Is Sydney Footy Growing?

Growth smallMany times the statement has been said Sydney football is not what it used to be.

Well I guess there could be agreement and disagreement to this statement. Anyone playing or involved in a particular era may well say that football in their time was the strongest.

How do you judge? Well you can’t.

The strength of clubs come and go. Who in their wildest dreams would have imagined that the strongest and most successful club in the competition for decades, Newtown, would fold?

They produced quite a number of VFL (now AFL) players, one of whom went on to captain and coach St Kilda.

The quality of football in Sydney, the nation’s largest city, remains pretty much as it has always been, good, fair and reasonable. But it would never compare with the VFL, SANFL or WAFL.

Generally the strength of the game moved to areas where juniors were encouraged in growing and developing pockets in the city. But it is true that clubs like East Sydney (formerly Eastern Suburbs) thrived on the talent of young footballers who moved to Sydney and took up residence in the Eastern Suburbs.

But all that has changed. Yes, there is still a migration of players but living in the eastern suburbs is quite expensive, in fact anywhere in Sydney is costly.

And let us not forgot those servicemen who played their part in Sydney football.

The army had several bases in and around Sydney as did the navy which had a number of land bases besides the ships whose home port was Garden Island.  And later the influence of the RAAF from Richmond and bases near Bankstown.  At any one time most Sydney clubs boasted service personnel in their number.  Many of these bases though have either been abandoned or moved interstate.

And, on the former subject, from what we can glean there are not the numbers of players relocating to Sydney even temporarily. Certainly not the glut of blue collar workers there used to be. Most of those who now make the move are office workers, IT specialists, professionals and the like. It’s now left to Sydney’s outer suburbs to supply the tradies and labourers in football.  Now remember, this is a general statement, not specific.

In most clubs there is that thin veneer of dedicated officials who keep the club afloat. One enthusiast encourages another and another. Success breeds success but it never lasts, just look at the Campbelltown Club.  But so long as these officials can hang in success will eventually come.  It’s a big ask.

Has Sydney footy grown? Well that’s questionable. No definite figures have been kept on the growth of the game since WWII, and if a real push to increase the participation rate exists, they need to be.  They need to be so some comparison can be made.  The advice to contemporary officials: don’t reinvent the wheel and certainly do not repeat the mistakes of the past.  Probably a well worn statement but unless these mistakes and for that fact successes, are documented then they will occur again.

Are the annual team/player figures accessible at both junior and senior level? Most probably but it would take some digging.

We look to junior clubs to produce our senior footballers. Are there the same number of junior clubs say, 10, 20, 30 or even 40 years ago and are they churning out the same numbers today?

You would be surprised at the depth of Sydney junior football in the seventies and eighties and officials of today probably look back at those years saying “we are doing it better.” Maybe you can now get chilli sauce on your hotdog at the canteen, but so far as doing it better, I doubt it.  It’s all about the passion.

Is it subjective, well do the maths. Look at the number of juniors going through to senior football today and those who have made the AFL ranks as compared to yesteryear.

The drop-off at 15-17 years of age in all sport will probably never really be curtailed but it could be challenged. Now with all these divisions in Sydney footy, if there is not one in existence for ‘turn up and play’ participants, a strategy could be developed to encourage these young men, some of whom may have struggled at the game, to reconnect and play in this or another of those divisions. Maybe, as we said it’s where you just turn up and play. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

The game needs as many participants as possible, not just stars. More bums on seats. Many young guys may not be standouts in the game but if they stay involved they become supporters and/or officials and eventually parents, the game will need their sons and daughters and as time goes on, their children participating as well.

Its a big job with a lot of smart thinking required.

He Slipped Under the Radar

Jack AshleySydney has produced some great footballers, quite a number of whom went on to play in the VFL and or AFL.

We have uncovered one who went to South Australia where he won the Magarey Medal, the SANFL’s best player.

His name is Jack Ashley or if we are correct, William John (Jack) Ashley.

He was probably born in South Australia in about 1890 and apparently moved to Sydney with his family early in the next decade.  They settled around Balmain and the young Ashley attended a local school and began playing with the club’s one junior team.

It wasn’t long before he caught the eye of the  selectors and by 1907, still under age, began playing senior football along with his older brother, Henry.

The next year Ashley began to show great form.  He was selected to represent Combined Sydney against visiting S.A. club, Norwood.  Then the next year he represented against South Melbourne, Geelong, Collingwood and Queensland.

When Balmain fell over in 1910 together with his brother, he transferred to the East Sydney Club where he again starred.

A classic piece of 1910 journalism exemplifies his ability “Last week I stated that Jack Ashley would win matches for East Sydney by his fine kicking. He did the trick against Newtown with a magnificent drop kick a few minutes before the final bell rang”

And another said “Up till three-quarter time he was not quite so prominent as he had been against Sydney, but brought all his guns into action in the concluding quarter. Of course, he was carefully watched all through  “particularly in the early stages,”  and was opposed by a stronger team. It was his resourcefulness that charmed the critical onlooker. Frequently an opponent grabbed him, he dropped tho ball at once, skilfully knocked it so that when he got loose he was able to gather it in and dart off like the wind.”

He was part of East Sydney’s grand final team of 1910 and their premiership side the following season.  That was the same year Ashley represented NSW in the National Carnival at Adelaide where he came under the eye of the astute Port Adelaide FC Officials who eventually recruited him.

