And What of 1926?

Australian Rules TitleAll keen judges of the Australian game were satisfied with the initial success of district club football introduced in 1926. It was said that much doubt had disappeared from the minds of those who were inclined to be somewhat sceptical at the close of the 1925 season; Then, Football was like other forms of sport: Out of season, out of mind.

Failure of the District Scheme? Why, who would hear of that when talking of the Australian Game? The feature of it being the national game of Australia, played in every State to an over whelming majority of supporters would let the season itself tell its tale.

It was with some misgiving on the part of many club delegates that district football was not expected to succeed and that the dissolution of four successful clubs (Paddington, East Sydney, Railway and Balmain) of the previous season would make for the betterment of the game.

On the other hand, it was said “never in the history of the Australian game in N.S.W. had the prospects been brighter than in 1926.” The introduction of the district scheme had infused new life and vigour into the various clubs comprising the league. And when the season commenced “the game was the thing, and there is and was nothing like it in all the world.”

And so went the rhetoric as the 1926 season began.  Change is sometimes hard to accept and adopt to.

Fortunately it turned out a splendid success, though the amalgamation of Paddington and East Sydney players of previous seasons initially looked to many to be a case of trying to mix oil and water. However contrary to expectation, they were well led which helped them unite, proving a very happy family finally carrying off the season’s premiership.

One of the greatest successes for the year was the formation of the Western Suburbs Club and this happened only weeks before the season’s start. The Railways club was disbanded but their nucleus, combined with a number of fine players of East Sydney’s 1925 team formed the Western Suburbs Club. In fact they succeeded in getting together an 18 which worthily filled the position of runner-up.

By round 5, Wests were undefeated and under ideal conditions at Erskineville Oval, attracted a crowd of 3000 to watch them defeat leading club Newtown. This was a record gate for a club game in Sydney and with its fast and furious play justified the attendance of such a large crowd.

There were also new grounds in the competition, for both matches and training. Games were played at North Sydney, Chatswood, Marrickville, Erskineville and Hampden (Trumper Park) Ovals.

While the clubs used the following grounds for training: Newtown – Erskineville Oval, Western Suburbs – Pratten Park, Sydney – Sydney Sports Ground, Eastern Suburbs – Hampden Oval, North Sydney (North Shore) – St Leonards Park and South Sydney – YMCA Ground (formerly the Australian Football Ground) at Alexandria or North Botany (Mascot).  The South Sydney coach boasted 72 at training on one occasion.

The ultimate success of the 1926 season put the League in a satisfactory enough financial position and supplemented with the holding of regular meetings during the summer months, ensured a record kick off for the following year. Though, some said, there was still much to be done. One of the principal matters concerning officials was the appointment of a paid secretary and organiser, some suggesting that “the work entailed in the position of secretary of the league was far too great to expect from one acting in a honorary capacity.” The appointment never came.

1922 Ground Problems

Ground thumbnailSearching through Sydney newspaper we came across the following article in a 1922 issue.

It had to do with the allocation of grounds and the author didn’t spare any ‘beg your pardons’ in his appraisal of the situation:

“There is one thing vexing the New South Wales League, that is, the question, are Australians foreigners? This Question is prompted by the grossly unfair treatment accorded the New South Wales League by the Marrickville, Hurstville and Ashfield Municipal Councils, who “dressed in a little brief of authority cut such fantastic tricks before high Heaven as make the angels weep”.

The cause of the kick is this: It is usual, prior to the opening of the Winter season for all Councils controlling grounds to advertise in the daily press calling tenders for the leasing of their grounds for Winter Sports.

The Australian Rules League of New South Wales tendered £150 for Marrickville Oval. The Rugby League’s tender for same was £135. The latter was accepted. Why in the name of heaven was £15 thus thrown away by the little Puddlington of Marrickville the ratepayers should want to know. Not only this, why should the Australians be boycotted when they were prepared to pay cash in advance? Will the other body do the same? What strings were pulled to influence the decision of the tender?   It is British fair play which we hear so much about, or are Hun methods still running the Marrickville Municipality?

