A Cracking Last Quarter

Football History Society committeeman, Ian Wright provided a piece for our website from last weekend’s Major League Elimination Semi Final:

 

Peter Nillson and I were timekeeping for the Premier Division Elimination Semi Final on Sunday 20th September in what turned out to be an absolute thrilling last quarter.

Pennant Hills finished the home and away season in fourth position and St George right behind them in fifth place.

Last weekend’s match at Henson Park in Sydney would see the winner progress, and the losers hang up their boots for season 2020.

The weather started the day dreadfully, with pouring rain early in the piece however by the time of the 4th and last game of the day, the skies were blue, the sun was shining and the ground had absorbed the rain well to provide a great surface for football.

Pennant Hills took an early lead to head St George 4-1 to 2-1 at quarter time.  There was no wind advantage for either end and the Demons extended their lead at half time to 21 points, 7-7 to 4-4.  Penno were looking good.

The third quarter, often called “the premiership quarter”, was all St George with Pennant Hills restricted to just three behinds.  The Dragons grabbed the momentum with 6 unanswered goals to go to the last break 10-6 to 7-10, a 14 point lead.

The final quarter would have to be one of the best quarters I have seen in more than 50 years watching, and in my 23 years of timekeeping for finals matches in Sydney.  The first three goals of the final quarter were to Pennant Hills to give them back the lead by 4 points.

It then went goal for goal, with each of the next six goals in the game changing the lead.

After Pennant Hills grabbed the lead the difference between the two sides was never more than 4 points, and was just one point at one time; the crowd of a couple of hundred was enthralled.

Ian Wright
Ian Wright

Unbelievably there was 8 minutes 50 seconds of time-on in the final quarter in this 20 minutes plus time on game.

Pennant Hills last score was a behind, and then there was an out of bounds kick.  When the final siren sounded, St George, just four points in front, were on the far wing and again looked likely to head into attack.

Final scores were St George 13-10 (88) to Pennant Hills 12-12 (84).

Both sides are to be congratulated for their never-say-die attitude in that iconic last quarter.

– Grounds in Sydney

An aerial image of Kensington Oval in 1943
An aerial image of Kensington Oval in 1943

You would be surprised at the list of different grounds that have been used in Sydney over the years.

Today we are used to say, Picken Oval, Olds Park and maybe Henson Park, but there have been many, many others.

One obscure ground is Kensington Oval which is located in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney, between Kensington and Kingsford.  It is not longer used by the code.

It was constructed in 1928 from a sandy area on land which was also part of the catchment for the Botany Swamps which was used for Sydney’s water supply in the 19th century.

The ground came online in 1928 and in 1929 was one secured by the league as a venue for first grade matches at a lease fee of £60 ($4,500 today) per annum.  At the same time the league paid £500 for year for six years for the use of Erskineville Oval with £100 ($7,500) of that money to be used for improvements to the ground.  A challenge by Rugby Union pushed the fee for the use of Trumper Park from £100 in 1928 to £160 ($12,000) in 1929; and these when in the times when admission to the ground was one shilling ($3.75), grandstand one and six ($5.65) or patrons could purchase a season ticket for twelve shillings and sixpence ($47.00).

Chart of Sydney Ground Gate Takings 1930-50
Chart of Sydney Gate Takings 1930-50

Randwick Council built a grandstand for patrons but because the ground was not totally fenced, charging admission was a folly and most wrote off the use of the ground as a financial stream to the league.

South Sydney started training at the ground in 1928, previous to this they had trained at the now built on, Australian Football Ground which was on the corner of Botany and Gardeners Road, Alexandria.  Prior on Moore Park.

During the 1930s depression the out of work players and those on shift work volunteered their time to realign the ground and at the same time lengthen it.  A report from the Sydney Football Record in 1937 said

“There were scenes of great activity at Kensington Oval during the week.  A small army of workmen cut away the high ground outside certain portions of the fence to enable the extension of the playing area to comply with the measurements required by the code.

This, coupled with the fact that the ground has been newly top-dressed and harrowed will make the oval comparable with the best Australian Football Ground in the state.  By 8 May the full playing area will be ready to use.  No more will it be known as the despised ‘marble ring’ as the added length and wide pockets will give ample room to flank men thus opening up possibilities for more brilliant play.

