s & 90s he played for East Sydney, Sydney, Waratah, City, West Sydney and Our Boys clubs, for the most part, to keep them viable and in existence.  As well he turned out for the Sydney University team which visited Melbourne in 1888.  He represented both Sydney and NSW on numerous occasions and at various times umpired several games.

Hedger was captain of several of these clubs where he also took on official positions as he did with the Association.

He was passionate about his football and at his own cost took the train to Melbourne where on 27 February he met with VFL officials.  He implored them to send two teams to Sydney for a match which he believed would help kick-start the game in the NSW capital.

The Fitzroy Club secretary, Con Hickey said his club was willing to travel to Sydney at its own expense and forego any share of the gate receipts.  Eventually, Ern Copeland, secretary of the Collingwood club said that his club would also make the trip under similar conditions.  To engender interest, the game would be part of the home and away competition matches.

The VFL then resolved that the proceeds of all games played in Melbourne on the day of the Sydney match would be pooled and divided equally between all clubs in the league and the ground on which their scheduled encounter was to be played would be awarded one of the semi final matches.

It was estimated that the game would cost each club at least three hundred pounds ($600) each.

Hedger left the meeting quite happy but when Copeland confronted his members at the 9 March Annual General Meeting, a motion was passed that the game not be considered a competition match and that it be merely an exhibition.

This was greeted with dismay and resentment in Sydney resulting in an immediate letter to the VFL outlining how the decision would detrimentally effect the standing of the re-emerging code.

Eventually the VFL upheld their earlier decision and the game went on to be played before a crowd of 20,000 at the SCG on May 23.  The six hundred pound gate ($1,200) was left to the new football league in Sydney to promote their activities.

The reigning premiers, Collingwood took a party of 43 with them and a budget of four hundred pounds ($800) while Fitzroy, who were to that date undefeated, had 50 in their group.  These two clubs went on to play off in the 1903 grand final which Collingwood won by two points.

Also in 1903 Hedger chaired the formation meetings of several clubs, including North Shore, and for some time in that decade was the president of the YMCA Club.  He died in 1937 aged 78 years never really receiving the recognition due for his long standing commitment to the game in Sydney.

Our photograph shows Harry (or Henry) Hedger in 1923 when he accompanied the NSW team to Melbourne where they played Victoria.