YES, WHAT’S IN A NAME?

NSW Football LeagueFootball in NSW or more particularly, Sydney, has undergone scores of changes over the years.  Different name, different administration but in the end, its all just football.  Much like government departments when a new party gets into power or a new bureaucrat takes over, “Change the name, it will produce a better result.

Here the changes over the years:

 

PERIOD

NAME
1880-1994 New South Wales Football Association
1903-25 New South Wales Football League
1926-73 New South Wales Australian National Football League
1974-79 New South Wales Australian Football League
1980-86 NSWAFL (Sydney Football League)
1987-90 NSWAFL (NSW State Football League)
1991-98 NSWAFL (Sydney Football League)
1999- AFL (NSW-ACT)  – AFL Sydney

 

What does it really mean and did these changes produce a better result?

Well when football was resurrected in 1903 after an eight year hiatus, it was a good thing.  Apart from a road bump in 1915 when the game nearly again fell over, the next change was in 1926.  This year brought with it other changes:

East Sydney FC combined with the Paddington FC to form a brand new, Eastern Suburbs Australian Football Club. With the reintroduction of District Football, where the name of a club had to represent an electoral district, the Railway Club disappeared, oddly so too did Balmain.  The North Shore and the Eastern Suburbs Clubs somehow both slid under the radar with this district business.  The north side club changed their name from ˜North Sydney” back to North Shore.  A further change was the introduction of the Western Suburbs Club into the competition.

NSWANFLIn the opinion of officials, adding of the word ˜National” to the the league’s title gave it and the game more of an Australian embracing influence.  So yes, here too, the change in the name did coincide with other changes to the competition.  In response, the attendance figures increased in the 1926 season.

But by now other competitions throughout NSW began to question the value of affiliation with the NSW Body.

These leagues included those in the Riverina, Broken Hill as well as an on-again, off-again competition in Newcastle.  There were no others. The Victorian Country Football League (VCFL) was formed in 1927 and by 1933 all the leagues in the Riverina, led by Digger Carroll, had gone over to the VCFL, leaving the NSWANFL as an almost solitary beacon for Australian football within the state.

Really, the NSWANFL could offer very little to other leagues.  Unlike the major associations in the rest of Australia and certainly footballing centres in country Victoria and southern NSW, attendances in Sydney, by comparison were very meagre resulting in little money coming into the system.  Just as importantly the NSWANFL were saddled with a poor profile which in turn did not attract skilled and solid leadership.

So, incorporated in  all the responsibilities of a state sporting body, the same group had to conduct a football competition in Sydney on a shoestring budget, all run by volunteers.

NSWAFLThrough to 1974 then without any fanfare, the word ˜National”  was removed from the title .  There was no significant changes to the competition, nor the game in general in that period.  It was, and had been for decades, the poor relation in Sydney sport and yet it continued to survive.

1979 saw the emergence of a reform group who rolled the incumbent and long term NSWAFL president, Bill Hart, the previous December.

The motivation to this was the perceived backing from influential elements in the VFL who promised funding for an experienced football administrator to run Sydney football and the NSWAFL, subject to support on a national level, for interstate VFL games to be played in Sydney of a Sunday.

The revitalised Sydney league was initially all spirited, enthusiastic and gung-ho.  A new man from Melbourne was appointed as the General Manager, the league’s offices at 64 Regent Street Chippendale were sold off and the administration moved to nearby premises at the Scan.BMPNewtown Rules Club in Cleveland Street, Redfern.

Eventually the independent Board was replaced by a board of club directors a move which would produce cronyism and ‘caucusing’ where the strong got stronger and the other clubs just rolled along.  Football in Sydney now primarily  promoted Sydney and the NSWAFL was put on the back burner as other sub-state bodies grew in stature and did their own thing.

NSW State FLBy 1987 there was yet a further change.  Sydney and the NSWAFL were broke and badly in debt.  An independent group managing the affairs of the NSWAFL told the Sydney clubs to sink or swim.  Either agree to a change in the administration or go out of business.  Really, there was no alternative.  That initial energy for change and a more ‘Sydney’ influence had well dissipated.

There was a big transformation in Sydney Football – there had to be – with three divisions again established, most of the sub groups abolished and the NSWAFL was back in charge.  The Sydney component became known as the NSW State Football League with a long term view of incorporating clubs from around the state.  Thankfully it did not happen but gradually the league moved into a position of financial stability.

In 1991 the NSW State Football League designation was abolished to revert to the Sydney Football League with the administration marginally re-arranged, but not much else took place.

Then in 1998 following yet another report on the state of health of football in NSW, a further change saw the introduction of the AFL(NSW-ACT).  This produced a few on-field alterations to Sydney footy like 16 aside etc. yes a major move but again, little else came about in the structure and framework of the actual competition.

AFL Sydney had now assumed full control of the Sydney league with full funding from the major AFL body in Melbourne.  They also funded football development throughout the state but unlike the Sydney open age football, most of the leagues in NSW were left to finance their own activities.

The major change came in 2009 when under the then Sydney Football Operations Manager, Garry Burkinshaw, divisionalisation took place.  This was the biggest adjustment to Sydney football since 1948 when Balmain, Western Suburbs (both for the second time) and Sydney University were introduced to the competition or perhaps it was 1926 changes?

