First match for points in the VFL played at the SCG

Society vice-president Dr Rodney Gillett continues the series on significant matches played on the SCG since Australian football was first played on the ground in 1881.

When was the first VFL/AFL match for points played outside of Victoria?

It was not when the Swans first came to play in Sydney in 1982, nor was it the “National Round” in 1952 when matches were played in country Victoria, Hobart, Brisbane, Albury and Sydney; it was, in fact, in 1903 when then VFL heavy-weights Collingwood and Fitzroy played for match points at the SCG.

The unbeaten Fitzroy defeated the reigning premier Collingwood, 7-20 (62) to 6-9 (45) to move to the head of the VFL ladder after round 6.

The Maroons were led by star forward Gerald Brosnan, who would captain Fitzroy to the 1905 premiership, along with full-back Geoff Moriarty (who became Fitzroy’s first coach in 1911), goal-kicking rover Percy Trotter and follower Herbert “Boxer” Milne.

Collingwod were led by Lawrence “Lardie” Tulloch and included some of the Magpies all-time greats such as rover Dick Condon (who later moved to Sydney where he umpired), winger Charlie Pannan, key forward Ted Rowell, defender Bob Rush, and first-year player Jock McHale, returning to the city of his birth.

An interesting sidelight to the match was that it was the first time that numbers were used on the backs of players’ jumpers in a VFL match. However, it would not be until 1912 that numbers would be fully adopted for all matches.

Collingwood did not lose another game for the rest of the 1903 season. The Magpies won the return match at Victoria Park by 20 points, and then the Grand Final by two points after Fitzroy star Gerald Brosnan missed a shot after the final bell.

Both teams travelled to Sydney by train and took care of all their own expenses as part of a pledge to support the newly reformed NSW Football League. The gate of £600 was passed over by the VFL to the new football league in Sydney to promote their activities.

For the two visiting teams, there were picnics on the harbour, a night at Fitzgerald’s Circus, a trip to Tooth’s Brewery and a “smoke concert” at the Grand Hotel.

The match attracted the political and social elite of Sydney including the Governor-General Lord Tennyson, the State Governor, Admiral Sir Harry Rawson, and former Premier Sir George Reid, who would be elected Prime Minister in 1904.

The match had been arranged by NSW Football League official Harry Hedger, who had been pivotal to the foundation of the game in 1880s, as an official and as a player. Hedger played for NSW against Victoria in the first-ever football match at the SCG in 1881.

After the NSW Football League had been formed in January 1903, he travelled by train at his own expense to Melbourne to attend a meeting of the VFL club delegates where he outlined the need for support to have the game re-established in Sydney.

In a meeting that lasted until 2:30am, Hedger managed to convince the club delegates to support the bid. 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 (for whom Collingwood’s B & F medal is named), on behalf of the Collingwood club, agreed to make the trip.

Later, in the season Geelong and Carlton played a match for points in Sydney on 3 August at the SCG following a rail strike that prevented Carlton from travelling to Corio Oval for the game earlier in the season.

The match was scheduled for Saturday 1 August but heavy rains pushed the game back to the Monday. Geelong won, 8-7 (55) to Carlton’s 6-9 (450. The crowd attendance was 6000.

Footy fans in Sydney had to wait until the national round in 1952, when all VFL matches were played outside Melbourne, to witness another VFL game for points when Collingwood again came to Sydney, this time to play Richmond at the SCG. The attendance was 24,174.

Then there was another long wait until 1979 when the previous year’s grand finalists Hawthorn played North Melbourne at the SCG in front of 31,391 as part of a series of matches in Sydney between 1979-1981 to ascertain the viability of basing a VFL club in Sydney.

