Mac Uni – 50 Years and Still There – and same umpire!!

                      Umpire from Mac Uni’s 1970 game,
                 Jim McSweeney tossing the 1911 penny

In the early 1970s the NSW Football League were at a loss what to do with the new clubs that began to emerge, certainly in Sydney.

In 1969 Western Suburbs, Newtown, North Shore and a burgeoning Balmain headed the senior list, by miles.

Sydney Naval were on their last legs and South Sydney (both original Sydney Clubs) were getting defeated by a cricket score each week.  These two were at the bottom of the table in firsts and seconds.

Then there were the Universities.  Sydney University had swapped places with UNSW from firsts to reserve grade which earnt them a premiership,  UNSW went no-where in the top grade finishing just above Sydney Naval.

So 1970 presented a problem.  The Metropolitan Australian National Football Association (MANFA – the old second division) went out of business 20 odd years before however league officials were reluctant to engage a new second division into the Sydney competition, but the pressure was there.

In the end Sydney Uni, UNSW & South Sydney teams were slotted into the senior division reserve grade along with a new contender, Macquarie University.  Later St Ives, Warringah, Salesians and Penshurst made up the new Sydney Districts Association along with minor teams from some of the senior clubs.  Almost ludicrously that year, 8 teams played in First Grade, with 12 teams in Reserve Grade – such was the skill differential.  So on numerous occasions the seconds did not play at the same venue as the first grade, déjà vu perhaps?

  A Younger Jim McSweeney

Macquarie University’s first opponent (ever) in their initial season was South Sydney; a relegated club trying to make the best of it.  That was 1970.

In that first ever competition match on 4th April 1970 against South Sydney, at Erskineville Oval, Jim McSweeney was the Field Umpire. In those times it was just one Central Umpire. South Sydney went on to beat Macquarie Uni 13-13 (91) to 3-6 (24).

However fast forward to last weekend when the Sydney AFL Season finally got their 2020 season underway.

Macquarie University AFL Club celebrating their 50th anniversary were opposed to last year’s premiers, Southern Power.

To commemorate the 50 years, Macquarie Uni invited the 80 plus Jim, a member of the Football History Society, to conduct the coin toss.  Macquarie are now in Platinum Division and the game was a rematch of the 2019 Grand Final which Southern Power won.

In a very tightly contested and exciting game, this time played at Macquarie’s home ground, resulted in the lead changing twice in the last quarter. It was Macquarie who reversed the result of last year’s Grand Final, winning by 4 points 5-7 (37) to 4-9 (33).

– Umpiring

1972 Umpires at Training, Erskineville Oval

Each time I watch the AFL on TV it amazes me how quick the reactions are by umpires when they detect a free kick etc.

I guess its the same with all sports but Australian Football umpires are right on the spot, and in the big games, there are three of them!

Of course, like players, the game hasn’t always been particularly kind to umpires over the years but in more recent times umpiring as a discipline has become more professional and their role much more appreciated.

In 1973 Rod Humphries was a feature writer for the Sydney Morning Herald and he authored a great piece about umpires and their training.

He began with:
“Any casual observer who happens to look in at Erskineville Oval between 5 o’clock and 7 o’clock on Wednesday nights is likely to make a quick retreat to the Park View (hotel), just across the street.

At one end of the ground a team of deaf and dumb Rugby League players ginger their way through training, while at the other end an assorted bunch of men spend much of their training running BACKWARDS.”

Umpires in Sydney have used many training grounds over the years.  Erskineville Oval, Moore Park, Reg Bartley Oval at Rushcutters Bay, Fraser Park at Sydenham and Trumper Park, just to name a few.

Jack Armstrong playing for NSW as a ruckman

And they have had their share of characters in their number whether it be field, goal, boundary, their coaches and/or officials.  None though, could have been a more controversial character than ‘Black’ Jack Armstrong.

