Sydney and the Military

But for the MilitaMilitary image thumbnailry football would have struggled in Sydney.

These were the words from Jim Phelan in 1918 when he wrote in the Referee Newspaper: “that but for soldiers from other states etc. who reside in camps near to Sydney playing senior football in Sydney, the senior league would not have been able to operate.”

And that statement is quite true in fact Sydney football was fairly dependent on servicemen right through to the 1960 and into the 70s when junior football became much better organised and the system started to more regularly churn out senior players from its junior ranks.

This is one reason the St George Club has been so successful.  Their general success followed the formation of a fully functioning junior association in their area in 1955 and while they may not all be with us now, junior clubs like Cronulla, Bangor, Heathcote, Penshurst, Peakhurst, Miranda, Como-Janalli, Ramsgate, Sutherland, Boystown and Hurstville Diamonds formed the core of a nursery for the senior club in particular as well as other local clubs who benefited from the Association.

In the days of WWI and right through to the 1950s Sydney football was lucky to have a four team Under 16 competition.  Yes there were exceptions and also there were some isolated schools like Hurstville Tech, Gardeners Road, Double Bay and Erskineville pumping young boys into the football system.

However it was the military who supplied, if not the most then a fair portion of the complement of senior players, certainly during both wars and most markedly  in the 1950s and 60s.

it was during that period that clubs like Sydney Naval, Balmain, South Sydney, Bankstown, Liverpool and North Shore survived, in terms of talent, mainly on the military.

There was a naval establishment at Middle Head in HMAS Penguin, the submarine base at Chowder Bay and more recently the patrol boat unit on Balls Head Peninsular.  It was these places that fed the North Shore Club but their numbers were especially supplemented by the School of Artillery at North Head.

Most of the inner city clubs picked up players from the ships based at Garden Island, particularly Sydney Naval.  South Sydney had several army units in Bundock Street at Randwick.  Easts recruited from Victoria Barracks, which at one stage boasted a number of army establishments on both sides of Moore Park Road, those on the southern side since engulfed by the Sydney Football Stadium complex.  In the early seventies a club called Combined Services participated in Sydney’s Second Division.

Ostensibly their number was made up from across the military spectrum but there was more RAAF and Navy personnel than Army.

When HMAS Albatross was established at Nowra, many of their players filtered through to Sydney Clubs as did players from the Richmond Air Base and other smaller RAAF bases in the western suburbs.

Again many clubs benefited from the soldiers based at Ingleburn, Moorebank and Holdsworthy, particularly Liverpool, the closest side to those bases.  Thousands of soldiers were stationed in that area over the years.

Such was the case during the wars when the SCG and a number of race courses in Sydney were taken over by the Australian and US military.

And while we have St George and their juniors, they too did well with service personnel.  Phonse Kyne, a 200 game player, captain and coach of Collingwood, played and coached at St George during WWII.

South Australian great, Graham Cornes also played with the Saints before he left for Vietnam.

Several of the Phelan Medal winners over the years were in the services:  Ralph Turner who won took it out in 1959 & 61 was in the navy, as was Norm Tuxford in 1966 and Peter Body the following year.

Tony Wish-Wilson who was the award in 1959 was in the air force, so too was the 1964 winner, Ray Gwilliam.

Noel Stewart, playing for Southern Districts just about pulls up the servicemen-players.  He took out the trophy in 1971 whilst undergoing his two year national service in the army at Holdsworthy.

Just as there were players coming from the military so too did umpires and these officials were recorded as officiating in Sydney games as far back as WWI.

Much has changed in the services.  Many units have been moved out of the area; the army’s School of Artillery is now located at Puckapunyal in Central Victoria.  The Infantry Training Centre has moved from Ingleburn to Singleton.  Chowder Bay is now a park and the submarine base is at Rockingham in WA, quite a number of army units in south western Sydney have also been shifted while many RAAF establishments which were formerly within the Sydney metropolitan area have either been closed down or moved.

So Sydney, once a competition which thrived on servicemen, where it was not uncommon for personnel from the same unit to be opposed to each other of a weekend could be seen in the same team in the midweek services competition, played of a Wednesday mostly on Moore Park.

