Sir Douglas Ralph Nicholls KCVO MBE OBE by Rod Gillett

Doug Nicholls
as a young man

The search for the Greatest NSW Team unearthed a most distinguished Australian, Sir Doug Nicholls.

Sir Doug was born on 9 December 1906 and raised on the Cummeragunja aboriginal mission on the NSW side of the Murray River, near Echuca.

He began working life as a tar boy on the sheep stations in southern NSW. After moving to Melbourne to play football he became a council worker, boxer in Jimmy Sharman’s travelling boxing show, professional foot-runner, pastor, advocate for aboriginal advancement, and finally, Governor of South Australia (1976-77).

He was knighted in 1972 for “distinguished service to the advancement of aboriginal people. He had earlier been awarded an MBE (1957) and an OBE (1968). He was awarded the high honour of KCVO (Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order) by the Queen in Adelaide in 1977.

However, it was on the Cummeragunja mission oval that he learnt to play football according to Roy Hay, the author of the recently released ground-breaking book, Aboriginal People and Australian Football in the Nineteenth Century (2019).

Nicholls played his early football with the Cummeragunja mission team in the Western and Moira Riding district league based around Nathalia that was the forerunner to the Picola Football League. We are still trying to establish if he was member of the team that won the 1921 premiership.

In 1925 he joined nearby Tongala then playing in the Goulburn Valley Football League where he linked up with his brother Herbert, better known as “Dowie” (Great Goals: Goulburn Valley Football league 1894-1994).

Nicholls went to Melbourne in 1927 to try out for VFL club Carlton and played some reserve grade games. He famously left Carlton after a trainer refused to rub him down after training because of his skin colour according to his biographer Mavis Thorpe Clark, author of Pastor Doug: An Aboriginal Leader (1965).

He subsequently joined Northcote in the Victorian Football Association (VFA) where he became a regular member of the team. According to the AFL Record (27-29 May 2016), he starred in the 1929 win as well as the losing grand finals in 1930-31. He won the club’s best and fairest award in 1929-1930 and finished third in the Recorder Cup for the best and fairest in the VFA.

The Sporting Globe reported in 1929 that ‘he flashes through packs of big men, whisks around small men . . . and attempts marks at the back of any six-footer’. Nicholls was 5 ft 2 inches (158 cm) tall, but muscular and lightning fast. He was also a professional runner and won the Nyah and Warracknabeal Gifts in 1929

A further highlight of his VFA career was representing the Association in interstate matches in 1931 against NSW at the SCG and against the VFL at the MCG.

Doug Nicholls
Fitzroy Footballer

In a preview of the NSW v VFA match, The Sydney Morning Herald (15 August 1931) rated Nicholls as one of the main attractions, “He is a beautiful pass and high mark. Is very plucky, and revels in crushes, out of which he bounces like a rubber ball”. The VFA won 16.11.107 to NSW 13.17.95.

In 1932, Nicholls joined Fitzroy in the VFL and played alongside the great Hadyn Bunton, originally from Albury who was selected as first rover in the NSW Greatest Team. Bunton befriended Nicholls at Fitzroy and made him feel welcome, according to Mavis Thorpe Clark.

After Bunton was killed in a road accident in 1955, Pastor Doug officiated at his memorial service in Adelaide.

Nicholls played 54 games and kicked two goals for Fitzroy in the period 1932-36. He finished third in the club best and fairest in 1934 behind Hadyn Bunton (Brownlow medallist 1931-32 & 1935 ) and Wilfred “Chicken” Smallhorn (who won the Brownlow medal in 1933).

In 1934 he became the first aboriginal player to represent the VFL when they played the VFA. The following season he was selected for the tour to play against Western Australia and South Australia. He played in both Victoria’s wins over WA but missed the match against the SANFL due to injury.

Nicholls returned to Northcote in 1937 but ongoing knee injuries forced him to retire in 1939.

However, he did return to home to Cummeragunja for one last game in 1940 for a fund-raising game against Echuca at the Victoria Park Oval in Echuca.

Nicholls also returned to Northcote as non-playing coach in 1947. He is believed to be the first aboriginal person to coach a senior football club. Another example of him pushing the boundaries for his people.

