– Player Clearance Refused to VFL Club

It doesn’t happen now, players with talent are immediately absorbed into an AFL club with the blessing of their parent club.

In the old days however certainly Sydney, and I imagine country clubs, were very reluctant to let their players go.

1921 NSW State Schools Team – Fred is front row on the right

Such was the situation with Freddie Davies.  A product of Double Bay School and later the Eastern Suburbs Club, Fred was bathed in talent.  He represented NSW Schoolboys in 1921 and again in Brisbane in 1922 as captain.  He later captained the NSW state team at the age of 23 against the VFL at the SCG.

Prior to this Fred represented the state in the 1927 National All-States Carnival and was beseiged by VFL clubs for his signature.

In those days local clubs and state bodies frowned on such action and went to great lengths to discredit the Melbourne clubs.

In early 1928 when North Melbourne attempted to secure his clearance they were exposed when it was reported that:
“It was a big offer (£4/10/ a week to play football) and a job in the bargain for Davies to turn down. He did not know what the other players had been offered. Mr. Thomas, (said Mr. Smith) explained the whole position and there was not the slightest possible doubt that negotiations with the three players had reached an advanced stage when Mr. Thomas called on me. THE THREE PLAYERS. Fred Davies was the best all-round player in the League last season. Twenty years of age, he weighs 11st. and is 5ft 11 in. With his exceptional capacity for ‘mixing it’ in any company, Davies would he sure to succeed in Melbourne League football. He moves into position well, and, in addition to handling the ball ably, is a fine kick and marksman. He is a product of the Double Bay School. When several Victorian critics endeavoured to select an Australian team after tbe recent Carnival games in Melbourne, Davies was the only New South Wales player to receive popular recognition.” [1}

Then, on the same day, the Sydney Sun reported on a letter sent to North Melbourne from the Secretary of Davies’s Eastern Suburbs club:



The Eastern Suburbs Australian Rules Football Club, Sydney, has refused a clearance to the North Melbourne Club of F. Davies.   Alrc McWhinney, secretary of the club, explains the position in the following letter to Stan Thomas, secretary of the North Melbourne Club: — “Your committee and yourself cannot realise the strenuous fight that we in Sydney have had in the past to foster the good old Australian game. If, when we are making steady progress, we have to lose players of the type of F. Davles (by trafficking), then we in Sydney will have to close up business and go back to Rugby. “It is only on very rare occasions that we get a local, player like Davles; who is not only a draw for our club, but a big draw for our game In general and while we can produce his class of player the game is going to make rapid strides in Sydney. Therefore my committee appeals to your club to refrain from encouraging players from Sydney when you have so many to choose from In Victoria.” [2]

1934 image of the Fitzroy Team. Freddie Davies is highlighted. The mercurial Hayden Bunton is on his right

Now today there would be hell to pay if a club took this action but it kept ‘Snowy’ Davies in Sydney until 1930 when he took the field for Fitzroy.  During that time Easts were runners  up in 1928 but failed to make the four in 1929.

Fitzroy were a strong club in those days while North, who hadonly been admitted to the League in 1924, struggled.

Davies went on to play from 1930-34 for Fitzroy and captained the side in his final year.  Upon his return to Sydney he played for St George, firstly under Ted Shields, then Bub Phelan and finally under former Footscray player, Jack Hayes.  He was appointed captain and coach of the club in 1938 when they won their second consecutive premiership.  Fred was 32.

The only other player we know of who had problems gaining a clearance was Mark McClure when he was recruited by Carlton from East Sydney (same club).  Easts officials delayed the clearance in the hope of a securing substantial ‘transfer fee’ only to have the Carlton Secretary tell them ” …. if you don’t clear him we will sign someone else and he can stay in Sydney.” (or words to that effect) [3]  The clearance was quickly despatched to Melbourne after the matter went before a special meeting of the NSWAFL administration on June 21, just before the clearance cutoff date. [4]   McClure went on to play 243 games over eleven seasons with Carlton and was captain of the club in 1986.

[1]  Referee  Wednesday 15 February 1928 p 13 Article
[2]  Sun  Wednesday 15 February 1928, page 7
[3]  Anecdotal – club official
[4]  Sydney Sun 23 June 1973

Rosebery Football Club

Between 1923 – 1953, what we would know as a second division, The Metropolitan Australian National Football Association, operated in Sydney.