LOST OPPORTUNITIES AND WHAT COULD HAPPEN WITH PERSISTENCE AND PLANNING

The Sydney Football League, NSW AFL, AFL Sydney or whatever title you want to give it, and its had a number of changes over the years, has really made few ground break decisions in its 124 year history.

In many cases the officials who ruled the game simply missed the boat.

The licensing laws only permitted a certain number of licensed clubs to operate in NSW up until the mid 1950s and this number did not vary.

Despite this and following WWII, Frank Dixon, who captained and coached the South Sydney club in a very successful period in the 1930s was appointed vice president of the league.  He was later to become a successful NSW coach.

Dixon talked the executive into him approaching the then, Australian National Football Council for a loan of $10,000 to establish a licensed club in Sydney.  He was a man of vision.

Dixon, a staunch Labor man who ended up Deputy Lord Mayor or Sydney City Council, just so happened to travel to Melbourne on the train with prime minister, Ben Chifley.  He returned with the guarantee of the $10,000 but a nervous executive in Sydney went cold on the idea and it never went ahead.

In 1948 three new clubs were admitted to the league, Western Suburbs, Balmain and Sydney University.  Wests were the only club to go on taste success.  They played off in successive grand finals of 1952-53 but had to wait until 1963 until they won their first flag.  Neither Balmain nor Sydney University clubs could boast success until much, much later.

In the meantime a team from Illawarra joined the competition in 1949-50 but the travel and their lack of success accounted for their departure.

This was a time when six clubs dominated the competition, Eastern Suburbs, Sydney Naval, Newtown, St George, North Shore and Western Suburbs.  And it was a time when the league should have bit the bullet and formed two divisions.  It didn’ t.

This was particularly the case in the early 1960s when Uni had dropped out but replaced by Liverpool and a team from Bankstown.  Again they should have travelled down the two division track but failed to act.

In 1960 however they did introduce a dramatic change to Sydney football when they reduced the number of players on the field to 16.  This was thought to produce better on the smaller Sydney grounds and perhaps encourage the formation of new clubs and reduce the instances of backing up to a minimal.

Another reason was that initially the Australian National Football League were going to conduct their centenary carnival in Melbourne with teams, 16 aside.  This decision was reversed early in the season.

The purists were enraged with this change and mid-season clubs forced the hand of the executive to return to the traditional sixteen aside.

As you can see opinion was divided as to course the league should take.

Liverpool joined forces with Bankstown in 1962 then two years later encouraged Parramatta to join and form a new club, Southern Districts.  This of course eventually failed but what it did in particular was rob a team playing Australian Game from the then far western suburbs.  Parramatta was playing out of Mona Park, Auburn and like other clubs came into the Sydney competition raw, with no actual football experience.

It was around the same time that efforts were being encouraged to form a licensed club for Australian football in Sydney.  They had enough members, sufficient commitment and had identified premises at 224 Riley Street Surry Hills, a former hotel which was then trading as a private hotel (boarding house) as a potential site for the club.

The prime mover in this action, Arthur Davey, unfortunately died and so without a leader the whole issue fell flat.

Eastern Suburbs had a licensed club at Bondi Junction but over capitalised in their additions and failed.  North Shore went all out to gain a license in the premises of Polonia Northside soccer club in Walker Street North Sydney.  Unfortunately this too failed.

St George at least made it to the licensing court but were refused their bid for a license at Olds Park on some technicality.

Despite all this, there has been some success in Sydney football and this was quite recently.

Garry Burkinshaw, the man in charge of Sydney footy soon realised there were problems when he took over the reigns in 2007.

He listened to the gripes, he looked how they do it in soccer and most of all, studied Sydney football.

Burkinshaw maintained that Sydney footy was not as tribal as it is interstate.  Players come to play their game and go.  They don’t stick around for the next game and they certainly don’t stay all day.

He decided the answer was divisionalisation where teams from various clubs would be best suited playing against each other.  So, apart from the Premier League competition, a reserve grade team which might have battled in the senior division was dropped to third or fourth division in the new setup.

He took advice from clubs and said there was no real opposition to the model.  He got members from each club in a room and put his proposition.  It took over three months in the planning and together with colleague, Bob Robinson, they introduced a competition which has, for the most part, extremely successful.

There are more teams winning games and all but St George, Camden and Illawarra clubs, from twenty four participating in the Sydney league,  have participated in finals.

This new and novel competition has promoted success in other clubs too.  Penrith who were down to one team now boast three, North-West are fielding more sides along with Camden and their a four new clubs now participating in the competition.

This new system leaves it open for established teams to field more teams and enthuse new or junior clubs to field senior teams.  The way is open for more clubs but most particular, nearly all competitions are competitive.

The downside to divisionalisation is that clubs MUST be particularly organised.  Three teams could be playing at three different locations so all players must commit themselves to turn up, each team must be a self contained unit: umpire (if required), goal umpire, runner, water boys, manager, runner etc.

At least one Sydney initiative has succeeded.  Change can be so very difficult to introduce.

Top photograph shows Frank Dixon, the lower image is of Garry Burkinshaw.  The documents are taken from the Football Records of the day.