As the reputation of the History Society becomes more prominent, the existence of awards, trophies, medals and other material from past years is slowly emerging.
Recently the Society received a note from Rob Powers, the grandson of R H Powers, a former state representative and captain on the Sydney Club during the twenties.
Mr Powers presented photographs of the medal his grandfather won in 1926 playing for Sydney. It was for the best and fairest in the Sydney competition and at the time called, The Ellis Trophy. The name was changed to the Provan Trophy and in 1936, the Phelan Medal, in recognition of the service Jim Phelan provided the NSW football community during his lifetime.
1926 was the first occasion the award was made and followed closely on the heels of the VFL which established the Brownlow Medal in 1924. It was created and named in honour of Charles Brownlow, a former Geelong footballer (1880-1891), club secretary (1885-1923) and VFL president (1918-19).
Mr Powers said he came across the medal whilst cleaning out the estate of his late parents.
More recently a NSWAFL Life Membership Medal which was awarded to Rupert Browne in 1932 has surfaced. Mr Browne was a school teacher and sports master at the Gardeners Road Public School, Mascot from 1911-1950.
Together with two other Sydney teachers, he was responsible for putting hundreds of young boys through the game, most of whom went on to play with the South Sydney Club but others filtered out to different clubs within the city. Many, many of these boys represented the state and at least one, Frank Gascoigne, won the Phelan Medal, the competition’s best and fairest.
He died in 1953, aged 66 after being hit by a car in suburban Sydney. Certainly a cruel way to take a man who had given so much to the code. As a mark of respect to the memory of Mr Browne, former students erected memorial gates at the school, which still stand today.
So these medals and trophies are out there but neither of these two mentioned are in the Society’s possession. We would be pleased to hear from other readers who might know of the existence of similar awards.
In 1911 a National Football Carnival was held at Adelaide.
New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia took part in the eight day series which was played on the Adelaide Oval.
New South Wales travelled there by train, stopping off at Broken Hill where they played a game against the local league resulting in the addition of a further 8 Broken Hill players to their team.
While NSW opened the carnival with a game against Victoria on Wednesday 2 August where they were defeated 13-18 (96) to 11-6 (72), the actual carnival was not officially opened until the following Saturday.
We have copied a newspaper article which reports the opening in vivid terms but in particular you should read the ‘warcry’ of the NSW team, which appears at the bottom of the page. We wonder if current state teams still use this call to arms?
The article is reprinted verbatim:
THE PEOPLE’S GAME
FINE CARNIVAL FOOTBALL
(By our Special Reporter)
The procession of the teams, which took place during the interval between the two matches, was a pretty ceremony.
In single file, headed by their captains, the players marched behind the respective flags borne by the managers. They looked like five big. brightly-coloured caterpillars.
First came Victoria, with a white “V” on the breast of their navy-blue guernsey and a flag to match; then Western Australia in bright green. Their emerald bunting was emblazoned with a golden map of Australia on which was worked a stately black swan. South Australia, in turquoise and brown, had an athletic appearance and Tasmania looked well, with the primrose coloured outline of their heart shaped island on the green guernseys with the rose pink stripes.
New South Wales wore bright blue, and the red blossom of the Waratah was prominent on their pennant.
Having walked once round the oval the teams circled to the centre, where the officials of the council were fathered.
The players were arranged in a hollow square and the Premier Attorney General were introduced to the Managers and Captains. The ceremonial there however, proved too long for the crowd, who grew tired. No doubt they recognized that the delay would mean that the last few minutes of the second game would be played among evening shadows – and this was precisely what took place.
Cries of “What are we here for?” “Give us football,” and “Get on with the game” were heard. The display finished with the war cries of Tasmania and New South Wales. They were novel and enlivening. The weird gibberish of the Tasmanians and the vim of the Cornstalks were appreciated to the full. The cries were as follows:
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 at 23 years of age but later involved himself with St Ives, a second division club, where he was also 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. There was ample room in the rest of the building for the meeting to be held in.
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.
Obviously the honorary secretary of the NSWAFL from 1936-60 and then fulltime secretary between 1966-69, Ken Ferguson, was. (A young Ken Ferguson is pictured)
In a meticulous effort, Ferguson, a clerk with NSW Railways, maintained a chart of the gate takings from the attendances at all grounds in Sydney between 1930-50.
Right up until the early 1980s, the league took the gate takings at all games. They paid gate keepers and also for the hire of the grounds and kept club affiliation fees to a minimum.
Ferguson kept a record of gate takings in each year; The competition matches, finals, the particular ground at which the income was received as well the takings at interstate matches that were held in Sydney. His details were all recorded in Australia’s former currency of pounds, however, in our main graph (left) we have converted the figures to dollars. The problem is we don’t, at this stage, have sufficient information to provide the changes in gate charges and their respective increases over the years. Also, there was an additional charge for those who wanted seating in grandstands at the grounds. This was only available in that period at Trumper Park and Erskineville Oval. The difference between the actual gate charges and the additional payment for grandstand seating was was never separated.
Another statistic we have not shown is say, the average male wage of the day, to the admission charge, which would give you some idea of the depth of the fee.
Previously, we have shown a graph of the total gate takings over the years and in fact up to 1960. We have replicated this graph for our story. The income is shown in pounds.
Our primary graph showing the yearly takings at the respective grounds may be a little difficult to understand, particularly when reading from 1948-50 because more grounds came online when three additional clubs, Western Suburbs, Balmain and University, joined the competition. Additionally the programme does not allow us to feature more colours and/or line designs to differentiate the many number of grounds displayed.
You will see in green, the enormous jump in gate takings when Sunday football at Trumper Park was introduced during the war.
Sunday football was not primarily introduced in an attempt to raise more revenue for the league. Sport played on Sundays was not only frowned upon but virtually illegal and the league almost found themselves in court over the issue.
They were however, the first sport (in particular, of all football codes) to play on Sundays. This came about because of the lack of grounds at which they could charge a gate and gate money was by far the largest income stream for the league.
Fortuitously, and as we have mentioned, this occurred during WWII, and because there were so many servicemen in Sydney, many of whom were star players from other states, patrons (and in particular, other servicemen) thronged to Trumper Park to watch them play.
In retrospect it was an element of their time that officials in Sydney not only failed to recognize but more importantly, failed to capitalise upon this boost in popularity in the sport. This increased income from the gate, as you can see, grew into the thousands, but where did the money go? Another opportunity lost for Sydney football.