But for the Military football would have struggled in Sydney.
These were the words from Jim Phelan in 1918 when he wrote in the Referee Newspaper: “that but for soldiers from other states etc. who reside in camps near to Sydney playing senior football in Sydney, the senior league would not have been able to operate.”
And that statement is quite true in fact Sydney football was fairly dependent on servicemen right through to the 1960 and into the 70s when junior football became much better organised and the system started to more regularly churn out senior players from its junior ranks.
This is one reason the St George Club has been so successful. Their general success followed the formation of a fully functioning junior association in their area in 1955 and while they may not all be with us now, junior clubs like Cronulla, Bangor, Heathcote, Penshurst, Peakhurst, Miranda, Como-Janalli, Ramsgate, Sutherland, Boystown and Hurstville Diamonds formed the core of a nursery for the senior club in particular as well as other local clubs who benefited from the Association.
In the days of WWI and right through to the 1950s Sydney football was lucky to have a four team Under 16 competition. Yes there were exceptions and also there were some isolated schools like Hurstville Tech, Gardeners Road, Double Bay and Erskineville pumping young boys into the football system.
However it was the military who supplied, if not the most then a fair portion of the complement of senior players, certainly during both wars and most markedly in the 1950s and 60s.
it was during that period that clubs like Sydney Naval, Balmain, South Sydney, Bankstown, Liverpool and North Shore survived, in terms of talent, mainly on the military.
There was a naval establishment at Middle Head in HMAS Penguin, the submarine base at Chowder Bay and more recently the patrol boat unit on Balls Head Peninsular. It was these places that fed the North Shore Club but their numbers were especially supplemented by the School of Artillery at North Head.
Most of the inner city clubs picked up players from the ships based at Garden Island, particularly Sydney Naval. South Sydney had several army units in Bundock Street at Randwick. Easts recruited from Victoria Barracks, which at one stage boasted a number of army establishments on both sides of Moore Park Road, those on the southern side since engulfed by the Sydney Football Stadium complex. In the early seventies a club called Combined Services participated in Sydney’s Second Division.
Ostensibly their number was made up from across the military spectrum but there was more RAAF and Navy personnel than Army.
When HMAS Albatross was established at Nowra, many of their players filtered through to Sydney Clubs as did players from the Richmond Air Base and other smaller RAAF bases in the western suburbs.
Again many clubs benefited from the soldiers based at Ingleburn, Moorebank and Holdsworthy, particularly Liverpool, the closest side to those bases. Thousands of soldiers were stationed in that area over the years.
Such was the case during the wars when the SCG and a number of race courses in Sydney were taken over by the Australian and US military.
And while we have St George and their juniors, they too did well with service personnel. Phonse Kyne, a 200 game player, captain and coach of Collingwood, played and coached at St George during WWII.
South Australian great, Graham Cornes also played with the Saints before he left for Vietnam.
Several of the Phelan Medal winners over the years were in the services: Ralph Turner who won took it out in 1959 & 61 was in the navy, as was Norm Tuxford in 1966 and Peter Body the following year.
Tony Wish-Wilson who was the award in 1959 was in the air force, so too was the 1964 winner, Ray Gwilliam.
Noel Stewart, playing for Southern Districts just about pulls up the servicemen-players. He took out the trophy in 1971 whilst undergoing his two year national service in the army at Holdsworthy.
Just as there were players coming from the military so too did umpires and these officials were recorded as officiating in Sydney games as far back as WWI.
Much has changed in the services. Many units have been moved out of the area; the army’s School of Artillery is now located at Puckapunyal in Central Victoria. The Infantry Training Centre has moved from Ingleburn to Singleton. Chowder Bay is now a park and the submarine base is at Rockingham in WA, quite a number of army units in south western Sydney have also been shifted while many RAAF establishments which were formerly within the Sydney metropolitan area have either been closed down or moved.
So Sydney, once a competition which thrived on servicemen, where it was not uncommon for personnel from the same unit to be opposed to each other of a weekend could be seen in the same team in the midweek services competition, played of a Wednesday mostly on Moore Park.
Obviously there are still many servicemen who make up the ranks of Sydney’s senior football today. We are told, the RAAF/Hawkesbury/Nor-West Jets Club, as they changed their name, still rely on personnel from Richmond as do others who have military bases near to their place of activities.
But for the most part it is now all down to nurturing and succinctly fostering players through their junior clubs to ensure the continuance of the game in the nation’s biggest city.