Sydney and the Military

But for the MilitaMilitary image thumbnailry football would have struggled in Sydney.

These were the words from Jim Phelan in 1918 when he wrote in the Referee Newspaper: “that but for soldiers from other states etc. who reside in camps near to Sydney playing senior football in Sydney, the senior league would not have been able to operate.”

And that statement is quite true in fact Sydney football was fairly dependent on servicemen right through to the 1960 and into the 70s when junior football became much better organised and the system started to more regularly churn out senior players from its junior ranks.

This is one reason the St George Club has been so successful.  Their general success followed the formation of a fully functioning junior association in their area in 1955 and while they may not all be with us now, junior clubs like Cronulla, Bangor, Heathcote, Penshurst, Peakhurst, Miranda, Como-Janalli, Ramsgate, Sutherland, Boystown and Hurstville Diamonds formed the core of a nursery for the senior club in particular as well as other local clubs who benefited from the Association.

In the days of WWI and right through to the 1950s Sydney football was lucky to have a four team Under 16 competition.  Yes there were exceptions and also there were some isolated schools like Hurstville Tech, Gardeners Road, Double Bay and Erskineville pumping young boys into the football system.

However it was the military who supplied, if not the most then a fair portion of the complement of senior players, certainly during both wars and most markedly  in the 1950s and 60s.

it was during that period that clubs like Sydney Naval, Balmain, South Sydney, Bankstown, Liverpool and North Shore survived, in terms of talent, mainly on the military.

There was a naval establishment at Middle Head in HMAS Penguin, the submarine base at Chowder Bay and more recently the patrol boat unit on Balls Head Peninsular.  It was these places that fed the North Shore Club but their numbers were especially supplemented by the School of Artillery at North Head.

Most of the inner city clubs picked up players from the ships based at Garden Island, particularly Sydney Naval.  South Sydney had several army units in Bundock Street at Randwick.  Easts recruited from Victoria Barracks, which at one stage boasted a number of army establishments on both sides of Moore Park Road, those on the southern side since engulfed by the Sydney Football Stadium complex.  In the early seventies a club called Combined Services participated in Sydney’s Second Division.

Ostensibly their number was made up from across the military spectrum but there was more RAAF and Navy personnel than Army.

When HMAS Albatross was established at Nowra, many of their players filtered through to Sydney Clubs as did players from the Richmond Air Base and other smaller RAAF bases in the western suburbs.

Again many clubs benefited from the soldiers based at Ingleburn, Moorebank and Holdsworthy, particularly Liverpool, the closest side to those bases.  Thousands of soldiers were stationed in that area over the years.

Such was the case during the wars when the SCG and a number of race courses in Sydney were taken over by the Australian and US military.

And while we have St George and their juniors, they too did well with service personnel.  Phonse Kyne, a 200 game player, captain and coach of Collingwood, played and coached at St George during WWII.

South Australian great, Graham Cornes also played with the Saints before he left for Vietnam.

Several of the Phelan Medal winners over the years were in the services:  Ralph Turner who won took it out in 1959 & 61 was in the navy, as was Norm Tuxford in 1966 and Peter Body the following year.

Tony Wish-Wilson who was the award in 1959 was in the air force, so too was the 1964 winner, Ray Gwilliam.

Noel Stewart, playing for Southern Districts just about pulls up the servicemen-players.  He took out the trophy in 1971 whilst undergoing his two year national service in the army at Holdsworthy.

Just as there were players coming from the military so too did umpires and these officials were recorded as officiating in Sydney games as far back as WWI.

Much has changed in the services.  Many units have been moved out of the area; the army’s School of Artillery is now located at Puckapunyal in Central Victoria.  The Infantry Training Centre has moved from Ingleburn to Singleton.  Chowder Bay is now a park and the submarine base is at Rockingham in WA, quite a number of army units in south western Sydney have also been shifted while many RAAF establishments which were formerly within the Sydney metropolitan area have either been closed down or moved.

So Sydney, once a competition which thrived on servicemen, where it was not uncommon for personnel from the same unit to be opposed to each other of a weekend could be seen in the same team in the midweek services competition, played of a Wednesday mostly on Moore Park.

Obviously there are still many servicemen who make up the ranks of Sydney’s senior football today.  We are told, the RAAF/Hawkesbury/Nor-West Jets Club, as they changed their name, still rely on personnel from Richmond as do others who have military bases near to their place of activities.

But for the most part it is now all down to nurturing and succinctly fostering players through their junior clubs to ensure the continuance of the game in the nation’s biggest city.

SYD FELSTEAD PASSES

While reported on the passing of Alf Penno this week yet another legend of Sydney football, not a player but an administrator, has died suddenly.

He former long term St George president and league official, Syd Felstead, passed away in June 2011, he was 92.

St George Football Club historian, Pat McCourt, penned a profile of this very well respected man who really had the game at heart:

Syd’s journey through life is an amazing story!  His contribution to Australian Rules at St George, throughout Sydney and NSW is invaluable.  I will be brief in my summary; however on Syd’s passing we have to pay a tribute, acknowledge who Syd Felstead was and what he did to establish junior competitions of Australian Rules throughout Sydney.

