Sydney and the Military

But for the MilitaMilitary image thumbnailry 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.

1966

19661966 could be judged as just another year in Sydney football.  The footy system went on as normal but we take a deeper look at the season which is just 48 years ago.

Wests won the flag before a crowd of 7,000 at Trumper Park, Sydney Naval’s Norm Tuxford took out the Phelan Medal, Don McKenna an army recruit from the St George club booted 71 goals to win the first grade Leading Goalking Award, the league returned a (never to be repeated) profit of $2,575 on the Football Record, Eastern Suburb’s Roy Hayes, was made life member of the league, a junior competition was started in the Balmain-Ryde area which included North Ryde, Ermington, Pennant Hills-Normanhurst as well as a Balmain junior club and long term league secretary, Ken Ferguson once again took the reigns at the league, this time in a fulltime capacity.

The league consolidated their newly acquired premises at 64 Regent Street Chippendale, (a photo of which now adorns the website front page in a rotating banner) and again recorded their recognition and appreciation for its purchase to the Western Suburbs Licensed Club.  Sydney Naval and Eastern Suburbs clubs, separately, had their applications for a licensed rejected by the Licensing Court.

A direct and live broadcast (albeit of the second half) by Channel 7 of the Western Suburbs v Sydney Naval game on June 4 game gave the code a lift while East’s captain-coach, Alan Gray was transferred to Wagga prior to the end of the season, upsetting the club’s plans for the finals  Souths had a foreign legion in the senior side which only contained three locals.

Junior players in the state’s Under 15 training squad included Jack Slade (Newtown), Phil Fenny (Wests), Paul Paitry (Easts), Chris Bucko and Paul McCook (St George) were some who would go on to play senior football in Sydney.  Peter Hastings, SC, QC, former Tribunal Chairman who now heads the NSW Crime Commission, was president and player of the Sydney University Club.

Forty-two year old, Jack Armstrong, The Black Fella, retired from umpiring.  Incidentally the Society is working on a story of this once legend of Sydney football which will be published soon.  Ellis Noack was captain-coach of the Southern Districts club.  St George moved to their new home on the site of a former quarry which became Olds Park.  In the rules of the game, the flick-pass was ditched.

History Society president, Ian Granland, began his long journey in football administration when elected secretary of the South Sydney club at age 17 and Vice President, Bill Carey, played his 100th consecutive first grade game for Balmain.

Former VFL umpire and Sydney Naval Coach, Bill Quinn, who went on to become a wonderful supporter of the Sydney Swans club, was appointed coach of the NSW Umpires Assn.  And who could not forget the appointment of Ray Catherall as Sydney Naval’s coach.  Ray, a restauranteur,  had Mother’s Cellar and Moby Dicks restaurants at Kings Cross in his stable.  He gained international notoriety by playing ‘soothing’ music to his players in the change rooms at half time breaks.  He only last one season at the club only to move on to coach Sydney University the following year.

However one of the biggest and least remembered events of the season was the umpiring furore at Trumper Park on July 10 when NSW played North Melbourne.

Our last featured photograph prompted a few memories when, in the days of one (central) umpire, the then Umpires’ Assn secretary and the 1965 Sydney grand final umpire, Len Palmer, was ‘unappointed’ from the game and replaced by VFL umpire, Stan Fisher.

We contacted the Ettalong based Palmer to get the real story.

KilligrewHe said he was at the ground and had begun to change into his umpiring attire when Kangaroo’s coach, the 168cm former St Kilda dynamo, Alan Killigrew (pictured) told officials that “he would not let his boys be umpired by someone from a football outpost like Sydney.”  When asked to be reasonable about the matter and that the 31 year old Palmer, who was after all,  was straight off the VFL Reserves Umpiring list in 1964 and quite competent of handling the match, but the volatile Killigrew refused and stood his ground.

Minutes before the start of the game, Sydney officials had no choice but to capitulate.

Palmer said he had been told before the match that a VFL umpire was at the ground but he did not know his identity.  North Melbourne had brought Fisher to Sydney for the game but there appeared to be no prior communication on the appointment between the two organising parties.

Fisher, who began his VFL umpiring career in 1963 and by then had umpired over 40 league games, was embarrassed about the controversy and suggested to Palmer that they eac do one half.  Palmer could see the problems this could cause and declined his offer.  He then sat on the sideline as the reserve umpire but joined in the after-match hospitality at the Wests Club.

NSW was soundly beaten 20.17 (137) to 7.11 (53).  And incidentally, several current members of the Society were in that NSW team including Brian Tyler, Denis Aitken and Peter Burgess.

As a show of their support for Palmer, the league had sent him to Canberra only weeks before to umpire the Queensland v ACT game at Manuka Oval.  He 1966 NSWANFL 1st Semi Final 1 smallalso umpired the 1966 Sydney Grand Final before he retired from umpiring due to his work in the TAB.

When asked if he had any regrets he said no, “Football gave me a great journey through life and I have made some wonderful friends.  I wouldn’t change a thing” he replied.

Our photograph shows Len Palmer taking the field for the 1966 Sydney Grand Final at Trumper Park.  Note the crowd.  The footballs the umpires had in their hands were used for bouncing and throw-in practice.  None was the match ball.