He played first grade in Sydney for over 15 years after he moved with his family from Coolamon in 1943.  Although the family settled in Ashmore Street, Erskineville, a stones throw from Erskineville Oval, Jack couldn’t get a game with the the nearby Newtown Club who were on the verge of a seven consecutive premiership run, so, along with his brother, he signed with the South Sydney club.

Jack spent six years with South before moving back to Newtown.  He was appointed captain-coach of the club in 1953 a position he held for three years.  Then he moved out west and played with the Liverpool club where he was also coach.  In 1960 he moved back to captain and coach Newtown then, in 1961, he gave away playing and began to umpire.

So here was a player who had probably been reported more times than any other Sydney footballer at that time who was now umpiring Sydney first grade.  If you listen to our podcast on the Jack Dean interview, he says that Jack was the hardest and most difficult oppenent he had opposed in his 20 year history.

jack’s umpiring career only lasted five years but during that time he officiated in club, final and interstate matches.  Lke his brother Joe  ten years before, Jack umpired the 1964 Sydney first grade grand final.  Then went back to the South Sydney Club at 44 years of age as captain-coach in 1967.  Of course he was reported again but used as his defence at the tribunal, “insanity”.  He got off.

1957 Jack Armstrong with Liverpool, in the thick of it. Ellis Noack is about to cop it

Humphries went on his article about umpires – and Jack, telling the readers “Jack was umpiring a third grade game before doing first grade and had cause to send the coach, a first grade player off the field for abusing him.”

“We were all in the same dressing room and he had a shot at me.  I told him if I wasn’t an umpire I would do something about it.  He said I didn’t have the guts”

“It was a sweet left hook’ Jack said laughing “and they had to drag him out of the mens’ toilet trough…”

So as you can imagine, he was one hell of an umpire!  and during his time, he knew almost everyone in Sydney football certainly during the 1950s and 60s.

In 1971 a car pinned him up against a brick wall which eventually led to the removal of his leg but he never lost his passion for the game.

– Sunday Football – Not All That Easy

Playing football or any sport for that matter on the weekend is just a given these days, but that wasn’t always the case.

The Commonwealth Arbitration Court gave approval of the 40-hour five-day working week nationally beginning on 1 January 1948.

Prior to this most of Australia’s workers laboured on Saturday Morning which in turn impacted on football:
• Games started later on Saturday afternoons. In Sydney, senior matches commenced at 3:00pm while the reserve grade started at 1:30pm, normally with limited quarters and no time on. Rugby League started their games at 3:15pm and Rugby Union 3:20pm.

• The development of junior football was restricted because of the needs of adults to work on Saturday Mornings. In some areas this led to Sunday Morning football. Most, but not all junior football was left to schools. There was however the Metropolitan Australian National Football Association which was like a Second Division in Sydney, supporting at times, grades as low as Under 16s.

• Many senior games in the country were played of a Sunday but in a number of cases this incurred the wrath of the church and many politicians. Some country councils would not allow any sport at all on Sunday so this then restricted the limits of football competitions, particularly in the country, where time would not permit distant travel to an opposition town to play.

When senior sport attempted to play or apply for use of grounds in Sydney on Sunday in the late 1930s they were met with attitudes like this from the Town Clerk (General Manager) of the Randwick Council: “that Sabbatarianism and muddied oafs is a blend that may not be quaffed on grounds under his council’s control.”

But this wasn’t the stance in all parts of NSW. Sunday games had been played on and off in Broken Hill since the early part of the 20th century but it wasn’t until 1939 that a Sunday Football League was established.

In June 1919 the Temora Rugby League Club presented a petition signed by 600 inhabitants of the town requesting that the resolution to ban the use of the Recreation Ground for football on Sundays be lifted. It was not successful so in September of the same year, Temora chose to play Junee on a private piece of land in the town.

By 1920 Rugby League in Junee area was being regularly played of a Sunday,  but perhaps not in all parts of the Riverina.

By December 1936 Bathurst remained the only town in the Central West where Sunday football was not sanctioned however by 1937 ‘the extension of Sunday football in country areas ’had pretty much crept throughout the rugby league community.