The dimensions of the oval will be 140 yards x 150 yards, five yards less than the Sydney Cricket Ground and the major axis will run parallel to the grandstand, thus affording the spectators a better view.”

The ground fell out of permanent match use when the league introduced Sunday matches which made available Erskineville Oval or Trumper Park to be used on consecutive days over the weekend.

South Sydney initially had use of the top potion of the grandstand as a clubroom however it was soon taken over by the local council to use as a library repository.  Local junior rugby league began to use the ground for weekend matches and in 1974 South Sydney moved to Erskineville Oval as a training venue.

Grand Final Time in Sydney

Premiership favourites, East Coast Eagles, had a mortgage on the premiership a couple of years ago, that was before they made what could be described as the ill-fated and expensive shift to the NEAFL where they played as ‘Sydney Hills’.

They won the flag in 2009-10 & 11 after being defeated in the 2008 and 2006 grand finals, the latter following a season without loss but they did managed to eclipse the reserves premiership.

Clubs in Sydney have come and gone, who could imagine the most successful until very recent years, Newtown, would slide out of the competition? And for that matter, Sydney or Sydney Naval, as they were known as from 1944 and here was a club that was formed in 1881.

For the most part, the shift in population shows a shift in football domination.

Gone are those inner city clubs like Sydney, Newtown, South Sydney and Eastern Suburbs.

And the grand final venues. Many have been tried including Erskineville Oval (new and old), RAS Showground, SCG No. 1 & 2, Kensington Pony Track, Henson Park and of course the ever popular, Trumper Park.

Here was a ground that had an almost magnetic appeal to both players and spectators. The players who liked the confinement of a small ground and amphitheatre like atmosphere and the spectators who were always close to the play whether in the stand (old and new – since demolished) or on the hill.

Former league secretary, Rhys Giddey made headlines in 1963 when he declared the attendance at the Western Suburbs v Newtown grand final of over 11,000. He later confided that it all made good reading in the newspaper. Trouble is these written suppositions become fact.

There were other big crowds recorded at Trumper Park, including one of 10,000 in the early fifties when NSW played a visiting side. Again, the League’s ability to accurately record attendance numbers was very limited.

And to Blacktown, the current venue for finals matches. Despite the centre of Sydney now recorded west of Parramatta, getting crowds to Blacktown does present a challenge. The facilities are good but nevertheless it is a long way for those used to watching the game closer to town.  Last year’s premier division crowd was recorded at ‘around’ 1000.

One way is to compare the gate takings and while there has been a variance in the entry fee over the years, it is still an indicator of crowd numbers. It would be interesting to dig deeper for the reason of the large disparity between 2009 and 2010 -.  Click image to enlarge.

Sydney Grand Final Gate Takings small

 

 

 

Other records of crowd numbers were kept, but not maintained. Here is a graph of gate takings from 1930-60.  Click image to enlarge.

Sydney Football Attendance I small

Grounds In Sydney’s Major League

Ground imageClubs in Sydney have used many different grounds throughout their history.  As well as the home grounds set out below, there are also many other neutral grounds that clubs have used over the years.

Manly Warringah have used Weldon Oval at Curl Curl for nearly all of their history. The only exception to this was for two years from 2009 to 2010 when Pittwater Oval was used.  During those years, Weldon Oval was being redeveloped, and was out of commission.

Pennant Hills have also had a reasonably stable ground tenancy. Ern Holmes Oval, previously called Pennant Hills Oval No 2, has been used for almost all of its history.  The narrow shape of the ground was the main factor leading to Pennant Hills recent relocation to Mike Kenny Oval at Cherrybrook.

The Western Suburbs Club is another case altogether.  They have used several grounds throughout their history.  In the early years after their formation in 1947/48 Wests firstly played their home games at Henson Park Marrickville.  They then moved to St Lukes Oval, Concord. Matches were also possibly played at the nearby, Concord Oval. In 1957, Wests moved to Picken Oval at Croydon Park.  That was a privately owned ground by Bill Picken, a trotting trainer.  A trotting track surrounded the ground where the horses were used in training.  Wests built their licensed club adjacent to the ground.  Unfortunately, a dispute between the licensed club and a member of Mr Picken’s family led to the club losing the use of the ground.

