Premiers smallerOver the years in Sydney football there have been a number of teams who finished minor premiers and yet lost their two finals games eliminating them from the challenge or grand final. (see tables below)

The worst of those have to be the years when the minor premier went through the season undefeated only to be unceremoniously and embarrassing dumped in the preliminary final.

The only two seasons we can find were the East Sydney experience in 1979 when the side won twenty out of twenty h & a games and were at unbackable odds to take the flag.  The other was the strong Western Suburbs combination of 1957 that won their eighteen competition games straight.  They took 58 minutes to kick their first goal in the preliminary final and went into the rooms for the long break 30 points down.  They failed to get their machine in motion losing the game to Sydney Naval 10-8 to 4-11.

In 1979 East enjoyed some mammoth wins during the season.  In round 2 they defeated St George 32-22 (214) to 8-6 (54) at Olds Park.  They again belted the Saints in round 16, 35-12 (222) to 7-8 (50).  Ironically St George did not earn the wooden spoon that season; the title went to Southern Districts.

Easts was coached by former Fitzroy gun, Alex Ruscuklic, a non playing coach who used some unusual tactics to gain victory.  One was to have his side run a victory lap following a win and get a player to call out “What’s in the bag?” with the remainder of the side answering “The flag.”  This was not a popular move amongst many in the side.

1979 was the start of a new, but eventually unsuccessful change in Sydney football.  There had been a coup at the previous year’s league annual meeting which introduced a new influence on the league and competition.

In that year, Tasmanian, Rob Claridge, playing with Easts, won the Phelan Medal and the club’s goalkicking sensation, recently deceased, Peter Ruscuklic, won the league’s leading goalkicking award, booting 121 at full forward. The club won the reserves grand final and conducted a successful licensed club at Bondi Junction.  All that alluded them wasPeter Ruscuklic small the premiership flag.

With twenty wins and no losses, no sane person could be guilty of betting against them but it all started in the second semi where East had to fight back from a 12 goal deficit in the third quarter.  Not even a bag of a dozen goals from Peter Ruscuklic could help his side to victory and they went down 26-12 (168) to 21-13 (139).

The following week their failure came in the dying seconds of the preliminary final when eventual premiers, North Shore, won by just five points, 16-13 (109) to 15-14 (104).

In the history of the league from 1903,  Western Suburbs in 1957 and East Sydney in 1979 are the only clubs to have endured the pain of no home and away losses and no final wins.  In 1916 Balmain, 1952 Western Suburbs and again in 1973 along with East Coast Eagles in 2006 all finished minor premiers without defeat but failed to win the flag.  These sides though, all made it through to the grand final.

Image shows the mercurial Peter Ruscuklic, Easts goalkicking machine.  Unfortunately Peter passed away last week from an asbestos related disease.
His goalkicking feats in Sydney will long beremembered.


Out in Straight Sets Table - 2


Minor Premiers Not Premiers

Statistics do not include Sydney football between 1880-94 when the Sydney Football Association was the controlling body for the game.


Its been a long time since a player in Sydney football was identified as a cult hero?

Times when people actually went to see a particular Sydney club player and drag in the crowd with his talent and ability are quickly diminishing.  Today’s crowds are somewhat disappointing although the unique players might still be there amidst the couple of hundred running around each weekend during the winter.

Of course a contrary view is evidenced by Brendan Favola’s effort this year when he turned out for Corowra-Rutherglen in the O & M League.  Crowds in their thousands were a regular occurrence to watch the extraverted former AFL player.

But who was the last hero of Sydney footy?

Was it Peter Ruscuklic who booted over 100 goals in successive seasons for East Sydney between 1979-81, kicking a record 213 in the last of those years?

Or was it Stan Milton, after whom Sydney’s leading goalkicking award is named?  He kicked over 1200 goals for East Sydney and later Eastern Suburbs in his 15 or seasons from 1919?  In his 26 appearances for NSW during that time he also booted 151 goals.

Or maybe it was another Eastern Suburbs player, Jack Williamson, who won four Phelan Medals in 1933, 35, 37 & 38.

Sydney lost their heroes when football went national in 1982 and television overtook what used to be seen at  Trumper Park, the heart of Sydney footy, each Sunday afternoon when crowds of 2000 plus were not uncommon watching the titans of the competition compete against each other.

All these players named above are members of AFL Sydney’s Hall of Fame, but they were imports.  None were natives of our city, so it takes you back further to uncover a local born player who was a draw card, and there were a number.

Sydney had its share its share of them but none more outstanding than the diminutive South Sydney rover of the 1930s, Jimmy Stiff (pictured).  He was an outstanding sportsman and fortunately enough, Australian football had the use of his services for a period of his short adult life.

His family were market gardeners along O’Riordan Street at Mascot and young Jim worked his way through an apprenticeship as a motor mechanic.  He had attended Gardeners Road Public School and thats where he learned his football.

At 17, Jimmy won the Sanders Medal, B & F in the competition’s reserve grade.  From then on he was consistently selected to represent NSW as the No. 1 rover.  At 1.6m and 64kg he was one tough nut and took no prisoners.  Stiff declined a number of offers to play in Melbourne.

In 1933 and representing NSW, Stiff won the best player trophy from all players in the All-States Carnival held in Sydney.  Wanting more, he later went on to play first grade for South Sydney rugby League Side.  Unfortunately this dare devil standout was killed in a motor cycle accident in 1938.

Reg Garvin was another local who could drag people to the football.  He played for Newtown and was outstanding in the ruck.  He was eventually recruited by St Kilda and went on to captain and later coach the side.  He was fourth in the 1941 Brownlow Medal, the same year as he won the Saints B & F,  a feat he repeated in 1944.

Wests had two great coaches who could also attract the crowds.  One was former Melbourne FC full forward, and a prodigious drop-kick, Athol Webb, who coached the Magpies in 1964-65 and John ‘Swoop’ Northey, who joined Wests in 1971 from Richmond FC where he had played in their 1967 & 69 premiership teams.

Yes, there probably were others who helped kicked the gate receipts along during their time in Sydney and if you think you know some, send us some names we will attempt to bring up their profile and time in Sydney.

Nevertheless with the advent of our national AFL competition and the leaning towards televised games it is not only Sydney who have lost their icons.  Many other local competitions throughout Australia have suffered the same fate.  It is a shame that the amount of young boys wearing the number of their favourite local club player is almost finished.