The Season 1947

1947 was a mammoth year for football in Sydney.

It began with a tram strike which, if continued into the season, would have created havoc with fans and players getting to games.

The weather was not kind with several weekends suffering terrible downpours throughout the year, starting with a very damaging hail storm in January.

The league participated in eight interstate matches.  Five of these were in Sydney, one in Queensland and another in Broken Hill.  Then the NSW side travelled to Hobart where they played in the All States Carnival, competing in a further four games, under very wet and boggy conditions.

The most damning feature of the season, which for the most part went unreported, was the issue of charging admission at games on a Sunday.

Australian football was the first sport to play on a Sunday.  This first occurred in 1943, when, mainly because of the lack of grounds where an admission fee could be applied, one of their three Saturday matches was shifted to the Sunday, played mostly at Trumper Park.  Rugby League soon followed but Rugby Union, forever the traditionalists, never deviated from their conventional Saturday fixtures.

In May, the Sunday Sun newspaper, ran a series of articles on sports which charged a gate of a Sunday – copy attached. This convened a little known section of the Police Offences Act of 1901 which was almost never applied.

There is no doubt the church lobby would have had a great influence on this Sunday sport issue.

For many years, these Sunday games were the biggest revenue stream for the league, the proceeds of which it very much relied upon and to see the possibility of this being suddenly removed sent shock waves through the administration.  In those days, the league conducted the gate at each game.  It took the proceeds, paid the gatemen but also paid the rental on all grounds used in the competition.

The league secretary, Ken Ferguson, wrote to the Chief Secretary’s Department seeking clarification on its ability to apply a charge.  Click here to see their answer, said charging admission to Sunday sport would most likely be seen as contravening the Act and the League would have to accept full responsibility for their actions.  In fact the Department forwarded the league a list of conditions which would have to apply should they continue with Sunday games.  We have also attached a copy of these conditions for your edification – click to read.

The police from the Paddington station attended some games in this period to observe the nature of admission.  By this stage the league had resorted to requesting patrons to donate the 1/11 (one and eleven pence or 19¢) admission fee.  The local licensing sergeant stated that this still amounted to a definite breach of the law.

Other sporting bodies had taken to providing free admission but charged an appropriate increased amount for their match programme (Football Record).  The league pondered this position but questioned if it would make them subject to paying further taxation.  All sporting bodies were subject to paying tax on the amount received for admission charges in those days.

Eventually, following legal advice, the league advised the Chief Secretary’s Department that no charge would be made to any of their games they staged of a Sunday.

This prompted a letter to the League’s legal advisor – click to read.

A further inspection of the situation by the police, the president and secretary of the League found themselves in front of Inspector Magney of Paddington Police.

In no uncertain terms he stated that in his opinion, the league was violating the law in calling for a donation of a certain amount for admission, although underneath the donation sign it was advertised that a free gate existed at Hart Street, which we believe was a street at the eastern end of the ground, on the hill and adjacent to a rubbish tip.  At the time this was a very difficult location to get to.  Inspector Magney said this practice would have to cease or otherwise the league would face the consequences.

As a result the league altered their admission system by increasing the price of a programme from 3d (three pence or three cents) to 1/6 (one and six pence or fifteen cents), plus the erection of a sign at the Glenmore Road gate stating: ADMISSION BY PROGRAMME, 1/6d., FREE GATE AT HART STREET”

We can’t see how this change fitted the requirements of the law, given that, according to the documents and what we have written above, we believe the league was previously almost doing the same thing as the police inspector intimated.  Even so, the price of Football Records increased and nothing further was heard of the matter.

The Free Gate though, lasted at Trumper Park until well into the 1970s and became somewhat of a joke to those who knew it existed.

WHAT THE DOCUMENTS REVEAL

I guess you have to be an absolute footy aficionado to appreciate a lot of what comes across our desk.

We see and read and see lots of stuff from Sydney’s footy history but sometimes we come across some real gems.

In our efforts to include more data on our OCR programme we have almost finished scanning all the NSW Football League’s, or as they are now titled, AFL(NSW/ACT) annual reports.  (We must tell you here that the organisation has had several name changes over the years.)

Reading some of these publications can have a profound affect on those really interested in football history.

For example, skimming through early WWII league annual reports, just shows what a battle it was to conduct the competition in Sydney.

For a start there was a paper shortage so in 1941 the report only consisted of four pages and to conserve paper, the normal page two, where officials were listed, was published on the front cover.  The other pages were printed front to back for the remainder in the roneoed document..

Right up to the 1980s, the league’s annual report began with the greeting “Gentlemen ….”  Not many women in executive positions in those days.

In some of those war year’s issues, there were personal notes written against peoples names and the room would be full on the night of the meeting.

The venue for the league’s annual meeting varied from various locations in the city, all of which have since been demolished.  But they were the times when the vast majority of the attendees (sample shown in photo above taken at the Sydney Sports Club, Hunter Street), club delegates, league officials and umpiring officials would have had to have caught a tram, bus or train home after the gathering – given that the meeting did not begin until 8:00pm.

Competition was fierce to gain a place on the league’s administration and it may have taken several years to be elected to a seat on the board.  A public vote was always taken for life members and there would have been severe embarrassment for those who were voted down, which sometimes happened.  They was not hidden ballots then.

Finding volunteers to administer the game then, as is the case now, was not easy.  Clubs could reasonably rely on ex-players to taken on positions but those who conducted league affairs were few and far between and these honorary officials really had to be dedicated.  There were sub-committees most had to join up to and it was not uncommon for the league secretary and treasurer to attend in excess of 40 meetings a year.

The photograph is of a young Ken Ferguson who was league Secretary for a total of 28 years, 24 of those in an honorary capacity.

The league board met each Monday night during the season right up until 1980.

In 1943 there were some wonderful footballers playing in Sydney having been posted here for training during hostilities.  For the most part they were evenly, but directed,  shared around the clubs and many were from the VFL, SANFL and WANFL.

In 1943 the nation’s prime minister, John Curtin, one of the country’s most outstanding leaders ever in our history was patron of the league.  The former VFA player attended several games at Trumper Park during the season and on one one occasion addressed both teams in their rooms after the game.

This was the year that football first began to play of a Sunday mostly due to the lack of grounds but the initiative saw attendances sky-rocket.

In 1944, Corporal Alby Morrison, former captain of Footscray was the leader of the RAAF club that competed in the Sydney competition during that period.  Although the awarding of the Phelan Medal (the league’s B & F) had been suspended, the talented Morrison, who had represented Victoria and would subsequently be chosen in Footscray’s Team of the Century, was presented with a cup in 1944 for The Best and Most Consistent Player in the Sydney league.

Also in the same year, Collingwood captain, Private Phonse Kyne, who was also stationed in Sydney and captain coach of the St George club, was awarded a cup for Outstanding Fair Play.  Kyne would go on to win three Copeland Trophies at Collingwood and coach the club to two premierships.  Neither of these clubs won the premiership in 1943 or 1944.