More has come to light following some further research into the 1949 VFA Premiers, Williamstown’s game at Wollongong.
Arrangements had been made well in advance of the October 9 game for Williamstown to visit Wollongong and as it turned out, ‘Willy’ finished the VFA season as premiers defeating Oakleigh in a very tight grand final only the week before. The visit reportedly cost the club one thousand pounds ($2,000), a huge sum of money in those days.
Their attendance was arranged in an effort to promote the code in the city and surrounds with local officials under the impression that they had secured as opposition, the likely Sydney premiers, Newtown, to play a combined Williamstown/Illawarra combination in an exhibition match at the Wollongong Showground on Saturday 8 October.
At the time, Newtown were the gun side in Sydney. They had won the 1945-48 flags and went on to win the premiership again in 1949-50, giving them six successive titles in Sydney football. They suffered only one defeat in 1949 so would have been perfect opponents for the VFA premiers. Only a week before Newtown had defeated the Eastern Suburbs club by one point to annex the premiership at the Sydney Showground.
On the Sunday of the weekend, nine NSW representative players had been included in the Illawarra team to play a full strength Williamstown side on the same venue with the proceeds to go to the Illawarra District Ambulance. So the weekend was looked upon as a carnival for Australian football in Wollongong.
However a bombshell hit organisers early on Saturday when Illawarra FC secretary, Bob Watkins, received a telegram from the NSW AFL Secretary, Ken Ferguson that Newtown would not be making the trip so a last minute re-arrangement of teams had to be made.
Mr Ferguson entirely blamed the Newtown club for their lack of attendance whom he said had previously agreed to the encounter some six weeks previous. He said the Newtown club delegate had informed his club secretary of the match only a matter of days before the game but it took until Saturday before Newtown announced their decision not to participate!
Quite understandably, Wollongong officials were furious with Newtown’s non-attendance and in terms which could be reported here said that “it was inexcusable and not only disheartening to Illawarra officials but would give the visiting team a very poor impression on the conduct of the code in this state.”
Five Williamstown players had been sent ahead of the main group for the Saturday game and the NSW league only could scrape up only two Sydney players: Seventeen year old Ray Millington (who would go onto play with Fitzroy) and Western Suburb’s, Tommy Lamb.
The game was re-arranged with only two hours notice and fortunately a set of Eastern Suburbs jumpers had been sent with Millington to enable two teams to take the field. It was not surprising that the Illawarra-Williamstown combination won this game 13.14 (92) to the composite team’s 9.9 (63).
Despite the re-arrangements, the pre-arranged local second grade baseball premiership challenge match between Cringila Cardinals and Port Kembla was still played as a prelude to the Saturday game.
In all sixty three had made the trip to Wollongong, including 24 players and, it was reported, a further sixty supporters would have also travelled with the group if accommodation could have been found. The entire contingent stayed at the now closed Headlands Hotel, Austinmer, a village well north of Wollongong itself.
They had travelled by rail from Melbourne to Moss Vale where they changed trains to travel cross country through Robertson on the now ‘freight-only’ and special excursion train track. This line is one of the most scenic in New South Wales, and for the first 20 km after leaving Unanderra has an almost continuous grade 1 in 30 providing spectacular view over the Illawarra coastline.
On arrival at Wollongong the party were accorded a civic reception by the Mayor, Ald Graham who was joined by other dignitaries in welcoming the group.
During their week long stay they:
* Were guests of the Illawarra Greyhound Racing Club on the Monday night;
* Paid a visit to BHP Steelworks, Port Kembla on Tuesday;
* On Tuesday night were guests of the Civic Theatre in Wollongong;
* Travelled to Sydney on the Wednesday where the entire party became lost and on their return stopped at the top of Bulli Pass over looking Wollongong and the Illawarra, where they describedthe view
as “breath-taking” and “beyond description” and a vista never before seen by the group;
* Then on the Thursday saw them entertained at a dance arranged by the Illawarra FC at the Agricultural Hall in Wollongong.
* On Friday the contingent travelled south to the village of Kiama where they were entertained viewing the sights of the area including the Kiama Blow Hole.
* On the last night of their stay, the proprietor at the Headlands Hotel, Mrs Vera Kelly, afforded the group a farewell social evening where they all dressed up in various garb taking off the many
personalities of the club and other civil dignitaries of the Williamstown club and area. It was reported that the hostess, Mrs Kelly, received a presentation from her visitors, “as did the pianiste, Mrs
On Sunday however, and despite the wet track, two games were played as curtain raisers. In the first at 12 noon, a NSW junior state team, most probably Under 16s, played ‘The Rest’. All of these boys came from Sydney with the NSW side winning 11.11 (77) to 7.7 (49).
In the second 1.30pm game, Liverpool, which was playing in the Metropolitan Australian National Football Association (MANFA) A grade, defeated Illawarra 3.16 (34) to 2.3 (15). The Illawarra side was mostly comprised of their second grade, with a few others who had little chance against the Liverpool team who only a few years later were elevated to the Sydney league.
In the main game, the Illawarra/Sydney combination were behind at each change but offered a concerted challenge at the last minute with the ball in their attacking zone just as the bell sounded.
The star for the locals was Eastern Suburbs legend Roy Hayes, who, at 25 created havoc in the centre for the opposition. Another Hall of Fame member, Jack Armstrong in the ruck was named as an additional good contributor as was the 1949-50 Phelan Medalist and Illawarra FC player, Ken Gilbert who had a battle royal against his roving opponent, Johnny Molyneaux.
Strong Sydney Naval FC captain-coach, Jimmy Cracknell at forward booted three goals but not before the opposition had two put on him in an attempt to reduce his influence on the game.
South Sydney tough man, Geoff Lendrum, played on Williamtown’s iconic forward, Ron Todd and kept him to four goals. Lendrum was commended for his effort as was the team in an effort that was considered “well up to Melbourne standard.”
It is worth noting that the 1949 season was one of the wettest on record in Sydney and coastal areas.
Photograph shows the Williamstown team of 1949.