Sir Doug expressed his passion for the game of football in an article in the Sporting Globe (1 June 1935):

“I get a tremendous kick out of football, because I know my people in New South Wales follow my doings and play closely by wireless and in the newspapers. This always spurs me on, and gives me added confidence”.

Shepparton Street Art
a fitting tribute

The ultimate football tribute for Sir Doug Nicholls has been the naming of the AFL’s Indigenous Round in his honour.

– Player Clearance Refused to VFL Club

It doesn’t happen now, players with talent are immediately absorbed into an AFL club with the blessing of their parent club.

In the old days however certainly Sydney, and I imagine country clubs, were very reluctant to let their players go.

1921 NSW State Schools Team – Fred is front row on the right

Such was the situation with Freddie Davies.  A product of Double Bay School and later the Eastern Suburbs Club, Fred was bathed in talent.  He represented NSW Schoolboys in 1921 and again in Brisbane in 1922 as captain.  He later captained the NSW state team at the age of 23 against the VFL at the SCG.

Prior to this Fred represented the state in the 1927 National All-States Carnival and was beseiged by VFL clubs for his signature.

In those days local clubs and state bodies frowned on such action and went to great lengths to discredit the Melbourne clubs.

In early 1928 when North Melbourne attempted to secure his clearance they were exposed when it was reported that:
“It was a big offer (£4/10/ a week to play football) and a job in the bargain for Davies to turn down. He did not know what the other players had been offered. Mr. Thomas, (said Mr. Smith) explained the whole position and there was not the slightest possible doubt that negotiations with the three players had reached an advanced stage when Mr. Thomas called on me. THE THREE PLAYERS. Fred Davies was the best all-round player in the League last season. Twenty years of age, he weighs 11st. and is 5ft 11 in. With his exceptional capacity for ‘mixing it’ in any company, Davies would he sure to succeed in Melbourne League football. He moves into position well, and, in addition to handling the ball ably, is a fine kick and marksman. He is a product of the Double Bay School. When several Victorian critics endeavoured to select an Australian team after tbe recent Carnival games in Melbourne, Davies was the only New South Wales player to receive popular recognition.” [1}

Then, on the same day, the Sydney Sun reported on a letter sent to North Melbourne from the Secretary of Davies’s Eastern Suburbs club:

SYDNEY FOOTBALLER

CLEARANCE REFUSED FOR VICTORIAN CLUB MELBOURNE, Wednesday.

The Eastern Suburbs Australian Rules Football Club, Sydney, has refused a clearance to the North Melbourne Club of F. Davies.   Alrc McWhinney, secretary of the club, explains the position in the following letter to Stan Thomas, secretary of the North Melbourne Club: — “Your committee and yourself cannot realise the strenuous fight that we in Sydney have had in the past to foster the good old Australian game. If, when we are making steady progress, we have to lose players of the type of F. Davles (by trafficking), then we in Sydney will have to close up business and go back to Rugby. “It is only on very rare occasions that we get a local, player like Davles; who is not only a draw for our club, but a big draw for our game In general and while we can produce his class of player the game is going to make rapid strides in Sydney. Therefore my committee appeals to your club to refrain from encouraging players from Sydney when you have so many to choose from In Victoria.” [2]

1934 image of the Fitzroy Team. Freddie Davies is highlighted. The mercurial Hayden Bunton is on his right

Now today there would be hell to pay if a club took this action but it kept ‘Snowy’ Davies in Sydney until 1930 when he took the field for Fitzroy.  During that time Easts were runners  up in 1928 but failed to make the four in 1929.

Fitzroy were a strong club in those days while North, who hadonly been admitted to the League in 1924, struggled.

Davies went on to play from 1930-34 for Fitzroy and captained the side in his final year.  Upon his return to Sydney he played for St George, firstly under Ted Shields, then Bub Phelan and finally under former Footscray player, Jack Hayes.  He was appointed captain and coach of the club in 1938 when they won their second consecutive premiership.  Fred was 32.

The only other player we know of who had problems gaining a clearance was Mark McClure when he was recruited by Carlton from East Sydney (same club).  Easts officials delayed the clearance in the hope of a securing substantial ‘transfer fee’ only to have the Carlton Secretary tell them ” …. if you don’t clear him we will sign someone else and he can stay in Sydney.” (or words to that effect) [3]  The clearance was quickly despatched to Melbourne after the matter went before a special meeting of the NSWAFL administration on June 21, just before the clearance cutoff date. [4]   McClure went on to play 243 games over eleven seasons with Carlton and was captain of the club in 1986.

