The story of the Sydney 1963 grand final is worth telling.
This was the time of only one division in Sydney with three grades, first, reserves and under 19.
Like all competitions you had the winners and the losers, the well run clubs and those, for whatever reason, that struggled.
The league had just come through a rather tumultuous period. Just previous to this the fulltime secretary had been suspended, the treasurer had resigned, the books were in an absolute mess and then the stand-in permanent secretary got his marching orders resulting in court action. The league began the season £500 in the red ($13,500 in today’s money).
Ern McFarlane, that “hail fellow, well met” long term Newtown official and player, who didn’t mind a drink, had taken the reigns in 1961 and was in the chair during all of this upheaval.
Besides this the league underwent some change, but not enough; The had tried a 16 aside competition which was continually denounced until they returned to the status quo.
And then there was the obvious disparity in the standard of the competition and while two divisions were discussed, it never happened with the next year resulting in the amalgamation of some clubs. That too eventually failed.
It was a time when the University club was coming out of its recession and UNSW was just about to emerge as their own entity so if the league had bitten the bullet, maybe Sydney football could have been different rather than waiting until the early 1970s and the introduction of a second division.
A former Western Suburbs then Bankstown ruckman, Rhys Giddey, who was a member of the league’s administration, took over the fulltime secretary’s position working out of what could only be described as a very disorganised brick building at Trumper Park – since demolished.
Action image shows Balmain’s captain-coach, Ray Rocher marking in front of a Parramatta opponent in a match during the season. Click to enlarge.
The final four was a reasonably close finish. Wests, well recognized as the money club following its successful venture to a licensed club, finished on top with 56 points, then came North Shore on 48, Sydney Naval on 46 and Newtown on 44.
Wests scored an easy win over North Shore in the second semi to move into the grand final while Newtown on the other hand battled their way from fourth with a first semi win, then a preliminary final victory over Norths to reach the decider.
The scene was set and a fine day brought out a big crowd at Trumper Park, allegedly eclipsing any that had previously attended an Australian football game at the ground, and were in for a treat.
Never one to let an opportunity pass, league secretary, Giddey told the press that the crowd totalled 11,377 who paid £2,235 though the gate. It was later revealed that Rhys could be a bit loose with the truth freely admitting to his over zealous statement in the years that followed.
Unfortunately for Wests they had their strapping 1.94cm ruckman coach, former VFA representative player, Neil Wright in hospital with hepatitus A. Wright had played a big part in the Magpies success and was one of their best in the second semi. He had coached country club Finley the year before.
Newtown had as their captain and coach, the big policeman in Ellis Noack, a current member of the History Society.
As was the norm for Sydney grand finals it started with a fight, but it never really ended there, the conflict continued throughout the game. The main target of Newtown’s attack was Western Suburbs fullback, Ray Sharrock, a wonderful player from the RAAF who had won the Phelan Medal in the same year. In one incident, Sharrock had cleared the ball downfield when a Newtown ruckman ran 20 metres to strike him from behind, knocking Sharrock to the ground, unconscious.
On two occasions, spectators twice fired beer cans onto the field which stopped play for some time. Not long after that a Wests player heavily dumped the opposition player who had attacked Sharrock and so it was on again.
Newtown’s Gordon Hancock and John Griffiths from Wests were reported during the game for fighting.
At the first break Newtown led 4-5 to 2-2 increasing their lead to 7-9 to 4-4 by half time. An upset was on the cards.
But Newtown could not sustain their opponents third term onslaught; at one stage Wests hit the front but Newtown countered to hold a nine point lead at the final change.
Early in the last quarter Western Suburbs piled on five quick goals and it was only for the sheer talent and determination of Sharrock at fullback that kept Newtown regaining the lead. His finger tip marking was a sight to see.
By this time secretary Giddey had called the police who came en-mass lining the ground as well as the players race. Giddey himself came inside the fence line waiting for the bell to ring thinking his presence could contain any further violence. Giddey was a big man.
Wests won the game by 10 points 14-14 (98) to 12-16 (88). As soon as the match finished so too did the violence. The win gave Wests their second flag since their re-entry into the competition in 1948.