Norwood FC 1908 Visit to Sydney

1908-05-20 SMH P.12 printed smallLeading up to 1911, Australian football in Sydney was played on a number of grounds, unfortunately most were arenas which were not enclosed and accordingly football suffered from two major issues.

These were:

  1. Crowds continued to encroach on grounds during play and in some circumstances this caused games to be called off.  In fact this was not just common to Australian football.  Other codes suffered the same fate and this was a time in Sydney where there were a limited number of fenced grounds.
  2. No admission could be charged at grounds and with this the major source of revenue for the league (the league took the gate) the NSWAFL continually finished their season well  in debt.

Some of the grounds used in this early period in Sydney football included: Moore Park (opposite the Bat & Ball Hotel), Redfern Park (now known as Redfern Oval), Birchgrove Oval, Hampden Oval (Trumper Park – then unenclosed) and many others.

Nothing highlights the then growing problem of grounds better than a letter published in the Sydney Morning Herald in May 1908 prior to a visit by South Australia’s leading football club, Norwood who were fresh from a victory over VFL premiers, Carlton in Melbourne.

At that early stage and prior to the visit, Norwood were scheduled to play their games as curtain raisers to major Rugby Union matches, at the SCG.

We have republished the letter which expresses a degree of concern that the SA premier club, which travelled “1000 miles – at their own expense” should be relegated to the inferior position of the early game before another code.

Nevertheless, the two Saturdays of 13 & 20 June, Norwood played at the SCG,were in fact played before major Rugby Union fixtures.  We have since1908-05-13 Referee Newspaper, Wed P.9 printed smaller discovered that the Metropolitan Rugby Union, who had the winter lease of the SCG, offered the league use of the ground for the two dates but were over ruled by the SCG Trust who did not want to miss the opportunity of a major Rugby match at the ground where the rental was calculated on a percentage of the gate takings.  It is obvious that that Rugby matches drew a far greater crowd than a Norwood game could attract.

The third of the 1908 Norwood FC contests was played at the SCG on Wednesday 17 May as the major contest for the day with a Public Schools v Catholic Schools as the early game.  The attendance was described as ‘scanty’ which indicates a poor turnout for this midweek encounter.

Norwood left behind a shield valued at £40 ($80) for the Sydney premiers in the Sydney competition when they departed.  We wrote about it a few weeks ago and it is still on display at the league rooms at Moore Park.  The Reserve Bank has calculated this amount in today’s terms, with inflation, at $5,163.03

The question of grounds and particularly enclosed ones at the time, is a very interesting subject and should we get time may well be the subject of either a chapter in this year’s Society Journal or other publication.

The Norwood Shield

Norwood Shield smallIn 1908 South Australian premier club, Norwood, took a tour of the eastern states;  Included, were three games in Sydney.

The contingent included 23 players and two officials.  Several of these were also interstate cricketers and coupled with the group were a number of supporters, swelling their number to over forty.

The first game against NSW was played on the Sydney Cricket Ground and attracted a crowd of 7,000 but the locals failed to come up to their reputation and were easily defeated 13.9 to 2.6.

The second game took place mid week but again, NSW were no match and went down 12.14 to 7.9.  Then, the following Saturday, Norwood again far outclassed NSW in a 12.12 to 6.8 victory.  The South Australian club remained in Sydney for over a week.

So taken were they with the hospitality and drive to continue against great odds of getting the game introduced into Sydney that they donated an ornate sheild, which they wanted used as a premiership trophy.  It was subsequently called the Norwood Shield and as was then the practice, the team that won the trophy on three occasions, got to keep it.  Initially this was presented to the premier club, along with the contemporary trophy, the Rawson Cup.

The shield cost forty pounds, which in today’s money can be compared then to five and a half weeks wages for a carpenter.  It took some years before the Norwood Shield was eventually claimed permanently by the Paddington Club.