[1]  Referee  Wednesday 15 February 1928 p 13 Article
[2]  Sun  Wednesday 15 February 1928, page 7
[3]  Anecdotal – club official
[4]  Sydney Sun 23 June 1973

– 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

– 1888 Northern Districts Football Association

1891.10.01 - Illustrated Australian NewsThe following is an excerpt from the 12 April 1890 Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners Advocate.

Its a bit of a long read, but interesting read and it is fascinating to note the perceived strength of the game in and around Newcastle and the detail to which the newspaper goes to record the Association’s annual meeting.  You have to ask yourself, “what happened to the next 110 years?”

NORTHERN FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION
The second annual meeting of the above Association was held last night at the Centennial Hotel, there being present representatives from all the Northern clubs. Mr. William Jenkins, vice-president of the Association, occupied the chair, and having – declared the meeting open, Mr. H. Williiams, the secretary read, the report for the past year, which was as follows:”

Northern District Football Association
(Australian Rules).
SECOND ANNUAL REPORT
“In presenting their second annual report, your committee have every reason to congratulate all footballers on the success which has attended the efforts of the Association in promoting the Australian game of football in the Northern district. The game being first started in the north by the formation of the Northumberland Club at Maitland five years ago, has rapidly spread all over the district, no less than seven new clubs having joined the Association last season there being now 14 subscribing clubs on the roll.

“The balance-sheet shows a small deficit, but your committee think, considering the very heavy undertakings of last season, that they may well congratulate themselves on the financial state of the Association.

“Early last season arrangements were made with the Fitzroy team, of Melbourne, to visit the Northern district to play a series of matches. The first match, played at Wallsend on the 24th May, was won by the Victorians by 10 goals 15 behinds to 5 goals 5 behinds (although behinds were shown in the score they were not counted). This game was witnessed by 8000 people.

The Wallsend representatives played up splendidly towards the finish, and considerable excitement and enthusiasm prevailed. The second match, played at Maitland, also resulted in a win for the Fitzroys. The Maitland men had the lead up to three-quarter time, the score then being Maitland three goals, Fitzroy two. On the following Tuesday a match was played against a team of Maitland juniors, and on the Thursday against the Newcastle District clubs; both matches resulting in the defeat of your representatives: The final match of. the tour against the combined Northern District – although resulting in a win for the Victorians, showed that the full strength of the .North is well able to cope with the strongest terms that can be sent here. Some splendid form was exhibited by players on both sides; the excitement amongst the spectators being exhibited by loud bursts of applause. The result of the match was six goals six behinds Fitzroy four goals eight behinds to the Northern District team. (It is interesting to note that two of the Fitzroy players were “deaf and dumb” and the tour of the region cost in the vicinity of £300 ($39,000 in today’s money – ed).

“The annual interprovincial match, played at Newcastle on the 14th July, was won by your representatives. “The match played against the Englishmen at Maitland, on the 14th August, resulted in an easy win for the North by nine goals to three. Footballers may well feel proud of this victory, as we were not represented by the best team in the North on this occasion, several prominent exponents of the game being unable to take part in the match ,through business engagements. In passing, it may be noted that this defeat of the English team by your representatives was equal to the defeat administered to the visitors by the crack Victorian teams; and this, after the experience they had undoubtedly gained at the Australian game during their Victorian and South Australian tour, speaks well for the improvement made by your representatives towards the close of the .season.

R L Seddon
Dick Seddon

“It may also be noted with satisfaction that this defeat of the English team by your representatives was the only victory scored against them in N.S. Wales. “The sad accident which caused the death of Mr. R. L. Seddon, of the English team, was deeply regretted by every one. The kindly expressions of sympathy from fol lowers of all games of football in Australia, ten’ed to show the great popularity of the English captain in whatever part of the colonies he had visited. “The Wallsend Club were the successful competitors for the Black Diamond Cup, kindly presented by the Richmond Tobacco Company, of Newcastle, having gone through the season without sustaining defeat. This cup will be competed for again during the coming season, having to be won twice before becoming the absolute property of any club.

