1966 could be judged as just another year in Sydney football. The footy system went on as normal but we take a deeper look at the season which is just 48 years ago.
Wests won the flag before a crowd of 7,000 at Trumper Park, Sydney Naval’s Norm Tuxford took out the Phelan Medal, Don McKenna an army recruit from the St George club booted 71 goals to win the first grade Leading Goalking Award, the league returned a (never to be repeated) profit of $2,575 on the Football Record, Eastern Suburb’s Roy Hayes, was made life member of the league, a junior competition was started in the Balmain-Ryde area which included North Ryde, Ermington, Pennant Hills-Normanhurst as well as a Balmain junior club and long term league secretary, Ken Ferguson once again took the reigns at the league, this time in a fulltime capacity.
The league consolidated their newly acquired premises at 64 Regent Street Chippendale, (a photo of which now adorns the website front page in a rotating banner) and again recorded their recognition and appreciation for its purchase to the Western Suburbs Licensed Club. Sydney Naval and Eastern Suburbs clubs, separately, had their applications for a licensed rejected by the Licensing Court.
A direct and live broadcast (albeit of the second half) by Channel 7 of the Western Suburbs v Sydney Naval game on June 4 game gave the code a lift while East’s captain-coach, Alan Gray was transferred to Wagga prior to the end of the season, upsetting the club’s plans for the finals Souths had a foreign legion in the senior side which only contained three locals.
Junior players in the state’s Under 15 training squad included Jack Slade (Newtown), Phil Fenny (Wests), Paul Paitry (Easts), Chris Bucko and Paul McCook (St George) were some who would go on to play senior football in Sydney. Peter Hastings, SC, QC, former Tribunal Chairman who now heads the NSW Crime Commission, was president and player of the Sydney University Club.
Forty-two year old, Jack Armstrong, The Black Fella, retired from umpiring. Incidentally the Society is working on a story of this once legend of Sydney football which will be published soon. Ellis Noack was captain-coach of the Southern Districts club. St George moved to their new home on the site of a former quarry which became Olds Park. In the rules of the game, the flick-pass was ditched.
History Society president, Ian Granland, began his long journey in football administration when elected secretary of the South Sydney club at age 17 and Vice President, Bill Carey, played his 100th consecutive first grade game for Balmain.
Former VFL umpire and Sydney Naval Coach, Bill Quinn, who went on to become a wonderful supporter of the Sydney Swans club, was appointed coach of the NSW Umpires Assn. And who could not forget the appointment of Ray Catherall as Sydney Naval’s coach. Ray, a restauranteur, had Mother’s Cellar and Moby Dicks restaurants at Kings Cross in his stable. He gained international notoriety by playing ‘soothing’ music to his players in the change rooms at half time breaks. He only last one season at the club only to move on to coach Sydney University the following year.
However one of the biggest and least remembered events of the season was the umpiring furore at Trumper Park on July 10 when NSW played North Melbourne.
Our last featured photograph prompted a few memories when, in the days of one (central) umpire, the then Umpires’ Assn secretary and the 1965 Sydney grand final umpire, Len Palmer, was ‘unappointed’ from the game and replaced by VFL umpire, Stan Fisher.
We contacted the Ettalong based Palmer to get the real story.
He said he was at the ground and had begun to change into his umpiring attire when Kangaroo’s coach, the 168cm former St Kilda dynamo, Alan Killigrew (pictured) told officials that “he would not let his boys be umpired by someone from a football outpost like Sydney.” When asked to be reasonable about the matter and that the 31 year old Palmer, who was after all, was straight off the VFL Reserves Umpiring list in 1964 and quite competent of handling the match, but the volatile Killigrew refused and stood his ground.
Minutes before the start of the game, Sydney officials had no choice but to capitulate.
Palmer said he had been told before the match that a VFL umpire was at the ground but he did not know his identity. North Melbourne had brought Fisher to Sydney for the game but there appeared to be no prior communication on the appointment between the two organising parties.
Fisher, who began his VFL umpiring career in 1963 and by then had umpired over 40 league games, was embarrassed about the controversy and suggested to Palmer that they eac do one half. Palmer could see the problems this could cause and declined his offer. He then sat on the sideline as the reserve umpire but joined in the after-match hospitality at the Wests Club.
NSW was soundly beaten 20.17 (137) to 7.11 (53). And incidentally, several current members of the Society were in that NSW team including Brian Tyler, Denis Aitken and Peter Burgess.
As a show of their support for Palmer, the league had sent him to Canberra only weeks before to umpire the Queensland v ACT game at Manuka Oval. He also umpired the 1966 Sydney Grand Final before he retired from umpiring due to his work in the TAB.
When asked if he had any regrets he said no, “Football gave me a great journey through life and I have made some wonderful friends. I wouldn’t change a thing” he replied.
Our photograph shows Len Palmer taking the field for the 1966 Sydney Grand Final at Trumper Park. Note the crowd. The footballs the umpires had in their hands were used for bouncing and throw-in practice. None was the match ball.