– Why? – Another Perspective on Sydney’s Failure to Grow

Football imageWe have written before to provide some type of response to the many enquiries we receive about why Australian Football failed to take on in Sydney like it did in the majority of other states in Australia.

Today we are going to relook at the subject but of course the result is well known.

Australian (or Victorian) as it was known in the very early days was first introduced into Sydney in 1881 when the NSW Football Association spawned the Sydney and East Sydney Club.

Already by then rugby (it was only rugby union then) had a very strong hold on the winter sporting interests in NSW and in particular,  Sydney.

At any one time there was only a maximum of five or six senior (Australian football) clubs participating in Sydney during the 1880s while rugby could boast anywhere above 50 or 60.  Each year the rugby code published increased numbers in their fold.

But it just wasn’t the fact that rugby had embedded itself into the NSW psyche.  There were some in the rugby community who saw the Victorian intrusion as a threat and used every opportunity and technique to bad-mouth the Victorian game.  One in particular was Monte Arnold, a stock broker and later a civil servant who joined his brother to work at the NSW parliament in Macquarie Street, Sydney.

He was for some time secretary of the Southern Rugby Union (later NSW Rugby Union) and a leading official with the very right wing, Wallaroo Club in Sydney.  He was very outspoken against the southern game and savage in his sarcastic idiom towards it.  He just did not stop.

So of course coming from such a well placed and educated member of society his type of rhetoric  permeated amongst the rugby fraternity despite at the time what could be described as a ‘sympathetic press’ towards the Victorian game.

Mismanagement, infighting and a real lack of foresight killed the game in Sydney in 1895 and it wasn’t until eight years later that it was resurrected.

Its revival saw a lot more supporters, clubs and players and prior to 1910 it was played in quite a number of Sydney’s schools.

And yet an article written in 1913 was pretty much on the mark.  By then Rugby League had been introduced and was continually outshining Rugby Union as the major code.  It said:

“Four codes will bid strenuously for public patronage, but it is recognised that the Northern Union game will stand highest in favour. British Association (soccer) is making giant strides, but until those controlling it can secure central grounds, there will not be much possibility of the League citadel being threatened. Australian Rules can never become as soundly established in Sydney as in Melbourne. The Rugby Union, has had to give way before the more spectacular League game, but the staunch enthusiasts who have stuck to the old rules (Rugby Union) are sanguine that the day will come when they will hold sway again. They must recognise, however, that so much ground has been lost that the chase after the League will be long Indeed…..

The Australian Rules, or as it is . more popularly known here, the Victorian game, does not seem to be making the progress that it promised a few years back. The advent of the (Rugby) League gave it a kick that took a lot of wind out of it.  The game Is undoubtedly a clever one, and I have seen many stirring contests In Melbourne by such teams as Carlton, Essendon, South Melbourne, and Fitzroy.

THE WORLD’S BEST. Summed up, a person who likes football, and wishes to put in a Saturday afternoon watching or playing it, has absolutely no excuse, to offer. Every branch is played, and the facilities are good. There Is no place in the world where there is such a variation in football as Sydney is provided with.”


Following WWI, the game in Sydney did not have the same hold on the public as it did before.  One interesting consideration as to the probable support given to Rugby League was from the very wealthy entrepreneur and newspaper giant of his day,  James Joynton Smith who was president of the New South Wales Rugby League between 1910-28, he was patron in 1929-43.

Of course Arnold was not the only adversary Australian Football had in Sydney.  Much later when Horrie (H R ) Miller was the secretary, he would go out of his way to schedule big games against any representative or VFL match played at the SCG not wanting to give “the Aussie Rules a free kick.”

This attitude continued way into the 1980s and possibly beyond with the fear that ‘that Victorian game’ would take hold.

The Australian and Rugby League Game Combine – Round 1?

1914 Hybrid Game Field smallCan you imagine a football game which came from an amalgamation of Australian Football and Rugby League?

Well it was on the cards.  Not once, but twice such a proposal was considered last century.

The first was in 1914 when a conference was held by high level officials of both codes in Sydney during the national all-states carnival in August.

