– Junior Football In Sydney – part I

1889 St Ignatius (Australian) Football Team

Junior football and for that matter much of junior sport in Sydney and probably the rest of NSW was very centred on school activities in the early 1900s.

The Southern (NSW) Rugby Football Union had established a junior competition by 1887 playing for John McGregor’s Cup [1] while the first recorded junior game of Australian football in Sydney was in early June 1888 in a match comprising junior players played between boys from West Sydney and Moore Park at the East Sydney club’s ground on Moore Park.  The event was treated almost as if some type of novelty but the players were encouraged to continue with their efforts.  There was no mention of their age. [2]

The first recorded schools game was in 1888 and recorded as “Two juvenile teams under these rules played a very exciting match on Moore Park on Saturday (4 August), the teams being the boys from St Augustines School (Balmain) and what are known as Junior Sydneys.  An amusing part of the proceedings was the discovery  that the youthful ‘Sydneys’ had increased their numbers to considerably over thirty, and when the umpire, under protest from St Augustine’s, arranged both teams for a count the Sydney youths numbered nearly forty.  It is a pity for the school teams that the juvenile matches are nor played in enclosures.  It is expected that the return match will be played in an enclosure, and a strict count made in future to stop the growth of juvenile twenties.” [3]

Then, and at last an item on junior football appeared in the Referee Newspaper when a team representing the Sydney Juniors played the Imperials on Moore Park on 1 June 1889.  The players were all aged under 16 and the smaller Sydney boys won the match 3 goals to 1. [4] (In those days goals only recorded the score although at times behinds were shown in the tally). 

The 1890 annual report of the NSW Football Association stated that “in past seasons junior football has been almost neglected, the result being that junior clubs and second twenties have been a failure.  For the coming season (1890), however, twenty silver medals have been offered for competition among the juniors, and these medals ought to give an impetus to junior football.” [5] [6]

On many occasions in their reporting, newspapers and club officials would often use the term ‘juniors’ when referring to under age players or a second eighteen and determining one or the other  took a judicious view of the records.

At the Association’s 1891 annual meeting held on 21 April at Cambridge Club Hotel which was on the corner of Market and Castlereagh Streets, the secretary’s report eulogised the Association’s activities and praised Mr Henry Alexander for his kindness in donating 20 medals “for the hitherto neglected juniors for competition amongst them.”   Prior to 1890 the juniors were almost ignored by the Association and in previous seasons secretaries seemed to almost despair of ever being able to run junior teams, yet during the 1890 season “no difficulty was experienced in keeping together the second twenties and the members of the other junior clubs.  This highly desirable state of things was brought about by the medal contests.  We should like, by the way, to point out that one of the greatest difficulties against which a secretary of a new club has to contend is that twenty men are required to form a team under our rules.  Under the British Association Rules (soccer) only eleven men are required and under Rugby Rules, fifteen.”   [7]

By the end of July 1891 the following made up the ‘junior’competition:


St Josephs College 4 4 16 16
South Sydney 6 5 1 20 24
Young Australians 6 2 2 2 12 24
West Sydney II 7 3 3 1 14 28
Carlton 6 1 4 1   6 24

In 1892 junior clubs started to emerge publicly and were holding their own annual meetings many of which were in March, notably earlier than their senior cousins.  Their numbers were healthy, with 35 registering with the Carlton Junior club who were moving into their fourth season, while 21 new members signed up with the Young Australian side [8] and a another 14 with the successful South Sydney junior club.

Early in May advice was received that St Ignatius College would not play football under Australian rules in 1892 instead changing their allegiance to rugby. [9] Sydney Mail ominously said that “The New South Wales Football Association has gone off into a long sleep from which it will never waken.” [10]  How right this would prove to be.

to be continued ….