South Melbourne played its “home” games at the SCG in 1982 before moving permanently to Sydney in 1983, and becoming the Sydney Swans

East Sydney – The Early Years

   1903 Image of the
  East Sydney Team

This Saturday (14 March) the UNSW-Eastern Suburbs Australian Football Club will commence celebrations for a grand history of one hundred and forty years of football in Sydney with a reunion of past players, officials and supporters at the Paddington RSL Club. Below NSW AFL History Society president Ian Granland and vice-president Rod Gillett trace the beginnings of the East Sydney Football Club.

“That the gentlemen present form themselves into a club to be called the East Sydney Football Club” (Sydney Morning Herald, 12 August 1880).

The East Sydney Football Club was formed on 10 August 1880 at the Cambridge Club Hotel in Oxford St. It is the oldest Australian football in New South Wales and this year celebrates its 140th year. Despite several name changes, the core of the club has always been in the eastern suburbs of Sydney where it is still based and draws its players and supporters from.

The attendance at the formation meeting was high with over forty members were enrolled for the new football club. Mr John Davis MLA was elected as president, Mr Frank Wiess as secretary and Mr W.C. “Wattie” Marshall as treasurer along with vice-presidents and a committee of thirteen members. Marshall was the convener of the meeting and was a driving force behind the establishment of the game in Sydney from its inception in 1880.

The new club resolved to affiliate with the recently formed New South Wales Football Association and to play under its rules, which were adopted from the “Victorian Rules” of football.

Harry Hedger, MBE. A person vitally involved in the development of the game 1880-95 and responsible for the resurgence of it in 1903. He played with several club it is believed in an effort to strengthen the numbers in their compliment.  He captained East in 1888.

The original club colors were a blue and white jersey and hose, and blue knickerbockers and cap. Upon the reformation of the NSW Australian National Football League in 1903, East Sydney colors were blue with a yellow sash. It was not until 1926 that the current colors of red, white and blue were adopted when the Sydney competition was reorganized on “district lines” and the East Sydney and Paddington clubs merged.

The first match involving players from the East Sydney Football Club was on 14 August 1880 when they combined with players from the then recently formed Sydney Football Club to play Waratahs (a rugby club that had played Carlton in a match under “Victorian Rules” in 1877) at Moore Park. Waratahs won by two goals (Sydney Daily Telegraph 16 August 1880).

In a return match on the following Saturday, the combined team won 5 goals to three (Sydney Daily Telegraph 23 August 1880).

The following season a series of matches were played against the Sydney club which resulted in East Sydney being declared “Champions”. This was the first of twenty-eight titles won by “Easts” including the 2019 Sydney AFL premiership ( ).

In the final and fourth game of the 1881 season East Sydney 2-4 defeated Sydney 1-4. on 23 July at Moore Park. East Sydney were captained by Charlie Clay who later went on to play in Melbourne. Best players were Randall, Nash, Weaton, A.R.Watson, Harry Hedger and J. Terry (Sydney Morning Herald 25 July 1881).

At the club’s annual general meeting in 1882, the secretary W.C. Marshall reported that in the previous season the club had “come out of all engagements with local teams victorious”.

Mr Arthur Young was the recipient of a handsome trophy for “Best All-round” player in 1881 (Sydney Morning Herald 21 April 1882).

– Footy at Bowral

Harry Hedger

In 1892 a game of Australian Football was played at Bowral, NSW.

The match, Bowral v East Sydney was arranged by a Mr Charles Church,[1] schoolteacher, and a resident of Bowral, who had previously played for the East Sydney Club in the late 1880s, represented NSW against Queensland and was at one time a member of the East Sydney Club’s committee.

The game was initially scheduled for mid-August but fell through.  Church persisted and the match was re-organised for Saturday 10 September at Athletic Grounds in Bowral.

The condition of the ground was in a very poor state because of rain and a soccer match having previously been played there.[2]

Nevertheless a large crowd gathered to witness the game with East flying to an early lead by four goals to one at half time.

In those early days, goals were the only score counted and the game was played in two halves.  Certainly in this game it was the case.

