Times of the Past

Not so long ago, formal dinners and similar occasions, normally attended by only men, took the lead for the function protocol from their English counterparts.  They toasted the Queen and used other similar formalities in a by-gone era that we shall probably never see again.

While it is over 100 years ago, here is a 1910 report of a function in honour of the president of the NSWFL:

” FOOTBALLERS’ DINNER.
MR A. E. NASH ENTERTAINED

A dinner was tendered to Mr. Albert E.Nash, president of the New South Wales (Australian Rules) Football League, at the A.B.C. Cafe, Pitt-street, Sydney, on Saturday night. Mr. J. J. Virgo presided, and the various clubs were well represented, as well as the ? Young Australian Association.

Mr. Virgo [secretary of the Sydney YMCA] proposed the health of the guest, and expressed the feelings of the players and officers at the safe return of Mr. Nash from his tour of New Zealand – the chairman said that when the league was formed, seven years ago, Mr. Nash was one of the selected officers. Matches were played throughout 1903, and Mr. Nash became president of the league in 1904 and had held the position ever since, and that fact alone had meant a great deal to the game. Mr. H. Chesney Harte, in supporting the toast, said that both officers and players had missed Mr. Nash while in New Zealand, and had re-elected him to the office of president during his absence. Messrs. Jagelmann and Quinn also supported the toast.

Mr. Nash was presented with a case of silver-mounted pipes, and ‘No. 1′ of the New South Wales League ground tickets, as well as two ladies’ tickets.

Mr. Nash thanked those present for the presentations, and stated that without the cooperation of enthusiasts the game could not have been kept alive. If it ever did, its downfall would come from within. Though it was hard to get unanimity, the game was now on a solid footing in New South Wales. As president, he thanked the following gentlemen who had loyally supported his efforts:— Messrs. H. Chesney Harte. L. A. and Otto Ballhausen, W. Millard, E. Butler, W. Prince, W. Phelan, Bennett, Langley, Selle, J. O’Sleara, Quinn, and W. Little.

One of the most important situations the NSW League had to face was the obtaining of a suitable ground. They had the offer of nine acres at £200 an acre, or £1800 in all. This should be accepted, and it would be a distinct help. The game, as played, was improving the physique of the rising generations, and those at the head of the schools should not blindly trust to the future, but should take steps to make the lads physically capable of defending Australia.

Other toasts proposed were ‘Success to the League and Young Australian Association.’ ‘The Chairman.’ and the ‘Press.’ “

It was normal to make presentations of gifts to guests and prominent officials but to make one in such an elaborate manner to a president returning from an overseas trip seems to us to be quite extra-ordinary.  It just goes to show the prominence in which he was held.

Nash was an Englishman and found a relationship with Australian football in the mid 1890s when he came to Australia as the manager of Walker & Hall of Sheffield, makers of gold, silver and silver plate used in trophies and similar articles.  They had their offices at 420 George Street, Sydney.

He maintained his presidency of the league through the purchase of the former Rosebery Racecourse in Botany Road in 1911 to the league’s decline in 1915 when the ground was lost and he and the other directors resigned their positions on the league because of it. Albert E Nash was also president of the NSW Rowing Assn and was declared bankrupt in 1918.  In the court hearings of his case he implicated Mr Frank Tudor, a former Federal Government Minister and then leader of the Federal Labor Party alleging that he had given ‘presents’  to Mr Tudor at a private dinner in Sydney at which football matters were discussed.  Mr Tudor denied these allegations.

He was elected president of the Australian National Football Council in 1911, a post he held throughout WWI.

Nash was probably what you would call a good street smart operator but probably got carried away with his importance.  Having said that, from our research we agreed that he was good for football during that period.  He was a hands on president unlike his predecessor, John See the premier of NSW who was merely a titular head of the organisation, as were many presidents of the day, similar in many was to the role of present day patrons.  Following his resignation he never sought any further involvement in Australian football and his association with rowing also ceased after the court case.

He died in Chatswood in 1948 aged 83 and although a life member of the NSWAFL, he received next to no recognition of his achievements in the early days of the game in Sydney and Australia.

First Sub Junior Association in Sydney

South Sydney 1911-22 smallSouth Sydney was formed when the Redfern Club changed their name in 1911.  Redfern was a founding club of the reformed league of 1903 and their best effort in the early days was runner-up in 1906.

