– What Could Have Been and What Didn’t Happen

The Sydney Football League, NSW AFL, AFL Sydney or whatever title you want to give it, and its had a number of changes over the years, has really made few ground break decisions in its 124 year history.

In many cases the officials who ruled the game simply missed the boat.

The licensing laws only permitted a certain number of licensed clubs to operate in NSW up until the mid 1950s and this number did not vary.

Following WWII, Frank Dixon, who captained and coached the South Sydney club in a very successful period in the 1930s was appointed vice president of the league.  He talked the executive into him approaching the then, Australian National Football Council (ANFC) for a loan of $10,000 to establish a licensed club in Sydney.

Dixon, a staunch Labor man who ended up Deputy Lord Mayor or Sydney City Council, travelled to Melbourne by train in 1949 to attend a ANFC Meeting.  Incidentally, on the train happened to be the prime minister, Ben Chifley.  Dixon returned with the guarantee of the $10,000 from the ANFC but a nervous executive in Sydney went cold on the idea and it never went ahead.

In 1948 three new clubs were admitted to the league, Western Suburbs, Balmain and Sydney University.  Wests were the only club to go on taste success.  They played off in successive grand finals of 1952-53 but had to wait until 1963 until they won a flag.  Neither Balmain nor Sydney University clubs could boast success until much, much later.

In the meantime a team from Illawarra joined the competition in 1949-50 but the travel and their lack of success accounted for their departure.

This was a time when six clubs dominated the competition, Eastern Suburbs, Sydney Naval, Newtown, St George, North Shore and Western Suburbs.  Liverpool joined the competition in 1954 after a couple of successful seasons in the Metropolitan Australian National Football Assn (MANFA – or really a Second Division, which folded in 1953).  It was a time when the league should have bitten the bullet and formed two divisions.  It didn’t.  Sydney was a growing city and the league should have capitalised on the popularity of the game during the war and immediately after.

This was particularly the case again in the early 1960s after Uni had dropped out in 1958 but replaced by new club, Bankstown.  Again they should have travelled down the two division track but failed to act.

In 1960 however they did introduce a dramatic change to Sydney football when they reduced the number of players on the field to 16.  This was thought to produce better football on the smaller Sydney grounds and perhaps encourage the formation of new clubs and reduce the instances of backing up to a minimal.

The purists were enraged with this change and by mid-season clubs forced the hand of the league executive to return to the traditional eighteen aside.

The basically unsuccessful club of Liverpool joined forces with the other battler, Bankstown in 1962 then two years later encouraged another new club, Parramatta to combine with them to form a new club: Southern Districts.  Initially this venture  produced a competitive club but eventually failed.  What it did do in particular was rob a team playing Australian Game from the then far western suburbs.  Parramatta then played out of Mona Park, Auburn.

It was around the same time that efforts were being encouraged to form a licensed club for Australian football in Sydney.  They had enough members, sufficient commitment and had identified premises at 224 Riley Street Surry Hills, a former hotel which was then trading as a private hotel (boarding house).

The prime mover in this action unfortunately died and so without a leader the whole issue fell flat.

Eastern Suburbs had a licensed club at Bondi Junction but as successful as it was could not maintain the repayments to a very expensive loan which funded the addition to the premises and the club fell by the wayside.  North Shore went all out to gain a license in the premises of Polonia Northside soccer club in Walker Street North Sydney. They were successful in this enterprise but unfortunately too this eventually failed.

St George made it to the licensing court but were refused their bid for a license at Olds Park on some technicality.

Despite all this, there has been some success in Sydney football and this was quite recently.

Garry Burkinshaw, the man in charge of Sydney footy between 2007-2014 soon realised there were problems when he took over the reigns.

He listened to the gripes, he looked how they do it in soccer and studied Sydney football.

Burkinshaw maintained that Sydney footy was not as tribal as it is interstate.  Players come to play their game and go.  They don’t stick around for the next game and they certainly don’t stay all day.

He decided the answer was divisionalisation where teams from various clubs of apparent equal strength would be best suited playing against each other.  So, apart from the Premier League competition, a reserve grade team which might have battled in the senior division was dropped to third or fourth division in the new setup.

