In August 1909 three VFL teams, Collingwood, Geelong and South Melbourne visited Sydney to play a series of matches which included games against NSW.
They each brought their best teams with each of the games played at (the old) Erskineville Oval over a period of about two weeks.
That year, South Melbourne would go on to win the premiership, and remarkably enough, their game against NSW was very competitive.
Unlike the other two games (against Geelong & Collingwood), the South Melbourne encounter was played on a Saturday. This very much impacted on the crowd and with one shilling entry (10c) plus an extra six pence (5c) to the stand, the game raised a gate of one hundred and twenty pounds ($240), certainly was not a bad take for the day.
NSW fielded about the best team available. All players chosen were from Sydney. One was Jack Incoll, a 30 year old Newtown player who had turned out for both South Melbourne and Collingwood during the seasons prior to coming to Sydney. Another, was team mate Con McCormack, a former Collingwood player who, at 31 had not lost his touch.
Balmain player Jack Ashley was selected in the forward pocket for NSW. He was a big man who would go on to win the Magarey Medal playing for Port Adelaide a few years later. So the NSW team was peppered with quite a number of talented players.
Of course Ralph Robertson, the mercurial East Sydney then North Shore player was almost a permanent fixture in the state team from 1903-14. He had played for St Kilda as a youngster and was another who was in constant form. Already there is a contemporary push to have him included in the AFL’s Hall of Fame.
NSW were two points down at quarter time, one point at the long break but let their opponents draw five goals ahead at three quarter time. The Blues however rallied and were a chance to take the game but the bounce of the ball favoured South during the final term who went on to win 10-19 to 7-10.
The following Wednesday, NSW with six changes from their team of the previous weekend, put up a great performance. Geelong had taken out the wooden spoon in 1908 and in 1909 finished second last.
The Blues led the Pivitonians at all of the breaks except the one that counted and were eventually defeated 15-12 (102) to 12-17 (89) before a mid week crowd which was described as ‘fair’.
The game against Collingwood was played on the following Wednesday, 18 September. On this occasion NSW really had to squeeze to get their numbers. Eight of their regular representatives were not in the eighteen. In those days, people worked six days a week and even then, more hours than eight a day and yet it was this game that drew the biggest crowd. The exact number is not enumerated but reports tell us that the attendance “was larger than that against South Melbourne, but the gate was about the same”.
All of the VFL teams made no claim on the gate which left the NSW League in the black at the end of the season. They started the year with a debt of well over one hundred pounds ($200) which provided the opportunity for the League to further investigate, with now some justification, the purchase of a ground which would be their own. But that is another, and a very, very interesting story.
The weakened NSW team had no chance against Collingwood where they could only manage three goals. They were beaten 12-12 (84) to 3-10 (28).
The South Melbourne team are having a splendid time, having enjoyed a *drag drive to Coogee on Wednesday, a launch trip to Middle Head on Thursday, launch trip to Parramatta, lunch a Correy’s Gardens on the return trip and an afternoon on board the **N.S.S. Sobraon yesterday, with a theatre party each evening since their arrival here. At 10 o’clock this morning they leave the Hotel Grand Central for a drive round the Domain and Centennial Park. There will be a theatre party after the match.”
*A drag was vehicular carriage normally pulled by four or six horses. It had seats along the centre of its length facing outwards on each side.
**Sobraon was a ‘training ship’ for wayward boys.