The South West District (Australian) Football League in the Riverina was reformed just before WWII and they began to play of a Sunday, which proved exceptionally popular. The league was comprised of clubs moving from other competitions.

With Sydney though it would appear the matter was a very vexed question when the Australian Football body considered playing games on a Sunday in early 1938.

Newtown FC secretary, Les Blackmore said “Sunday football has never been officially discussed by our club and until it comes before my committee, nobody can assert that we are ln favour of the proposal. There might have been some unofficial talks on the subject, and, from what I can gather, opinions are about equally divided. Personally, I am against, the Idea.”

Why did Sydney football administrators consider moving to Sunday?

Ostensibly they said it was because of a lack of three grounds where an entry fee could be charged. So one way or the other, it was all about money.

At the adjourned 1938 annual meeting of the New South Wales Australian National Football League, Mr. J. McKeown, president of the Sydney club, moved a motion that the competition matches should be divided, two games to be played on Saturdays and one game on the Sunday. It was resolved to refer a decision to the individual clubs for an expression of opinion.

Mr. McKeown said that, “for many reasons, Saturday football was not revenue producing, and the trend now was wholly in favour of Sunday football. Owing to the Housing Board having taken charge of Erskineville Park, the approaches were in such a bad state that people would not visit the oval, and if Erskineville Oval could not pay, as it had always done, for the other grounds, the results at the end of the season would not be as good as they had been in the past.”

[Note: This was when the old Erskineville Oval was being demolished and moved to its present location.  The ground in this year was playable but the venue was not attractive.]

Bruce O’Grady, the Sydney Club secretary said “Erskineville Oval gets a big crowd on Saturday, because the best game is staged there. Trumper Park is not as good while Kensington Oval is useless, we are lucky if we get 50 shillings at Kensington but if we can get £50 out of the ‘gate’ on a Sunday at Trumper we will be satisfied.”

In what can only be described as a weak move, instead of making the decision themselves, the N.S.W. Australian National Football League decided to ask the clubs to ascertain the views of players and to report back to the League by April 4, 1938.

At a subsequent meeting of the N.S.W. National Football League the introduction of Sunday football in Sydney was soundly defeated by an overwhelming majority .  Strangely, the decision followed a vote by the players, of whom 73 were against and 29 in favour. The South Sydney Club was the only club to support the scheme. Following this vote, the chairman, Mr. W. H. Fitt, said that “it would have been impossible to carry out the idea, owing the lack of grounds. ”We canvassed all councils for a ground without success.”

By 1943 however it was all different. The League president, Mr N P Joseph announced that “with the admission of an R.A.A.F. team into the competition, (virtually replacing North Shore FC which withdrew during WWII) it would be necessary to play one match each Sunday. A shortage of playing area would not allow of three games being played on Saturday.”  And so we ask, “What changed?”

And boy did it improve the gate takings.

Of course there is more to the story which we shall go into in a later story. Below is the graph of gate takings at Sydney football between 1930-60.

Daily Advertiser, Wagga Wagga
Barrier Miner, Broken Hill
Sydney Morning Herald 16 March 1943 p.7
Sydney Morning Herald, 23 March 1938, p.21
Sun, Sydney, 23 March 1938, p.21
Sun, Sydney, 24 March 1938, p.47
Truth, Sydney, 27 March 1938, p. 7
Cootamundra Herald, 6 April 1938, p.2
NSWANFL 1938 & 1943 Annual Reports

– 1929 And the Football Scene in Sydney

Australian Rules Title1929 Rolled around just like another season in Australian Football in Sydney but there were a few changes and surprises.

St George was admitted to the first grade competition and this was despite two clubs voting against their admission.  The previous year they had participated in the reserve grade and a few years previous also had one or two seasons in the seconds.  Their driving force was their president a Rockdale bank manager, Andrew Glass.

The League secured a six year lease of Erskineville Oval at £500 per annum ($37,628 in today’s money).  In the agreement, £100 had to be spent on improvements each year during that period to the oval.

