2014 Journal Ready

2014 Time On front page thumbnailThe Society has published their 2014 journal which will be posted out to members this week.

The 60 page journal contains stories and records of events of NSW and Sydney football from years goneby and will really be a collectors item.  Not only that it documents some very important events and people in Sydney football which, in some cases, have never been recorded before.

Also, members will receive a Christmas Newsletter.

The Society will hold their annual Christmas gathering at Wests Sports Club on Tuesday with an invitation extended to members and those involved in the wider football family.  Santa has promised an appearance.

In other news, officials are currently in discussion with software programmers regarding the Representative Team database.  It needs work and a search has been in progress for some time in an effort to find Bert Chapman 2those who specialise in WordPress, the programme which operates the website.

More games are slowly being added to the website with another Sydney player, Bert Chapman, who started with the Paddington Club, went on to play with St Kilda in 1914, identified through family connections and a photograph of the player.  In fact Bert who only played seven games with the Saints before injury ended his career, was one of very few who had this image on cigarette cards of the day.

Umpire Felled

Much has been written about the integrity of umpires but back in 1925 an event happened in Sydney football which very much questions an umpire’s ethics or was it all conjecture?

Lenard Wallace Gibb, a former VFL player with both Collingwood and Richmond prior to World War 1 turned up to umpire in Sydney.  He was 37.

Gibb was immediately appointed to senior matches, obviously having experience in other parts of Australia.  He even umpired the NSW v VFL game in August 1925 where, in an almost unique result,the locals won by one point.

But it was in the final between Sydney and Paddington that saw Gibb involved in a most sensational incident.

Gibb had given a more than satisfactory display throughout the season and was hailed as one if not the leading umpire in the state.

Paddington went into the final against the Sydney club at the old Erskineville Oval as firm favourites having defeated Newtown the week before.

Playing before a crowd of 5,000, the two sides were locked at 3-2 all at quarter but as the game progressed many questioned Gibbs’  “curious decisions’.  It was said that Paddington were continually being penalised for perfectly legitimate play, but, “to the credit of both sides, the players held themselves admirably.”

In the third term the decisions of the umpire really raised disapproval. By this time, Sydney had increased their lead by 2-5, whilst Paddington failed to add to their half time score.

Because of the umpire’s apparent one eyed performance, it was stated during the change over that the Paddington team were going to leave the field en-masse, but they commenced the final session with their usual last quarter zeal.  With eight minutes to go they were within 8 points of their opponents. It was then that Paddington’s captain, Charlie Hussey, took exception to the umpire’s decisions, and delivered a blow which landed square on Gibb’s jaw, with the result that he was out for several minutes.

The blow was delivered at short range, and was a typical knock-out effort. As Mr. Gibb lay on the ground, surrounded by tho players, a speedy rush to the scene was made by Sergeant Koser and uniformed police. About 200 onlookers quickly followed, but the presence of the police prevented any further unseemly conduct.

On reaching the dressing-room Mr. Gibb collapsed, and did not recover for 20 minutes. In the mean time the ambulance transport motor had reached the ground, but Mr. Gibb, who was being assisted to dress by several onlookers, refused to be taken to hospital.  About five minutes later Mr. Gibb recovered, and, though in  semi-dazed condition, resumed control of the game.

Pandemonium reigned supreme, spectators rushing the ground and it was only through the presence of the police that the game was allowed to proceed.

Upon his recovery Gibb resumed control of tho game. Feelings were running high, but still players from both sides remained calm, and when the final bell rang Sydney had won by 15 points,  Sydney 9-13, Paddington 7-0. Excitement was intense amongst the spectators, and Gibb was eventually escorted from the field by a cordon of plain clothed and uniformed police.

Following the match the Paddington Secretary Bert Hollis issued a statement regarding the incident:  He said he was sorry for what had occurred.  “Hussey’s action has not only caused me surprise, but also hundreds of other supporters of the game. He has always been recognized as a cool, level headed player, and, although his action is unforgivable, still it must have been under the greatest provocation that he committed the offence. He has represented the state for the past five years, and his behaviour on the field has, always been favourably commented upon.”

“The Paddington Club has applied to the N.S.W. Football League for a special tribunal to investigate evidence we have in our possession. Until that tribunal meets and arrives at a decision, I will refrain from passing further comment; with the exception that Gibb, in conversation with me after the match, stated that Paddington had made the same mistake as East Sydney did in their semi-final three weeks ago ”played the man instead of the ball” but as he was still in a semi-stupor when making this accusation, I leave the matter to the judgment of spectators.’

