A Forgotten Footballer

   Matthew Blair

As time passes the memory of those who played football in New South Wales fade until they are forgotten.

Such is the case of a former school-teacher, Matthew Blair.

He was born at Marulan, near Goulburn in 1880.  The son of English migrants, he was one of five children.

The family moved around a bit but finally settled in Wallsend, west of Newcastle.  Matthew attended the Wallsend Superior School where he was an outstanding student.  Like his elder sister, Ann, Matthew took on teaching and passed the public teachers examination in 1896.  His first appointment as a student teacher was to Jesmond Public School in 1897.

This was a pretty good effort given that his mother died when he was aged 14 and his father, five months later.  There is that question as to who looked after the family upon the father’s death?  At the time the youngest son, William was five years of age.

It was at Wallsend that Matthew and his brothers learned Australian Football.

Matthew was eventually transferred to Sydney where he taught at the Petersham Superior School.  In 1904 he encouraged his students to play Australian Football.  Other schools in their competition included Double Bay, Balmain, Erskineville and Waverley (public) schools.  There was also a separate Catholic schools competition in operation.

Petersham School Team Part of the Play Part of the Play

As the season progressed more schools participated with a total of seven in the ‘A’ division and over forty schools playing in the ‘B’ division covering a number of zones.  Petersham won the outright schools competition and as a reward (unbelievably) played the curtain raiser match to the VFL Grand Final on the MCG on 17 September, against the Victorian champion school, Albert Park, winning 7-6 (42) to 1-0 (6).  There was mention of the size of the NSW boys but no-one had bothered to check the school age differences between the two state education systems.  The Petersham boys were older and of course more mature, physically.  On the right of the Petersham team photo in the top hat is Henry Harrison, one of the founders of Australian Football.

Matthew signed on with the Sydney club where he played a number of seasons, captaining the side in 1907 to a premiership over Newtown, the grand final being played at, of all places, at Kensington Racecourse (where the University is now located);  after the win he was chaired off the ground.  In the same year he had his brother, George also played with the club.  Amazingly enough, that year Matt travelled down from Wallsend where he was teaching at the local school, each weekend .

Blair’s early
Education Record

The Department of Education moved Matthew around after his stint at Wallsend.  He taught at Mungindi in 1911, Wardell in 1912 and Woodburn on the north coast in 1917 – although it appears he did not get to that final posting because on 22 June 1916 he enlisted in the AIF.  This was after his young brother, William or Bill, fell at Gallipoli on 26 April 1915.

On 11 May 1917 he was on the Shropshire en route to England and on 2 April the following year had been promoted to the rank of lieutenant and transferred to the 20th Battalion.  On the 11th April, Blair, along with some colleagues was killed at Hagan Wood, which part of the Somme Offensive.  His body was not found for some time.

We have been able to gather some witness statements regarding his death which are attached below:

The sad thing about deaths like these in our wars is the way they are then treated as just a number.

Jinny Blair, Matthew’s wife of fourteen years was living at 351 Miller Street, North Sydney at the time of his death along with their two sons aged thirteen and seven along together with daughter, Mary aged just twelve months.

Another sad part of this story is, like other deceased servicemen, how and what of Matthew’s belongings were wrapped up and returned to his widow.  Then there was the matter of a pension.

It would appear that Jinny, also a teacher did not receive a pension however the children, Kevin received eighteen and six pence per fortnight, Jack (John), one pound per fortnight and young Mary, ten shillings per fortnight – why the difference in pay?

Jinny or to give her correct name, Jane, passed away in 1949 at 66.  So at least we can give notice of a former footballer from this state who in all reality, has now not been forgotten.

 

SCHOOLBOYS FOOTY – new photo

1922 NSW Schoolboys Team 2 smallEver thought about where our footballers came from years ago?  I mean what junior football did they participate in.

In Sydney, junior club football was almost non-existent until about 1923 when the Metropolitan Australian National Football Association was formed.  And even then the lowest grade was Under 16.

Previous to this there was a junior league in Sydney but the age group was more for boys 18 or 19.  A Young Australian Association also existed for some time up to the first war, but again, the age group was not for minors.

Ironically, football was played quite extensively at schools during the first decade of the twentieth century in Sydney.  The NSW league even had a fulltime school football organiser.

In 1906 a schools competition in Sydney had one A Division group comprising Petersham, Fort Street, Pyrmont, Waverley and Kogarah, the first two teams to give the others handicaps while 37 schools made up the remaining seven groups in B Division .

Eight Catholic schools participated.

Petersham Superior School won the final game that year against Double Bay for the schools premiership and also the right to travel to Melbourne in an all expenses paid trip to play for the schools championship on the MCG.  Their headmaster however, Mr James Rickard waived their claim which permitted the winners of a match between Double Bay and Fort Street to go.