At Hurstville something similar was enacted. The “Aussies” tendered £25 for Penshurst Park. The wise men of Hurstville evidently did not require money to put their streets and parks in order, the ratepayers can find the brass for those purposes. The Rugby League tender for exactly half that amount was accepted. It looks like more boodling, what! The City Council Tammany Ring was not a circumstance to it.

At Ashfield, tenders were called for Pratten Park. Australians bid £200, Rugby £155. Again Rugby scooped the pool, but under somewhat different circumstances.   The Ashfield Council in their wisdom decided that tenders were not high enough. Fresh tenders were invited. Australian League bid £250, but still Rugby secured the bacon. How do they do it? Surely there are enough fair-minded patriots and sports in these particular suburbs to see that justice is done. The Dinkum Aussie only asks a fair deal without fear or favour, not only for Australian football but for all and any other winter sport; and they protest against one body securing the whole of the playing spaces in and around Sydney to the detriment of all other sports. If such practices continue there is only one course  to pursue, for all the other sporting bodies to combine and secure grounds which they may share on an equitable basis.

At present the League, which happens for the moment to be top dog, secures all the bone, but may find that a united attack by the smaller tribe may deprive it of the spoil. Remember the adage of the dog and the shadow, where he tried to collar too much and lost all – moral, don’t be too greedy.”

All this came hot on the heels of the NSW Australian Football League successfully tendering for North Sydney Oval in 1921.

Their offer of five hundred pounds (an unbelievable $37,500 in today’s money) plus 20% of the gate for the winter lease of North Sydney Oval was accepted.  The offer tipped out the long term Rugby League tenants, North Sydney Rugby League club, who offered one hundred pounds plus 10% of the gate.  The AFL’s offer, considering the limited crowds the game attracted then, (but 1000 times more than now) could be viewed as quite farcical.

One of the great issues of the period was the number of enclosed grounds in Sydney, unlike Melbourne, there were not that many and it was an annual challenge between Rugby Union, Rugby League, Soccer and Australian Football as to who got what ground.  Of course Rugby League were successful in most although Australian Football only required three grounds per weekend.

In 1922 the Australian game only ended up with two enclosed grounds, Erskineville Oval and Trumper Park.  They had to play their other games on open parks like Alexandria Oval, Moore Park and North Sydney Oval No. 2, now St Leonards Park.  There was no football played on Sundays in those days.

Was It Really Like This?

Howlong Football Ground smallWe will print the follow up story about the fate of the Australian Football Ground at Alexander in Sydney shortly.

In the meantime, we came across a very interesting story that displays unbelieveable discrimination against the Australian code in Sydney in 1922.

The following was published in the Evening News, 19 April 1922:

“When is the national game getting a fair deal in Sydney. The question is prompted by the treatment served out by several of the suburban councils when allocating the grounds at their disposal. The procedure adopted is to call for tenders through the press, various bodies put in tenders, with what result:

The Marrickville Council invited tenders for the local oval (Marrickville Oval), the New South Wales Australian Football League tendered £150m, the Rugby League £135. The latter tender was accepted.

The Hurstville, the Australians tendered £25, the Rugbyites, £12.10s, the latter were successful.

At Ashfield they took the palm for Pratten Park. The Australian Rules tendered £200, the Rugby League £175. The Ashfield Council decided that the tenders were too low, although greatly in advance of the previous season. They decided to call fresh tenders. The Australians put in a tender for £250 but were evidentially outbid by the Rugbyites, as it is understood the latter have secured the ground.

Are the Councils doing a fair thing for the ratepayers or for any sporting body outside Rugby League. The Australian game is making slow but steady progress in New South Wales. Practically the whole of the Riverina have adopted it and it is making steady progress in Newcastle, where a record season is predicted.

Last season was the best yet for the Metropolitans but this season promises to far outdo anything hitherto attempted.”

This is just an example of the bias against the code in Sydney.  Contemporary followers of the game cannot image the prejudice that the supporters suffered in many parts of NSW and Queensland right up until the 1980s.  And, as we wrote about not that long ago, much of it started with the comments of Monte Arnold.