The club slowly followed the shift in population moving south and when the league purchased the old Rosebery Racecourse in Botany Road, also in 1911, and they began to use that as a home ground, as opposed to their previous venue of Redfern Park.  The club also found many Sydney inhabitants moved to the model suburb of Rosebery when land became available from 1912 onwards.  Some of these were footballers.

South Sydney won the competition in 1914 but World War I decimated their numbers and they fell on hard times to the extent that by 1917 they were out of the competition.

There was a revival following the war and in 1920 they were back, but playing in the reserve grade competition.

Nearly all of their players were locals and their enthusiasm saw lots of success, winning the competition in 1923.

By 1925 they had returned to the senior competition and from 1926, were regulars in the final four.  They had a good club, good players and were well administered.

During the late 1920s someone had the idea of forming a junior competition in the district and by 1927 it had five clubs: Botany, Lauriston Park, Rosebery, Daceyville and Gardeners Road.  It helped that Rupert Browne (pictured), the sportsmaster at Gardeners Road school, an institution which, believe itRupert Browne or not, boasted 1800 students in 1918, was also a football supporter and ensured that his school fielded regular teams in schools competitions and founded what became an absolute nursery for the South Sydney club in the 1930s -50s.  For many years Browne was a vice president of the South Sydney Club.  The school produced many footballers, not only for Souths, but for most clubs throughout Sydney.

The secretary of the new and unique association was George Headford.  Born at Waterloo in Sydney in 1900 he had no specific ties to Australian football apart from a short stint as South Sydney club secretary, but was a keen and enthusiastic promoter of the code and his small Association.

He lived in Rose Street Botany and was probably one of many responsible for the club in the same suburb.  The Association fielded an open age competition and at least one junior division.  They played at Waterloo Oval, Alexandria Park and Rosebery Park or to use its correct name: Turruwul Park.

The Association continued into the early 1930s but some clubs fell by the way side and those that were left joined the Metropolitan Australian Football Association with the Rosebery club continuing into the 1950s.  By 1936 Headford had moved to Maroubra and out of the main path of the game in the area at the time.  His departure probably contributed to the demise of the junior Association.

This district association proved a great fillip for the South Sydney club but with other football codes vying for players and it probably having little administrative support the competition faded into obscurity and eventually so too did the South Sydney Club in the mid 1970s.

A junior competition was reformed in the district in the mid 1950s when Rugby League did not have a junior association.  It went well but probably because of lack of personnel, when one person did everything in the small clubs, it too, went by the way side.

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.

THE AUSTRALIAN FOOTBALL GROUND – New Map

Some time ago we wrote about a ground in Sydney that was owned by the NSW Australian Football League.

It was situated on the north west corner of Gardeners and Botany Roads and was part of the Cooper Estate. (Daniel Cooper was a wealthy land owner, merchant, philanthropist and politician who owned 566.5 hectares land in the suburbs of Waterloo, Alexandria, Redfern and Rosebery.  This was commonly referred to as the Cooper Estate).

The particular parcel of land was initially sand dunes and swamp and in mid 1894 was leased on which was constructed the first Rosebery Racecourse.  We have very recently obtained an 1885 map of the Alexandria Municipality on right, showing the position of the ground in red outline.

Not too many years later the NSW Gaming Act was amended to proscribe horse racing on any track less than 6 furlongs (1200 metres) and so arrangements were made for the racecourse to be relocated to an area in Gardeners Road, Mascot (now Eastlakes).  The attached tender advertisement refers to the first Rosebery Racecourse.

The former course was used for a variety of activities before being ‘purchased’ by the NSW Australian Football League at a reported price of one hundred and eighty pounds ($360) per acre (one acre = .4046 hectares).  The site would go on to become a very valuable piece of land.

More research has revealed greater details of the property and an initial map of the land but further inquiries are needed firstly at the Lands Department to ascertain an exact map of the ground itself, whose name it was in and its eventual legal fate.

It is recognized that the events of WWI put paid to any committed ownership of the ground by the league and as Jim Phelan (of Phelan Medal fame) wrote in 1938:

On August 4, when all the state teams were assembled at the Australian Football Ground for the purpose of distance contests at the carnival games, the news was flashed by cable that England had declared war against Germany.  Fate had stepped in and dealt a cruel blow.  Had England’s declaration of war been made a few weeks earlier or later, all might have been well as regards the continuity of ownership of the Australian Football Ground by the NSW Football League.

So much for the maligned future and occupation of Australian football in Sydney.

As we gain more information we will post a further report and eventually release a definitive account of the ground itself in an appropriate publication.