– Junior Football Part II

A A Laird

As written previously, football was resurrected in Sydney in 1903 after disintegrating in 1895.

This meant that organisers had to start from scratch but there appeared to be tremendous enthusiasm within those who had put their shoulders to the wheel to see the game once again played in the NSW capital.

The first annual report of the NSW League read, in part: “The first annual meeting of the New South Wales Football League was held in the Y.M.C.A. Hall, where there was a large attendance. The Hon. E. W. O’Sullivan occupied the chair. The annual report set out that the League was constituted in 1903 by the association of eleven newly formed club, but as one club became absorbed into another the present League comprised ten clubs. Great attention was paid by the League in introducing the game into the, public schools. In June last Mr. Nash formed a special committee to undertake that work, and their efforts had met with extraordinary success.”

Mr Mr. E. W. O’Sullivan was Minister for Public Works and a former Tasmanian.

He went on to say “He looked upon New South Wales as a big paddock, and If they wanted to play the Australian game he thought they were entitled to do so ….. There was some doubt at the time of its inception, of its success, but after the lapse of twelve months there could be no doubt, because the ground covered was so great that further success was sure to be secured. ” [1]

Speaking at the same meeting, Mr. J. J. Virgo,  secretary of the Australasian Union of YMCA, said that “when, three years , ago, some half-dozen gentlemen met for the purpose of endeavouring to start anew the Australian game In Sydney none of them, even the most optimistic, dreamt that within such a short space of time the game would have grown locally to anything like Its present proportions,

“When one came to think of the conditions then existing regarding football mutters . it was a fine performance that the league had accomplished. Now it was beyond dispute that the game was firmly established,, and It was accepted as one of the things that had to be. Needless to say, that had not been brought about without the exercise of much forethought and patient, unceasing perseverance on the part of those at the head of affairs. Considering all the circumstances the progress made by the Australian game In Sydney was little short of wonderful. No doubt a great deal ‘of the success, was due to the foresight of the league In establishing competitions In the public schools and the Catholic primary schools of the city and suburbs.

“Work was commenced In 1904, and so many schools took the game up, and with such enthusiasm continued playing it, that when the 1905 season came round the question arose regarding the necessity of providing some competition to meet the requirements if the lads who had left school in the Interim, and might be desirous of continuing playing the national game from then onwards. With the object of filling that need, A. A. Laird (a government shorthand writer) took the matter in hand.”

“Considering that the lads had only had one season’s experience of the rules the most that was expected was that some half-dozen clubs might be formed, and that number would have been thought entirely, satisfactory. Advertisements were inserted (in newspapers) and meetings held in various centres, with the result that the following clubs were formed to play Australian rules:—

Balmain ‘A’ Balmain ‘B’ Dulwich Hill Eastern Suburbs Kegworth Maristonians
Newtown Petersham North Shore Redfern St Peters St Vincents

double the number anticipated. Two delegates were appointed by each club, and these met at the Y.M.C.A. Hall (thanks to that sterling supporter of, the game, Mr. J. J. Virgo) on the 7th May -last. In the good .times corning .for the game locally It will be interesting’ to know the names of the delegates who were present on that occasion and formed the association that means absolute success for the game here.”

“Rules were adopted, and a competition arranged, the. conditions regarding the latter being. ‘that no player taking part should be over the age of 19 years at the commencement of the first round’ and interest was keenly sustained In that competition throughout the season. [2]

So you can see that while the schools competitions were well catered for the weekend ‘juniors’ at that stage were not really boys at all, but young men.

Three or four officials, in particular, A A Laird, Harry Cave and J A Kelso put all their efforts into promoting the game in the schools, which for the first few years and before Rugby woke up and began to reoganise saw a great number of Sydney schools regularly playing the game:

Following is the draw for the first round of the 1904 Schools Competition, under the auspices of the N.S.W. League (Australian Rules) :
No. 1 District (Central).— Cleveland-street, v Crown-street, on Friday; William-street v Redfern West, on Friday; Blackfriars v Ultimo, on Thursday; Pyrmont v Glebe, on Thursday; Forest Lodge a bye.
No. 3 District (Eastern Suburbs). — Plunket-street v Double Bay, on Friday; Woollahra v Bondi,- on Thursday; Waverley v Randwick, on Friday Coogee -v. Kensington, on Thursday.
No. 4 District (Southern Suburbs) — Gardners-road v Waterloo, on Thursday; Alexandria v Erskinevlle on Thursday; Camdenville v Redfern A, on Friday; Redfern B v. Newtown North, on Friday; St. Peters, a bye.
No. 5 District (Illawarra Suburbs – St George) Tempe v Arncliffe on Thursday; Rockdale v Kogarah on Thursday; Hurstville West v Canterbury; on Thursday; Dulwich Hill v Marrickville, on Friday;- Marrickville West a bye.
No. 6 District (Western Suburbs). — Petersham v Summer Hill, on Friday; Ashfield v Croydon Park; on Thursday; Croydon v Burwood, on Friday; Homebush v Auburn, on Thursday.
No. 7 District (North-Western Suburbs).— Balmain v Darling-road, on Thursday; Birch grove v Nicholson-street, on Friday; Smith-street v Leichhardt, on Thursday; Leichhardt West v Drummoyne on Friday; Kegworth a bye. [3]

Before the match on the 28th May between VFL Clubs, Essendon and Melbourne at the SCG, there were matches between a combined team from the northern and eastern district schools, and game from schools from the southern v the western districts schools.

[1]  Australian Star 9 April 1904, p.2
[2}  Australian Star 17 April 1906, p.3
[3}  Evening News 18 May 1904, p.2

The 1903 Resurrection

Resurrection smallIn 1903 the game in Sydney was resurrected after a hiatus of nine years.

We found this article in the Sydney Mail from 1903 which gives a broad description of the establishment of the game in 1880, then its revival early last century.  We are not certain who the author is.

” The first annual meeting of the New South Wales League  “Australian rules” was held at the Y.M.C.A. Hall on Friday. It is 23 years since the first big meeting of the kind was held in Sydney, and it was the outcome of a small movement in Woollahra started by Mr. G. A. Crisp, who was subsequently captain of the Sydney club, and the writer. The idea was to form a club in Woollahra for the purpose of keeping a lot of young cricketers in good condition.

The meeting was advertised in the ‘Herald’, and the usual attention was drawn to the advertisement. Rain came down very heavily, and there were not more than a dozen present, three of them being Mr. Horace Rogers (who was ‘Leatherstocking’ of the ‘Mail ‘  [a very vocal supporter of the game when it first began in 1881]), Mr. Crisp (the convenor), and myself. That meeting was adjourned to Mr. Hook’s Freemasons’ Hotel, in York Street, and amongst, those present was a big representation of Rugby followers. After a very noisy meeting an association was formed, and clubs quickly joined it. The game was played for 16 [sic] years, and then it died out of existence.

The present movement in favour of the Australian game is being carried on better lines than that of 23 years ago, and it is hoped it will meet with better success. There is room for Rugby, British Association (soccer), and Australian games. Men who play Rugby will not play Australian football, nor will the adherents of the British Association game play either of the other two.

Those who are responsible for the revival of what was formerly known as the ‘Victorian’ game have a much harder row to hoe than they appear to realise, and it is just as well that they should be told this. The meeting on Friday evening was presided over by Mr. E. W. O’Sullivan, M.L.A., and amongst those on the platform were Messrs. D. A. Madden, D. Levy, M.L.A., H. Hedger, J. J. Virgo, G. Moriarty (of the Fitzroy Club, Melbourne), McGuire, R. McLeod, the secretary (Mr. Kewin), and others, and there were about a hundred in the body of the hall. Mr Madden, who has now taken up his residence in Sydney, was a very prominent figure in cricket in Melbourne, where I had the pleasure of meeting him and of hearing him sing.

Mr. H. Hedger was one of the moving spirits in the very early 80’s. He played for the Sydney Club, and so did the two Ballhausens, who were also present on Friday evening. Mr. J. J. Virgo, the secretary to the Y.M.C.A., is taking a big interest in the movement. The report submitted by the hon. secretary, Mr. Kewin, traced the movement from the start to the present time.

There were now the following clubs in existence -Sydney, Paddington, West Sydney, East Sydney, North Sydney, Redfern, Balmain, Ashfield, Y.M.C.A.,1903 - A E Kewin - NSWAFL Sec small and others, while some were in course of formation. The report referred to the excellent work done by the provisional committee, and also the fact that the Collingwood and Fitzroy clubs were coming to Sydney and would play a match on May 23, the cost of the undertaking being estimated at £1000 [$138,000 at today’s inflation rate], while all the proceeds would go to the New South Wales League.

