All seasons in Sydney football are different but 50 years ago, 1963, just appeared to be that little bit different again.
A year after 2UW broadcast the VFL Grand Final in Sydney in what can only be described as a very unique media event, the league started 1963 five hundred pounds ($1,000) in the red. Prior to this the league finished 1962 with a deficit of five hundred and forty three pounds ($1086.00), four hundred and one pounds ($802.00) in 1961 and three hundred and seventy five pounds ($750.00) in 1960. This may not sound like much money today but back then, they were almost insurmountable figures for a struggling code.
Former Western Suburbs and Bankstown player, Rhys Giddey had been appointed the league’s secretary working out of a small building at Trumper Park. He went on to assume a fulltime appointment in the position.
1963 followed at least one season of administrative turmoil and because the previous (honorary) secretary had been summarily dismissed in mid January (1963) then officials failed to get hold of any of the financial records until nearly three months in, so a set of unaudited accounts were presented to members at the AGM.
The league certainly had their problems.
On the club scene, calls for a two division system were ignored. The Liverpool and Bankstown clubs amalgamated which reduced the competition to eleven clubs. This necessitated a bye and there were suggestions that two other unnamed clubs should also amalgamate.It didn’t happen.
However the league engineered the draw so that the top teams from 1962 played each other twice as did the lower five clubs. Top and bottom sides then only had to meet on one occasion. This ensured the presentation of the game at a generally higher standard overall with the lower clubs “meeting under more equitable conditions.”
Western Suburbs were hailed as the glamor club upon the construction of the only Sydney licensed premises fronting onto Picken Oval.
The club signed a former VFA player, ruckman Neil Wright as their coach on a four figure fee, something unheard of in Sydney football. This was when St George paid their ex-VFL coach two hundred and fifty pounds ($500) and South Sydney paid theirs, one hundred pounds ($200). Wests also openly announced that it would pay both their first AND reserve grade players. Another exceptional occurrence in the league and made it difficult for other clubs.
In total the Magpies had fifteen new players from interstate and country areas in 1963. They also afforded the top dressing of their Picken Oval ground in preparation for the season.
Then on the eve of the finals Wests were hit with a savage blow when coach Wright was admitted to Prince Henry Hospital with hepatitis. His place was taken by former club captain, Peter Kuschert.
Meanwhile, Hurstville Council decided to call for tenders for a large scale development of Olds Park and the St George Club was one which submitted a proposal for a 21 year lease for the site.
Rain forced the postponement of all round 4 matches in late April.
The Parramatta club got themselves into strife in a match against St George in early May when they played 16 unregistered players. These were all former players of the Liverpool club which had since amalgamated with Bankstown and the players’ registration was locked in with the last placed, Liverpool/Bankstown Club. Parramatta were fined a hefty fifty pounds ($100).
In May, St George took the opportunity to travel to Newcastle on their bye weekend where they defeated the Hamilton Club 8.15 (63) to 6.11 (47). A week later they scored an impressive 15.15 (105) to 0.2 (2) win over Eastern Suburbs at Trumper Park, however in mid June they too had a shock when a last minute goal by Sydney University’s John Weissel gave the students a rare win over the Saints.
The East’s loss was their greatest in the club’s history and many attributed the atrocious weather conditions as one of the reasons for their poor performance. It was a poor season for Easts, finishing second last.
Most fans chuckled quietly in round 6 when Parramatta included an untried 199.5cm American, Harvey Haddock in their side to meet Eastern Suburbs. Hadock was a sailor on the USS aircraft carrier, Coral Sea which was visiting Sydney. Easts won 17.7 (109) to 13.14 (92). Hadcock battled to get a kick.
NSW played three interstate games that year and lost the lot. There was a two goal loss to Queensland in Brisbane, an eleven point defeat by the ACT in Canberra and an eight goal loss to Combined Universities on the June long weekend at Trumper Park.
On 14 July, Eastern Suburbs backman, John Grey was charged with kicking boundary umpire Leo Farley in a game against St George. Grey was subsequently outed by the Tribunal for five years.
Burly Newtown captain-coach, Ellis Noack won the league’s goalkicking with 55 majors while versatile, Western Suburbs fullback, Ray Sharrock, who played most of the season in a back brace, won the Phelan Medal.
Sharrock was instrumental in his club’s grand final victory over Newtown before a record crowd at Trumper Park. League secretary, Rhys Giddey gave the attendance as 11,337 but admitted years later that he may well have over liberally over-estimated the figure.
As in many of Sydney’s grand finals, the 1963 version was no exception It opened sensationally with an all-in brawl after an incident in the ruck snowballed and players from all parts of the field rushed to join in the melee.
Players from both sides stood trading punches until central umpire Mal Lee together with goal and boundary umpires separated them.
Newtown’s Gordon Hancock, in later years a leading figure in the Bankstown Sports club, was reported for striking and Wests John Griffiths was charged with kicking. Wests won 14.14 (98) to Newtown’s 12.16 (88) after the Magpies were down by nine points at the final change.
The league cancelled the proposed 15 September two hundred and fifty pound ($500), Premiers v The Rest game and replaced it with a final of the post season knock-out competition between St George and South Sydney.
Not to spoil their poor record, the league again finished the 1963 season again in the red. This time though it was a much more manageable figure of thirty seven pounds ($74.00)