The following day at Hampden Oval (Trumper Park) the Paddington club at a special meeting unanimously carried a resolution that ‘The N.S. Wales Australian Football League be requested to appoint a special committee to enquire into the events which led to the assault of Umpire Gibb at Erskineville Oval on September 12, and that until such committee is appointed, and a decision arrived at, the anticipated charges, if any, of Gibb against certain Paddington players be held in obeyance. We request that the Press and public be admitted to such meeting.”

Some interesting sidelights on this aspect of the game and certain conduct alleged against the umpire by officials was to be fully dealt with in the ‘Referee’ next Wednesday.

The Special Tribunal of the League subsequently met and disqualified C. Hussey (Paddington captain) for two years, E. Huxley (Newtown) until June 30, 1926, and Clem Clark (Paddington) for one week.  Two years is an unusually light penalty for such a heinous offence.

Mr. J. McNeil, president of Paddington Club, resigned his position from the League in protest against the methods adopted in the recent enquiry into the allegations made by Paddington against a paid official of the League – the umpire. The League found the charges were not proven’. There the matter ends. Members of the League were allegedly secretive concerning the enquiry, and it appeared as if the public would be left in the. dark.

A critic commented that “the public, however, is not concerned with the irrelevant personalities introduced into the enquiry, but the public must certainly feel concerned that a club of the type of Paddington should level a number of serious charges against an umpire, all of which were dismissed.” He, and others allege that there was “something peculiar somewhere” with a suggestion that gambling might have been the cause of the umpire’s strange decisions.

Gibb never umpired in Sydney again and two weeks after the incident was hasselled in an extra-ordinary manner by a number of women during an exhibition game between NSW v Footscray, so much so that he had to seek police protection.

Then, to make matters worse, in the third quarter of the same game, a member of the local team gave a regrettable exhibition of ill-temper in apparently striking at tho field umpire, who thereupon ran to tho fence fronting the pavilion, with tho apparent intention of attracting the police.

Tho matter, however, was settled without need of the law.


NSW Football LeagueFootball in NSW or more particularly, Sydney, has undergone scores of changes over the years.  Different name, different administration but in the end, its all just football.  Much like government departments when a new party gets into power or a new bureaucrat takes over, “Change the name, it will produce a better result.

Here the changes over the years:



1880-1994 New South Wales Football Association
1903-25 New South Wales Football League
1926-73 New South Wales Australian National Football League
1974-79 New South Wales Australian Football League
1980-86 NSWAFL (Sydney Football League)
1987-90 NSWAFL (NSW State Football League)
1991-98 NSWAFL (Sydney Football League)
1999- AFL (NSW-ACT)  – AFL Sydney


What does it really mean and did these changes produce a better result?

Well when football was resurrected in 1903 after an eight year hiatus, it was a good thing.  Apart from a road bump in 1915 when the game nearly again fell over, the next change was in 1926.  This year brought with it other changes:

East Sydney FC combined with the Paddington FC to form a brand new, Eastern Suburbs Australian Football Club. With the reintroduction of District Football, where the name of a club had to represent an electoral district, the Railway Club disappeared, oddly so too did Balmain.  The North Shore and the Eastern Suburbs Clubs somehow both slid under the radar with this district business.  The north side club changed their name from ˜North Sydney” back to North Shore.  A further change was the introduction of the Western Suburbs Club into the competition.

NSWANFLIn the opinion of officials, adding of the word ˜National” to the the league’s title gave it and the game more of an Australian embracing influence.  So yes, here too, the change in the name did coincide with other changes to the competition.  In response, the attendance figures increased in the 1926 season.

But by now other competitions throughout NSW began to question the value of affiliation with the NSW Body.

These leagues included those in the Riverina, Broken Hill as well as an on-again, off-again competition in Newcastle.  There were no others. The Victorian Country Football League (VCFL) was formed in 1927 and by 1933 all the leagues in the Riverina, led by Digger Carroll, had gone over to the VCFL, leaving the NSWANFL as an almost solitary beacon for Australian football within the state.

Really, the NSWANFL could offer very little to other leagues.  Unlike the major associations in the rest of Australia and certainly footballing centres in country Victoria and southern NSW, attendances in Sydney, by comparison were very meagre resulting in little money coming into the system.  Just as importantly the NSWANFL were saddled with a poor profile which in turn did not attract skilled and solid leadership.

