Australian Football has been played in New South Wales for over 140 years and we have been left little from those who came before us in terms of the history of the game.
The material that we, at the Football History Society have in our collection has been acquired, for the most part, by our desire to secure significant items that relate to our game in this state. Some have been donated and we really appreciate that gesture.
Australian Football started in Sydney in 1880 however by 1895 had collapsed. It was revived eight years later and took off with real fervency and zeal, the NSWAFL even purchased their own ground in 1911!
Then came World War I. Money was owed on the ground, times were getting tough and all the league committee resigned; it well looked like the game was set to fall over again.
However, in stepped Jim Phelan who had formed the Newtown Club in 1903 and had been its secretary and treasurer in those intervening years. He was appointed honorary League Secretary (General Manager) in 1915.
Jim surrounded himself with self-starters and the game was continued during those dark days of the conflict, even when the number of clubs fell to four. Yes there was a motion to suspend football following in the steps of the strong NSW Rugby Union competition, but we feel Australian Football continued mainly because the NSW Rugby League did so and so they soldiered on.
One reason for the game’s ability to continue was the number of interstate servicemen passing through Sydney at the time, many of whom played for the struggling clubs.
The war finished in late 1918 and the following year the number of clubs again fell from five to four.
Jim Phelan, after whom the Sydney AFL Best & Fairest Medal is named, was a prodigious writer on the game. He was during his time a contributing journalist for several Sydney newspapers and also wrote articles in the Sydney Football Record during the 1930s. We have re-produced these (click) here and they provide some very interesting reading on Sydney footballs former years.