The Hon. E. W O ‘Sullivan in congratulating the league on having introduced the Australian game in New South Wales, said he was a member of the old Waratah Club that played the Australian game. The new game, or at least a revival of that which was played 20 years ago, promoted physical and intellectual exercise. The officers elected were Patron, His Excellency Sir Harry Rawson; President, Sir John See; vice-presidents, Hon, E. W. O’Sullivan, M.L.A., Hon. A. W. Meeks, M.L.C., Messrs. J. M. Templeman, A. E. Nash, J. S. Brunton, E. A. Scott, Major Roth, D.S.O., D. A. Madden, H. Hedges, H. Rapiport, R. Shute, J. J. Virgo, Dr. A. Maitland Gledden, Dr. G. Armstrong, Mr. D. Levy, M.L.A. ; treasurer, Mr. H. Hedger; hon, secretary, Mr. A. E. Kewin.”

And in the Beginning….

1888 Footballer 2 smallAustralian football has been played competitively in Sydney since 1880, save for the period between 1895-1903.

It has had its ups and downs in all of that period;  successes and failures and of course some were minor catastrophes for the code here.  There are too many to list at this juncture but it makes for good copy in future postings on the website.

And yet with this pessimistic opening to this story there were often glimpses of hope, just like the feelings of a league official in 1908 when he wrote:

“There is no smooth path for workers in the cause in Sydney; It is filled with rocks thorns and interminable bush, which have to be cut away by real hard graft and whole-hearted enthusiasm. There is a light shining through the bush, however,   and that is the increased attendance at matches.

True, there has not been any charge for admission at most of the games; still, one could not help being struck with the sangfroid of hundreds while standing round the boundary in drenching rain watching the semi-final,   East Sydney v. Redfern. It said much for their enthusiasm and love of the pastime. The final last Saturday attracted a large crowd to Erskineville Oval, where a charge was made for admission, the pavilion being crowded with ladies.

It was a very pleasing sight, and gladdening to the heart of the enthusiast.

If an enclosed ground can be secured next season, revenue will come in, ladies will be able to attend matches, and an increased inducement given to many young fellows to don a jersey. An official ground as the headquartcrs of the game in Sydney is badly needed, and must be obtained somehow.

Perhaps that prince of organisers, Mr. J. J. Virgo, may do something in this connection for his club and incidentally for the League and the game generally. Should he set the machinery in motion, success is almost assured for he is Napoleonic in his ideas regarding that small word, ‘impossible.’ ”

Well the league did purchase a ground;  an old racecourse which was located on the north-west corner of Botany and Gardeners Roads, Mascot, now overtaken by factories.  After spending thousands of dollars on this project an over enthusiastic administration saw it swallowed up in debt as the first world war began.Australian Football Ground  Click the image to show where it was located.

One of the major problems with the advancement of football in Sydney was the lack of enclosed grounds, where an admission fee could be charged.  Normally there was at least one ground where a fee could be applied but the remaining games were played on open parks like Birchgrove Oval, Rushcutters Bay Park, Alexandria Oval and Moore Park.  Yes hundreds, if not thousands, watched the games in those early days but without money, and the main source was from gate takings, the exercise was futile and it did not get any better as time went on.

At one stage in the 1920s, League Secretary, Jim Phelan, advocated a reduction in teams which would then lower expenses and give the league full control over the two grounds over which they, for the most part, had control, Erskineville Oval and Trumper Park.

This attitude, of course, was a nonsense.  Sydney was expanding and yet the league did nothing to facilitate new clubs in the developing areas.  For many decades their focus was on established and populated areas such as Newtown, East Sydney, South Sydney and Sydney itself.  All of these clubs have since disappeared.

Even in 1963 when a successful effort was made to establish a club at Parramatta, there were no real concessions.  They were given lip service until a year or two later when coerced into amalgamating with the Liverpool/Bankstown club, which itself was a combination of two sides in a burgeoning Sydney.  They formed the Southern Districts Club, now, they too are long since gone.

Its all well and good to preach “what if” now but even if a little foresight could have been applied then, some planning some forecasting, football in Sydney may well have developed differently.

Notes
[i]   Up to about 1980, grounds used by the league were managed and operated by the league.  They took the gate receipts and paid the bills relating to the ground.
[ii]   The Erskineville Oval referred to in this article is the old Erskineville Oval, situated about 100m west of the present ground with an east-west orientation.
[iii]  The ground at Moore Park is still used for Australian football and now the home of the Moore Park Tigers junior football club.