[1] Referee – 28 April 1887
[2] Sydney Mail – 26 May 1888
[3] Referee – 9 August 1888
[4] Referee – 5 June 1889
[5] Referee – 16 April 1890
[6] Daily Telegraph – 16 June 1890
[7] Referee – 22 April 1891
[8] Referee – 23 March.1892
[9] SMH – 4 June 1892
[10] Referee – 4 May 1892

1914 World Football Tour

1917 Jim Smith - ex St Kilda small“Jim Smith, a former captain of St. Kilda, has conceived the idea of taking two teams of footballers round the world.”  He was the first VFL player to play 100 games who later umpired but then returned to the Saints to coach the side in 1909, 1915 and to the finals in 1918.

So reported the Referee Sporting Newspaper in 1914 about his proposed tour. The scheme also appeared in other national papers but on this occasion Mr Smith gave a detailed report of his plan to delegates of the Australian National Football Council at their 1914 meeting immediately prior to the Sydney national carnival.

Mr. Smith’s idea was to form a company, with a capital of £9,000, (in today’s terms $971,241.22, with inflation) to finance the project.

But this was in 1914, just before the announcement of the first world war.

His idea involved a party of 45, who would serve as two teams which would leave Australia in January, 1915, for Vancouver, Canada. It was intended they would then work their way down the west coast of the US to San Francisco in time for the World Fair which was held in conjunction with the opening of the Panama Canal. Then they would travel across America, and onto England and France.

It was estimated the £9,000 would have provided cover for all expenses, but that, by playing 25 matches, Smith estimated the tour would have realised a substantial profit.

He stated that he had about £1,000 had already been subscribed in Melbourne by mid-1914 and that the balance of the capital would be ‘readily subscribed’. It was suggested that shareholders be invited at £1 per share. Further, it was anticipated that in view of the fact that the accomplishment of the project would yield a ‘big advertisement’ of the project, ‘there would be no difficulty in obtaining the necessary money’.

The proposal allegedly had the approval of leading officials of the Australasian Football Council (then the peak body of football in Australia), who saw in the project an opportunity to advertise the Australian game throughout the world.

Smith gave the following budget:





Fares 45 x £70 3150.00 348,391.00
Allowances (payment) 43 x £2 per week 1800.00 199,080.00
Accommodation 45 x 12 weeks @ £3 each 1620.00 179.172.00
Incidentals incl advertising 1530.00 169,218.00
GRAND TOTAL   £8,100.00 $895,864.00


Smith said “it would only be necessary for teams to get a £350 ($38,710) gate at each of the 25 matches or an average attendance of 3,000 paying one shilling ($5.50) and 2,000 at two shillings ($11.00) entry” – a fairly optimistic assumption.

Apart what appeared in the subscription area as income, Smith proposed income would be derived from the 25 proposed matches with ‘the right to sell pictures’ (assumed as photographs), no other details were listed to pay for the trip. Although Smith did say the weekly payments to the players could be reduced to £2 which would save £900. Australian soldiers in WWI received just over £2 a week.

Some donations towards a fund had already been promised, and it was said, those interested would “shortly meet, to elect, officials.”

But then the First World War intervened. And Jim died in 1948, aged 71 never realising his dream although the Argus said of him “in 1917 just prior to the outbreak of the war he almost completed arrangements; in fact, the financial matter, which was the big difficulty, had been satisfactorily settled for the touring of the world with two teams of Australian footballers, but, of course, the war stopped further progress, and he had perforce to abandon the scheme.” So the idea may not have been as far fetched as we might imagine.

Strangely enough this is not the first time there was talk of a football world tour.  In the 1880s it was suggested a team tour England but this, like Smith’s was nothing more than talk.  And not let us forget the Galahs 1967 tour of Ireland and the USA resulting in a six-match series of course playing a hybrid game.

In 1968, a second representative team, consisting of elite players from the Victorian Football League, South Australian National Football League, West Australian Football League and the Vicgtorian Football Association, was undefeated in the series, playing against Gaelic football teams at Wembley Stadium and Croke Park in Dublin, Meath, Kerry and New York were among the opponents. The Galahs also played exhibition matches of Australian Football throughout the tour, including a game in Bucharest, Romania.