So, incorporated in  all the responsibilities of a state sporting body, the same group had to conduct a football competition in Sydney on a shoestring budget, all run by volunteers.

NSWAFLThrough to 1974 then without any fanfare, the word ˜National”  was removed from the title .  There was no significant changes to the competition, nor the game in general in that period.  It was, and had been for decades, the poor relation in Sydney sport and yet it continued to survive.

1979 saw the emergence of a reform group who rolled the incumbent and long term NSWAFL president, Bill Hart, the previous December.

The motivation to this was the perceived backing from influential elements in the VFL who promised funding for an experienced football administrator to run Sydney football and the NSWAFL, subject to support on a national level, for interstate VFL games to be played in Sydney of a Sunday.

The revitalised Sydney league was initially all spirited, enthusiastic and gung-ho.  A new man from Melbourne was appointed as the General Manager, the league’s offices at 64 Regent Street Chippendale were sold off and the administration moved to nearby premises at the Scan.BMPNewtown Rules Club in Cleveland Street, Redfern.

Eventually the independent Board was replaced by a board of club directors a move which would produce cronyism and ‘caucusing’ where the strong got stronger and the other clubs just rolled along.  Football in Sydney now primarily  promoted Sydney and the NSWAFL was put on the back burner as other sub-state bodies grew in stature and did their own thing.

NSW State FLBy 1987 there was yet a further change.  Sydney and the NSWAFL were broke and badly in debt.  An independent group managing the affairs of the NSWAFL told the Sydney clubs to sink or swim.  Either agree to a change in the administration or go out of business.  Really, there was no alternative.  That initial energy for change and a more ‘Sydney’ influence had well dissipated.

There was a big transformation in Sydney Football – there had to be – with three divisions again established, most of the sub groups abolished and the NSWAFL was back in charge.  The Sydney component became known as the NSW State Football League with a long term view of incorporating clubs from around the state.  Thankfully it did not happen but gradually the league moved into a position of financial stability.

In 1991 the NSW State Football League designation was abolished to revert to the Sydney Football League with the administration marginally re-arranged, but not much else took place.

Then in 1998 following yet another report on the state of health of football in NSW, a further change saw the introduction of the AFL(NSW-ACT).  This produced a few on-field alterations to Sydney footy like 16 aside etc. yes a major move but again, little else came about in the structure and framework of the actual competition.

AFL Sydney had now assumed full control of the Sydney league with full funding from the major AFL body in Melbourne.  They also funded football development throughout the state but unlike the Sydney open age football, most of the leagues in NSW were left to finance their own activities.

The major change came in 2009 when under the then Sydney Football Operations Manager, Garry Burkinshaw, divisionalisation took place.  This was the biggest adjustment to Sydney football since 1948 when Balmain, Western Suburbs (both for the second time) and Sydney University were introduced to the competition or perhaps it was 1926 changes?


Sportsmens Recruitment Poster smallGood news following the society committee meeting today where officials took time out to work through the outline of the proposed book on the Impact WWI had on Sydney Football.

The sub-committee have already looked at the pre-war period in Sydney and how the game was shaping, then 1915, where many of the local footballers enlisted for the front.

Players names too are beginning to pop up and already well over 100 Sydney players have been identified as volunteering to fight in the conflict.  Not all of these were in the army.  A minority of naval personnel have been found to have been in the navy.  In the early years of the war, East Sydney relied very heavily on sailors and their departure caused a number of forfeits in the latter part of the 1915 season.

The youngest player to go on our list was  18 year old Ernie Groves from the Balmain club. The oldest we could find was Frank Barber, a storeman from 146 Bourke Street, Sydney who was 45 when he enlisted in 1916.  Barber was an official of both the league and the East Sydney Club.
Bert Watts 4

No doubt the saddest incident was the death of Bert Watts (pictured), a senior ranked permanent army officer, who had captained and coached the Paddington Club, represented both NSW as well as Queensland, along with three others was killed when a shell hit their foxhole on the Western Front.  There were several eye  witness accounts of the deaths of these soldiers which will be published in the book.  Ironically Watt’s wife, a young girl from a property near Gunnedah, died suddenly in England 12 months after her husband.

