H C A Harrison smallWe were doing some very exacting research on the football in Sydney (and NSW) in the first decade of the last century and  came across a very interesting article on the origins of the game.

Other than some very minor changes to make it more understandable, we have reproduced the following from a long unpublished newspaper of 1908.  It asks some very interesting questions and, we would suggest, quite pertinent to football historians as to just who was responsible for our game and somewhat throws some further light on the Marngrook myth:

”We are Informed from year to year that Mr. H. C. A. Harrison (pictured), a highly respected gentleman in Melbourne to-day, and a very noted amateur foot-runner halt a century back, is ‘the father of tho Australian Game of Football.’ The title is 0ne of very high honor in this the year of the jubilee celebrations (50 year anniversary of the game of Australian Football), implying as it does that Mr. Harrison was the originator or founder of the game.

Is this a fiction that from repetition over 30 years or so has taken unto itself the guise of historical or is it a really a genuine historical fact?

My old friend ‘Observer,’ in ‘The Argus,’ in a recent article, as able and readable as it is instructive, tells us that ‘Mr. H.C.A. Harrison in drawing up the first code of rules became the father of Australian Football.  And on he goes : ‘Thus the great events from little causes spring. Had Mr. T. W. Wills been an enthusiast in Rugby there is not the slightest doubt that he would have been able to influence his companions in its favor, that Rugby under those circumstances would have become the universal game in Australia, and the Jubilee which is being celebrated this year would be an event of an altogether different character.’

It may be added that Mr. Wills was a cousin of Mr. Harrison, and was sent Home (England) to be educated at the famous Rugby School, where he gained his first knowledge of football. Mr. J. B. Thompson, a Melbourne journalist and a sportsman of note in the 5O’s, (1850s) tells us something in a letter to Mr. T. W. Wills (vide ‘The Australian Cricketers’ Guide, 1870-71′) :”

‘My Dear Tom …. you may remember when you, Mr. Hammersley, Mr. T. Smith, and myself  framed the first code of rules for Victorian use. The Rugby, Eton, Harrow, and Winchester rules at that time (I think, in 1859) came under our consideration, the outcome being that we all but unanimously agreed that regulations which suited school boys well enough would not be patiently tolerated by grown men. Thus, holding, tripping, hacking, scrumming with the ball were strictly forbidden; although the, in my humble opinion, almost equally objectionable practice of place-kicking was retained. This is the thin end of the wedge, the mere momentary retention of the ball in hand being an infringement of the main principle of FOOT-ball properly so called. It leads to PATTING the ball on the ground and catching it again, as one runs, and this given the more fleet of foot an immense advantage over other players.’

The statement of fact given by Mr. Thompson is borne out, with the, exception of the exact year, by Mr. T. W. Wills in his book ‘The Australian Cricketers’ Guide for 1874-5,’ in which he also touches on football : ‘The manly game was first introduced into the Colony by the writer (T. W. Wills). A.U. 1857 but it was not taken to kindly until the following year, when a committee was appointed (viz., Messrs. Hammersley Smith, Thompson and -Wills), to draw up a code of Rules, etc., and taken all in all they worked well, and were, in fact, better carried out than the present laws, many of which seem to be quietly ignored. . . . Since the team referred to football has taken a deep hold on Victorian soil. No cry stirs tho blood of young and old sooner than ‘Go it Carlton !’ ‘Charge Melbourne!’ Or the counter cries of ‘Well done, Lacey !’ ‘Go it Goldie !’ or ‘Bravo, Specs!”

If the statement of historical fact of Mr. J. B. Thompson and Mr. T. W. Wills is correct, it is clear that though Mr. Harrison was an ardent and enthusiastic exponent of the game in its infancy, the unique and distinguished title of ‘The Father of the Game’ as applied to him, would appear to be incorrect. There were seemingly a quartet of fathers, and these did not include Mr. Harrison. It was before the appearance on this planet of the big majority who will read this, and, of course, our evidence must be largely drawn from the records of the time. The memory of man is weak. Some of the most wonderful and delightful stories of the cricket held in this country stand not the glare-light of the records. – However, one does not rise as a vile iconoclast to disturb the serenity or tincture the sentiment of those who, perfervid admirers of the Australian Game, give to its traditions almost sacred infallibility. My statements are but evidence from ‘chroniclers of the time,’ men empowered by their association with the game to speak with authority and one by his association with journalism, trained to think with more or less historical accuracy.”Hammersley's letter - part small

We have always been led to believe, and as confirmed by the original set of rules, which are on show at the MCG Museum, that they were drawn up by a committee of seven, whose names appear at the front of this document.  J B Thompson, one of those authors, however says in his above quoted communication that there were only four present when they were comprised.  Well Thompson could be forgiven for a memory lapse in the fifteen years between the event and his letter or article but a later article by another named author, William Hammersley, who went on to become a journalist of some note in Melbourne, was reprinted in the Sydney Mail of 2 September 1882, it also suggests that there were only four present when the first rules were drawn up.  See Hammersley’s attached article.