Obviously there are still many servicemen who make up the ranks of Sydney’s senior football today.  We are told, the RAAF/Hawkesbury/Nor-West Jets Club, as they changed their name, still rely on personnel from Richmond as do others who have military bases near to their place of activities.

But for the most part it is now all down to nurturing and succinctly fostering players through their junior clubs to ensure the continuance of the game in the nation’s biggest city.

The Changing Face of Football in Sydney

Australian football has always owned the tag as the poor relation in Sydney.

The game was first introduced to the city in 1880 upon the formation of the NSW Football Association.  It took until the following year before any clubs were formed: Sydney and East Sydney were the first and the East Sydney of those days should not be confused with the East Sydney of the 1980s & 90s.

Immediately the game attracted the wrath of rugby officials led by top protagonist, Monty Arnold who said at the Association’s formation “if the Melbourne and Carlton clubs were playing a match in Melbourne, and the Kelly gang were firing within a quarter of a mile of them, he did not believe there would be a soul looking at the football”

Arnold and his co-horts were absolutely opposed and vitriolic to the new game and its introduction was made all the worse when some tried to change the rules of rugby because of its many dangerous aspects.  Paradoxically, they welcomed the formation of the soccer association.

A few Sydney journalists were sympathetic to the Victorian game but when it sank into anarchy, in-fighting and bitterness they dropped off and the game failed to move into the 1895 season.

Harry Hedger 1908It was left the since unrecognized enthusiast and former player, Harry Hedger, pictured, to lead the resurgence of the game in Sydney in 1903.

Its development went well and the game became stronger reaching out to schools and junior grades.  Poor management in the purchase of the original Rosebery Racecourse site on the corner of Botany and Gardeners Road, Mascot and the onset of WWI put the game back to almost a zero base.  But with steady work and commitment from officials of the league it clung on, despite being comprised of only five clubs in 1917.  There was no second grade during the war and for the most part the junior competition also disappeared.

There was a spark of hope during the 1920s when NSW defeated the VFL in 1923 and again in 1925 but it again slumped into its familiar rung on the ladder as the least favoured game in the city.

The depression years of the thirties brought no solace and for the most part the league was locked with six clubs and only two grounds where they could truly derive a gate – the strength of their income.

Then WWII brought new hope.  Australian football was the first sport to move to Sunday football, for no other reason than they desperately needed that additional Sydney Football Attendances Graph smallvenue where a gate could be charged.  It was during this period that servicemen from interstate were in or moving through Sydney and they played with local clubs.

Names like Collingwood’s captain, Phonse Kyne was the captain and coach of St George, Alby Morrison who was chosen in Footscray’s team of the century was with the RAAF team, future Brownlow Medalist, Bill Morris played with South Sydney while 17 year old Western Australian, Jack Sheedy, another AFL Hall of Famer, turned out for the Sydney Club.

These are just a very few of the football talent in Sydney during the war.

Following hostilities the game was riding high in public opinion, particularly so when three new clubs, Western Suburbs, Balmain and Sydney University were added to the competition in 1948.

During the fifties the image of the game lapsed especially when newspapers highlighted the negative parts of the game: fights and problems in matches.

More clubs were formed and joined the competition leading to twelve in 1962 “a perfect time to turn the competition into two divisions.”  It didn’t happen and the change from 18 aside to 16 aside in  1960 was also overturned mid-season.

By this time though, Western Suburbs gained their liquor licence and became very much a supporter and promoter of the game playing out of the same Picken Oval as now, but then it was surrounded by a training trotting track and privately owned.  The club though pumped thousands of dollars into the game and supported the league’s purchase of offices in Regent Street, Chippendale.

Football didn’t really move, they had lost many chances though by the seventies two new divisions had been formed.

Bill Hart, President NSWAFL 1966-78
Bill Hart, President NSWAFL 1966-78

In 1978 a coup threw out the popular league president Bill Hart and eventually his cronies went with him.  The VFL backed move with promised support didn’t last long before the administration in Sydney really struggled.