Because the Rugby Union pushed the bid, the league had to pay £200 for the use of Trumper Park in 1929, and extra £40 more than in the previous year.

A new ground was introduced to the League in Kensington Oval.  This was built over a sandy waste through which a stream led from the ponds in Centennial Park to the Botany Swamps (funny how the name of the water repositories change as the standing of the suburb then was much lower in the pecking order).  The controlling body paid £60 pounds to Randwick Council for its use.  St Lukes Oval, Burwood and North Sydney Oval were two which were also used in the competition that year.

Alexandria Park and Marrickville Oval though, were both lost to Rugby League.

The League continued with the same admission fee to the grounds at one shilling to the outer and one and six pence to the grandstand ($3.76 & $5.64 today).  They also sold season tickets which purchasers could buy at twelve shillings and sixpence ($47.00 today).

Only after one year at the helm, S H Donnelly stood down as League president with the position going to solicitor and WWI veteran, Aub Provan, formerly a player with the Newtown Club.  H Gordon Harris, another Tasmanian, replaced L W Percy as League secretary.

The season was opened with a two team interstate Railways Carnival, South Australia and New South Wales.  Their solitary game was won by the latter.

– 1938 – A Year to Remember
in Sydney Football

St George – in yellow & black, v South Sydney
in 1938

A number of interesting events occurred in 1938.

Because of a good financial season in 1937, the league voted ten pounds ($860.00 in today’s money) to each of the six Sydney clubs before the commencement of the competition.

A Team At Wollongong?
Early in the year, the Metropolitan Aust National Football Association (second division) refused an application by a group from Wollongong to compete in the second division competition citing the lack of a home ground.  The applicants were encouraged to form a local competition rather than enter one team in the Sydney League.  Nothing came of it.

Sunday football was a big talking point in the league and in fact in all codes of football.  For the Australian Game the decided lack of grounds where a gate could be charged was the issue.

Basically there were six first grade clubs and two grounds where the league could control the attendance gate:  Erskineville Oval and Trumper Park.  They wanted an additional ground or alternatively to use one of the Saturday grounds again on a Sunday.

Kensington Oval at Kingsford was the third alternative but only honest people paid so the league was flat out earning fifteen shillings a game.

Traditionalists in the league however soundly defeated the Sunday proposal but it was only a matter of time before Sunday games successfully became part of the league’s calendar.

North Sydney Oval
After a lapse of  ten years, North Shore again played on the small North Sydney Oval,  a ground noted for its particularly hard surface.  There, an estimated crowd of 4,000 witnessed South Sydney defeat North 14-15 to 9-11.  The first semi-final again between North Shore and South Sydney was played there on September 3.

Jubilee Oval, Kogarah
In another first, St George played their first match on Jubilee Oval, Kogarah, now home to St George Rugby League Club on Monday 13 June also before of 4,000 spectators.  Here too a semi-final was played on 3 September ironically between the same teams participated in that initial game:  St George and Newtown.

These were the first occasions, certainly in more recent years, that any finals match was played away from the then league headquarters of Erskineville Oval.

In a very controversial incident at Kensington Oval, central umpire Bill Hunkin reported two players AND the timekeepers in the game between South Sydney and St George on 2 July.

It was alleged that the timekeepers failed to record time-on whilst the umpire attended to a fight and in the meantime rang the bell for full time just as a South Sydney player kicked for goal.  The goal, which would have won the game for Souths was disallowed.

A subsequent hearing found the timekeepers had erred, they had stopped the game 1 minute early, the goal was allowed and the game was awarded to South Sydney.

In the same year South Sydney altered their jumper design from a green jumper with a very wide horizontal bar across the centre to one of green with a red V.

Four time Phelan Medalist, Jack Williamson, registered 100 games for the Eastern Suburbs Club in early May.  He was reported in 1938 for abusive language but must have beat the charge because he won his fourth Phelan in that year.

