– Services Team Struggled

In 1940 the New South Wales Australian Football League resolved to hold a fund raising match between a NSW representative side and an Services team comprised of men in the military from camps in and around Sydney.

The NSW team was reasonably strong mostly made-up of players who had already represented the state in previous years.

The services side, with most if not all, playing for Sydney clubs came from camps such as the Sydney Showground and Ingleburn.  Some were in the RAAF based at Lindfield, Camden and Richmond.  There were no representatives from the Navy so the term Combined Services is really a misnomer.

Micky Stiff

Unfortunately selected players Smith, Ron Stoll, Colin Metherall and Hayes from the camp at Ingleburn did not arrive so the Services team was left short.  One who volunteered to play in their stead was state rover, Micky Stiff.  Stiff, at 24 had already represented NSW on over a dozen occasions from 1935 and his exploits on the football field were quite often extolled in delightful superlatives.  He was the brother of another courageous and talented NSW rover, Jimmy Stiff, who was killed in 1937.

The game was played on the Sydney Cricket Ground, No. 2, which was a small ground, with grandstand, immediately north of the SCG itself and since encompassed by the Sydney Football Stadium.

The pace was on from the first bell, and it was obvious early that both teams were out to keep the game open. NSW picked out their men better along the wings, but in the first half the services were more successful in the air. Mickey Stiff  was responsible for more than half of their goals in the first half — several from his own boot, and others coming from attacks initiated by the wiry little South Sydney star. Stephens, Whitbourne, Carlaw. and Baker were others largely responsible for the services lead at 10-5 to 6-15.

John Cruise from the Ingleburn camp was carried off with an injured ankle just on the half time break leaving the services side again short.

Reg Garvin

His place was taken by 29 year old Reg Garvin, a former Newtown player who had been recruited by St Kilda (that wouldn’t happen today) in 1937 and by this stage had played over 60 games with the Saints and would go on to captain-coach the club in 1942-43.  A fireman in Melbourne, he was in Sydney on holidays visiting his parents at Erskineville and just happened to be at the game.

Obviously his presence in the ruck added strength to the side when adopted a straight down the centre play combined with hard ruck work.  The Servlces had New South Wales unbalanced for a time but the better understanding between the New South Wales players more than equalised matters as the quarter progressed.

Their play in this term contrasted with Its earlier failures and with the Services lacking in condition they were unable to find a counter In stopping the brilliant play of their opponents adding 8-7 to 0-1.  New South Wales had a winning lead at three-quarter time of 14-22 lo 10-6.

The Services came back in the final quarter but it was too late.  They booted six goals to New South Wale’s five with the latter winning 19-23 (114) to 16-12 (108).

It is unknown how much was raised for the Australian Services Comforts Fund but this wasn’t the only game played in Sydney during the war to raise funds for our servicemen.


1939 NSW v ACT in Canberra smallAnother NSW state photograph has been located.

This came as a result of the Newtown FC reunion two weeks ago when former members of the club brought along photos and other memorabilia reflecting the club’s past.

The photograph, donated by Joe Franklin, was processed this week and although it was recognized as an early image of the NSW team, with the players all appearing to be decked out in the familiar light blue and black, incidentally Australian football is only one of two sports in the state which have a similar colour styled uniform, the year and venue were unknown.

Luckily a number of faces in the team were recognizable which narrowed down the search to either prior to or early in WWII.  In fact after a short time, officials limited the photo to one of about six interstate games.

With a process of further elimination and research, the image has been identified as the NSW team which played Canberra at Manuka Oval in the ACT on 24 June 1939.

The team comprised:

Jack Guthrie (NS) capt, Ned Blacklock (Sydney), Henry Crane (St George), Athol McPhee (Eastern Subs), Jack (Bomber) Browne (St George), Jim (Bub) Phelan (South Sydney), Doug Edgeworth (Eastern Subs), Jack Davies (Sydney), Bert Aitken (Newtown), Dave Blacklock (Sydney), Fred Pendergast (St George), Joe Franklin (Newtown), Jim Allen (Newtown), Fred Eyre (Sydney), C Coupe (South Sydney), Micky Stiff (South Sydney), Jack Williamson (Eastern Subs), Hec Starr (South Sydney), Gordon Bennett (South Sydney)  Those highlighted have been identified.

Canberra 14.10 (94) d NSW 10.15 (75)Goals for NSW: Phelan 3, Crane 2, Edgeworth 2, Stiff, E Blacklock & Aitken 1 each.  Best: Blacklock, Stiff, Starr, Guthrie, Coupe, Williamson, Browne.

Any information that can be of assistance with other players in this photograph would be appreciated as would any further images of past players or team in the state.


Jimmy Stiff is a member of the Sydney Hall of Fame but is one of those past players who’s name means little to contemporary football followers of the game.

Nevertheless, he was a true champion.

Jim lived at Mascot and attended the Gardeners Road School.  While there and under the tutelage of teacher-mentor, Rupert Browne, he, like many members of his family, began to play Australian Football.

At an early age he was selected in the NSW schoolboys team where he excelled.  Then, at 17, while playing with the South Sydney Club, he was chosen to represent NSW.  In and out of the reserves, in 1930 he came equal third in the Phelan Medal and  also runner up in the Sanders Medal (reserves B & F) in then the following year at age 20, he was named as the best player in the state’s match against Victoria on the SCG.

Then in 1933, again playing for NSW, Jim won the best player at the All-States Carnival held in Sydney over 10 days – against all the stars from other states.  At 1.6m and 64.5kg he was a dynamo but erratic in his attitude towards football.

The several approaches by VFL clubs were rebutted and it appears that the handsome young Jim was happy living and playing in Sydney where he worked as a tool maker.

His coach of the time (who went on to coach NSW for five years after the war) and another member of the Hall of Fame, Frank Dixon, cited Stiff as the best footballer he had ever seen.  Maybe his opinion had a touch of bias but others of the period, from different clubs who saw Stiff play, also shared his opinion.

Not only was he a good footballer he also played first grade cricket in the Sydney competition with the Glebe club and between 1935-37 Stiff played 18 first grade games for the South Sydney Rugby League side and, it is said, was unlucky not to be selected in the 1937-38 Kangaroos tour of England.  This was a marvellous feat in the time of the great depression when there would have been great competition for a place in the rugby league team where the match payments could have meant the difference between eating or going without.

It is a pity he was not selected because the fearless young Stiff was killed in a motor cycle accident in Botany Road, Botany in December of 1937 prematurely ending the life of a leading Sydney sportsman.

Ironically, Stiff was followed as South Sydney’s first rover by his brother, Micky (Malcolm) who, after living in his brother’s shadow, went onto play over 200 games with the club and represent the state on numerous occasions.