Australian 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. 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.
[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.