At the outbreak of war, Watts was undertaking a course in England and when war was announced he was immediately drafted into the AIF.  At the time of her death, Clara Watts had a two year old child.  In an unusual occurrence for the day, her wealthy parents brought her body back from the UK for burial in Australia.

There are other extremely fascinating stories not only of servicemen but also of the situation in Sydney during the time of the conflict.

The book will be launched in April next year and is one you should very much put on your ‘must get’ list.


1919The 1919 season for football  in NSW was a particularly difficult one.

The war was over in the previous November but the return of servicemen from England and Europe was slow.  Many of these were country based so, unlike when they were posted to Sydney, they did not stay.

Of those footballers who signed up, some did not return, some returned with permanent injuries, some were just not fit to play for one reason or another and the number who did again take up the game were limited.

All this was coupled with the world wide outbreak of Spanish Influenza which killed between 50-100 million people world wide, 10,000 of whom were in Australia.  Because of the country’s relative isolation, the flu didn’t really hit here until 1919 and with no anti-biotics, authorities were virtually powerless to prevent its evolution.

In Sydney there were only five senior clubs in 1919: Paddington, Newtown, Balmain, East Sydney and Sydney with the South Sydney club failing to reappear from the previous year.

A forerunner to the Western Suburbs club of the 1920s, Ashfield Old Boys, who played on Ashfield Park, competed in the reserve grade competition.

At the last minute negotiations to play on the league’s former venue, the Australian Football Ground at Mascot, failed and while they were able to secure some dates for SCG No. 2, a number of games had to be played on the fenceless Moore Park, opposite the Bat & Ball Hotel, which was and still is a venue for the game over the years.  There, when officials remembered, the boundary was marked with small flags.  Rushcutters Bay and Alexandria Oval were also used as venues while Erskineville Oval was the only permanent ground where a gate could be charged.

During the first war period, the VFL had lent the NSW Football League one hundred and fifty pounds, perhaps in an effort to overcome their dire financial position resulting from major problems in 1914.  Early in 1919, the NSWFL repaid seventy five pounds of their debt.

On a brighter side there was a third grade or junior division for players 17 years and under.  This was composed of teams from Paddington, Newtown, Western Suburbs, Ashfield Old Boys and Gardeners Road School.  These teams were charged ten shillings and six pence ($1.05) affiliation fee and required to pay two shilling and six pence (25c) umpire fee per game.

Late in the season there was a complaint by the Gardeners Road team which identified three Newtown juniors as being over age in a finals game.

Mid season the Gardeners Road School had made arrangements to play a game at the new Duntroon College but the match had to be cancelled because of an influenza outbreak at the school.

A number of country associations affiliated with the NSWFL including Bolagamy & Dist, Culcairn & Dist., South Wests Dist Football Assn., Kamarah, Wagga United, Southern Riverina, as well as the Beckom and Barellan football Association.

1919 was the first year Stan Milton made an appearance in Sydney football playing for Paddington.  He went on to kick over 1200 goals in the Stan Miltoncompetition and 150 in representative football.  The Sydney competition’s senior goalkicking award is named after him.

East Sydney travelled to Lithgow, where a team which included some former VFL players, to play a game.  The umpire who travelled with the team complained that his expenses were not paid.  The South West Dist Football Association also asked for Sydney umpires for their finals.  For this they had to pay two pounds each.

An interesting comment came from the league minutes in August 1919 after a club goal umpire had made a decision in an East Sydney v Balmain match which altered the make up of the final four.  An official said following a complaint ” …. the league has done everything possible, short of securing paid appointees, which is an impossibility”

The league put two proposals forward at the Australian National Football Council’s December meeting.  One, that throwing of the ball be permitted and secondly that a cross bar be place between the two goal posts.  Both were rejected.

Another to allow injured players to be replaced up until the end of the second quarter was also not entertained.  Prior to this no player could be replaced on the field and if one was injured and had to leave the field, the team just played short.

Shortly we will be posting NSW Football League minutes for 1919 & 20 on the website, accessible through the Collections Box on the bottom right or the main page.

Looking back at the future

Jim Phelan 1920Jim Phelan is virtually regarded as the father of football in Sydney.  This is not our description of him because none of today’s people had the privilege of knowing him but was a quote often appearing in various publications before his death in 1939.

He came to Sydney in about 1886 from Bendigo via Ballarat and Melbourne and subsequently played with Waratah and the East Sydney clubs.  From our research Jim was not an outstanding player but he was an outstanding administrator and they are the ones who make a success or failure of an organisation.