“For the Junior Cup, Our Boys, of West Maitland, were returned the winners, alter a series of most interesting matches. “Your committee would strongly urge upon their successors the advisability of continuing these Junior Cup contests.

“Mr. W. Jenkins, the late secretary of the Wallsend Club, having left the district, your committee cannot let this opportunity pass without expressing the deep regret they feel at his departure. Mr. Jenkins was an enthusiastic supporter of the Australian game, and during his short stay in the district did much to promote the welfare of the Association.

“The Northern Association was represented at the conference held in Melbourne in November last to consider and revise the rules by Mr. W. Marshall, of Sydney.

“During the coming season several important fixtures have already ‘been arranged. The Port Melbourne team (one of the best in Melbourne) will , visit the north on the 29th June and 2nd July. A team will also be sent to Victoria to play a series of four or five matches during July. The first match on the 13th July will be of an intercolonial nature, that day having been set apart for a representative match be tween the players of the two colonies. Satisfactory arrangements have been completed with the Victorian Association, and the Melbourne Cricket Club have most generously decided to hand over the whole of the proceeds from this match to the N.D.F.B.A., to wards defraying the expenses of the trip. Matches have also been arranged with the Fitzroy, St. Kilda, Port Melbourne, and probably Ballarat will be visited during the tour.

“In view of these important fixtures, your committee would impress upon all players the necessity of at once getting into practice, and improve themselves at the game, so that they may be able to cope successfully with the formidable opponents they will be called upon to meet during the coming season, and help to place New South Wales football in the same position that this colony occupies in other branches of sport. To achieve this, a certain amount of training will be necessary by those players who desire to be selected in the representative matches; and after arranging such important fixtures, it is to be hoped one and all will do their utmost, not alone to hold their own, but to score a majority of wins in the matches arranged against players of the other colonies.

“The election of office-bearers for the ensuing season will be held to-night, The following gentlemen held office last season, viz. :– Patron, Mr, J. C. Ellis; presidents, Rev. Canon Tyrrell, Mr. H. Rushton; vice presidents – Messrs. S. Keightley, J. Fletcher junr, John Gillies, W. Jenkins, F. W. Reay, R. F. Watson; hon. treasurer, Mr. John Murrell; hon. secretary, Mr. Harry Williams.” Mr. Murrell, the treasurer, read the balance-sheet, which was as follows :

North Districts Football Association – Financial Statement for 1888

INCOME EXPENDITURE
Particulars Amount £ Particulars Amount £
Balance from 1887 2-19-0
Gates from Fitzroy FC matches 253-15-11 Fitzroy FC tour expenses 253-15-11
Gate – interprovincial match 9-15-9 Interprovincial match expenses 8-4-0
Share interprovincial match with NSWFA 16-0
Gate – Northern Dist FA v Englishmen 39-12-3 Expenses Englishmen’s match 72-12-10
Delegates fees (club affiliation) 13-13-0
Canon Tyrrell donation towards junior cup 5-0-0 Purchase Junior Cup 7-7-0
Donations towards Englishmens’match
Wallsend Club
Newcastle City Club
Merewether Club
3-4-0
3-4-0
1-1-0
Sub total 332-4-11 Treasurer’s expenses (telegrams etc.) 1-6-0
Bank Overdraft 12-14-10 Secretary’s expenses (same) 1-10-0
Interest paid to bank 8-0
TOTAL 344-19-9 344-19-9

Against above debt balance there are promises:of donations towards loss on English team spec. Northumberland Club £3. 4s; Summerhill Club £1 12s; Our Boys Club £1; Hamilton Club £1.6s Total, £6.16. J. MURRELL hon: treas. March 13th, 1889. Audited and found correct, ALBERT ALLEN, JAMES CLAYTON.”

Mr. KEIGHTLEY, in moving the adoption of the above said that the number of clubs subscribing to the club is about thirteen, and that it redounds to the credit of those taking interest in the Association game. The speaker eulogised the great help which Mr. Jenkins had given to the different clubs playing under their rules, He (Mr. Jenkins) was a very enthusiastic member, and had done all in his power to make the game go ahead. Mr. Keightley also passed a few words of praise on Mr. Murrell, of the Newcastle City Club, for the vast interest he had taken in forwarding the interests of the Association. He thought that if all the clubs took the same interest in the game as Mr. Murrell, we would soon be able to beat all comers from other parts.