Police Intervention
In late August a local police inspector pulled the captains of Newtown and South Sydney Clubs, as well as the umpires aside before the commencement of their game at Erskineville Oval warning them against any repeat of the violent play that dominated the last time they met.  He warned them and the umpires that if a repetition of the previous week’s violent play between the two occurred again the police would enter the ground and arrest any offender.  He said “if the league official (umpire) did not intend to stop that sort of play, the police would.”

There were a few occasions when players lost their tempers but no reports.

During the latter part of the season NSW were defeated by East Fremantle on the RAS Showground in front of a crowd of 6,000 while the state team performed poorly at the National Amateur Football Carnival in Launceston where they were defeated by South Australia and Victoria.  They managed a win in the last game against Canberra.

An interstate Railways Carnival was played on Erskineville Oval.  NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania competed.  The interstate teams arrived in Sydney by train as did the country representatives in the NSW team.  The carnival was won by Victoria.

– Erskineville Oval – from the Old to the New

Jim Phelan, Newtown Official and NSWFL Secretary 1915-22
Jim Phelan Newtown Official and NSWFL Secretary 1915-22

In the latter part of his 79 years, Jim Phelan, largely regarded as the father of football in NSW, wrote articles for the local press and more particularly for the Sydney Football Record.

As far as the Record Editor was concerned, these were good to use as ‘fillers’;  something to fill a space when the normal correspondent had not submitted his literary obligation.

But to the reader all these years later, they provide a more personal explanation of what and when things took place in football.  Phelan quite often wrote about the old times in Sydney and while his passing years may have clouded his memory somewhat the essence of the facts were still there.

1933 Erskineville Oval
Players on the old ground.
You can see the trees from McDonald Park in the background

Hereunder is an article written by him not long before his death in 1939.  It talks about the reconstruction of the now not used Erskineville Oval, the scene of many great games and grand finals over the years.  The original ground, very much smaller than the present oval, ran east-west and was located more well to the west of the present ground.  In fact it took up an area where the public housing flats are now located in a section of land between Copeland and Ashmore Streets known as McDonaldtown Park and ran from Binning Street through to Mitchell Road.

In the reconstruction of the ground was very much under the eye of Phelan, who lived in the adjacent Binning Street and was an alderman on the then Erskineville Council.  A number of adjoined tenement houses in Swanson Street were demolished and new streets in Elliott and Fox Avenues were constructed together with quite a number of public housing units or flats.

The new ground was then built in a north-south profile as it now appears however because of its size the end boundaries were quite close the the adjacent streets.

The Alexandria-Erskineville Bowling Club was not built until 1956.

1890 Erskineville Oval 2 thumbnail
1890 Erskineville Oval (McDonaldtown Park)

2016 map Erskineville Oval thumbnail
2016 map
Erskineville Oval

Here is what Phelan wrote and remember it was written in 1939:

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 night 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 University of NSW), 1911, 1912 and 1913, Australian Football Ground, Alexandria; 1910, 1914, 1919 and from thence on, Erskineville Oval.

The 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 arouse, 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.

With the changing nature of the area, the Newtown Club has been ressurected, albeit in a junior club, and a very successful one too, which plays out of Sydney Park, the old brick pit at St Peters.

It is interesting to note in the current day map, the change of the name of the Kurrajong Hotel to the Swanson Hotel.

– N.S.W. Made Mincemeat of Famous St Kilda

1945 NSW Team v St KildaNSW made mincemeat of Famous St Kilda.  Well thats what the news headlines said following the game.

In September 1945, the Second World War had just about finished and while residents of Sydney as well as the interstate servicemen based there had their footy needs well met during the conflict through some top line players who were participating in the competition, officials saw a need for an interstate fixture;  one with perhaps a touch of glamour and competitiveness that could attract a crowd and a gate ($$).

The NSW Football League had received invitations from both Queensland and Canberra Leagues to visit that year but they declined both because, they said “of travel and accommodation difficulties” but more particularly because such matches were “a bit premature.”

