Sixteen a side

Sixteen a side, an interesting concept isn’t it?

The old VFA played sixteen a side for years, with great success I might add and there are probably many leagues throughout our land which still play with the same number.

Ever wonder why soccer is so popular?  Besides the fact that Mum thinks little Johnny won’t get hurt, here is the answer:

There are eleven players on each side;  not many to rustle up for a kick around is it?  Team A kicks (or faces) one way and Team B kicks the other.  The object is by not touching the ball with the hand, kick it through those goal posts at the other end.  Simple isn’t it?

If you are a junior coach in soccer how easy is it?  “You face this way and if the ball comes near you, kick it that way.”  And if you win the comp everyone thinks you are a genius. I have often thought “what a simple principle”  But what do we do?  We invent the best game in the world and muddle it up by introducing all these rules.  In 1859 there were 12.  How many are there now?

Plus, now the central umpire – there are three in the big time where this booming voice comes from secreted part of the ground to Intermittently adjudicate on a score – has the discretion to allow a free kick to go unheeded in order to ‘keep the game flowing.’   Great idea, but what pressure does that put on our umpires while Waldo Bloggs, who might be watching the game for the first time must ask himself, “what is going on?”

Anyhow16aside, enough of that.  The game was started with 20 players on each side with NO reserves or interchange.  All that changed in the 1890s when the new competition, the Victorian Football League, changed it to 18 aside.  Still no reserves.

Did you know that in 1935 the Eastern Suburbs Club in Sydney, a club long lost in the mix-up of clubs, names and teams put forward a proposal to cut the number of players from 18 to 16 (great idea).  At the same time they proposed a crossbar be put between the goalposts and a goal had to be kicked through and under the crossbar (I dont know about that one).  Starting to complicate things, isn’t it?  Well the concept went off to the long gone Australian National Football Council which failed to give it any support.

Then along came a ‘new broom’  in 1960-61  when Joe Boulus, from Broken Hill was appointed fulltime secretary of the NSW AFL (it was all honorary before then).  He followed Ken Ferguson who gave the league 35 years of his time as league secretary.  A fair effort and Ken was a lovely bloke.

They introduced sixteen aside in the Sydney competition.  However the traditionalists of the game howled it down, although they agreed they were playing on smaller grounds than most of Australia “but it wasn’t real football if there weren’t eighteen on the paddock.”  One reason Sydney football has failed is because some couldn’t see 16aside 3the forest for the trees.

So six months later and mid-season it was back to 18 aside.

Then in 1998 when the AFL usurped control over the game in NSW with an appointed administration as opposed to an one elected, John Livvy, the new CEO changed Sydney team numbers to 16. GOOD!  But it too didn’t last long so here we are, the majority of the teams in a what can broadly be described as a successful but sometimes struggling code in NSW, where if you can’t get the required numbers, you forfeit and yet we are still yet to get to where they would be happy with numbers playing the game.

Or is it that the majority of our young now play their sport on a tablet?

Do you know that in some soccer comps play 5 aside?


Timekeepers Clock
Timekeepers  Clock

We have written much about football and its peripheral activities and now one subject comes up that takes place in each game and at times continues to be as vexatious as ever:  Timekeeping.

The rules of the game say that each team must supply a timekeeper and the reason for this is simple.  It ensures that the time each quarter, breaks and match itself is timed correctly and stops cheating.

The rules also say that each timekeeper must have his or her own timepiece with which they should maintain the times of those periods.

The president of the History Society, Ian Granland, is a person with undoubted credentials in this area, after he told us that he first began to keep time for a first grade match in Sydney at age 17.

“Like many struggling clubs, there was no-one else.  I was handed the clock and team sheet and told to go and sit in the press box with someone from the other club and keep time.” Granland said.

“What?  That’s not my idea of a fun day at the footy” I thought.  “That’s for old blokes who can no longer play or who don’t want to pick up the jumpers after the game” but, he went on “I was stuck with it.”