We have written before about this competition before, however in the past few days, documents have come to light which shed more details on the Association but more particularly on one of the participants, the Rosebery Football Club.

Rosebery is a southern suburb of Sydney, near Mascot, and land was first released there in 1912 on which it was intended to build a ‘model suburb’.

Initially the vast majority of the houses were built of that dark brick so common of the houses of the day.

Many dwellings were constructed between 1912-20 in the numerous streets which make up the suburb and most of the children would have attended the Gardeners Road Public School which is located on the corner of Gardeners and Botany Roads, Rosebery.  At one stage around that period the school population boasted 1800 students.

Rupert Browne, a teacher and sports master at the school from 1911-50, promoted Australian football and was responsible for many young men taking on the game and playing for clubs throughout Sydney.

Besides junior teams, the Rosebery Football Club fielded an A grade in the Metropolitan Association for most of its existence, apart from WWII when manpower was scarce.

Rosebery A Grade Premiers 1928 small1937 Rosebery Football Club - 1st Grade small 1939 Rosebery Football Club - 1st Grade thumbnail


We now have several images of the club’s premiership teams from the 1920s and 1930s.

Jack Hayes, a former junior of the club, who went on to play with Footscray and later coached St George, coached the club’s premiership sides of 1937 & 39.  For those who remember, the familiar faces of long term NSWAFL Secretary, Ken Ferguson and South Sydney official, Alby Young, appear in the 1928 photograph.

In the material we have been given are the 1946 and 1947 annual reports which give a glimpse of football of that level in those days.  You can peruse these documents by clicking either of the years.

They make for a very interesting read, particularly an expense item in 1946 for ‘sherry’ which was often given to players during the breaks on a cold day.


Not so long ago we wrote a story about John Leber, former player, umpire and junior organiser who unceremoniously passed away early in the year at Coffs Harbour aged 91.

We used the information we had at hand in writing the article and at the same time publishing a sub standard photograph of John, given that’s all that was available.

In the process of re-cataloguing material we have in the Society’s rooms at Wests licensed club, Croydon Park, we came across a whole plethora of information about the man which had been misfiled and, considering his contribution to the game in Sydney and what we had found, we felt he deserved another run.  Its a good story.

A red-head, John learned his football when he attended Gardiners Road Public School between 1933-36.  During this and earlier periods in Sydney there were only three or four public schools who were sympathetic to Australian Football:

There was Rupert Browne at Gardiners Road, Tas Carroll at Hurstville Tech and another at Double Bay School.  Gardiners Road churned out many state and players who went on to play first grade football in Sydney.

John represented NSW at the All Australian Schoolboys carnival held in Canberra in 1935 where the NSW team was under the management of H G (Bunny) Shepherd.

When he left school he played with the Rosebery Club in the Metropolitan Aust National Football Assn., which was virtually a second division in Sydney.  Rosebery was quite a strong club and at the time, coached to their 1938 premiership by Jack Hayes, a local, who had played with Footscray and only a few years previous to this coached the St George Club.

Leber then chose to join the very strong Newtown Club where he played both first and reserve grade until 1942 when he enlisted in the AIF and immediately began playing and umpiring services football.

In this year he represented a combined services team which defeated NSW 16.18 (104) to 13.21 (99) at Trumper Park.

In 1943, whilst undergoing a course in Seymour Victoria, Leber approached the Fitzroy Football Club to ascertain if he could get a game.  The club’s secretary, Perc Mitchell wrote back inviting him to play in the seconds for the club against Melbourne on August 14.  Click here to read the letter.

The literature we have supports the fact that he did play with the Lions but, from further research, and despite suggestions to the contrary, we have been been unable to confirm that he played in the senior side.

Upon his return to civilian life in 1946 John again signed on with Newtown but failed to gain a permanent place in their very strong outfit.  During this time he sustained a severe leg injury, dislocating his knee resulting in medical advice that should not continue to play football.

Still with a love of the game, John took up umpiring in 1949.  He went on to umpire 147 first grade games in Sydney.  Additionally he umpired Illawarra v Williamstown in Wollongong in 1948, Combined Sydney v Newcastle game 1951 and NSW FL v Broken Hill in 1952, besides the NSW v Tasmania game we have already mentioned in 1955.

As we also said in our previous article, John umpired two Sydney first grade grand finals and we are fortunate to have his Umpires’ Appointment Card for the 1955 decider between Eastern Suburbs and North Shore. Tas Carroll, Rupert  He was awarded Best Umpire by the Umpires’ Assn in 1951 & 1955.