The second half saw the locals equalise their opponents score and but for fulltime might certainly have overtaken them.  It was said that Bowral’s team was made up entirely “of former Melbourne players.”[3]

Be that as it may, they were encouraged to continue to play the following season by Harry Hedger, captain of the East Sydney team but no more was heard of Australian football in Bowral.[4]

In  recent years though the Southern Highland Hawks junior club has emerged. It participates in the Illawarra junior league.

An Auskick Centre is located at Loseby Park, Bowral Tuesday afternoons at 4.30 p.m.  for approx. 5-7 year olds.

Older players [8-14) play in club teams. The Hawks [Under 11s] won the Club’s  first premiership in 2007, and after the Under 12s and Under 15s won flags in 2008 with the future looking bright.

The club play and train at Loseby Park in Bowral, training Tuesdays 4 – 5:3. Game day is Sunday.

[1] Bowral Free Press and Berrima District Intelligencer 7 September 1892, p.3
[2]  Bowral Free Press and Berrima District Intelligencer 7 September 1892, p.3

[3] Bowral Free Press and Berrima District Intelligencer 7 September 1892, p.3
[4]  Referee Newspaper, 14 September 1892 p.8

– 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

Why Football Did Not Kick in Sydney

axe 2There have been several reasons why Australian football never kicked on in Sydney.  Most of these have been offered by people who have little knowledge of the background and history of its development in the city.

Here, Hugh Stone, a Sydney based journalist of the late 1880s and early twentieth century offers his opinion.  If you have a moment, its not a bad read.  It was written in 1920 and appears verbatim:

The Changing Face of Football in Sydney

Australian football has always owned the tag as the poor relation in Sydney.

The game was first introduced to the city in 1880 upon the formation of the NSW Football Association.  It took until the following year before any clubs were formed: Sydney and East Sydney were the first and the East Sydney of those days should not be confused with the East Sydney of the 1980s & 90s.

Immediately the game attracted the wrath of rugby officials led by top protagonist, Monty Arnold who said at the Association’s formation “if the Melbourne and Carlton clubs were playing a match in Melbourne, and the Kelly gang were firing within a quarter of a mile of them, he did not believe there would be a soul looking at the football”

Arnold and his co-horts were absolutely opposed and vitriolic to the new game and its introduction was made all the worse when some tried to change the rules of rugby because of its many dangerous aspects.  Paradoxically, they welcomed the formation of the soccer association.

A few Sydney journalists were sympathetic to the Victorian game but when it sank into anarchy, in-fighting and bitterness they dropped off and the game failed to move into the 1895 season.

Harry Hedger 1908It was left the since unrecognized enthusiast and former player, Harry Hedger, pictured, to lead the resurgence of the game in Sydney in 1903.

Its development went well and the game became stronger reaching out to schools and junior grades.  Poor management in the purchase of the original Rosebery Racecourse site on the corner of Botany and Gardeners Road, Mascot and the onset of WWI put the game back to almost a zero base.  But with steady work and commitment from officials of the league it clung on, despite being comprised of only five clubs in 1917.  There was no second grade during the war and for the most part the junior competition also disappeared.

There was a spark of hope during the 1920s when NSW defeated the VFL in 1923 and again in 1925 but it again slumped into its familiar rung on the ladder as the least favoured game in the city.

The depression years of the thirties brought no solace and for the most part the league was locked with six clubs and only two grounds where they could truly derive a gate – the strength of their income.

Then WWII brought new hope.  Australian football was the first sport to move to Sunday football, for no other reason than they desperately needed that additional Sydney Football Attendances Graph smallvenue where a gate could be charged.  It was during this period that servicemen from interstate were in or moving through Sydney and they played with local clubs.

Names like Collingwood’s captain, Phonse Kyne was the captain and coach of St George, Alby Morrison who was chosen in Footscray’s team of the century was with the RAAF team, future Brownlow Medalist, Bill Morris played with South Sydney while 17 year old Western Australian, Jack Sheedy, another AFL Hall of Famer, turned out for the Sydney Club.

