Happy 140th Anniversary – NSW Australian Football

    First match of football played under Victorian Rules
         in Sydney 1877 between Waratahs and Carlton

“That the gentlemen present, or those who desire to do so, form themselves into an association to be called the New South Wales Football Association, and that they adopt the Victorian Football Association rules.” (Sydney Mail, 1 July 1880).

At a meeting at Henry Hook’s Freemason’s Hotel in York St, Sydney on 30 June 1880 the NSW Football Association was formed to play under “Victorian Rules”.

It is estimated that over 100 persons attended the meeting to form the Association.  It was claimed in the press that the attendance was the largest gathering of football players ever assembled in NSW.

The election of office bearers was put over to the following Wednesday when another well attended meeting also at the Freemason Hotel. It saw a motion by C W Beal that Phillip Sheridan, a trustee of the Association Cricket Ground be elected to the position of president.

Sheridan was one of the first trustees of the Sydney Cricket Ground, then known as the Association Ground, who was appointed to that position in 1875, and served in that and a similar position capacity until his death in 1910.

Other office bearers of the NSW FA including the Charles W Beal, a vice president of the SRFU and player with the Waratah Club, as secretary. Another Waratah player, William C Hinwood was named  the treasurer. The

                       Freemasons Hotel, Sydney 1880
                Image with thanks to the City of Sydney Archives

committee was made up of Messrs. *George F Bowen, *Harry Williams, William Fordham, *J W Wilkinson, A. McLean, Joseph J Allen, *^Walter C Marshall, George A Crisp, *William Druce, *Robert Thallon (who, a short time later was elected to a rules committee for the rugby union), Mr. Powell, M. Chambers, *Fred Hayman, *^Billy Newing and Frederick Lyon Weiss (* players of the Waratah Rugby Club ^ex-Carlton FC)

The meeting also resolved to set the subscription for members at five shillings. Within days of the formation of the Association, interest in the game began to increase.

A scratch match was organised at the Waratah (rugby) Ground which was at the Randwick end of Moore Park 36 for 10 July but because of the limited size of the playing field, numbers were restricted to 15 aside. At the time Moore Park was a large expanse of parkland and in the winter it was divided into several football grounds.

A week later on 17 July the Waratah Club played an exhibition match of Victorian football against the Burwood (rugby) club. The team that went on to play Waratah that day was made up of ‘Old Victorians’ and a few of the Burwood players (Daily Telegraph, 19 July 1880).

Despite their leaning toward Victorian Rules football, the Waratah Club continued to participate in the SRFU. Significantly, the Waratahs had played the first game of football under Victorian Rules in 1877 when they hosted the Carlton Football Club to matches in football and rugby.

   Bill Newing      image with thanks

Then, on 6 August, a meeting was convened by George Bowen to form the Sydney Football Club, playing under Victorian rules at Weber’s Post Office Hotel in York Street.  The club was formed and the colours of dark blue with a red cap and red hose were adopted.

This was followed on Tuesday 10 August, by a meeting at the Cambridge Club Hotel, on the corner of Oxford and Liverpool Streets, to form the East Sydney Football Club. The meeting enrolled a total of 40 members. The team adopted the colours of a blue and white jersey and hose with blue knickerbockers and cap.

Source: Ian Granland’s unpublished work The History of Australian Football in Sydney 1877-1895 (2014 v5)

– 1903 Collingwood v Fitzroy in Sydney – it nearly didn’t happen!

Mostly through bad management and petty squabbles, the game failed and ceased to exist in Sydney in 1895.

This had been after a long and arduous period of getting the game established and accepted in Sydney.  The first clubs, Sydney and East Sydney were formed in 1881 which played under the NSW Football Association formed the year before.

Despite its demise, many of the proponents of the game were still keen about in the early 1900s and one, Harry Hedger, who had put his heart and sole into the game as a player and official in the aforementioned period, was very keen to see it rekindled.

After the NSW Football League had been formed in January 1903, he visited Melbourne late in the next month especially to attend a meeting of the VFL and club delegates where he outlined the need for support to have the game re-established in the NSW capital.