The following year the Young Australian competition reported that 29 teams participated in their competition.  New teams include: Ryde, Nth Annandale, Bexley and a second St Leonards.

A Grade consisted of Ryde, Nth Shore, Kegworth, Paddington, Kegworth B, Sydney B, St Leonards, Illawarra (Hustville), Drummoyne, Petersham, YMCA, Newtown, Balmain, Eastern Suburbs and Northern Suburbs.

The B Grade included Newtown, Kegworth, Summer Hill, Sydney, Balmain A., Summer Hill and Bexley all playing of a Friday afternoon.

In 1909 the secretary of the PSAAA committee, Mr Garden suggested that rather than send a single school team to Melbourne each year, maybe it would be more stimulating to send a representative side.

As a consequence a schoolboys team comprised of: W. Stafford, F. Crozier, E. Cullen-Ward, R. Smith, B. O’Grady, S. Russell (Fort St); A Stenhouse, L. Dunbar, J. Kelly (Petersham), Ron Swan (Ryde), Arthur Emanuel, & Bede (Erskineville), J. Adams (Double Bay); Walker, John Iler, Thompson & George Thew, Gordon, (Burwood).  Emergencies: Ernie Messenger (Double Bay), Dean (Ryde), Hadden (Hurstville) & Stan Morehouse (Erskineville) was chosen.

They had no chance against a team representing the public schools of Victoria.  The match was played on the MCC Ground on 24 September, prior to the VFL final and it was a very one sided affair, the home boys winning by no fewer than 116 points.  The Victorian boys were heavier and bigger than the visitors.  Final scores: Victoria 17.14 (116) NSW 1.6 (12).

In 1912, under the control of Mr G Perry of Burwood Superior School, announced he would have six teams in the competition. “It was,” he said, “intended to reduce the age of the players in the Young Australian League to 18 years, so that boys at school, and those who have just left school, but who are too youthful for the association team, may enter it’s ranks.”

The war however changed everything with school and junior football.

Eventually it was left to people like Rupert Browne, a teacher of the Gardeners Road Public School at Mascot (formerly of Kegworth school in Sydney) who in April 1914 suggested the concept of introducing an under 16 competition in Sydney schools.

Gardeners Road school in those days was an intermediate high school or in contemporary terms a junior high school.  They also offered advanced education at night and by 1918 had a school population of 1800 students.

PSSA or PSAAA (as it was called in those days) have nurtured many young footballers in their state teams over the years.  These are the best primary schoolboys who play annually in a national carnival at a venue around Australia.

Strangely not a high percentage of these boys over the years, have gone on to play top level football.  Some don’t even go on at all.

The interstate schoolboy carnivals began in 1921 after NSW separately played Victoria and Queensland in school football in the years immediately after WWI.

The first carnival was held in Brisbane where the Victorian side went through undefeated.

Initially the NSW team was drawn from schools like, Paddington, Newtown, Double Bay, Glenmore Road (Paddington), Kogarah, Hurstville, Coolamon, Narrandera, Newcastle and Gardeners Road.

NSW won the 1923 and 1924 national PSAAA.  Both years the side contained some great local talent.  Some of whom would go on to represent the state at a senior level and Gardeners_Rd_School_1925 smallat least two, a Double Bay and Gardeners Road boys, played in the VFL.  One captained Fitzroy.

This photo on the right shows the NSW schoolboys team in 1925 in their visit to Brisbane.  They are wearing jumpers from the Gardeners Road Public School and amongst their number includes Stan Lloyd who played 117 games with and captained St Kilda, Lionel Hastie, who played 13 games with the strong Fitzroy Club in 1931, Stan Powditch winner of three NSW Football League’s leading goalkicking award in  the 1930s and of course little Jimmy Stiff, who won the best player award in the 1933 Sydney All-States National Carnival.

We have all the names of these boys but aligning them with a face is most difficult.

By 1926 the Sydney Schools competition had split into two divisions, Northern, which included Lane Cove, Artarmon, Willoughby, Gordon, Chatswood, Hornsby, Lindfield, Naremburn, Crows Nest, Neutral Bay & Mosman schools.  The other was called Metropolitan which included: Gardiners Road, Glenmore Road, Double Bay, Epping, Erskineville, Newtown.

One item I dragged out of the archives from August 1926 you might like is the following:

“The Victorian Central Schools defeated Metropolis (Sydney Metro) at Chatswood Oval yesterday by 70 to 44. Caravagh (2) Jimmy Stiff (2) Reed, Burge and Smith were the goalscorers for the local team.”

But, it all changes.