“I was a quick learner and soon found out that a good timekeeper can win or lose you a game.  I went on to work with some solid shonks in the local football fraternity, an area you probably don’t think counts.”

“First, I was told, ‘look, you write down the goalkickers and I’ll keep the time, don’t bother using your clock’ (I never could work out why there were two clocks in the first place – but there was a reason).

So on a windswept day at Erskineville Oval in Sydney, a naive young Ian Granland sat in the back seats of the grandstand (there was no pressbox) with his opposition number to keep time.  “It didn’t take me long to realise that although my colleague feigned stopping the clock (for time out) when my1988 Erskineville Oval 001 small team was kicking with the wind, he didn’t and the reserve was the case with his side.  My education in timekeeping had started.  And there were and still are, other lurks to the caper.”

There is nothing like a good club timekeeper, who comes along to the game does their job, interferes with no-one and goes home.  For every club, that’s one big and important job out of the way.

But of course on the other hand there are other disorganised clubs, many of whom are college teams, that just sit an injured player on the seat and expect them to perform.  No, it doesn’t work like that.

Umpires and their signals are another question.  If there is a prolonged stoppage in play, the officiating umpire must signal time out by raising their hand in the air and blowing the whistle.  Some forget and it’s not the timekeeper’s job to take on that responsibility, so if you see the clock ticking away while a stretcher is on the ground it’s maybe because the umpire is a bit lax.

But, the rules do provide for umpires who forget to signal ‘time back in’.  Should the umpire fail to do this the timekeeper/s can take it upon themselves to restart the clock. Sometimes umpires just raise their hand.  You have to watch the game.

Then of course, if you are at a match where a timepiece, more likely digital these days, is able to be viewed by the public, you might see the clock either stopped or operating when it should not and in fact the game stoppage has been addressed by the umpire.  This could be because of slack timekeepers.  Or if a timekeeper has been taken short and there is no-one to replace him or her….. and so the list goes on.

Every league will have bad timekeeping stories, there are no good ones because no-one notices the timekeeper if all goes well.  And, as an aside, did you know that many local rules provide for if and when the two goal umpires cannot decide on the score, they must consult with the timekeepers, who too, are supposed to be noting the score each time a point or goal is kicked.

But here’s a great story: In 1961 Newtown FC protested the result of its six point loss in the preliminary final to Sydney Naval when it was revealed that the siren sounded 12 minutes early to end the first quarter. This came about when the president of marching girls team (which was to perform at half time), plugged her music into the power board and in testing it, pressed the wrong switch which sounded the siren.  Nothing could be done because the players stopped and changed ends (there were no quarter time huddles then).

This certainly caused a conundrum with officials quickly deciding to spread those lost 12 minutes over the next three quarters. However they failed to tell anyone.  Was that a wise move? Was it within the rules? Maybe a situation like this had not been considered possible?

To add insult to injury, at the end of the game the sole central umpire failed to hear the final siren with both teams level on 88 points.  Sydney Naval player, Jack Harding had marked 40m out but his kick failed to reach the goal just as the siren sounded.  Oblivious to this, umpire Colbert called “play on” which allowed Naval player, Alan Waack, to gather the ball and boot a goal.  Sydney Naval had won by six points! The umpire even returned to the centre of the ground for the bounce before he finally acknowledged ‘time’.

Now you’re not going to believe this but a few weeks later in the grand final between North Shore and Sydney Naval there was a further timekeeping issue.

When starting to pack up towards the end of the of the match, acting league secretary, Joe Boulus, in dismantling the public address system, accidentally sounded the siren eight minutes before the end of the last quarter. Vice President, George Henry, jumped the fence and ran to tell the umpire but it was too late.

Let me tell you, similar things still go on today around Australia, we just don’t hear of them.