Then came the Sydney Swans and new VFL money and finance through the Swans licence scheme.  This eventually fell over and the club was subsequently taken over by the league.  Sydney football though had solidified and were well led with a move to more permanent offices in the Wentworth Park Grandstand, Glebe, where a number of other sports were domiciled.

Of course things always change and in 1998 there was a further takeover by the AFL which has funded the league and NSW football ever since.  It resulted in more staff, more people on the ground but are there more playing the game?

The elected officials have gone and the game is run by bureaucrats in their central Moore Park Offices.

Makes you wonder with all the changes the game has endured over the past 134 years, what the future holds for Sydney football?

In some sense it doesn’t have much but in others it has a lot.  It certainly has a rich past.

MORE FOOTBALL RECORDS ONLINE

1944-07-01 Sydney Football Record front page 1 smallSociety officials have completed another painstaking chore by loading Sydney football records onto the website for the war years, 1941-44.

So far sixty of these publications have been loaded.  Some are four page editions, one or two single page efforts while the remainder are mostly of twelve pages.

Because of a shortage of paper during the war some of the Records were cut down to one sheet of paper folded to present four pages.  This unique contribution was enough to maintain a regular communication on the local competition to players and supporters.

In other years a one page effort had to suffice for a month and this occurred on two occasions in that season.  These gave the teams lists and not much more.

Those were the days (and carried on well into the 1990s) when volunteers who worked in the city, came into the league office then housed in the NSW Sports Club in Hunter Street, and helped the Honorary League Secretary and/or Record Editor to compile and staple the publication to ready them for sale at grounds the following weekend.  We know that a few of these reached our troops in the South Pacific as we imagine some also were sent on to the European theatre.

It is fascinating to read the names of the players who participated in Sydney during that period.  Many were top line interstate players who played in the VFL, SANFL  and WAFL including Phonse Kyne, captain of Collingwood, Alby Morrison a former captain of Footscray and Bill Morris who would go on to win a Brownlow Medal.

Terry Moriarty, winner of the 1943 Sandover Medal played in Sydney as did someone who would go on to be inducted in the AFL’s Hall of Fame from WA, Jack Sheedy.  There were many, many more.

From what we were told, these boys simply turned up at a ground seeking a game.  Maybe a quarter in the seconds would convince the coach of the player’s ability and he was taken off the field and put straight into the firsts.  Because of their situation in the military, many could not train.

It must have been great football and wonderful for the fans, many of whom were military personnel themselves.

Check this graph out which shows a spark in attendances at Sydney football during the war, Chart of Sydney Ground Gate Takings 1930-50 smallmost particularly when Sunday football was introduced.  To separate the grounds, the solitary green line above the ongoing graph is the takings at Trumper Park of a Sunday.  Click to enlarge.

Shortly the Society will post the 1939-40 and 45 Football Records on the site.  They have all of the former but only a handful of 1945 publications.  If anyone has any early editions in their family football treasurers we would very much appreciate copies which could then be added to a most absorbing list of Football Record many of which are available for everyone to peruse on the net.

WHAT THE DOCUMENTS REVEAL

I guess you have to be an absolute footy aficionado to appreciate a lot of what comes across our desk.

We see and read and see lots of stuff from Sydney’s footy history but sometimes we come across some real gems.

In our efforts to include more data on our OCR programme we have almost finished scanning all the NSW Football League’s, or as they are now titled, AFL(NSW/ACT) annual reports.  (We must tell you here that the organisation has had several name changes over the years.)

Reading some of these publications can have a profound affect on those really interested in football history.

For example, skimming through early WWII league annual reports, just shows what a battle it was to conduct the competition in Sydney.

For a start there was a paper shortage so in 1941 the report only consisted of four pages and to conserve paper, the normal page two, where officials were listed, was published on the front cover.  The other pages were printed front to back for the remainder in the roneoed document..

Right up to the 1980s, the league’s annual report began with the greeting “Gentlemen ….”  Not many women in executive positions in those days.

In some of those war year’s issues, there were personal notes written against peoples names and the room would be full on the night of the meeting.

