– 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

 

 

– Regent Street Gone

The League premises at 64 Regent Street, Chippendale

There would not be too many still involved in Sydney football who would remember the NSWAFL Headquarters at 64 Regent Street, Chippendale.

It was purchased by the League, with the help of loans from the Western Suburbs Licensed Club and a four thousand pounds advance from the Australian Football Council in 1964.

At the time it was a disused shop with residence above and part of a group of five similar adjoined buildings constructed in 1920.  All of these have recently been demolished to be replaced by a residential complex with most probably a series of commercial premises at street level.

The 1964 purchase by the league was a bold move by a body which had seen a series of homes since its disconnection from the NSW Sports Club in George Street, Sydney in about 1960.  The Sports Club had been the league’s home for almost 50 years and it too closed its doors recently.  They had use of a meeting room and minimal storage facilities.

The management committee of the league at the time were very proud of their new acquisition.  This committee was comprised of a number of men most of whom were also involved with various clubs Many of these put their hearts and soul into making something of this old building.

The League Headquarters in Regent Street at the time of purchase

It wasn’t long before a ground floor brick extension was added which took the boundary of the building back to the fence which borders the main Sydney rail line.  The front too had its timber and glass façade removed and replaced with brick surrounding an aluminium framed entry.

A most recent image of 64 Regent Street Chippendale (blue)

Initially it accommodated a fulltime secretary and typist and then over the years became a venue for all facets and committees of the league.

The building was lost to football when a coup in 1978 voted the long serving league president, Bill Hart out of office.  Eventually most of his loyal lieutenants followed and the replacement group forced the sale of the premises in 1981 for $77,500 with the league moving their offices to the Newtown Rules Club at the nearby 303 Cleveland Street, Redfern.  One of the reasons given for the sale was that the building was alive with white ants and yet it stood for another 36 years.  The electric sign you see in the top black and white image protruding over the footpath remained attached to the building for over 20 years after its sale.

Since 1981, the building has changed hands several times with the last sale in 2016 realising $1,300,000.00.

With its demolition goes part of football history in NSW.

The Many Moves of the League Administration

Over the years the League have moved their administration offices to a number of venues around Sydney.

In 1886 during the period when football was first played in Sydney under the name of the NSW Football Association, rooms were offered at 233 Castlereagh Street Sydney.  This was a tobacconist shop owned by former Carlton footballer, Billy Goer and local Sydney player Billy Butler.  Goer, a former Carlton captain was residing and playing football in Sydney at the time.

NSW Sports Club smallThe place with the longest tenure as a headquarters for football in Sydney was at the now closed NSW Sports Club, on the corner in Hunter Street shown in the image.

A number of sports called this place home.  It is thought the league had an office the building from around the time of the resurrection of the game in 1903 to 1964 when the shifted to a newly constructed single storey brick building (since demolished) at Trumper Park, Paddington. It was also used as the canteen but had plenty of room for storage and upon the appointment of a fulltime secretary, an office for him there.

Apparently this was only a temporary stay for within weeks they moved to rented office at 307 Sussex Street, Sydney and then into their newly acquired building at 64 1965 Regent Street smallRegent Street, Chippendale.  The board held their first meeting there in January 1, 1965. shown here>>>

Despite renovations and additions, in 1980 a new broom in the league moved them to the top floor at the Newtown Rules Club, a licensed facility at 303 Cleveland Street, Redfern and sold off the Chippendale address.  They stayed at Cleveland Street until the club ceased to function in about 1985.  Then they moved on to offices in the back of the Bill O’Reilly Stand at the SCG with entry through the now Fox Studios.  These offices also housed the Sydney Swans FC administration.

Here they remained until the early 1990s when they moved to temporary premises in the then Showground, then into offices at the ANZ Stadium Homebush.

After a couple of years they shifted to newly constructed rooms in the rear of one of the grandstands of the Sydney Football Stadium.  This stay was for about five years before they moved on to the offices they now leased at level 1, Sheridan Building, Moore Park Road, Moore Park.  It is part of the SCG complex.

So, its been a long journey.

1970

As this season fades into history, we have been looking round for something to write about.  The question is, where do we start.

Then we identified a year which heralded so much change to football in NSW: 1970.

It would take several sessions to outline what did take place in that year, so we have centred on just a few events.

It was Australia’s Bi-Centenary.  The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh together with Princess Anne and Prince Charles visited Australia to join with the rest of the country in the celebrations.

And they didn’t miss watching a game of Australian football as shown in the photo – details below

And in Sydney, a show for the Royals was put on at the Trocodero in Sydney’s George Street.  This was a large dance and concert hall that operated between 1936 and 1971.  It was once regarded as the “most glamorous dance palace in Sydney and accommodated up to 2,000 people”. It was the favoured venue for university and school ‘formals’, and hosted many important local rock and pop concerts during the 1960s.  The block of cinemas has replaced the old Troc. between Liverpool and Bathurst Streets.