One thing I often see on the TV at times, is the clock being stopped in AFL games because of a complication in the game, when clearly the umpire has not signalled time out.  Have the rules changed?

Hail the long forgotten administrator in our game, The Timekeeper.  Lets have a Timekeepers Round for the thousands each weekend who perform that duty.

(We were going to publish a story about the introduction of the timekeepers clock into VFL football in 1923 but that can wait for another day.)

A Testing Time

1956 Alf Snow 001In the early 1960s, Sydney, and for that matter, NSW football went through some very dramatic administrative issues.

We have mentioned this before but it is worthwhile recording the actual events, so far as we can ascertain. After all, the major players at that time are no longer with us so we have to rely on historical documentation, one thing Sydney football is not known for.

1959 was the last season that long serving league secretary, Ken Ferguson held the position in an honorary capacity. Ken was an employee of the NSW Railway and with 24 years continuous service for the league, decided not to recontest the position. He was 55 and thinking of the need to consolidate his superannuation and other government entitlements.

The then president of the NSWAFL, Alf Snow (pictured top) said of Ken “In this state the name Ken Ferguson is synonymous with Aussie Rules . It is difficult to estimate the value of Ken’s work for our game. In my opinion the greatest single factor in keeping the game of Australian football going during the dark days of 1941-42 was the enthusiasm and work which he put into the task.”

Ken’s retirement came at a time when the league was moving into the appointment of a permanent secretary (general manager) with offices at Trumper Park, Paddington. Ken declined the role but with his shorthand and typing skills, he remained on in the minor position as Minute Secretary.

So as the league moved into a new period it did so with a brand new secretary, Jack Holman, who was almost an unknown in Sydney football. Also new was the shipping executive president, Wilf Holmes, from Western Australia.

Besides this the league adopted a new management system where all power and authority was vested in the office bearers and an elected board of management.

Some on the Board had served in previous administrative positions with the league while others were new to the job. They met every Monday Night during the season.

Prior to this club delegates held sway on major decisions of the league. This system, adopted in many leagues and associations throughout the country, does not always produce a fair and balanced view on issues because of possible club bias.

The other former sub-committee which was morphed into the management was that of league finance committee. This was one group which did have some power.

So the league sailed into 1960 with virtually a new team and new structure.

It appears though that the treasurer was not keeping up his job and the finances became a mess. It was recorded that for half of 1961 “receipts had not been written up and bank deposit slips did 1969 Hart, Felstead, Ferguson & Hayes thumbnailnot show particulars of deposits.” After the league treasurer resigned, his replacement was scathing in his report on the league’s administration.

The clubs were part funding the fulltime secretary’s salary of almost $29,000 (in today’s money) along with the Australian Football Council. The latter though stopped payment when the state of the league’s finances were revealed. This resulted in the suspension of  the secretary. In August 1961 Joe Boulus was appointed temporary league secretary, on a salary of $650.00 (in today’s money) per week, plus expenses. This continued until one week after the grand final. By November his salary had dropped to $277.00 a week. Some in the league thought the organisation did not need a fulltime employee and were not in favourinf the continuance of the position.

Ern McFarlane, for years a Newtown FC stalwart who replaced Wilf Holmes after only one year at the helm said of season 1961 that it was “the most turbulent and troublesome in the history of the NSW League.”

However, like many disasters, “from chaos comes order.” But it took its time.

From 1956 certainly through to the mid 1960s the league consistently recorded deficits. The period of 1960-62 was particularly challenging and one would imagine any normal business in a similar situation would have been declared insolvent. 1960 – £473, ($13,1107 today) 1961 – £619 ($16,782), 1962 – £543 ( $14,768).

By 1966 Ferguson had retired from his clerical position with the Railway and was appointed to the post of fulltime secretary of the league. He was honest, meticulous with an eye for detail. Although aging, the very experienced Ferguson held his own at the league and the game again began to move through another era.