After Hedger harangued delegates until 2.30am, “Mr. C. M. Hickey (Fitzroy) said that his club was willing to go to Sydney at its own expense, and to forego any share of the gate receipts. Eventually Mr. Copeland, on behalf of the Collingwood club, agreed to make the trip. The cost to each of these clubs will probably be about £300, and they will each lose the proceeds of the match, which, under ordinary circumstances, would have been played in Melbourne. Thus either the Fitzroy or the Collingwood ground will lose one of its most productive games. In order to compensate the two clubs for the sacrifice it was decided that the proceeds of the games played in Victoria on that day shall be pooled and divided equally between all the clubs in the league; and, further, that the ground which suffers by the arrangement shall be awarded one of the semi-final matches. ” [1]

But the Collingwood membership were not all that too happy with the decision.  At the annual meeting of the Collingwood Football Club on March 9, some members of the club resented the action of their committee in making the interstate arrangement.  One member, a Mr. Mansergh, said “that he thought the committee had exceeded its powers in committing the club to such a course. The members had a right to be consulted, and they should have decided. The match with Fitzroy was the most popular game of the season, and he did not think it fair that members should be deprived of the game.”

Mansergh then move that  “This meeting disagrees with the action of the committee of the club in deciding to play a premiership match in Sydney.  The motion was declared carried on a show of hands.” [2]

The decision of the members of the Collingwood club did not affect the Sydney visit, but had the potential to rob the match of its interest as far as the premiership was concerned”

In the meantime football euphoria had gripped Sydney with the two biggest clubs in Australia to visit in May.  Sydney was a Rugby town (Rugby League had not yet been introduced) and as well, soccer was played but not as popular as it is today.  Despite all this, eleven new first grade clubs were formed – and there were others.

However Collingwood had more problems when it comes to impediments to their proposed match. In May 1903 Victoria was gripped with a rail strike which subjected the match to a good deal of uncertainty.  The May 9 game of Geelong v Carlton game had to be postponed because of the strike.  The sudden impact of the strike had stifled any arrangements for travel to Geelong by boat because any such arrangements had not been considered early enough. [3]

There is more to this story …. stay tuned.

[1] Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser – 4 March 1903, p.570
[2} The Argus 10 March 1903 p.7
[3] 1903 VFL results

– Junior Football In Sydney – part I

1889 St Ignatius (Australian) Football Team

Junior football and for that matter much of junior sport in Sydney and probably the rest of NSW was very centred on school activities in the early 1900s.

The Southern (NSW) Rugby Football Union had established a junior competition by 1887 playing for John McGregor’s Cup [1] while the first recorded junior game of Australian football in Sydney was in early June 1888 in a match comprising junior players played between boys from West Sydney and Moore Park at the East Sydney club’s ground on Moore Park.  The event was treated almost as if some type of novelty but the players were encouraged to continue with their efforts.  There was no mention of their age. [2]

The first recorded schools game was in 1888 and recorded as “Two juvenile teams under these rules played a very exciting match on Moore Park on Saturday (4 August), the teams being the boys from St Augustines School (Balmain) and what are known as Junior Sydneys.  An amusing part of the proceedings was the discovery  that the youthful ‘Sydneys’ had increased their numbers to considerably over thirty, and when the umpire, under protest from St Augustine’s, arranged both teams for a count the Sydney youths numbered nearly forty.  It is a pity for the school teams that the juvenile matches are nor played in enclosures.  It is expected that the return match will be played in an enclosure, and a strict count made in future to stop the growth of juvenile twenties.” [3]

Then, and at last an item on junior football appeared in the Referee Newspaper when a team representing the Sydney Juniors played the Imperials on Moore Park on 1 June 1889.  The players were all aged under 16 and the smaller Sydney boys won the match 3 goals to 1. [4] (In those days goals only recorded the score although at times behinds were shown in the tally). 

The 1890 annual report of the NSW Football Association stated that “in past seasons junior football has been almost neglected, the result being that junior clubs and second twenties have been a failure.  For the coming season (1890), however, twenty silver medals have been offered for competition among the juniors, and these medals ought to give an impetus to junior football.” [5] [6]

On many occasions in their reporting, newspapers and club officials would often use the term ‘juniors’ when referring to under age players or a second eighteen and determining one or the other  took a judicious view of the records.