The Wallsend Club deserved great credit for the way in which they had played during the past season, and they well deserved the cup which they had so nobly won. However, he hoped that during the coming season our Newcastle Club would improve enough to wrest from them the cup which they so deservedly won. After passing a few more remarks, the speaker proposed “That the report and balance-sheet be adopted.” – This was carried unanimously. The election of officers then took place, and resulted as follows: – Patron, Mr. S. Keightley; presidents, Rev. Canon Tyrrell and Mr. H. Rushton; vice-presidents : Messrs. J. Fletcher, junr., R. F. Watson, J. Williams, J. Gillies, H. Berkeley, J. Murrell”

The SECRETARY read a letter from the Port Melbourne Football Club, in regard to their visit to New South Wales. He also read a letter from the agent of the Maori team of footballers, in regard to a visit to the Northern districts. It was decided to leave’ the arrangements in connection with these teams in the hands of the delegates of the Association. Thee SECRETARY announced that Mr. Keightley had promised five guineas towards purchasing a cup for junior matches. Mr. BERKELEY, on behalf of the proprietors of the Newcastle Morning Herald, said he would make up another five guineas, so as to make the cup a 10-guinea one. (Cheers.) It was decided that the title in regard to the cup, should be “The Junior ‘Challenge Cup.” A vote of thanks was passed to Mr. Keightleoy and Mr. Berkeley, for their hand some donations, which both gentlemen suitably acknowledged.

A long discussion ensued as to which clubs are to be styled “Juniors,” and it was eventually decided to leave the matter in the hands of the delegates. A vote of thanks was unanimously passed -to the Melbourne Cricket Club and the Victorian Football Association, for placing their ground at the free disposal of the Northern Football Association for their matches which take place in July.

Mr. WILLIAMS, the secretary, moved a vote of thanks to the press (specially coupled with the name of “Glenco”‘, the sporting representative of the .Newcastle Morning Herald), for the assistance he had rendered the Association, which was carried unanimously. The proceedings then terminated.

The Signing of Davies was Unethical

1926 Fred Davies smallYou have probably never heard of Freddie Davies  …  not many football followers these days have.

But Fred was one of those rare players from NSW (Sydney), who went on to captain a VFL Club, but that was in 1934.  Ironically Davies was not the first Sydneyite to captain his VFL Club, Fitzroy.  Chris Lethbridge from the now defunct, YMCA Club was captain in 1922 and later non-playing coach.

However Fred had an ignominious start to his VFL career.

Born in Sydney he attended Double Bay Public School where the headmaster, Tom Stafford, was a keen (Australian) football supporter and one of few teachers in Sydney who actively promoted the game in and out of school.

Following his schooling the snowy headed Fred was elevated to the ranks of  local senior club, Paddington and by 1925 was a permanent fixture in their first grade.  When the team combined with East Sydney in 1926 he went on to become one of the stars of the new Eastern Suburbs Club and the league.

He represented NSW against the VFL, Richmond and Footscray Clubs in 1925 and twice against the VFL in 1926 so he was no slouch.

Then in the All-States carnival held in Melbourne in 1927 where he again was representing the state, the manager of the NSW team, Leo Percy, made an astounding announcement at a public function.

He told those gathered at a dinner held during the carnival where officials from all of the VFL clubs were present “I want to refer to the despicable action of the officials of one of your League clubs in persuading Davies, one of our best men, to sign an agreement to play with their team next season. I can assure you that I will do my utmost to prevent it”

It was an unfortunate introduction to league football for Davies.  It was also reported that he knocked back a big offer £4/10/, a week ($340 in today’s money and well in excess of the weekly wage) to play football and a job in the bargain in 1928, however it wasn’t until 1930 that he made his entry to Melbourne football in a season where he played the whole 18 games.

Fred ended up playing 63 games for Fitzroy from 1930-34 during a period when they didn’t enjoy the best of success.  He gained the captaincy in his last year by default when the original captain (and coach), Jack Cashman was of the opinion that he did not have the committee’s complete confidence and went off to play with Carlton after only two games.  It was then that the captaincy of the side was thrown in Fred’s lap and he went on to lead the side for the rest of the season, winning his first (against Carlton) and a further five games for the year.