The then club set about redeveloping a disused brick pit at Ashbury, which was to become W H Wagener Oval.  Many hours of volunteer labour were put into the new ground, but several years were to pass whilst the surface settled after its being filled.  During that period, Wests used Macquarie University Oval for its home games.  The club found that crossing the Parramatta River was just too far for the club’s supporters, and no doubt fewer people ventured back to the licensed club.  so the Club then moved its home games for one season to Outer Jensen Oval at Sefton.  That was the home ground of Bankstown Sports Club (who later moved to Kelso Oval).

At last W H Wagener Oval became West’s ground , although a relatively short distance from Wests Licensed Club it was still a reasonable barrier to patrons returning to the clubrooms.  In more recent years, Picken Oval reverted to Council ownership, and the juniors played their games there.  An upgrade to Picken, including the building of an amenities area, led to Western Suburbs returning to their home at Picken Oval not that long ago.

St George in its earliest years mainly used the grounds arranged by the league including SCG No 2, Erskineville Oval and Trumper Park.  Home games were played occasionally at Kogarah Jubilee Oval.  Hurstville Oval became St George’s home ground for several years, before Olds Park at Mortdale became their home in 1965.  Some matches have been played at Olds Park No 2, but mainly for lower grades.  Redevelopment of Olds Park led St George to also play some games at Bankstown Memorial Oval as well as Kelso Oval, Panania.

Most of Sydney Uni’s games have been played at University Oval No 1.  The adjacent University Oval No 2 has also hosted games.  Recently several games have also been played at St Paul’s Oval which is also on the University campus with then entry off City Road.

Both of the founding clubs of University of NSW- East Sydney have had several home grounds.  For this discussion, Eastern Suburbs for most of their existence played at Trumper Park, Paddington.  Easts also played some home games in the 1950s at Waverley Oval, Bondi and slightly earlier at The Sydney Sports Ground.  The Sports Ground no longer exists, but it was in Driver Avenue, Moore Park, next to the also demolished, SCG No 2.  This was basically where the SCG car park is today.

University of NSW originally played on neutral grounds such as Trumper Park and Erskineville Oval.  In the late 1970s they used the Little Bay Sports Complex, part of the Uni of NSW Sports Fields. The land was later sold off and used for housing.  The facilities at Little Bay were quite good, but the ground was often subject to strong winds, being very close to the coast.  Uni of NSW moved to the Village Green at the main campus at Kensington.  Village Green is the home ground of the new unified club.

North Sydney Oval was, for a long period, used as North Shore’s ground. Chatswood Oval was also used in the 1930s.

The church across the road from North Sydney Oval in Miller Street used to object to the sounds of the whistle, and the bell or siren to mark the quarter start or endings, whilst their services were conducted on Sunday Mornings.  This forced their Under 19s games during the 1960s and 1970s to be played at the desolate, Gore Hill Oval, whilst Reserve and First Grade were played at North Sydney Oval No 1.

The ground was really too small for Australian Football and costs became prohibitive when the council redeveloped the ground building extensive and historic grandstands.  North Shore then relocated to Gore Hill Oval at St Leonards.  During their relocation era, a number of home games were also played at Macquarie University Oval.

UTS, despite being the most recently formed club participating in Premier League, have already played at two different home grounds.  Trumper Park was no longer used for senior football when East Sydney merged with Uni of NSW, so UTS secured the long term AFL ground.  UTS adopted the Bats emblem from the fruit bats that occupy the large trees surrounding Trumper Oval. More recently, Waverley Oval, with its newly constructed grandstand is now shared with Trumper Oval for UTS home games.

When the Campbelltown club first entered the senior competition in Sydney in the mid 1970s, they played at the Ingleburn Army Base ground. Then they relocated to Memorial Oval, Ingleburn.  Upon their promotion to what is now Premier League they moved to Macquarie Fields Oval, originally called Edelsten Oval after Dr Geoffrey Edelsten.  The ground has since had several name changes.