One hundred and seven years later, this trophy is still in the hands of  NSW football.  It is one of only two precious historical items on display at the AFL(NSW/ACT) Offices at Moore Park.  The shield has limited provision for the inscription of the winning clubs’ names but in its design, as you can see on the photograph, it has bulbs in the Norwood club colours along with an image of the Norwood Town Hall etched in metal .

Norwood Football Club left all gate receipts to the league in Sydney and made no claim for their trip expenses.  Despite this, the NSW Football 1908 Norwood FC capt Roy Hill smallLeague continued to live beyond its means when they declared a debt of one hundred and seventy four pounds for the 1908 season.  This was considerably down on the four hundred pound debt the previous year.  Debt was a condition that continually plagued the league for many, many years.  They needed better financial control but it did not come.

On the occasion of this 1909 annual general meeting though, a number of attendees put their hands in their pocket and raised sufficient funds to reduce the debt to sixty five pounds – still, when compared to today’s money, it relates to an amazing amount reaching well into the thousands of dollars.

The existence of the Norwood Shield though provides two very interesting questions:  The club must have travelled with the shield when they visited Sydney all those years ago with the intention of making the presentation and more particularly, where has it been for the past 100 years?

Image on the right is Roy Hill, Norwood FC’s captain in the Sydney tour.

Don Roach Passes

Don Roach, a former commissioner with the NSW AFL and Chief Executive Officer with the Sydney Swans, died on Sunday.  He was 71 and is survived by his wife Shirley.

There are probably few in the Sydney football scene today who knew Don.  His time as a real dominant influence was in South Australia.  Don played 158 games for West Adelaide and was the team’s captain and coach in 1966 and 1967; 42 games for Norwood, 33 games for Hawthorn and nine for the South Australian representative team.

Roach was a Life Member of the SANFL and inducted into their Hall of Fame in 2002.  He was named in the All Australian AFL team in 1961 and was life member of the South Australian National Football League. He was inducted into the SA Football Hall of Fame in 2002.

Don moved to Sydney to become chief executive of the Sydney Swans in 1985 and 1986.

His involvement in Sydney football was not always confined to the office.  In the August 1973, while working for the SANFL as a promotions officer, Don Roach, along with Norwood FC vice captain, Ross Porritt, visited NSW as part of the Rothmans National Sports Foundation.  The two conducted coaching clinics for young boys in Sydney, Newcastle and on the South Coast.

Don said of the talent in Sydney ” I was very please and surprised at the high standard of many of the boys attending these Rothmans Clinics. All of the boys exhibited a great desire to learn and these young players will assure NSW a most promising future growth of the code.”

In 1974 Don was appointed the General Manager of the SANFL and, in the ten odd years at the helm of SA football, was one of a band of South Australians who, at the time, loathed the VFL’s (as they were then) self given attitude as pseudo controllers of the game throughout Australia.  It was Roach who was a continual thorn in the side of the VFL and thwarted many of their moves to impose their ideas at the expense of other national affiliates and in most cases these were what were regarded ‘minor states’.  Of which, NSW was one.  It was this attitude towards the VFL that eventually was to prove his downfall.

Roach always said that the National Football League (ANFC) should be the recognized controlling body of the game and at times he went to great lengths to reinforce that stance.

However the VFL won the day.  In a astute move, the VFL’s Assistant General Manager, Alan Schwab, organised for Roach to be appointed the Chief Executive Officer of the Sydney Swans in 1985.  A job he held for just over 12 months but it brought him to Sydney, and removed a persistent thorn from the VFL’s side.  Sydney is where he remained.

A little known fact that Roach’s exhibited a fantastic foresight for the game when he started what what he believed became the most successful bi-product of Australian Football: Auskick.  “I wrote the rules on the back of a cigarette packet in 1968” Roach said “and called it ‘Mod Football’.”

This was the first and the start to Australia’s and possibly the world’s adoption of modified versions of open age sporting games particularly for young children.

It is a legacy that Don Roach will be remembered for for many years.