After that the 28 year old pulled up stumps and returned to Sydney where he was appointed captain of the new St George Club and later leading them to a premiership in 1937.

Bob Merrick – Goalkicker

1917 Bob MerrickWe came across some interesting information when researching Sydney goalkickers.

The Sydney 1st grade goalkicking list is far from complete although we are slowly closing the gaps. Next to no records were kept of the goalkickers (or any other players for that fact) until the league went through a minor restructure in 1926.  Then though, the scant record keeping started from that year.

That was when the successful Paddington Club joined together with East Sydney to form Eastern Suburbs to play in the familiar red, white and blue.

Balmain and Railway clubs disappeared and “District” football was reintroduced.

It was almost from then that football achievements were recorded, mainly due to the efforts of long term league secretary, Ken Ferguson.

Bob Merrick was a Port Melbourne Gun. He was small for a full forward at 175cm and sometimes was used in other positions but mainly he kept on the forward line. At 21 he won Port’s leading goalkicking award in 191,  then again in 1914 & 15. His 1915 effort also saw him top the VFA goalkicking list with 43 goals. In July of that year he kicked 10 against Brighton and his form was so good that early in that season, the Carlton Club offered Port Melbourne £50 ($100 or $ today) to “buy him out”. In other words, pay Port Melbourne to transfer Merrick to the Blues.

However in mid July he was on crutches after hospitalisation with an injured knee he received while playing. The injury kept him off the field and presumably out of work for 15 weeks. So much did it effect him that his club were obliged to hold a benefit night and fund for him.

Merrick 1 small Merrick 2 small Merrick 3 small

By December, Merrick was playing cricket so he obviously overcame his disability.

What, I can hear you ask does all this have to do with NSW Football?

Well in May of the next year, Bob Merrick turned out for the East Sydney Club. This in a period that the VFA had gone into recess because of WWI and the lack of man power.

At full forward, Merrick won Sydney Football’s 1917 Leading Goalkicking Award booting 35 majors. In the same year he was married. Merrick also played the 1918 year for East Sydney and again figured prominently in the goals.

In 1919 at aged 27 he transferred to the Fitzroy Club where he went on to play 59 games booting 181 goals. He topped Fitzroy’s goalkicking in 1919, 20 & 22. In round 16, 1919 he booted 12 goals against the Melbourne FC at Brunswick Street.  He missed playing in the Maroon’s 1922 premiership due to his re-occurring knee injury.

Merrick played country football and had one last shot at the VFL in 1926. He then tried his hand at umpiring.

Four Different Birth Dates for this Player

1920 Jim Tarbolton smallDuring our research for players who represented NSW to update our Rep Game Database, we again came across the name Jim Tarbotton. This strange but not unique surname originates from Ayrshire in England, although the subject of this story came from Yorkshire.

We have written about this player before but are intrigued with the mystery that surrounds him.  You will find the following most fascinating.

From the records we have searched, we found four different official years of birth for James and two spellings of his surname: Tarbotton (which is the correct one, and Tarbolton, the choice of some newspapers and those conducting the AFL Tables have selected).  We have been told however that he changed his name to Tarbolton early in his time in Melbourne.

Jim was born in Bradford England and from our deductions, we believe it was in 1900.

Now we have not been able to identify when he came to Australia with father, also James and mother Mary but do have him attending the Gardeners Road Public School at Mascot. It was there he came under the care and direction of the sports master, a well recorded teacher in our writings, Rupert Browne.

Rupert, not a particular follower of the game (but soon became one), trained young Tarbotton in the game and obviously his natural skill brought him to notice.

He probably left school at 14, the normal age of those days which takes us to about 1914. In July 1916 he enlisted, falsifying his mother’s signature on the papers and informing the authorities he was eighteen years and one month. From there he was transferred to the Dubbo Depot for training, but by the middle of October he was on Milson Island, suffering from Gonorrhoea.

Milson Island is on the Hawkesbury River, north of Sydney and at the time the state government used it as a hospital to treat soldiers from the First World War afflicted with venereal disease.