It has been a long time since umpire appointments have been notified in this manner and the card itself is certainly a find.

John was one of the founders of Boys Town (Engadine) Football Club as well as the St George Junior Football Association.  He also helped in the formation of the Engadine and Heathcote junior football clubs and umpired school and junior games in these areas as well as coaching junior umpires conducting lectures at least twice a week to umpires and junior clubs in the St George District.  Interestingly John was one of the founders of the now Southern Power Football Club.

John Leber was appointed coach of the NSW Under 17 Teal Cup side in 1958 and the NSW Under 15 Shell Cup teams in 1961 & 62.

His last game was in the NSW v Tasmania Schoolboys game at Picken Oval in 1973.  Together with his NSWAFL games, John umpired 261 junior matches which total 408 games, certainly a great service to Australian Football.

In our last article we mentioned that John assisted the league with good rates for interstate teams travelling on the airline, TAA.  To our embarrassment we have found that John worked for Ansett Airlines of Australia where he helped in the movement of state teams from round Australia co-operating with the then league Secretary, Lionel Beale and later General Manager, Russell Hopper.

For a period of five years it was John who arranged for the winner of the Phelan Medal to receive a free airline trip, firstly to Hayman Island then the Gold Coast in the late 1960s to the early 1970s.

As well as all this, John was always only too happy to help Sydney and other clubs with their end of season trips.

A great Australian and a great ambassador for our code in Sydney.


In 1924 the Australian National Football Council hosted an all-states carnival in Tasmania.

These interstate round robin carnivals were popular, but now with the AFL virtually playing interstate games each round, the interest and significance of such events have lost favour.  The last of these was in 1988 as part of the bi-centennial celebrations when the then VFL clubs released their players to play a state of origin carnival series in Adelaide.

However in July 1924, in an unusual turn of events, NSW selected a team to participate in two matches against the very strong Victorian team at the same time as the carnival was being played.  Consequently, the team they selected was regarded as a ‘second rate’ side, given that the main NSW team would be in Tasmania.

As a leadup, officials organised a game between this second tier NSW team and a combined team from ‘the juniors’.

Now it took some research to work out exactly who these ‘juniors’ represented.  In some reports they were recorded as a combined reserve grade and in others, ‘juniors’.

In 1924 not all first grade teams supported a reserve grade so the following first grade clubs in the Sydney competition had other, or ‘junior’ clubs play in the place of their second eighteen and before the main or first grade game of the day.  It should be noted that these teams were made up of open age players:

First Grade Club Reserve Grade Club
Newtown Newtown
Paddington Paddington
Sydney Sydney
North Shore South Sydney
East Sydney Western Suburbs
Balmain Botany
Railway Rosebery
St George

It would appear that St George was a late nomination for the competition.

The game between NSW and a combined second grade was played at Erskineville Oval and itself was a curtain raiser to a match between the main metropolitan contingent for the carnival team and a team from the South Broken Hill Club.  Two players from the latter side were eventually added to the NSW carnival team.

The game between combined junior team and the second NSW side commenced at 1.40pm, given that in those days there was a 48 hour week with most people working of a Saturday morning.

There were 3,000 in attendance to watch this leadup match and the ‘juniors’ left no stone unturned to establish themselves as the dominant of the two.

The quarter time scores were: 2-5 to 1-3, 5-7 to 2-4, 5-10 to 3-4 with the final score a win the for junior side, 6-11 (47) to 3-6 (24)

Despite their rating, the juniors had some stars in their side.  It contained the Rosebery captain, Jacky Hayes who would go on to play for Footscray and later captain-coach St George and later, the Sydney Club.  Rob Smith a Newtown player, who in 1928, turned out for North Melbourne and Percy Flynn who later topped the Sydney first grade goalkicking list playing for South Sydney.

Officials cried foul citing the omission of eight of the NSW players from the team, the reason for their absence being unanswered.

Nevertheless the score was on the board.  Here was a NSW team defeated by a “virile, youthful and skilful” bunch of aspirants.  They did well.

On 9 August incidentally, the NSW, team, as expected, were defeated in their first encounter with Victoria in front of 6,000 at Erskineville Oval, 15-14 (104) to 13-13 (91) and in their second at the MCG, 15-12 (102) to (again) 13-13 (91) before a crowd of 16,370.