The venue for the league’s annual meeting varied from various locations in the city, all of which have since been demolished.  But they were the times when the vast majority of the attendees (sample shown in photo above taken at the Sydney Sports Club, Hunter Street), club delegates, league officials and umpiring officials would have had to have caught a tram, bus or train home after the gathering – given that the meeting did not begin until 8:00pm.

Competition was fierce to gain a place on the league’s administration and it may have taken several years to be elected to a seat on the board.  A public vote was always taken for life members and there would have been severe embarrassment for those who were voted down, which sometimes happened.  They was not hidden ballots then.

Finding volunteers to administer the game then, as is the case now, was not easy.  Clubs could reasonably rely on ex-players to taken on positions but those who conducted league affairs were few and far between and these honorary officials really had to be dedicated.  There were sub-committees most had to join up to and it was not uncommon for the league secretary and treasurer to attend in excess of 40 meetings a year.

The photograph is of a young Ken Ferguson who was league Secretary for a total of 28 years, 24 of those in an honorary capacity.

The league board met each Monday night during the season right up until 1980.

In 1943 there were some wonderful footballers playing in Sydney having been posted here for training during hostilities.  For the most part they were evenly, but directed,  shared around the clubs and many were from the VFL, SANFL and WANFL.

In 1943 the nation’s prime minister, John Curtin, one of the country’s most outstanding leaders ever in our history was patron of the league.  The former VFA player attended several games at Trumper Park during the season and on one one occasion addressed both teams in their rooms after the game.

This was the year that football first began to play of a Sunday mostly due to the lack of grounds but the initiative saw attendances sky-rocket.

In 1944, Corporal Alby Morrison, former captain of Footscray was the leader of the RAAF club that competed in the Sydney competition during that period.  Although the awarding of the Phelan Medal (the league’s B & F) had been suspended, the talented Morrison, who had represented Victoria and would subsequently be chosen in Footscray’s Team of the Century, was presented with a cup in 1944 for The Best and Most Consistent Player in the Sydney league.

Also in the same year, Collingwood captain, Private Phonse Kyne, who was also stationed in Sydney and captain coach of the St George club, was awarded a cup for Outstanding Fair Play.  Kyne would go on to win three Copeland Trophies at Collingwood and coach the club to two premierships.  Neither of these clubs won the premiership in 1943 or 1944.

SYD FELSTEAD PASSES

While reported on the passing of Alf Penno this week yet another legend of Sydney football, not a player but an administrator, has died suddenly.

He former long term St George president and league official, Syd Felstead, passed away in June 2011, he was 92.

St George Football Club historian, Pat McCourt, penned a profile of this very well respected man who really had the game at heart:

Syd’s journey through life is an amazing story!  His contribution to Australian Rules at St George, throughout Sydney and NSW is invaluable.  I will be brief in my summary; however on Syd’s passing we have to pay a tribute, acknowledge who Syd Felstead was and what he did to establish junior competitions of Australian Rules throughout Sydney.

Syd Felstead born 26 August 1919, Bendigo Victoria, his father dying in early 1920s as result service at Gallipoli and gassing received in France in WW1.  After moves around Victoria, and Paddington in Sydney in 1928, Syd and his mother moved to Dora St Hurstville in 1930 at start of the depression. A time when Syd and his mother eked out a living; Syd on his bike, he named “Greenie” doing deliveries and collecting manure in his billy cart [made from a fruit box and wheels off a pram], selling a cart load to neighbours for sixpence [now five cents]!

In 1934 at age 15, having passed the Intermediate certificate, Syd left school eventually got an apprenticeship at ACI Glassworks as a crystal glass cutter, earning eleven shillings and sixpence per week [today’s currency; one dollar and fifteen cents]. He traded his bike “Greenie” on a new Malvern Star, paying it off at two shillings per week [present currency; twenty cents] and played junior Rules matches in local school and local park competitions! Syd commenced in 1938 with St George AFC, in Reserve Grade [St George Third grade was not formed until 1958].