Eventually his mother found out he had signed up by forging her consent signature.  She wrote to the War Office which saw him discharged in December.

In March the following year, Tarbotton, now a resident of Mascot, NSW, re-joined the 1st AIF. He listed his occupation as a driver this time with a birth year as 1896. This still was not correct; he was nevertheless under age but had grown a few centimetres and was a little heavier.

It took just six weeks before he was off to the Middle East where he was posted to the Camel Corps where he worked in the veterinary section.

Alcohol and he did not mix and it got him in trouble a few times. In one incident he was found guilty of ˜violently” assaulting a military policeman from which he received anTarbotton thumbnail appropriate penalty.

Much of his time overseas in the army was spent in hospital. The gonorrhoea was never really cured, he contracted malaria, had an attack of appendicitis, sebaceous cysts and preauricular abscesses.

He returned to Australia in 1919 and was discharged in the October. Tarbotton told friends that he intended to play reserve grade for the Newtown club. However, he subsequently obtained work in the Loco Yard at Everleigh (a part of the NSW Railways repair and maintenance section at Redfern, well prior to it all being moved west to Chullora).

Then, only months later a new club, Railways, was accepted into the 1920 first grade competition in Sydney. Jim Tarbotton joined them.

This rough young rawbone footballer soon came to the attention of state selectors and was chosen in numerous NSW and Sydney representative teams between 1920-22.

There is a discrepancy in the records too for Jim’s size. The AFL Tables tell us he was 185cm & 86kgs, while his army records say whilst on both his enlistment papers, the discharged 1916 one and accepted enlistment that he is 5 foot 8 inches and 132lbs = 173cm & 60kg. A big difference.

Looking at him in a team photograph he was a fair size of a man, definitely taller than 173cm. However a minor reference to him playing cricket in January 1922 exposed the truth when it said: “The selection of Tarbotton is a surprise, he is a left-hander, 22 years of age, and standing 6ft 2in (188cm). ” This suggests perhaps his birth year was 1899.

We read further that in 1923 Jim had transferred from the Railways Club (Sydney) to Fitzroy FC. However a check of the VFL records found no such name. This was not so strange because over the years, a number of players were reported to have transferred to a club in Melbourne and their name did not appear in the club’s list of players. They have his name registered as Tarbolton.

Initially he was in Melbourne playing cricket prior to Christmas 1922 then moved on to football.

It is here that he starts to get referred to as Tarbolton, but not all the time. Sometimes as Tarbotton, other and on lesser occasions, as Tarbolton.

Only once, in 1922, was he referred to in the Sydney newspapers as Tarbolton. An easy mistake.

1923 James H Tarbotton thumbnailJim made his mark in Melbourne football early. In the 1923 preliminary final with Fitzroy and before a crowd of 55,000, a far cry to the 500 who watched him play at Moore Park in Sydney, he was named as one of the best. Then again the following week in the grand final against Essendon he was again named in Fitzroy’s best players:  Tarbotton (written as it is spelt) gave his best display of the season on the back lines. He was a strong, gallant defender.”

Also, he proved no wilting violet in the VFL, standing up for himself on several occasions where he was recorded in rough if not violent play. This led to his being reported at least twice. One was for attempting to strike his opponent, Essendon’s star CHF, Tom Fitzmaurice, a fellow 1921 NSW team mate of Jim’s.

His talent was recognized when he was chosen in the VFL squad for an interstate game around the same period.

Tarbotton went on to play 37 games for Fitzroy until 1926, then leg problems forced him out of the top side. The following year he was appointed coach of the club’s second eighteen. In 1928 he moved out to the Federal District League as coach of the Mentone Club, a role he had for several seasons.

In 1932 he turned his hand to umpiring and officiated in the same league until 1937. In fact, James is recorded as taking the book out to a few players during his time with the whistle, so he played it how he saw it.

But we haven’t finished with Jim. Eight months after the start of WWII he again enlisted in the army, this time with a birth date of 5 May 1901. He reached the rank of Warrant Officer.

Following the war he continued to reside in Melbourne, where he passed away in April 1997, aged 97.

So here is our forgotten Sydney footballer. A player with four birthdates who became a leading player and committed soldier and good all-round bloke.

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.)

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.