He was founding treasurer of the Newtown club and later their secretary.  When the game almost fell over after the start of WWI he took on the position of Secretary of the NSW Football League, a position he held for ten consecutive years and during his tenure saw the game return to its status as a recognized and strong sport in Sydney.

Besides a life member of the Newtown club, he was elected life member of the NSW Football League and the Australian National Fooball Council, of which he was this state’s delegate for a number of years.

Erskineville Oval in 1988

During his time with football, Jim wrote on the game for a number of Sydney newspapers, including the Sydney Morning Herald.  He had a deft hand with the pen and it is with this in mind that we reprint a little known article written by Jim and published in a Sydney Football Record in 1939, only months before his passing.  The main subject was Erskineville Oval and its re-construction at its present location pictured on the right.  Jim penned several like articles during the 1930s almost all of which referred to Sydney’s football past and, as he says in this article, if there was anyone who knew about the game then, it was him:

As the new oval progresses towards completion, numberless questions have been asked as to its future tenancy.  To one and all my answer has been that such is in the lap of the Gods. 

The present day anxiety being evinced has been displaced the one time aversion and antipathy to Erskineville Oval.  One sees many changes in the relatively short space of 40 years.  Evolution is all around us working perhaps slowly, but nevertheless surely.  Such can be said of the game itself.

The 20 aside game of my day, and the concomitant little marks have improved, others in the mind of enthusiastic old timers, have declined and the day is not far distant when a halt will surely be called to the alternation of rules of the game.  So much, by the way.

By reason of the many changes in the administrative personnel of the NSW League since its inception in 1903, and the fact that early books and records are not in possession of present officials, a complete history of the league operations is well nigh impossible.  However, as one (and the only one) who can lay claim to have been present at every annual meeting of the League since its inception, I am confident that memory will serve me right in this effort to set forth details in connection with playing grounds and Erskineville Oval in particular.

Following the great success of the Fitzroy-Collingwood initial match on the Sydney Cricket Ground in 1903 the following clubs were formed:- Sydney, Paddington, East Sydney, Balmain, North Shore, West Sydney, Redfern, Newtown,  Ashfield, Y.M.C.A. and Alexandria.  As Rugby League was then non-existent the securing of playing grounds was simply a question of ability to pay for the use of them.

The formation of eleven clubs following the Fitzroy-Collingwood game is indicative of the enthusiasm aroused at the time.  The wisdom of accepting such a number of clubs was questioned at the time by some of the then League members.  Within a short space of time Ashfield and Alexandria clubs dropped out.  The remaining clubs, however, continued to exist for some years.

Since the inception of the League, premiership final games have been played on the following grounds:- 1903, 1904, 1908 and 1909, Sydney Cricket Ground No. 1; 1905 and 1915 Sydney Cricket Ground No. 2; 1906, 1916, 1917 and 1918 Agricultural Showground (now Fox Studios); 1907 Kensington Racecourse (now the site of  the University of NSW), 1911, 1912 and 1913, Australian Football Ground, Alexandria; 1910, 1914, 1919 and from thence on, Erskineville Oval – pictured left.

1935 Erskineville Oval (old) 001 smallThe foregoing supplies a most effective answer to those who continually assail me for my advocacy of Erskineville Oval, with the one plea “that the game generally, and the finals in particular should be played on a central ground, to wit the Sydney Cricket Ground, or the Agricultural Showground”  In their ignorance, or antipathy to Erskineville Oval, they did not know, or if knowing would not admit the fact that central grounds had been tried and financial results were overwhelmingly in favour of Erskineville Oval.

While I have always thought, and expressed myself as occasion arose, that false modesty is as bad an attribute as overweening vanity, I feel that it would not be desirable to set forth in this short article the various episodes that arose in connection with the retention of Erskineville Oval as the home ground for the game in Sydney.

The concern that was almost wholly mine, during the past 21 years is now being shared by others as the time approaches when farewell must be said to the ground that has served the League for a generation, and whose atmosphere is, on the whole, more congenial in a football sense than that of any other playing ground controlled by the League.

Gone from the old home, gentlemen, moved up into the now, will, I trust, be the greeting to patrons of the game in 1940.”

Jim was a great man for football and to have the league’s best and fairest medal (re)named after him is a fitting reward for his work and commitment to the game.