Who or what is right?


Football logo 2We have often been asked why Australian football never did take on in Sydney?

The explanation is long and drawn out and possibly a controversial one.

The Society’s president, Ian Granland, has written a comprehensive but yet to be published account of Australian football in Sydney between 1877-1895 and in it he attempts to explain why the game failed to get off the ground in the NSW capital.

Here, he offers a frank and previously unexplored explanation.  In it Granland provided us with a brief but factual account of his theory why: “Bascially, it all started with politics,” Granland said.

Victoria, or Port Phillip (District), as it was then known, was part of the colony of NSW up until 1851 when under acrimonious circumstances (as far as the NSW authorities were concerned) it was granted separation and autonomy by Britain as a separate colony.

Those in control in Sydney were not happy.  Ironically though, it was they who had treated the Port Phillip district with disdain, but at the same time, did not want to lose the area from NSW control.

So there was this underlying current of unease, particularly for example when things like custom duties were introduced between the two colonies and collection officials were placed at various points along the Murray River.

There were other issues as well and these festering differences received a further shot in the arm in of all places on the cricket field in 1863  during an intercolonial cricket match between Victoria and New South Wales played on Sydney’s Domain.

During the game, Victorian wicket keeper, George Marshall, removed the bails when New South Wales batsman, Jones was wandering out of his crease, reigniting a similar incident when the two colonies had met previously.  The Victorian umpire, Jack Smith gave Jones out but the home state umpire, Richard Driver, president of the NSW Cricket Association and after whom the road in front of the SCG is named, decreed he was not out and said he had called ˜over” prior to Marshall’s action.

As a result, Victorian captain, Tom Wills (one of those acknowledged as a founder of Australian football) led his protesting team from the field under police escort only to be hit in the face with a stone while his other players were similarly assaulted.  Marshall and fellow professional, Bill Greaves, together with umpire Smith would not continue with the match and left for home by steamer; this was well before the rail line was connected to Albury.

This event created headlines in the two colonies and fuelled the situation.

So in 1877 when Carlton FC visited Sydney to play the rugby club Waratah in two games, one under Victorian rules and the other under the rules of rugby, it gave rugby (and Victorian) opponents the stage on which started their century plus opposition to what would become, the Australian game.

Sport was an easy target and as it turned out fitted the protagonists agenda nicely.

The establishment of football in Sydney followed a more traditional line from the mother country and in the early 1860s they began to play rugby, not soccer. Strangely this was not the case in Victoria whose population exploded upon the discovery of gold in 1853.  Victoria then began to develop into a very rich colony indeed, leaving Sydney authorities more bitter at their territorial and population loss.

Gradually, football clubs began to pop up all over Victoria but with no central theme, most invented their own rules or played a general version with a local bias.

At that stage Tom Wills was a rugby man through and through.  He had been educated at the Rugby School in England and played the game there.

When he involved himself with a bunch of cronies playing ˜football” on the Richmond1891.10.01 - Illustrated Australian News small Paddock in 1859, it was decided they should write some rules for their game.  He suggested the rules of rugby but the others were unfamiliar with the game so his suggestion was dismissed. This group of seven then wrote ten simple rules for their football which would go on to become the foundation for the Australian game of football.  This actual list of rules incidentally, still exist today and is housed in the MCG Museum.

So there you have it.  Sydney playing under Rugby rules and Victoria under a hybrid brand which became their rules.  Sydney had some highly placed people endorsing and promoting rugby, Melbourne apparently did not.

The political differences flowed onto the sporting field or for that matter, in anything that Sydney or NSW had to do with Victoria and yet, over the years, the reverse was not the same.

The early loathing of the Victorian game and the venom from the architects of it, particularly in Sydney, was simply inconceivable and to my thinking quite childish.

I can cite many occasions of pure spite against Australian football in Sydney, none worse than in May 1903 when the VFL assisted to resurrect the game in Sydney by staging a competition match at the SCG between the Collingwood and Fitzroy clubs.

To counter this the NSW Rugby Union (Rugby League was yet to be formed) fixtured a double bill.  One game, at the adjacent Sydney Sports Ground, featured the NZ All-Blacks and another game next door at the RAS Showground.  Each had a (reduced) entry charge of sixpence (5 cents).

Despite the charge at the SCG of one shilling (10 cents), the game attracted 20,000.

So not only did Australian football have to battle generally to introduce the game to Sydney, the Sydney Swans also fought for acceptance when they emerged in 1982. They had to battle with opponents of the game, many of whom saw rugby, not so much with a mortgage on football in NSW – because they offered no opposition to soccer when it was introduced, but as the game of preference.

1908 FootballerThis attitude has gone on year after year, decade after decade, spurred on by some journalists looking for a cheap headline. It has permeated into following generations, many of whom really had no idea why they held such an aversion to Australian football, they simply followed suit.

The approach led to fear of it over taking and to some extent envy at the mere mention of the game of Australian football.

Thankfully this attitude is slowly changing so that all Australians can now enjoy the skills and wonderful features of our great national game.