At the Association’s 1891 annual meeting held on 21 April at Cambridge Club Hotel which was on the corner of Market and Castlereagh Streets, the secretary’s report eulogised the Association’s activities and praised Mr Henry Alexander for his kindness in donating 20 medals “for the hitherto neglected juniors for competition amongst them.”   Prior to 1890 the juniors were almost ignored by the Association and in previous seasons secretaries seemed to almost despair of ever being able to run junior teams, yet during the 1890 season “no difficulty was experienced in keeping together the second twenties and the members of the other junior clubs.  This highly desirable state of things was brought about by the medal contests.  We should like, by the way, to point out that one of the greatest difficulties against which a secretary of a new club has to contend is that twenty men are required to form a team under our rules.  Under the British Association Rules (soccer) only eleven men are required and under Rugby Rules, fifteen.”   [7]

By the end of July 1891 the following made up the ‘junior’competition:


St Josephs College 4 4 16 16
South Sydney 6 5 1 20 24
Young Australians 6 2 2 2 12 24
West Sydney II 7 3 3 1 14 28
Carlton 6 1 4 1   6 24

In 1892 junior clubs started to emerge publicly and were holding their own annual meetings many of which were in March, notably earlier than their senior cousins.  Their numbers were healthy, with 35 registering with the Carlton Junior club who were moving into their fourth season, while 21 new members signed up with the Young Australian side [8] and a another 14 with the successful South Sydney junior club.

Early in May advice was received that St Ignatius College would not play football under Australian rules in 1892 instead changing their allegiance to rugby. [9] Sydney Mail ominously said that “The New South Wales Football Association has gone off into a long sleep from which it will never waken.” [10]  How right this would prove to be.

to be continued ….

[1] Referee – 28 April 1887
[2] Sydney Mail – 26 May 1888
[3] Referee – 9 August 1888
[4] Referee – 5 June 1889
[5] Referee – 16 April 1890
[6] Daily Telegraph – 16 June 1890
[7] Referee – 22 April 1891
[8] Referee – 23 March.1892
[9] SMH – 4 June 1892
[10] Referee – 4 May 1892

Don’t Trespass

1906- Robert ErrolThere is a message in this for those who might be prone to take a short cut and walk across an Australian football field, rather than around the boundary.

In 1907, Bob Errol (pictured), who was a pretty fair player of the game was charged with ˜maliciously inflicting grievous bodily harm” upon one such person.

Errol was playing for the YMCA side in a Sydney competition match against East Sydney on Moore Park in Sydney. Now this ground would have been directly opposite the SCG between Driver Avenue and what is now Anzac Parade.

A seventeen year old, Thomas Lambert, together with a couple of mates had just left the Sydney Cricket Ground after watching a rugby game between University and Glebe and began to walk across the field of play whilst the Australian football game was in progress.

They were abused by the footballers telling the group in no uncertain terms to ˜get off the ground” and ˜give the players a chance.” Lambert and co. refused and retorted in an aggressive manner that the game was “a dirty rotten Australian game.”

The three lads stood in front of the not so tall ruckman, Errol obstructing his path towards the ball. ˜Give me a chance” he requested of the trio but they came to him in a menacing manner using what was described as ˜filthy language.”

Lambert threw a punch at Errol, but he was picking on the wrong man. At 26 and a former professional fighter Errol fended off the blow while another grabbed him around his shoulders.

It was then that Errol threw a straight left which broke Lambert’s jaw.

This action eventually saw Errol in the Sydney Quarter Sessions at Taylor’s Square in Sydney before a judge and jury.

Errol had some very well regarded persons on his side with a number of these giving supporting evidence. One of whom was the former legendary Sydney footballer, Harry Hedger, a magistrate and a member of the board of directors of the Young Men’s Christian Association as well as a vice president of the NSW Football Association.

He was found not guilty with the jury concluding that Errol, a nine time representative player, had acted in self-defence.

Errol had served with the Third Victorian (Bushman’s) Contingent in the Boer war and later in Gallipoli, where he said of his time: ‘I was blown clean out of a trench by a shell and now I am stone deaf, and suffering from shock, but I understand they are going to send me back to Hell’s hole ” Gallipoli, but I don’t mind.’

Errol was discharged from the army in 1916 but re-enlisted for garrison duty in Australia. He died of wounds in 1924.