1919The 1919 season for football  in NSW was a particularly difficult one.

The war was over in the previous November but the return of servicemen from England and Europe was slow.  Many of these were country based so, unlike when they were posted to Sydney, they did not stay.

Of those footballers who signed up, some did not return, some returned with permanent injuries, some were just not fit to play for one reason or another and the number who did again take up the game were limited.

All this was coupled with the world wide outbreak of Spanish Influenza which killed between 50-100 million people world wide, 10,000 of whom were in Australia.  Because of the country’s relative isolation, the flu didn’t really hit here until 1919 and with no anti-biotics, authorities were virtually powerless to prevent its evolution.

In Sydney there were only five senior clubs in 1919: Paddington, Newtown, Balmain, East Sydney and Sydney with the South Sydney club failing to reappear from the previous year.

A forerunner to the Western Suburbs club of the 1920s, Ashfield Old Boys, who played on Ashfield Park, competed in the reserve grade competition.

At the last minute negotiations to play on the league’s former venue, the Australian Football Ground at Mascot, failed and while they were able to secure some dates for SCG No. 2, a number of games had to be played on the fenceless Moore Park, opposite the Bat & Ball Hotel, which was and still is a venue for the game over the years.  There, when officials remembered, the boundary was marked with small flags.  Rushcutters Bay and Alexandria Oval were also used as venues while Erskineville Oval was the only permanent ground where a gate could be charged.

During the first war period, the VFL had lent the NSW Football League one hundred and fifty pounds, perhaps in an effort to overcome their dire financial position resulting from major problems in 1914.  Early in 1919, the NSWFL repaid seventy five pounds of their debt.

On a brighter side there was a third grade or junior division for players 17 years and under.  This was composed of teams from Paddington, Newtown, Western Suburbs, Ashfield Old Boys and Gardeners Road School.  These teams were charged ten shillings and six pence ($1.05) affiliation fee and required to pay two shilling and six pence (25c) umpire fee per game.

Late in the season there was a complaint by the Gardeners Road team which identified three Newtown juniors as being over age in a finals game.

Mid season the Gardeners Road School had made arrangements to play a game at the new Duntroon College but the match had to be cancelled because of an influenza outbreak at the school.

A number of country associations affiliated with the NSWFL including Bolagamy & Dist, Culcairn & Dist., South Wests Dist Football Assn., Kamarah, Wagga United, Southern Riverina, as well as the Beckom and Barellan football Association.

1919 was the first year Stan Milton made an appearance in Sydney football playing for Paddington.  He went on to kick over 1200 goals in the Stan Miltoncompetition and 150 in representative football.  The Sydney competition’s senior goalkicking award is named after him.

East Sydney travelled to Lithgow, where a team which included some former VFL players, to play a game.  The umpire who travelled with the team complained that his expenses were not paid.  The South West Dist Football Association also asked for Sydney umpires for their finals.  For this they had to pay two pounds each.

An interesting comment came from the league minutes in August 1919 after a club goal umpire had made a decision in an East Sydney v Balmain match which altered the make up of the final four.  An official said following a complaint ” …. the league has done everything possible, short of securing paid appointees, which is an impossibility”

The league put two proposals forward at the Australian National Football Council’s December meeting.  One, that throwing of the ball be permitted and secondly that a cross bar be place between the two goal posts.  Both were rejected.

Another to allow injured players to be replaced up until the end of the second quarter was also not entertained.  Prior to this no player could be replaced on the field and if one was injured and had to leave the field, the team just played short.

Shortly we will be posting NSW Football League minutes for 1919 & 20 on the website, accessible through the Collections Box on the bottom right or the main page.


Some time ago we wrote about a ground in Sydney that was owned by the NSW Australian Football League.

It was situated on the north west corner of Gardeners and Botany Roads and was part of the Cooper Estate. (Daniel Cooper was a wealthy land owner, merchant, philanthropist and politician who owned 566.5 hectares land in the suburbs of Waterloo, Alexandria, Redfern and Rosebery.  This was commonly referred to as the Cooper Estate).

The particular parcel of land was initially sand dunes and swamp and in mid 1894 was leased on which was constructed the first Rosebery Racecourse.  We have very recently obtained an 1885 map of the Alexandria Municipality on right, showing the position of the ground in red outline.

Not too many years later the NSW Gaming Act was amended to proscribe horse racing on any track less than 6 furlongs (1200 metres) and so arrangements were made for the racecourse to be relocated to an area in Gardeners Road, Mascot (now Eastlakes).  The attached tender advertisement refers to the first Rosebery Racecourse.

The former course was used for a variety of activities before being ‘purchased’ by the NSW Australian Football League at a reported price of one hundred and eighty pounds ($360) per acre (one acre = .4046 hectares).  The site would go on to become a very valuable piece of land.

More research has revealed greater details of the property and an initial map of the land but further inquiries are needed firstly at the Lands Department to ascertain an exact map of the ground itself, whose name it was in and its eventual legal fate.

It is recognized that the events of WWI put paid to any committed ownership of the ground by the league and as Jim Phelan (of Phelan Medal fame) wrote in 1938:

On August 4, when all the state teams were assembled at the Australian Football Ground for the purpose of distance contests at the carnival games, the news was flashed by cable that England had declared war against Germany.  Fate had stepped in and dealt a cruel blow.  Had England’s declaration of war been made a few weeks earlier or later, all might have been well as regards the continuity of ownership of the Australian Football Ground by the NSW Football League.

So much for the maligned future and occupation of Australian football in Sydney.

As we gain more information we will post a further report and eventually release a definitive account of the ground itself in an appropriate publication.