It was April when the Royal party “met young sportsmen (we don’t know if the word sportsmen refers to both genders) from all parts of the state” we were told.

Our Australian Rules representatives included David Sykes, captain coach of Newtown, Rodney Tubbs the captain coach of Sydney University Club, Bob Sterling and Emmanuel (Manny) Keriniaua from the St George Club.  Also Ian Allen, North Shore and NSW centre half back and Chris Huon, one of the young brigade of umpires making their mark on Sydney football.”

Both David Sykes, Ian Allen and Chris Huon are members of the Football History Society.

On the opening day of the season a team of Northern Territory Aboriginal Schoolboys played a Sydney Schoolboys team in an Under 16 match.  The boys from the north cleaned up the Sydney side, 17-12 (114) to 11-12 (78) at Picken Oval.

It is interesting to look at the names of some of the Sydney players and the junior clubs they came from. For example:

PLAYER

CLUB

Alan Bouch (son of NSWAFL Board Member, Doug) Warringah
Graeme Foster  –  later Balmain, East Sydney and NSW player Ermington
Mark Andrews(son of Brian, a former state player and Balmain coach) who played with North Shore Warringah
David McVey –  who went on to win a Kealey Medal with St George
Boystown
Mark McClurelater captain of Carlton FC Eastern Suburbs
Greg Harris –  later state player and captain coach of East Sydney FC St George
Bill Free  – former Newtown player was the coach
Other junior clubs that no longer exist or have had a name change: Warwick Farm, Holsworthy, Green Valley, Bankstown Sports, Manly/Seaforth

 

In 1970, the long term league secretary Ken Ferguson retired and was given a well attended sendoff at the Western Suburbs Club.

At last the league introduced a second division after years of half-hearted attempts to cater for burgeoning clubs in Sydney.  The clubs that comprised the league’s other open age competition since the demise of the Metropolitan Australian National Football Association in 1952 were: Warringah, St Ives, Salasians, Penshurst, UNSW, Sydney University and Western Suburbs.  Later, North Shore and South Sydney also entered teams.

The second division thing just wasn’t right, it was unbalanced.  Because they didn’t have enough clubs to go round in a stand alone competition, Sydney Uni, UNSW, South Sydney and Macquarie University fielded their senior teams in the normal open age reserve grade, which, like today, created problems at away games.  This was corrected the following season.

1970-04-01 - Chris Huon Invitation to Royal Reception small1970 was Sydney Naval’s last hurrah.  It was their final year in the competition after such a splendid involvement in the game dating back to 1881.  There was an attempt to combine the club with the struggling South Sydney side but that too failed. South in fact, were on their knees after being relegated following a number of poor seasons.  But with a band of willing workers they managed a further half a dozen years.

There were early moves to play a Victoria v South Australia game at the SCG mid season.  The expenses were estimated at in excess of $30,000 (assessed using the Reserve Bank of Australia’s calculator today at $317,647.06), seems a bit rich, but thats the reason the game did not go ahead and Sydney had to wait until 1974 to see the Vics play the Crows at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

Big news during the season was that Wests were to lose their home ground of Picken Oval to a supermarket complex.  Canterbury Council failed to give the idea the green light so it was shelved but it didn’t take too many years before a further and very damaging issue effected the relationship between Wests and their ground.

The Newtown club opened clubrooms on the normally unknown mid level in the grandstand at Erskineville Oval.  It wasn’t long though before they moved their social activities to the old Stage Club at 303 Cleveland Street, Redfern which became the Newtown Rules Club.

And finally for the first time in Sydney, the ABC telecast highlights of two VFL games each Saturday Night at the very late time of 10:50pm, well before the introduction of domestic VCR – recorders.  It didn’t take long before the then very conservative ABC decided to ditch the show producing howls of complaint from footy followers.  So much so that the league printed a form on which supporters could register their PROTEST to the Director of Programmes, ABC 2, Sydney. It worked and these highlights were retained for the rest of the season.

Our photograph of course is not Sydney football, but the Queen being introduced to the Fitzroy team in the same year.  Some questions for you about this event:

*  What ground was the game played at?
*  Which team played Fitzroy on that day?
*  What was the most unusual and in fact unique circumstance of this game?

And seeing Australia lost probably its most iconic prime minister this week, it is worth a mention that either in the late fifties or early sixties, Gough took one of his sons along to Rosedale Oval to learn the game of Australian football.  We don’t think there were many follow up visits.

You can send your answers to this address: Click here.

YES, WHAT’S IN A NAME?