In the preceding two weeks, 54,000 and 46,000 people had witnessed the two VFL semi-final matches in Melbourne so there was a sense of a nation beginning to return to football normality.

Subsequently, late in the season the NSWAFL tendered an invitation to the St Kilda Football Club to visit Sydney and play a series of games.  They accepted and in fact extended their visit to a 10 day stay beginning September 14.  On the same weekend as their match against NSW, Hawthorn played a game in Albury.  So maybe more than two VFL clubs participated in exhibition matches away from their home base?

During their stay St Kilda club officials estimated that their party would spend £1,500 ($103,000 today) which included £358 in accommodation and £370 in travel.  They considered the remainder would just be spent in other areas by those in the contingent.

Of all the VFL clubs who had played in Sydney since 1881, St Kilda was not one so this visit would be a first – and last.  In 1945 the Saints finished at the bottom of the twelve team competition.

Their schedule in Sydney included three games; two against NSW and a midweek fixture against a Combined Services outfit.

The first was against NSW then the game against a NSW Services Team (combined military personnel) both of which were played at Erskineville Oval.  Unfortunately the NSW League could not secure a ground for their second of their two match (or third St Kilda game) contest. We imagine the reasons being, 1) because the period was a ground changeover to summer sport, and 2) perhaps the military still occupied many of the city and suburban grounds.

League officials went to extraordinary lengths to hire a ground for this game.  They even tried to procure Cumberland Oval at Parramatta but the attempt failed.  It is interesting to note that Parramatta in the days of WWII could almost be classified as ‘country’ with no Australian football at all played in the area.  Other grounds that were tried included Henson Park as well as Marrickville and Lidcombe Ovals.

Nevertheless and as a fine gesture, the St Kilda club donated 70% of the £163 net gate from their only NSW match to the League.

In a strange twist of fate, St Kilda included the 24 year old energetic Sam Loxton in their team.  Loxton was recruited by the Saints in 1942 and played with them up until 1945 when following his promotion to the rank of sergeant in the Australian Army, he was transferred to Sydney.  There, he was immediately appointed captain of the Eastern Suburbs Club.  During the season however when on leave in Melbourne, Loxton played in the round 11 clash against North Melbourne much to the delight of their fans.

The ‘Serviceman’s Rule’ of the time permitted those in the military to turnout with their parent club if they be registered in another state, circumstances muchSam Loxton akin to Loxton’s.

Strangely this talented footballer/cricketer was ‘dropped’ from the NSW team a week out from the game then immediately selected at full forward for St Kilda.  A fact not lost on the media.   Sam failed to kick a goal in the game although as an aside, he won the NSWAFL leading goalkicking award for 1945 booting 71 goals.

Loxton went on to play cricket for Victoria and later Australia.  He was also a member of Don Bradman’s ‘Invincibles’ that toured England in 1948.

St Kilda also a boasted a former local in their lineup in Reg Garvin.  A past Newtown player and ex-junior who was recruited by the Saints in 1937.  Garvin captained and coached St Kilda for two seasons during his 1937-46 career with the club.

Also in the Saints lineup was Billy Wells who tragically injured his spine when a troop train he was on was attacked in Egypt in 1941.  Doctors said he would never walk again and yet amazingly when he to Australia he again took up with North Melbourne and then onto St Kilda for the 1944-45 seasons.

Action in the NSW v St Kilda match Two of the bigger St Kilda players were vice captain Sid Snell and Col Williamson, both members of the Victorian Police Force.  Snell had represented Victoria on two occasions and also excelled as a sprinter, winning the Maryborough Gift in 1938.

Williamson played 165 games for the Saints in a ten year career, coaching them in 1952-53.

The day of the match contained boisterous weather and conditions that mitigated against a good display of football and yet it was said 8,000 attended the game.  Fifty three year old local umpire, Bill Hunkin, had control.

Reg GarvinThe match didn’t start well for St Kilda.  They were down by 22 points at the first change and it wasn’t until the second term that saw them produce a more competitive effort allowing them to take the lead at half time by the narrowest of margins.

