And in the Beginning….

1888 Footballer 2 smallAustralian football has been played competitively in Sydney since 1880, save for the period between 1895-1903.

It has had its ups and downs in all of that period;  successes and failures and of course some were minor catastrophes for the code here.  There are too many to list at this juncture but it makes for good copy in future postings on the website.

And yet with this pessimistic opening to this story there were often glimpses of hope, just like the feelings of a league official in 1908 when he wrote:

“There is no smooth path for workers in the cause in Sydney; It is filled with rocks thorns and interminable bush, which have to be cut away by real hard graft and whole-hearted enthusiasm. There is a light shining through the bush, however,   and that is the increased attendance at matches.

True, there has not been any charge for admission at most of the games; still, one could not help being struck with the sangfroid of hundreds while standing round the boundary in drenching rain watching the semi-final,   East Sydney v. Redfern. It said much for their enthusiasm and love of the pastime. The final last Saturday attracted a large crowd to Erskineville Oval, where a charge was made for admission, the pavilion being crowded with ladies.

It was a very pleasing sight, and gladdening to the heart of the enthusiast.

If an enclosed ground can be secured next season, revenue will come in, ladies will be able to attend matches, and an increased inducement given to many young fellows to don a jersey. An official ground as the headquartcrs of the game in Sydney is badly needed, and must be obtained somehow.

Perhaps that prince of organisers, Mr. J. J. Virgo, may do something in this connection for his club and incidentally for the League and the game generally. Should he set the machinery in motion, success is almost assured for he is Napoleonic in his ideas regarding that small word, ‘impossible.’ ”

Well the league did purchase a ground;  an old racecourse which was located on the north-west corner of Botany and Gardeners Roads, Mascot, now overtaken by factories.  After spending thousands of dollars on this project an over enthusiastic administration saw it swallowed up in debt as the first world war began.Australian Football Ground  Click the image to show where it was located.

One of the major problems with the advancement of football in Sydney was the lack of enclosed grounds, where an admission fee could be charged.  Normally there was at least one ground where a fee could be applied but the remaining games were played on open parks like Birchgrove Oval, Rushcutters Bay Park, Alexandria Oval and Moore Park.  Yes hundreds, if not thousands, watched the games in those early days but without money, and the main source was from gate takings, the exercise was futile and it did not get any better as time went on.

At one stage in the 1920s, League Secretary, Jim Phelan, advocated a reduction in teams which would then lower expenses and give the league full control over the two grounds over which they, for the most part, had control, Erskineville Oval and Trumper Park.

This attitude, of course, was a nonsense.  Sydney was expanding and yet the league did nothing to facilitate new clubs in the developing areas.  For many decades their focus was on established and populated areas such as Newtown, East Sydney, South Sydney and Sydney itself.  All of these clubs have since disappeared.

Even in 1963 when a successful effort was made to establish a club at Parramatta, there were no real concessions.  They were given lip service until a year or two later when coerced into amalgamating with the Liverpool/Bankstown club, which itself was a combination of two sides in a burgeoning Sydney.  They formed the Southern Districts Club, now, they too are long since gone.

Its all well and good to preach “what if” now but even if a little foresight could have been applied then, some planning some forecasting, football in Sydney may well have developed differently.

Notes
[i]   Up to about 1980, grounds used by the league were managed and operated by the league.  They took the gate receipts and paid the bills relating to the ground.
[ii]   The Erskineville Oval referred to in this article is the old Erskineville Oval, situated about 100m west of the present ground with an east-west orientation.
[iii]  The ground at Moore Park is still used for Australian football and now the home of the Moore Park Tigers junior football club.

What Happened in 1963

1963 Neil Wright - Wests coach smallAll years in Sydney football are different but 50 years ago, 1963 just appeared to be that little bit different.

A year after 2UW broadcast the VFL Grand Final in Sydney in what can only be described as a very unique media event, the league started the year five hundred pounds ($1,000) in the red.  Prior to this the league finished 1962 with a deficit of five hundred and forty three pounds ($1086.00), four hundred and one pounds ($802.00) in 1961 and three hundred and seventy five pounds ($750.00) in 1960. This may not sound like much money today but back then, they were almost insurmountable figures for a struggling code.

Former Western Suburbs and Bankstown player, Rhys Giddey had been appointed the league’s secretary working out of a small building at Trumper Park.  He went on to assume a fulltime appointment in the position.