Despite calls that such a move would simply be stupid and a waste of time, many took the proposal very seriously. So serious that a series of conferences were held.

From what we can discern, it was the brainchild of Charles Brownlow, the long term Geelong Football Club secretary and delegate to the VFL at the time.  He was also their delegate to the Australian National Football Council (ANFC) which first promoted this idea of amalgamation.

Apparently his reasoning was the perceived failure of the 1914 Carnival in Sydney, noting that thousands had attended games by the Australian Rugby League team against the English touring side only weeks before at the SCG.  These matches had drawn 38,000 & 41,000 spectators respectively and a further 40,000 at the Sydney Showground during the same period.

He argued that if Rugby League could draw crowds of that nature and games of Australian Football could do the same in Melbourne and to some extent, Adelaide, why not introduce a combined game which could appease everyone?  Some commentators even went as far as identifying the thousands of pounds in gate money the Football Council could derive.

Then followed an additional conference of delegates held in Melbourne in November of the same year.  The attendees decided not to release any details of the meeting until a further date.  Mr. H. (Horrie) R. Miller, secretary of the N.S.W. Rugby League, said that “the day decided on for giving out the news was Thursday, Nov. 19,” the day following the next meeting of his League. But added “I can say this, the result of the conference is far beyond our most sanguine expectations. This will be agreeable news to many, surprising news to many, who look upon the movement as Utopian. However, it is a wonderful world, and we shall see.”

Later that month, after considering the proposals for a new code of rules, by the amalgamation of the Rugby League and Australian game, the New South Wales Rugby League said it was favourable to a change.  So, if the Australian Football bodies in the various States were also in favour, the new game would be adopted, and it was thought that matches could be played in 1915 as ‘curtain raisers’ to the competition engagements.

Discussion over the summer months leading into 1915 as to whether Australian Football, should agree to change their rules in order to come up with a hybrid game.  By early February it was announced that the NSW Rugby League and the South Australian National Football League agreed to an amalgamation of codes.

Alex McCracken, president of the VFL told the media that conference delegates had tentatively agreed to certain proposals which were being submitted to the various state leagues for a decision.  At the same time, the NSW (Australian) Football League unanimously agreed to the following alterations:

1. A crossbar between the goal posts, 10ft (183cm) from the ground. The ball to be kicked over the bar to constitute a goal; a ball going under the bar to count as a behind; the behind posts to be retained, and behinds scored as at present.

2. Throwing or knocking the ball backwards, that is, the player in possession of the ball who knocks or throws the ball, must always be between such ball and the goal towards which he is kicking.

3. When a player in possession of the ball is collared, he may be thrown or pushed aside, even though he drops the ball immediately he is caught. The tackle in such instances will permit a player to catch an opponent between the hips and the shoulders. Unless a deliberate foul occurs, no penalty shall be allowed for such tackle.

It appeared though, as far Victoria was concerned there was no likelihood of any drastic alterations to the rules of their game.  However, it was considered one or two amendments could be made. Speaking at the Carlton FC annual meeting in late January, Mr. McCracken said ˜they would be very careful about making any change in the game which they all liked,” with several in the audience interjecting, ‘Carlton won’t have it.’ Mr. Gardiner, a Carlton delegate at the VFL meeting, said “it was waste of time discussing it.”

The VFL said at a special meeting that it had decided to defer consideration of the matter until additional information was in hand.

At its mid-April meeting, the VFL decided to report the decision of the League to the Australasian Football Council. During the discussion the whole of the arguments were directed towards showing that the alterations proposed would improve the Australian game. Each dealt with a point discussed long before the proposed amalgamation of the codes was ever mentioned.

In reading the reports, I don’t think the VFL clubs were ever serious about any change.

By 12 May not all states had replied to the Australian National Football Council’s request for a decision on amalgamation of codes.

With further pressure of the Great War impinging on society throughout the country, the whole subject seemed to just peter out.

The attached image shows a suggested field placements for an amalgamated game.

In our next article we will explore the 1933 attempt at amalgamating the codes.  This time there were proper rules and other details drawn up for implementation.