NSW Football LeagueFootball in NSW or more particularly, Sydney, has undergone scores of changes over the years.  Different name, different administration but in the end, its all just football.  Much like government departments when a new party gets into power or a new bureaucrat takes over, “Change the name, it will produce a better result.

Here the changes over the years:

 

PERIOD

NAME
1880-1994 New South Wales Football Association
1903-25 New South Wales Football League
1926-73 New South Wales Australian National Football League
1974-79 New South Wales Australian Football League
1980-86 NSWAFL (Sydney Football League)
1987-90 NSWAFL (NSW State Football League)
1991-98 NSWAFL (Sydney Football League)
1999- AFL (NSW-ACT)  – AFL Sydney

 

What does it really mean and did these changes produce a better result?

Well when football was resurrected in 1903 after an eight year hiatus, it was a good thing.  Apart from a road bump in 1915 when the game nearly again fell over, the next change was in 1926.  This year brought with it other changes:

East Sydney FC combined with the Paddington FC to form a brand new, Eastern Suburbs Australian Football Club. With the reintroduction of District Football, where the name of a club had to represent an electoral district, the Railway Club disappeared, oddly so too did Balmain.  The North Shore and the Eastern Suburbs Clubs somehow both slid under the radar with this district business.  The north side club changed their name from ˜North Sydney” back to North Shore.  A further change was the introduction of the Western Suburbs Club into the competition.

NSWANFLIn the opinion of officials, adding of the word ˜National” to the the league’s title gave it and the game more of an Australian embracing influence.  So yes, here too, the change in the name did coincide with other changes to the competition.  In response, the attendance figures increased in the 1926 season.

But by now other competitions throughout NSW began to question the value of affiliation with the NSW Body.

These leagues included those in the Riverina, Broken Hill as well as an on-again, off-again competition in Newcastle.  There were no others. The Victorian Country Football League (VCFL) was formed in 1927 and by 1933 all the leagues in the Riverina, led by Digger Carroll, had gone over to the VCFL, leaving the NSWANFL as an almost solitary beacon for Australian football within the state.

Really, the NSWANFL could offer very little to other leagues.  Unlike the major associations in the rest of Australia and certainly footballing centres in country Victoria and southern NSW, attendances in Sydney, by comparison were very meagre resulting in little money coming into the system.  Just as importantly the NSWANFL were saddled with a poor profile which in turn did not attract skilled and solid leadership.

So, incorporated in  all the responsibilities of a state sporting body, the same group had to conduct a football competition in Sydney on a shoestring budget, all run by volunteers.

NSWAFLThrough to 1974 then without any fanfare, the word ˜National”  was removed from the title .  There was no significant changes to the competition, nor the game in general in that period.  It was, and had been for decades, the poor relation in Sydney sport and yet it continued to survive.

1979 saw the emergence of a reform group who rolled the incumbent and long term NSWAFL president, Bill Hart, the previous December.

The motivation to this was the perceived backing from influential elements in the VFL who promised funding for an experienced football administrator to run Sydney football and the NSWAFL, subject to support on a national level, for interstate VFL games to be played in Sydney of a Sunday.

The revitalised Sydney league was initially all spirited, enthusiastic and gung-ho.  A new man from Melbourne was appointed as the General Manager, the league’s offices at 64 Regent Street Chippendale were sold off and the administration moved to nearby premises at the Scan.BMPNewtown Rules Club in Cleveland Street, Redfern.

Eventually the independent Board was replaced by a board of club directors a move which would produce cronyism and ‘caucusing’ where the strong got stronger and the other clubs just rolled along.  Football in Sydney now primarily  promoted Sydney and the NSWAFL was put on the back burner as other sub-state bodies grew in stature and did their own thing.

NSW State FLBy 1987 there was yet a further change.  Sydney and the NSWAFL were broke and badly in debt.  An independent group managing the affairs of the NSWAFL told the Sydney clubs to sink or swim.  Either agree to a change in the administration or go out of business.  Really, there was no alternative.  That initial energy for change and a more ‘Sydney’ influence had well dissipated.

There was a big transformation in Sydney Football – there had to be – with three divisions again established, most of the sub groups abolished and the NSWAFL was back in charge.  The Sydney component became known as the NSW State Football League with a long term view of incorporating clubs from around the state.  Thankfully it did not happen but gradually the league moved into a position of financial stability.

In 1991 the NSW State Football League designation was abolished to revert to the Sydney Football League with the administration marginally re-arranged, but not much else took place.

Then in 1998 following yet another report on the state of health of football in NSW, a further change saw the introduction of the AFL(NSW-ACT).  This produced a few on-field alterations to Sydney footy like 16 aside etc. yes a major move but again, little else came about in the structure and framework of the actual competition.

AFL Sydney had now assumed full control of the Sydney league with full funding from the major AFL body in Melbourne.  They also funded football development throughout the state but unlike the Sydney open age football, most of the leagues in NSW were left to finance their own activities.