In the third term it was all NSW.  They booted 4-6 to the Saints nil.  Although assisted by a stiff breeze in the final quarter, St Kilda again made no impression on the scoreboard.  They were beaten 10-18 (78) to 4-24 (48), with many of their behinds being kicked only metres from the line.

The NSW team was made up mostly of service personnel, many of whom only came together on the morning of the match; they played strong hard football.  All in the team participated for their respective Sydney clubs with a number however based at distant camps so attending training was out of the question.

St Kilda’s team too contained several servicemen all of whom were members of their club.  It is likely that several of these were more than likely stationed in Sydney or surrounds at the time of the game.  They included: Eric Comeford, Geoff Driver, Terry O’Brien, Bill Phillips and Bob Wilkie.

Given that these players along with Loxton PLUS their seconds coach, Jack Brenchley who at 34 had the role of coach of the team during their NSW tour, all played for St Kilda in this game certainly questions of the depth of the team.

The subsequent midweek fixture against Combined Services saw a closer 7-17 (59) to 7-10 (59) win to the Saints with captain for the match, Reg Garvin getting them in front minutes before the end with a 40 metre drop kick goal.  Then another by Bob Wilkie seconds before the end of the game sealed the victory.

At this stage the only NSW players we have been able to identify are:

Stan W Taylor  – capt (South Sydney – Norwood)

Jim Cracknell (Sydney Naval)

Reg Parker (Newtown)

Ray Jones (Sydney Naval)

Adrian Dullard (St George – Melbourne)

Evan Rees (South Sydney – Footscray)

Jack Thompson (RAAF)

Basil O’Halloran (St George)

J. Martin (RAAF)

Joe Hughes (Newtown)










Smart or Dumb?

1949 - Mal Dean ES (No. 13) v North Shore at Henson. George Brack (NS) on right smallerRound 10 in 1937 Sydney football was played on Saturday 19 June and it poured during and prior to the match.  So much so that a number of sports were cancelled.

There were three grounds used by the league then and it was said on the day that (the old) Erskineville Oval, “apart from one or two small patches of water, was in playable order to the half time interval where South Sydney defeated St George.  At Trumper Park, where conditions were pretty bad, North Shore scooted home over Eastern Suburbs while in the remaining match at Kensington Oval (Kingsford), the Sydney and Newtown clubs adopted a very unusual method of determining the winner.

Prior to the commencement of the senior game, representatives from both clubs, via the ground manager, had the phone wires fusing with demands to league officials that the game be abandoned because of  the state of the playing area which was waterlogged.  The ground was flooded with up to 30-40ml of water across the Randwick half of the arena.  Undoubtedly it was, but apparently not to the same extent as Erskineville and Trumper Park, both of which, due to their physical configuration, were much more adversely affected by such weather.

League officials were firm in their ruling that the game must be played and in accordance with the rules. Faced with this decision the clubs concerned put their heads together and evolved a scheme they considered could circumvent the constitution of the league plus profit and minus risk to themselves.

So when the first grade field umpire, Tom King, took the ground, one player from each of the reserve grade sides accompanied him (the reserve grade match was played  with Newtown 6-2 (38) defeating Sydney 3-2 (20).  After each player had kicked two goals and one behind apiece, they solemnly walked off and declared it a day, and the game a draw after five minutes play. Now how each managed to kick the ball into play and who took possession of it following the behind is anybodys’ guess.

This act was in total defiance and disregard of the rule which definitely set out that a game shall consist of four quarters, each of twenty-five minutes duration. If they had been granted the privilege of a draw, it would mean that each defaulting club, and defaulters they undoubtedly were, would gain two points on the premiership table by the adoption of tactics more deserving of censure than commendation. While the clubs that went down In the other games, both by the narrowest of margins, after fulfilling their obligations to the League and the public under conditions that were of the worst, automatically forfeit four points. Could anything, apart from the flouting of the rules, be more farcical?  As regards the games that were played, well, to misquote Kipling, if mud be the price of admiralty, the six dozen soused, sodden and spattered stalwarts who prayed for five o’clock and hot showers may rightfully count themselves admirals all.

