NSW v Melbourne FC

Ever s1923-07-31 Sydney Sportsman p.1 A thumbnailince football was played in NSW, a highlight of the season has been the visitation of an interstate team.

Before the establishment of the VFL in 1897 they came from the VFA and South Australia, then after the resurrection of the game in Sydney in 1903 visiting teams came thick and fast:  Geelong, South Melbourne, Williamstown, Carlton, Fitzroy, Collingwood, North Adelaide, Norwood and the list goes on and on.

You can view what teams did visit and how they performed up to 1930 by clicking here and search under ‘Advanced Search’.

On most occasions the visitors left the gate with the NSW Football League to further enhance the game in Sydney.  But, the league battled.  There was never any real foresight, planning and strategies put in place to develop and grow the game in the early days.  They merely survived from year to year.

One club that did visit Sydney on four occasions was the Melbourne Football Club.

They played NSW or a Combined Sydney side on four separate occasions, winning one and losing three, but two of those were within a very close margin.

The game they crowed about was the win in 1911.  NSW won the game 14-12 (96) to 10-14 (74) and didn’t the local press pump up the win.  One headline read: Victors a Trifle Superior All Round, and Home Team Wins Brilliantly but the best read: NSW Whips Melbourne.  Were victories against these interstate teams all that rare – The Answer: Yes.

Grand Final Time in Sydney

Premiership favourites, East Coast Eagles, had a mortgage on the premiership a couple of years ago, that was before they made what could be described as the ill-fated and expensive shift to the NEAFL where they played as ‘Sydney Hills’.

They won the flag in 2009-10 & 11 after being defeated in the 2008 and 2006 grand finals, the latter following a season without loss but they did managed to eclipse the reserves premiership.

Clubs in Sydney have come and gone, who could imagine the most successful until very recent years, Newtown, would slide out of the competition? And for that matter, Sydney or Sydney Naval, as they were known as from 1944 and here was a club that was formed in 1881.

For the most part, the shift in population shows a shift in football domination.

Gone are those inner city clubs like Sydney, Newtown, South Sydney and Eastern Suburbs.

And the grand final venues. Many have been tried including Erskineville Oval (new and old), RAS Showground, SCG No. 1 & 2, Kensington Pony Track, Henson Park and of course the ever popular, Trumper Park.

Here was a ground that had an almost magnetic appeal to both players and spectators. The players who liked the confinement of a small ground and amphitheatre like atmosphere and the spectators who were always close to the play whether in the stand (old and new – since demolished) or on the hill.

Former league secretary, Rhys Giddey made headlines in 1963 when he declared the attendance at the Western Suburbs v Newtown grand final of over 11,000. He later confided that it all made good reading in the newspaper. Trouble is these written suppositions become fact.

There were other big crowds recorded at Trumper Park, including one of 10,000 in the early fifties when NSW played a visiting side. Again, the League’s ability to accurately record attendance numbers was very limited.

And to Blacktown, the current venue for finals matches. Despite the centre of Sydney now recorded west of Parramatta, getting crowds to Blacktown does present a challenge. The facilities are good but nevertheless it is a long way for those used to watching the game closer to town.  Last year’s premier division crowd was recorded at ‘around’ 1000.

One way is to compare the gate takings and while there has been a variance in the entry fee over the years, it is still an indicator of crowd numbers. It would be interesting to dig deeper for the reason of the large disparity between 2009 and 2010 -.  Click image to enlarge.

Sydney Grand Final Gate Takings small




Other records of crowd numbers were kept, but not maintained. Here is a graph of gate takings from 1930-60.  Click image to enlarge.

Sydney Football Attendance I small


Crowd - early small
Bigger Crowds at the New Game?

The two opposing football bodies, the Australian Football Council, representing all states for the Australian game and the NSW Rugby League, again got together to discuss the formation of a game that would see an amalgamation of the two codes.  Well that was the thinking.

This time it was in 1933 and once more at a time when a national 10 day carnival was held in Sydney.

A preliminary meeting with representatives of both groups was appointed to establish some starting rules of the game and a secret match under those rules was played on the morning of Friday, 11 August at the RAS Showground, Moore Park (now FOX Studios).