He took advice from clubs and said there was no real opposition to the model.  He got members from each club in a room and put his proposition.  It took over three months in the planning and together with colleague, Bob Robinson, they introduced a competition which has, for the most part, been extremely successful.

There are more teams winning games and all but St George, Camden and Illawarra clubs, from twenty four participating in the Sydney league,  have participated in finals.

This new and novel competition has promoted success in other clubs too.  Penrith who were down to one team now boast three, North-West are fielding more sides along with Camden and there a four new clubs now participating in the competition. (this article was initially published in 2012)

This new system leaves it open for established teams to field more teams and enthuse new or junior clubs to field senior teams.  The way is open for the establishment of more clubs but most particularly, nearly all competitions in Sydney senior football are competitive.

The downside to divisionalisation is that clubs MUST be particularly organised.  Three teams could be playing at three different locations so all players and officials have had to commit themselves to turn up,  in all probability in these circumstances, there would be not players to back up in the event there is not a full team to take the field.  Each team must be a self contained unit: umpire (if required), goal umpire, runner, water boys, manager, runner etc.

At least one Sydney initiative has succeeded but apparently with those purists at it again is now up for change

 

 

MONA PARK

1951 ES v NS at Henson Park smallIn mid 1950 most of the north coast of NSW was hit by the most horrific floods.  The wet also affected the municipalities of Windsor, Colo and Baulkham Hills.

The Sydney Lord Mayor, Ernie O’Dea, set up a relief fund in order to assist people and government organisations which had been particularly effected by the excessive rain.

Sydney football helped too.

There were no club games on the weekend of 29-30 July because of an interstate clash at Trumper Park on the Saturday where Tasmania towelled up NSW by over 10 goals in front of a crowd of 5,000.

This void in the competition afforded the league an opportunity to play an exhibition match at Mona Park, Auburn, the following day, with Western Suburbs playing Eastern Suburbs. All proceeds raised were donated to the Lord Mayor’s Relief Fund.  The curtain raiser was a reserve grade game between Eastern Suburbs and South Sydney.

The match was played in conjunction with the Auburn Combined Sports Committee with both the Auburn and Burwood bands playing during the afternoon.  Buses had been organised to run from Auburn Station to the ground and league umpire, Alan McIntyre, volunteered his services for the main game.

Messrs Allan Radcliffe and Wal Clark acted as commentators throughout the match on the rules of the game through the public address system.  Both clubs expected their NSW representatives of the previous day to play.

The day was rain affected but attracted a reasonable crowd paying an admission fee of  1/6 (15c).  It was said the play was of a good standard, considering the state of the ground, and the game was won by Wests 11-12 (78) to 9-6 (60).

The match was also used to garner support for the game in the Auburn-Parramatta area but with the following description of the ground, it no doubt failed: “The condition of the ground was described as “deplorable, with pools of water all over the ground.  So deep were some of these pools, players who fell in them were comparatively clean when they stood up.”

Eastern Suburbs won the reserve grade encounter in a close finish 4-10 (34) to 4-6 (30).

On the same weekend, the Australian Amateurs played Canberra at Newcastle.

LOST OPPORTUNITIES AND WHAT COULD HAPPEN WITH PERSISTENCE AND PLANNING

The Sydney Football League, NSW AFL, AFL Sydney or whatever title you want to give it, and its had a number of changes over the years, has really made few ground break decisions in its 124 year history.

In many cases the officials who ruled the game simply missed the boat.

The licensing laws only permitted a certain number of licensed clubs to operate in NSW up until the mid 1950s and this number did not vary.

Despite this and following WWII, Frank Dixon, who captained and coached the South Sydney club in a very successful period in the 1930s was appointed vice president of the league.  He was later to become a successful NSW coach.

Dixon talked the executive into him approaching the then, Australian National Football Council for a loan of $10,000 to establish a licensed club in Sydney.  He was a man of vision.

Dixon, a staunch Labor man who ended up Deputy Lord Mayor or Sydney City Council, just so happened to travel to Melbourne on the train with prime minister, Ben Chifley.  He returned with the guarantee of the $10,000 but a nervous executive in Sydney went cold on the idea and it never went ahead.