Both clubs maintained that the match was a draw and that each were entitled to competition points.  But the league’s administration failed to see it that way.  The rules today though would not allow such a situation to take place.

The Monday Night following the game the league maintained that each club broke all of the laws of the game which said, “games shall be played in wet or fine weather.”

Both were denied any competition points and each were fined two pounds ($175.00 in today’s money).  Also, club officials were severely censured by the league and this was even after the their delegates had argued that the ground was totally unfit for play and the game should be replayed.  It was not.

At the end of the season, two or four points to each club mattered not.  Newtown was in third position on 42 points, eighteen behind St George in second place and Sydney finished in fourth position, on 36 points.

Footy in the Depression

As the depression bit in the 1930s it had a defined impact on football in NSW.

Affiliation fees were reduced as were admission prices to grounds.

Sydneysiders were used to top class interstate teams and club sides coming to their town to play against a local representative outfit.  This was mostly used as a fillip for the game where promotion meant so much not only for its advancement in Sydney but also to its very existence.

The games attracted reasonable crowds which kept the turnstiles clicking. On a number of occasions, any profit after expenses, were left with the NSW Football League.

It is interesting to see the effect of the depression had on football in this table:

















































*The VFL paid the entire expenses of the NSW team’s visit to Melbourne and allowed the NSWAFL to retain the entire gate receipts from the return match in Sydney.  This helped in the investment of  £125 for improvements at Erskineville Oval.  In the following year the league wrote off £100 which had been put aside for more work on the ground.

** This was after a £150 loan repayment to the VFL.

# Sydney hosted a national carnival at the SCG over 10 days.

In at least two of the seasons mentioned two respective  VFL clubs visited Sydney to play exhibition games.  After expenses were deducted the balance was left with the NSWAFL.

In the early 1920s one league treasurer bemoaned the fact that the league spent money it did not have, in anticipation of a good finals series or a representative game/s that would carry them through.  In those days the league operated and took the gate takings at club games which became the major source of income for the association for a number of years.

Regardless of finances, the game always went on, matches were always played.  In numerous seasons the league made a loss which can only be blamed on poor decision making.

In several of the 1920s seasons the league only got through with a loan from the VFL.  In late 1929 the league received a £200 ($15,000 in today’s money) bill from the Erskineville Park Trust – a substantial amount which it could not pay until the following April when Australian Football Council forwarded them some funds.

It makes you wonder where the game could be in Sydney had the right decision been made.

NSW v Melbourne FC

Ever s1923-07-31 Sydney Sportsman p.1 A thumbnailince football was played in NSW, a highlight of the season has been the visitation of an interstate team.

Before the establishment of the VFL in 1897 they came from the VFA and South Australia, then after the resurrection of the game in Sydney in 1903 visiting teams came thick and fast:  Geelong, South Melbourne, Williamstown, Carlton, Fitzroy, Collingwood, North Adelaide, Norwood and the list goes on and on.

You can view what teams did visit and how they performed up to 1930 by clicking here and search under ‘Advanced Search’.

On most occasions the visitors left the gate with the NSW Football League to further enhance the game in Sydney.  But, the league battled.  There was never any real foresight, planning and strategies put in place to develop and grow the game in the early days.  They merely survived from year to year.

One club that did visit Sydney on four occasions was the Melbourne Football Club.

They played NSW or a Combined Sydney side on four separate occasions, winning one and losing three, but two of those were within a very close margin.

The game they crowed about was the win in 1911.  NSW won the game 14-12 (96) to 10-14 (74) and didn’t the local press pump up the win.  One headline read: Victors a Trifle Superior All Round, and Home Team Wins Brilliantly but the best read: NSW Whips Melbourne.  Were victories against these interstate teams all that rare – The Answer: Yes.