1963 followed at least one season of administrative turmoil and because the previous (honorary) secretary had been summarily dismissed in mid January (1963) officials failed to get hold of any of the financial records until nearly three months in so a set of unaudited accounts were presented to members at the AGM.

The league certainly had their problems.

On the club scene, calls for a two division system were ignored.  The Liverpool and Bankstown clubs amalgamated which reduced the competition to eleven clubs, necessitating a bye and there were suggestions that two other unnamed clubs should also amalgamate. It didn’t happen.

However the league engineered the draw so that the top teams from 1962 played each other twice as did the lower five clubs.  Top and bottom sides then only had to meet on one occasion.  This ensured the presentation of the game overall at a generally higher standard with the lower clubs meeting under more equitable conditions.

Western Suburbs were hailed as the glamour club upon the construction of their licensed premises fronting onto Picken Oval was complete.

The club signed a former VFA player, ruckman Neil Wright (pictured) as their coach on a four figure fee, something unheard of in Sydney football.  This is when St George paid their ex-VFL coach two hundred and fifty pounds ($500) and South Sydney paid theirs, one hundred pounds ($200).  Wests also openly announced that it would pay both their first AND reserve grade players.  Another exceptional occurrence in the league.

In total the Magpies had fifteen new players from interstate and country areas.  They also afforded the top dressing their Picken Oval ground for the season.

Then on the eve of the finals Wests were hit with a savage blow when coach Wright was admitted to Prince Henry Hospital with hepatitis.  His place was taken by former club captain, Peter Kuschert.

Meanwhile, Hurstville Council decided to call for tenders for a large scale development of Olds Park and the St George Club was one which submitted a proposal for a successful 21 year lease for the site.

Rain forced the postponement of all round 4 matches in late April

The Parramatta club got themselves into strife in a match against St George in early May when they played 16 unregistered players.  These were all former players with Liverpool which had amalgamated with Bankstown and their registration was locked into the last placed, Liverpool/Bankstown Club.  Parramatta were fined a hefty fifty pounds ($100).

In May, St George took the opportunity to travel to Newcastle on their bye weekend where they defeated the Hamilton Club 8.15 (63) to 6.11 (47).  A week later they scored an impressive 15.15 (105) to 0.2 (2) win over Eastern Suburbs at Trumper Park, however in mid June they too had a shock when a last minute goal by Sydney University’s John Weissel gave the students a rare win over the Saints.

The East’s loss was their greatest in the club’s history and many attributed the atrocious weather conditions as one of the reasons for their poor performance.

Most fans chuckled quietly in round 6 when Parramatta included an untried 199.5cm American, Harvey Haddock in their side to meet Eastern Suburbs.  Hadock was a sailor on the USS aircraft carrier, Coral Sea which was visiting Sydney.  Easts won 17.7 (109) to 13.14 (92).  Hadcock battled to get a kick.

NSW played three interstate games that year and lost the lot.  A two goal loss to Queensland in Brisbane, an eleven point defeat by the ACT in Canberra and an eight goal loss to Combined Universities on the June long weekend.

On 14 July, Eastern Suburbs backman, John Grey was charged with kicking boundary umpire Leo Farley in a game against St George.  Grey was outed by the Tribunal for five years.

Burly Newtown captain-coach, Ellis Noack won the league’s goalkicking with 55 majors while versatile, Western Suburbs fullback, Ray Sharrock, who played most of the season in a back brace, won the Phelan Medal.

Sharrock was instrumental in his club’s grand final victory over Newtown before a record crowd at Trumper Park.  League secretary, Rhys Giddey gave the attendance as 11,337 but admitted years later that he may well over liberally over-estimated the number.

As in many of Sydney’s grand finals, the 1963 version was no exception  It opened sensationally with an all-in brawl after an incident in the ruck snowballed and players from all parts of the field rushed to join in the melee.

Players from both sides stood trading punches until central umpire Mal Lee together with goal and boundary umpires separated them.

Newtown’s Gordon Hancock, in later years a leading figure in the Bankstown Sports club, was reported for striking and Wests John Griffiths was charged with kicking.  Wests won 14.14 (98) to Newtown’s 12.16 (88)  after the Magpies were down by nine points at the final change.

The league cancelled the proposed 15 September two hundred and fifty pound ($500), Premiers v The Rest Game and replaced it with a final of the post season knock-out competition between St George and South Sydney.

Not to spoil their poor record, the league again finished the 1963 season in the red.  This time though it was a much more manageable figure of thirty seven pounds ($74.00)