These are just a very few of the football talent in Sydney during the war.

Following hostilities the game was riding high in public opinion, particularly so when three new clubs, Western Suburbs, Balmain and Sydney University were added to the competition in 1948.

During the fifties the image of the game lapsed especially when newspapers highlighted the negative parts of the game: fights and problems in matches.

More clubs were formed and joined the competition leading to twelve in 1962 “a perfect time to turn the competition into two divisions.”  It didn’t happen and the change from 18 aside to 16 aside in  1960 was also overturned mid-season.

By this time though, Western Suburbs gained their liquor licence and became very much a supporter and promoter of the game playing out of the same Picken Oval as now, but then it was surrounded by a training trotting track and privately owned.  The club though pumped thousands of dollars into the game and supported the league’s purchase of offices in Regent Street, Chippendale.

Football didn’t really move, they had lost many chances though by the seventies two new divisions had been formed.

Bill Hart, President NSWAFL 1966-78
Bill Hart, President NSWAFL 1966-78

In 1978 a coup threw out the popular league president Bill Hart and eventually his cronies went with him.  The VFL backed move with promised support didn’t last long before the administration in Sydney really struggled.

Then came the Sydney Swans and new VFL money and finance through the Swans licence scheme.  This eventually fell over and the club was subsequently taken over by the league.  Sydney football though had solidified and were well led with a move to more permanent offices in the Wentworth Park Grandstand, Glebe, where a number of other sports were domiciled.

Of course things always change and in 1998 there was a further takeover by the AFL which has funded the league and NSW football ever since.  It resulted in more staff, more people on the ground but are there more playing the game?

The elected officials have gone and the game is run by bureaucrats in their central Moore Park Offices.

Makes you wonder with all the changes the game has endured over the past 134 years, what the future holds for Sydney football?

In some sense it doesn’t have much but in others it has a lot.  It certainly has a rich past.

Harry Hedger – MBE

Harry HedgerIn 1923 Harry Hedger travelled with the NSW team which played Victoria on the MCG.

Hedger was not particularly involved in football during that period but if it were not for his foresight and enthusiasm the game may not have been revived in the NSW capital twenty years before.

Henry or Harry Hedger, to his friends was from Tasmania.  He moved to Sydney in 1880 to take up a job as teacher at the Industrial Blind Institution Woolloomooloo.  Harry was a footballer but not just an ordinary footballer, he was committed to his sport.

He firstly played for the new East Sydney club and later three other clubs between 1881-94,  During this period he represented  NSW on 16 occasions, almost all of the representative matches the state participated in.

He was captain of several clubs and the state and took on official positions at club level.  While the game was poorly administered which eventually led to its demise, he never once shirked his responsibilities.  One of his assets was his kick and for a number of years held an Australian record of kicking the ball  just over 59 metres

In 1903 it was he who visited Melbourne and spoke passionately at a meeting of the VFL pleading for help to have the game re-established in Sydney.  This resulted in two leading clubs of the time, Collingwood and Fitzroy playing a premiership match on the SCG in May of that year.  This was the catalyst for the start of an eleven team competition in Sydney in 1903.

Hedger had little to do with football after that.  He attended a few meetings, his sons played with the then YMCA club and later East Sydney but he devoted himself to his work in the school for the blind which by this stage had shifted its premises to Ashfield where Hedger was manager.

He attended the official welcome for the NSW team in Melbourne in 1923 and was called upon to respond on the team’s behalf at a function in their honour.