The major change came in 2009 when under the then Sydney Football Operations Manager, Garry Burkinshaw, divisionalisation took place.  This was the biggest adjustment to Sydney football since 1948 when Balmain, Western Suburbs (both for the second time) and Sydney University were introduced to the competition or perhaps it was 1926 changes?

The Coup of 1978

Towards the end of the 1970s a certain section of the Sydney football community were tiring of the league administration led by long term president, Bill Hart.

As successful as it was in its own way, it was seen as old fashion, not up with the times, anti VFL and still followed doctrine that had been laid out earlier in the century.

Added to this was the growing interest the VFL was showing to extend their influence into Sydney.  In 1974 Victoria v South Australia played at the SCG which attracted 20,000 fans but more importantly the game was televised live to W.A., Tasmania, South Australia, ACT and most country areas of NSW.

In those days the Victorian Government would not permit the VFL to play their games on Sundays in that state so they began looking for different venues where their football could be televised back into Melbourne.  Sydney was one such location which had the potential to fill the void most admirably.  It is safe to say at that stage, there was no premeditated vision to expand the competition interstate.

A lot of the acrimony in Sydney had to do with the NSWAFL’s participation in the Escort Championships.  This was a separate knock-out competition which began in 1977 involving then only the 12 VFL clubs but by 1979 it also included all WAFL clubs, NSW, Tasmania and the ACT.  The following year all clubs in the SANFL became involved along with Queensland.

NSW’s involvement was not without distress when the NSWAFL Board of Management resolved in August, 1978 to involve the state in the series but only after a fairly volatile debate which was then followed by a very close vote.

So with this underlying feeling that the old school would not move with the time plus and rancour in NSW’s involvement in the Escort Championships, a clandestine group began to meet at the then Newtown Rules Club, 303 Cleveland Street, Redfern, with the ultimate aim of unseating the administration of the league at the December 1978 AGM.  At that time and for the previous 75 years, the NSWAFL conducted not only the football affairs of part of NSW but also the Sydney competitions.

If successful the group were promised by the VFL the appointment of a ‘fulltime professional administrator for the league.’  This was despite the fact that the NSWAFL had had a fulltime secretary with assistant, since 1964.

In October 1978, part-time television personality, Kevin Taylor, who, by that time, had been sacked by the league as their media representative, laid out the plans of the new group in an article in a local inner-city newspaper, The Sydney Shout, so it was quite clear that the clandestine tag had been quickly lost with the machinations of the time.

Along with Taylor, Bern Heafey was one of the prime movers in the Sydney football power play.  He was an affable character who had football at heart.  Heafey had one year as president of the North Shore Club in 1951 but later involved himself with St Ives, a second division club, where he was president.  In time he was to become the face of the new faction but only for a short period.

The idea of change came with the suggestion of new and exciting possibilities and additional meetings were held at other venues, including Easts Rules Club, Bond Junction, St George Clubrooms at Olds Park and even Bankstown Sports Club.  Tension was building with the group’s activities because not all clubs were involved with this action.

The 1978 Annual General Meeting of the NSWAFL was set for Monday 11 December at their offices, 64 Regent Street, Chippendale.

Unusually, the actual meeting was held in the front reception area of the small attached brick building where there was standing room only for most.

League officials were very much aware of the move against them with both camps working overtime to secure sufficient votes to get over the line.

Each of the nine Sydney first division clubs had two votes.  The eight second division clubs each had one vote as did the NSW Junior Football Council, Newcastle AFL, South Coast AFL, NSW Country AFL, Central Coast AFL, Illawarra AFL and each board member of the league.  Life members also had the opportunity to exercise a vote but historically not many of these personnel turned out for the annual meetings.  Perhaps if they had  realised the significance of the possible outcome, they might have made the effort.

The meeting was extremely acrimonious with chairman, Bill Hart, flat out controlling the sometimes raucous attendees who were full of interjections.

Hart (shown here on the left) was defeated by Heafey in a close vote.  Country representative, Allen Baker was appointed to the Vice President’s position.

Many of the incumbent Board of Management were re-elected but several, along with Heafey, only lasted a year or two with a number of resignations listed in 1980.

One of the most disappointing aspects of the change was the sale of premises at 64 Regent Street, which incidentally the purchase of which was mainly funded by the Western Suburbs Football Club Ltd.  The building was far from salubrious but did represent the code with a main street location and somewhere to call ‘home’.

After the sale, League officials were then housed in the top floor at the Newtown Rules Club at 303 Cleveland Street Redfern, a converted picture theatre, until 1985 when they moved to new premises under the Bill O’Reilly stand at the SCG.

The enthusiasm and new Sydney Football League entity which resulted from the coup, did not last and when a new administration took control not that many years later, it all changed again.