Syd was associated with some greats of that St George era; likes of Phonse Kyne, Jack Browne, and Stan Powditch and was lucky to witness St George’s Premiership in 1938.  Syd also had a strong affiliation with the committee and between 1938 and 1957 (allowing for time spent overseas in WWII with RAAF, crewing in Wellington and Lancaster bombers), played a total of 128 senior games; was a member of 1951 Reserve Grade premiership.

After returning from war, Syd with partners started their own cut glass business, and continued playing with St George, mainly as fullback.  During his time as a player, Syd was an active committee member, with Andrew Glass as President. In 1955 Syd became President, holding the position for 20 years when he stepped aside in 1974.  Under his Presidency, St George played in three consecutive Grand finals between 1964 and 1966; winning 1964 Premiership!

Behind the scenes with colleagues from various Sydney Clubs, Syd was active developing the junior base of all Sydney Clubs. He chaired committees to establish St George junior clubs in 1950s; likes of Como, Peakhurst and Boys Town [all since faded into history]. Present junior Clubs [Ramsgate, Miranda, Cronulla and Penshurst] established with assistance from; Ruben Fraser, Alan Gibbons, Alex Melville.  Some of Syd’s achievements, included –

Life Memberships and Awards

 Life member of St George AFC – awarded 1953

Life member of AFL (NSW/ACT) – awarded 1967

In 2000, received from Prime Minister an Honour Award for 2000 Bi Centennial celebrations – for past contributions to Australian Rules

St George AFC ‘Hall of Fame’ –  inducted in 2005 one of five initial inductees

 

Some other contributions and achievements [there were many] –

[As recorded in Syd’s hand written notes, held by me]

Elected to Board of Management of NSW ANFL 1956

Appointed Team Manager for NSW Teams from 1958 to 1965

In 1966 appointed by Sutherland Council to Ground Allocation Committee

Awarded Australian Sports Medal by Commonwealth Government

Served as Chair Person in formation of both Junior Assoc, and St George body of NSW ANFL Junior Planning Committee

Chaired formation committee of St George All Age Comp/Open Age League [now defunct]; subsequently became NSW League Second division comp

Included in book published [2000] recording “History of Hurstville Oval”

Suggested, had passed initial concept of Club Championship Points at NSW League

Held positions in 1950s and 1960s as President and Delegate to NSW ANFL

Awarded ˜Merit Award” by Australian Football Council

Olds Park – Syd was instrumental in 1968/1969 in securing the initial 21 year lease on Olds Park when St George made the move from Hurstville Oval.  Syd was involved in 1970 in the unsuccessful application to obtain a liquor licence for St George at Olds Park which was backed at time by Bill Picken [Western Suburbs fame].

Due to his strong Australian wide connections in Aussie Rules circles, whilst President, Syd was instrumental in getting the likes of Dale Dalton, Don McKenna, Dennis & Ray Pegg, Ralph Todd, Graham Cornes and many other interstate recruits to play with St George.

Syd was always strongly supported by his wife, Betty [nee O’Reilly b.1924] whom he married during the war and had four children; Graham, Sandra, Robyn and David. Both boys played briefly at St George, where Betty was a pillar of strength, working in the canteen at Hurstville Oval, selling raffle tickets and organising social functions. They retired to live at Vincentia, where Betty passed away in May 2005.

It can be categorically stated; Syd fathered the St George AFC junior competition as it stands today – Patrick McCourt was a member of initial team that started Miranda junior club! Syd’s blue print to establish St George junior clubs, was adopted by other Sydney Clubs.

Syd Felstead made a valuable contribution to successes enjoyed by a vast base of Australian Rules players, supporters. He established basis for present day operations for many persons who continue to participate, enjoy Australian Rules throughout Sydney and NSW. St George benefited from Syd’s earlier work; winning eleven, Third Grade Premierships between 1958 and 1980; with two runner ups and only three times did it not make the final four in that era.

Australian Rules is poorer upon the passing of Syd Felstead. Syd was a pioneer; St George has lost an icon!

For contemporary players and followers of Sydney football, Syd was a regular attendee at the league’s annual Phelan Medal Night.  Syd Felstead “was really a nice guy.”