Most of the players who took part in the encounter were members of the Queensland Australian Football team who were in Sydney for the carnival. Needing enough for two fourteen man teams, their number was supplemented by some local Rugby League players.  The trouble was that all players were not familiar with these new rules and the Queensland players, in particular, had played a tough match the day before against ˜Canberra.”

At a more formal meeting at Rugby League Headquarters held on the night of the game, 165 Phillip Street, Sydney,  Horrie Miller, Secretary of the NSW Rugby League gave a detailed report on the drafting of the rules, a brief description and a few of those rules, appears below:

It was suggested that the field of play would be divided up in a manner somewhat similar to the Rugby field with the exception that the goal posts be put on the (rugby) dead ball line and the touch-in-goal area in front of the goal posts instead of behind them.  In place of having a 25 yard line from the posts, it was set at 35 yards at each end.  In the central area it was proposed the Australian game should be played with the pass back and the tackle, there being no off-side in that area.  However, inside the 35 yard areas, the off-side rule would apply, as recognized by Rugby League.

The rules provided for fourteen aside, but only twelve aside were available, the Australian Rules men being mainly Queenslanders. The Rugby field was used and a 35 yards area at each end set aside in which offside, applied and not elsewhere. It was said there was a touch of soccer in the game. Tries and goals were the means of scoring.

There were many other rules to this new game but the one concerning the off-side rule, appeared to be a point of contention.

It would appear that Mr Miller was a leading proponent for the introduction of a new game and went to great lengths to get the two groups talking as well as making arrangements for the trial game.

Various speakers expressed the view that any amalgamation would have to be gradual and that if each code introduced features of the other, the game could be brought together in a few years.

Mr Miller made a very interesting point when he said “I may say that the idea in drawing up this code of rules was to make the play as open as possible.  We are giving what you Australian rule (sic) people are asking for and what the Australian public require, that is action.”

“In fact” he added, “it is action all the time.  At no stage of the game would the ball be dead.”

The meeting was chaired by Mr E H Tassie who was the South Australian Representative on the Council.

After listening to the speakers from the NSW Rugby League, he made the comment that  ‘his group’s sincerity over the matter (the amalgamated game) might have been questioned, but, as delegates on a trip to Sydney, our actions have been such as should stay any criticism in that respect.”

The delegates from both sides kept their comments to what we would describe these days, as “niceties”.rugby - early small invert

Eventually, the following motion was carried unanimously by the combined seventeen man delegates:

That the suggested rules drawn up by the sub-committee for that purpose, form the basis of a report back to the various clubs, and, if in their opinion, these bodies consider a further conference desirable, such conference be held.

It was fine for the Rugby League delegates to give such a commitment but the Australian Football Council was comprised of delegates who represented each state and while most took notice of the resolutions of this body, it is reasonable to say that these were not all binding and this was particularly the case of the VFL.  In many eyes, particularly towards the end of its life, The Australian Football Council or later, the National Football Council, were considered by many as a toothless tiger.

One significant matter on both sides was the strong personalities “who would not have a brass tack of the other game. They think they have a good thing, and that if the other party wants to come into the fold he must do so and not expect any amalgamation. ‘Let the Rugby League take on our game,’ said an Australian Rules hard citizen. ‘Let the Victorians take on the Rugby League game. They would play it well,’ said a Sydney man.

The whole issue had its fate decided when the NSW Rugby League met on 14 August where the matter was discussed in detail.

Mr.S.G Ball proposed and Mr. J. Craig seconded that the report be received and no further action taken. He added that their own game at present needed all their care and attention.  This was carried, after debate, by 15 to 10.

It was doubted that the respective state leagues would have supported such an extraordinary change to the rules of their (Australian) game so the early decision of the Rugby League, in a way, put a dampener on any possibility of a future mission into changing rules or the combining of games and the issue having any caustic repercussions to the AFC delegates.

Locally, a later proposition was put whether a new game would have supplanted the Australian code on the one hand and Rugby League on the other, is quite another matter. It was thought old sympathies, ties, friendships, and traditions would probably, have held the present games intact.

We shall never know.