Syd Felstead born 26 August 1919, Bendigo Victoria, his father dying in early 1920s as result service at Gallipoli and gassing received in France in WW1.  After moves around Victoria, and Paddington in Sydney in 1928, Syd and his mother moved to Dora St Hurstville in 1930 at start of the depression. A time when Syd and his mother eked out a living; Syd on his bike, he named “Greenie” doing deliveries and collecting manure in his billy cart [made from a fruit box and wheels off a pram], selling a cart load to neighbours for sixpence [now five cents]!

In 1934 at age 15, having passed the Intermediate certificate, Syd left school eventually got an apprenticeship at ACI Glassworks as a crystal glass cutter, earning eleven shillings and sixpence per week [today’s currency; one dollar and fifteen cents]. He traded his bike “Greenie” on a new Malvern Star, paying it off at two shillings per week [present currency; twenty cents] and played junior Rules matches in local school and local park competitions! Syd commenced in 1938 with St George AFC, in Reserve Grade [St George Third grade was not formed until 1958].

Syd was associated with some greats of that St George era; likes of Phonse Kyne, Jack Browne, and Stan Powditch and was lucky to witness St George’s Premiership in 1938.  Syd also had a strong affiliation with the committee and between 1938 and 1957 (allowing for time spent overseas in WWII with RAAF, crewing in Wellington and Lancaster bombers), played a total of 128 senior games; was a member of 1951 Reserve Grade premiership.

After returning from war, Syd with partners started their own cut glass business, and continued playing with St George, mainly as fullback.  During his time as a player, Syd was an active committee member, with Andrew Glass as President. In 1955 Syd became President, holding the position for 20 years when he stepped aside in 1974.  Under his Presidency, St George played in three consecutive Grand finals between 1964 and 1966; winning 1964 Premiership!

Behind the scenes with colleagues from various Sydney Clubs, Syd was active developing the junior base of all Sydney Clubs. He chaired committees to establish St George junior clubs in 1950s; likes of Como, Peakhurst and Boys Town [all since faded into history]. Present junior Clubs [Ramsgate, Miranda, Cronulla and Penshurst] established with assistance from; Ruben Fraser, Alan Gibbons, Alex Melville.  Some of Syd’s achievements, included –

Life Memberships and Awards

 Life member of St George AFC – awarded 1953

Life member of AFL (NSW/ACT) – awarded 1967

In 2000, received from Prime Minister an Honour Award for 2000 Bi Centennial celebrations – for past contributions to Australian Rules

St George AFC ‘Hall of Fame’ –  inducted in 2005 one of five initial inductees

 

Some other contributions and achievements [there were many] –

[As recorded in Syd’s hand written notes, held by me]

Elected to Board of Management of NSW ANFL 1956

Appointed Team Manager for NSW Teams from 1958 to 1965

In 1966 appointed by Sutherland Council to Ground Allocation Committee

Awarded Australian Sports Medal by Commonwealth Government

Served as Chair Person in formation of both Junior Assoc, and St George body of NSW ANFL Junior Planning Committee

Chaired formation committee of St George All Age Comp/Open Age League [now defunct]; subsequently became NSW League Second division comp

Included in book published [2000] recording “History of Hurstville Oval”

Suggested, had passed initial concept of Club Championship Points at NSW League

Held positions in 1950s and 1960s as President and Delegate to NSW ANFL

Awarded ˜Merit Award” by Australian Football Council

Olds Park – Syd was instrumental in 1968/1969 in securing the initial 21 year lease on Olds Park when St George made the move from Hurstville Oval.  Syd was involved in 1970 in the unsuccessful application to obtain a liquor licence for St George at Olds Park which was backed at time by Bill Picken [Western Suburbs fame].

Due to his strong Australian wide connections in Aussie Rules circles, whilst President, Syd was instrumental in getting the likes of Dale Dalton, Don McKenna, Dennis & Ray Pegg, Ralph Todd, Graham Cornes and many other interstate recruits to play with St George.

Syd was always strongly supported by his wife, Betty [nee O’Reilly b.1924] whom he married during the war and had four children; Graham, Sandra, Robyn and David. Both boys played briefly at St George, where Betty was a pillar of strength, working in the canteen at Hurstville Oval, selling raffle tickets and organising social functions. They retired to live at Vincentia, where Betty passed away in May 2005.

It can be categorically stated; Syd fathered the St George AFC junior competition as it stands today – Patrick McCourt was a member of initial team that started Miranda junior club! Syd’s blue print to establish St George junior clubs, was adopted by other Sydney Clubs.

Syd Felstead made a valuable contribution to successes enjoyed by a vast base of Australian Rules players, supporters. He established basis for present day operations for many persons who continue to participate, enjoy Australian Rules throughout Sydney and NSW. St George benefited from Syd’s earlier work; winning eleven, Third Grade Premierships between 1958 and 1980; with two runner ups and only three times did it not make the final four in that era.

Australian Rules is poorer upon the passing of Syd Felstead. Syd was a pioneer; St George has lost an icon!

For contemporary players and followers of Sydney football, Syd was a regular attendee at the league’s annual Phelan Medal Night.  Syd Felstead “was really a nice guy.”