In 1948 three new clubs were admitted to the league, Western Suburbs, Balmain and Sydney University.  Wests were the only club to go on taste success.  They played off in successive grand finals of 1952-53 but had to wait until 1963 until they won their first flag.  Neither Balmain nor Sydney University clubs could boast success until much, much later.

In the meantime a team from Illawarra joined the competition in 1949-50 but the travel and their lack of success accounted for their departure.

This was a time when six clubs dominated the competition, Eastern Suburbs, Sydney Naval, Newtown, St George, North Shore and Western Suburbs.  And it was a time when the league should have bit the bullet and formed two divisions.  It didn’ t.

This was particularly the case in the early 1960s when Uni had dropped out but replaced by Liverpool and a team from Bankstown.  Again they should have travelled down the two division track but failed to act.

In 1960 however they did introduce a dramatic change to Sydney football when they reduced the number of players on the field to 16.  This was thought to produce better on the smaller Sydney grounds and perhaps encourage the formation of new clubs and reduce the instances of backing up to a minimal.

Another reason was that initially the Australian National Football League were going to conduct their centenary carnival in Melbourne with teams, 16 aside.  This decision was reversed early in the season.

The purists were enraged with this change and mid-season clubs forced the hand of the executive to return to the traditional sixteen aside.

As you can see opinion was divided as to course the league should take.

Liverpool joined forces with Bankstown in 1962 then two years later encouraged Parramatta to join and form a new club, Southern Districts.  This of course eventually failed but what it did in particular was rob a team playing Australian Game from the then far western suburbs.  Parramatta was playing out of Mona Park, Auburn and like other clubs came into the Sydney competition raw, with no actual football experience.

It was around the same time that efforts were being encouraged to form a licensed club for Australian football in Sydney.  They had enough members, sufficient commitment and had identified premises at 224 Riley Street Surry Hills, a former hotel which was then trading as a private hotel (boarding house) as a potential site for the club.

The prime mover in this action, Arthur Davey, unfortunately died and so without a leader the whole issue fell flat.

Eastern Suburbs had a licensed club at Bondi Junction but over capitalised in their additions and failed.  North Shore went all out to gain a license in the premises of Polonia Northside soccer club in Walker Street North Sydney.  Unfortunately this too failed.

St George at least made it to the licensing court but were refused their bid for a license at Olds Park on some technicality.

Despite all this, there has been some success in Sydney football and this was quite recently.

Garry Burkinshaw, the man in charge of Sydney footy soon realised there were problems when he took over the reigns in 2007.

He listened to the gripes, he looked how they do it in soccer and most of all, studied Sydney football.

Burkinshaw maintained that Sydney footy was not as tribal as it is interstate.  Players come to play their game and go.  They don’t stick around for the next game and they certainly don’t stay all day.

He decided the answer was divisionalisation where teams from various clubs would be best suited playing against each other.  So, apart from the Premier League competition, a reserve grade team which might have battled in the senior division was dropped to third or fourth division in the new setup.

He took advice from clubs and said there was no real opposition to the model.  He got members from each club in a room and put his proposition.  It took over three months in the planning and together with colleague, Bob Robinson, they introduced a competition which has, for the most part, extremely successful.

There are more teams winning games and all but St George, Camden and Illawarra clubs, from twenty four participating in the Sydney league,  have participated in finals.

This new and novel competition has promoted success in other clubs too.  Penrith who were down to one team now boast three, North-West are fielding more sides along with Camden and their a four new clubs now participating in the competition.

This new system leaves it open for established teams to field more teams and enthuse new or junior clubs to field senior teams.  The way is open for more clubs but most particular, nearly all competitions are competitive.

The downside to divisionalisation is that clubs MUST be particularly organised.  Three teams could be playing at three different locations so all players must commit themselves to turn up, each team must be a self contained unit: umpire (if required), goal umpire, runner, water boys, manager, runner etc.

At least one Sydney initiative has succeeded.  Change can be so very difficult to introduce.

Top photograph shows Frank Dixon, the lower image is of Garry Burkinshaw.  The documents are taken from the Football Records of the day.