The days of deficits were over. The league had the financial support of the Australian National Football Council and the Western Suburbs Licensed Club who in particular, poured thousands into supporting the game and its administration in Sydney.

The last picture is a unique combination of Sydney heavyweights from the 1950-60s.  From left, Syd Felstead, long term St George president and league vice president, Bill Hart, league president, the grey haired Ken Ferguson and on the right is Eastern Suburbs Club legend, Roy Hayes.



Typewriter1962 was a real problem year for football in Sydney.

Ernie McFarlane, the former long term Newtown FC Secretary and player was in his second year as president of the league after accepting the position, that apparently not many wanted.  He was a member of the board of control for several years before this.  McFarlane took over from Wilf Holmes, a shipping executive, who, in his one year as president, was clearly out of his depth in what could only be described as a volatile Sydney football environment.

McFarlane had been a dynamo at Newtown but struggled as president of the league.  Early in the year two board members, Joe Armstrong and Ern Holmes, and later, University coach and league vice president, Frank Bird, resigned their positions.  Then secretary of the junior organisation, the NSW Football Union, Arthur Bridgewater, was suspended from the board following a disagreement.

Ernie McFarlane I
Ern McFarlane

Wilf Holmes - NSW AFL Life Member
Wilf Holmes

Arthur Bridgewater
Arthur Bridgewater


Fortunately, principal of a leading accounting firm, Arthur Davey of Sylvania, had taken over as treasurer midway during the previous year but in doing so walked into a financial minefield.  His predecessor had resigned and the fulltime secretary of the league had been suspended.  There had been some allegations of impropriety, while Davey would probably have used the term, ‘incompetence’, particularly when it took almost a month before he could get hold of the books for examination.

Things were so bad that the Australian National Football Council, the then national body for control of the game, withheld payment of their second installment of seven hundred and fifty pounds ($1400) towards the salary of the league’s fulltime secretary until such time that the accounts were audited and all clubs had paid their liabilities.

In that period, unlike today, there was no mechanism in place to compel clubs to pay their accounts to the league.  Then, and in particular, the main areas of liability to the league by clubs included affiliation fees, season tickets for entry to the ground and a levy for the employment of a fulltime secretary.

Davey eventually audited the accounts himself and in doing so found an outstanding contingent liability of five hundred and twenty one pounds ten shillings ($1043.00) owing to the clubs since 1957  This had involved a complicated method of financial reward to clubs based on the Club Championship for that year.  For a number of years around that period, the league concluded their seasons in debt, at times the amounts involved were quite sizable.

So early in 1962 the mood was very gloomy in Sydney football, certainly at a league level.

Some on the board wanted to re-appoint a fulltime secretary while others did not and this in itself caused continual bickering resulting in the resignations and suspension, mentioned above.

Further it was said “The New South Wales League has no funds”.

“We don’t even have a typewriter or an office desk” one board member said.  “The league was formed 59 years ago, but I doubt if we have ever been in worse financial position.”

Despite all this, the league re-introduced Sydney University to the first grade competition along with new club, Parramatta, bringing the number of clubs to twelve.  This was a perfect opportunity to establish a second division, but football would have to wait almost 10 years before this took place.  In the meantime four of the 1962 clubs had either folded or amalgamated.

At the end of the year Davey again showed that he was no shrinking violet and let his feeling be known in a lengthy report to the league where he urged a restructure of the organisation, particularly after it again finished the year in debt.  This time though the amount had been substantially reduced from those of previous seasons.

Rhys Giddey replaced Joe Boulus as honorary secretary between the end of the season and the subsequent annual general meeting which was held in February 1963.  Giddey went on to fill the fulltime league secretary’s role for the next two years.  He described his first 12 months in the job as one that had “been under pressures which, in 60 years, had not previously been experienced.”

This was particularly the case after Boulus had issued three writs against members of the Board of Management following the severance of his association with the league.

Just as the story gets interesting we have to end it here because we we are limited for space.