He told the gathering that he played in the first interstate game for New South Wales in 1881 and in the first game ever in Sydney.  He could never forget what the Victorian Football League had done and recalled his first visit to the league rooms in 1903 when they first aroused the sympathy of the Victorian League and enlisted their support.  It was not until half-past two in the morning of the same meeting that he had managed to get Fitzroy and Collingwood to agree to play their premiership match in Sydney.  Since then, he said, the NSW league had received encouragement and financial assistance from Victoria for which they were eternally grateful.  He finished by saying he was satisfied after seeing1886 NSW Team v Qld - Harry Hedger small every kind of football that the Australian game was easily the best.

And yet, who remembers Hedger and what he did for the game in NSW and most particularly Sydney?  No-one.  He was honoured by the queen in 1935 for his services to the blind when awarded an MBE, he also had a street in Ashfield named after him.

1903 H Hedger sketchHedger spent 58 years of his life working for the blind, 44 of those as manager of the Sydney Institute.  It was a fall at work in 1937 which eventually took his life that forced him out of the environment he loved.  Two weeks later he died aged 78.

The image shows him in the 1886 NSW team which played Queensland at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

When he pioneered the return of the game he put so much effort in that in his forties he turned out to play with the YMCA with his son.  YMCA was a team in the first grade competition between 1903-11.  We have unearthed a wonderful etching of him in a newspaper interview from 1903 and have reproduced it here.


In 1903, Harry Hedger, who worked for the NSW Blind Society, visited Melbourne where he addressed a meeting of the VFL asking for two clubs to play a competition match in Sydney as a promotion for the re-establishment of Australian Football.

The game had been played competitively between 1881-95 in Sydney but, mainly due to bad management, it folded.

Born inTasmania, Hedger, was very much a dedicated employee of the NSW Blind Society, eventually receiving an OBE in 1935; his other passion was Australian football, and all this took place in Sydney.

During the 1880s & 90s he played for East Sydney, Sydney, Waratah, City, West Sydney and Our Boys clubs, for the most part, to keep them viable and in existence.  As well he turned out for the Sydney University team which visited Melbourne in 1888.  He represented both Sydney and NSW on numerous occasions and at various times umpired several games.

Hedger was captain of several of these clubs where he also took on official positions as he did with the Association.

He was passionate about his football and at his own cost took the train to Melbourne where on 27 February he met with VFL officials.  He implored them to send two teams to Sydney for a match which he believed would help kick-start the game in the NSW capital.

The Fitzroy Club secretary, Con Hickey said his club was willing to travel to Sydney at its own expense and forego any share of the gate receipts.  Eventually, Ern Copeland, secretary of the Collingwood club said that his club would also make the trip under similar conditions.  To engender interest, the game would be part of the home and away competition matches.

The VFL then resolved that the proceeds of all games played in Melbourne on the day of the Sydney match would be pooled and divided equally between all clubs in the league and the ground on which their scheduled encounter was to be played would be awarded one of the semi final matches.

It was estimated that the game would cost each club at least three hundred pounds ($600) each.

Hedger left the meeting quite happy but when Copeland confronted his members at the 9 March Annual General Meeting, a motion was passed that the game not be considered a competition match and that it be merely an exhibition.

This was greeted with dismay and resentment in Sydney resulting in an immediate letter to the VFL outlining how the decision would detrimentally effect the standing of the re-emerging code.

Eventually the VFL upheld their earlier decision and the game went on to be played before a crowd of 20,000 at the SCG on May 23.  The six hundred pound gate ($1,200) was left to the new football league in Sydney to promote their activities.

The reigning premiers, Collingwood took a party of 43 with them and a budget of four hundred pounds ($800) while Fitzroy, who were to that date undefeated, had 50 in their group.  These two clubs went on to play off in the 1903 grand final which Collingwood won by two points.

Also in 1903 Hedger chaired the formation meetings of several clubs, including North Shore, and for some time in that decade was the president of the YMCA Club.  He died in 1937 aged 78 years never really receiving the recognition due for his long standing commitment to the game in Sydney.

Our photograph shows Harry (or Henry) Hedger in 1923 when he accompanied the NSW team to Melbourne where they played Victoria.