Outstanding Sydney footballer of the period and captain of NSW in three National Carnivals, 1908, 1911 and 1914, Ralph Robertson said of Ashley: ” ‘We have had some fine players in Sydney during the past few years. Some of them have gained places in teams in the other States and acquitted themselves well. Jack Ashley, of course, comes readily to my mind. A natural footballer, and one of the fairest I have met.”

Before we leave Sydney, it is fair to again eulogize his talents as described in several Sydney newspapers:

“Against Y.M.C.A. Jack Ashley was again East Sydney’s best player. While roving he was hardly so effective as usual, but when placed on the half-back line his dash and marking were excellent, while his telling kicks always placed the ball out of danger to his side” and,1914 Port Adelaide FC small

“It is customary to voice an opinion as to the season’s champion player. There might have been differences in that respect in past seasons, but for the season 1911 Jack Ashley stands the Undisputed League Champion.”

He turned out with Port Adelaide FC in the 1912 season and despite an early injury was selected in the South Australian team which played Victoria in Melbourne in July.  The team was beaten but Ashley performed creditably.  The following year he was a member of Port Adelaide’s premiership team.

In 1914 he won the Magarey Medal playing for premiers, Port Adelaide (pictured) and was a member of their team which won the post season Championship of Australia title over VFL premiers, Carlton.

He continued with Port for 1915 but with the advent of WWI when the SANFL went into recess he decided to return to Sydney and play.

Initially he shocked the locals when he signed with the Balmain Rugby League Club where he played one or two early season first grade games but this was only while waiting for his clearance to come through.  Upon gaining permission to play he was appointed captain-coach of the Balmain Australian Football Club and led them to what appeared to be an effortless undefeated run through the home and away season.

Unfortunately their form in the finals didn’t stand the pressure and they went out in straight sets.

1917 saw him back in Adelaide playing for Port in a competition akin to the major league.

By 1919 the SANFL was back in full swing where he again represented South Australia against Victoria.  He played a few games in 1920 but a nagging knee injury which forced him out of the state side also stopped his selection in the club’s grand final team of that year and eventually, it led to his retirement.

South Australian’s hold their champions in very high esteem and in 1946 a contemporary wrote of him “Jack Ashley did something one day which I’ve never seen done before or since. He and I were racing to the ball, and Jack over shot it a little. I was just about to pick it up when he back-kicked it — for 30 yards. After the match he told me he had played rugby in New South Wales, and had learnt the back kick there. It was a new and surprising move to me.”

By 1933 Jack had moved to Melbourne where he operated his own business.

We believe he died without fanfare or recognition in Sydney in 1968.

Ashley is certainly one player Balmain should have in their Team of the Century.

The team image is of the 1914 Port Adelaide FC.  Ashley is one of those shown.

The Coup of 1978

Towards the end of the 1970s a certain section of the Sydney football community were tiring of the league administration led by long term president, Bill Hart.

As successful as it was in its own way, it was seen as old fashion, not up with the times, anti VFL and still followed doctrine that had been laid out earlier in the century.

Added to this was the growing interest the VFL was showing to extend their influence into Sydney.  In 1974 Victoria v South Australia played at the SCG which attracted 20,000 fans but more importantly the game was televised live to W.A., Tasmania, South Australia, ACT and most country areas of NSW.

In those days the Victorian Government would not permit the VFL to play their games on Sundays in that state so they began looking for different venues where their football could be televised back into Melbourne.  Sydney was one such location which had the potential to fill the void most admirably.  It is safe to say at that stage, there was no premeditated vision to expand the competition interstate.

A lot of the acrimony in Sydney had to do with the NSWAFL’s participation in the Escort Championships.  This was a separate knock-out competition which began in 1977 involving then only the 12 VFL clubs but by 1979 it also included all WAFL clubs, NSW, Tasmania and the ACT.  The following year all clubs in the SANFL became involved along with Queensland.

NSW’s involvement was not without distress when the NSWAFL Board of Management resolved in August, 1978 to involve the state in the series but only after a fairly volatile debate which was then followed by a very close vote.

So with this underlying feeling that the old school would not move with the time plus and rancour in NSW’s involvement in the Escort Championships, a clandestine group began to meet at the then Newtown Rules Club, 303 Cleveland Street, Redfern, with the ultimate aim of unseating the administration of the league at the December 1978 AGM.  At that time and for the previous 75 years, the NSWAFL conducted not only the football affairs of part of NSW but also the Sydney competitions.

If successful the group were promised by the VFL the appointment of a ‘fulltime professional administrator for the league.’  This was despite the fact that the NSWAFL had had a fulltime secretary with assistant, since 1964.

In October 1978, part-time television personality, Kevin Taylor, who, by that time, had been sacked by the league as their media representative, laid out the plans of the new group in an article in a local inner-city newspaper, The Sydney Shout, so it was quite clear that the clandestine tag had been quickly lost with the machinations of the time.

Bern Heafey

Along with Taylor, Bern Heafey was one of the prime movers in the Sydney football power play.  He was an affable character who had football at heart.  Heafey had one year as president of the North Shore Club in 1951 at 23 years of age but later involved himself with St Ives, a second division club, where he was also president.  In time, he was to become the face of the new faction but only for a short period.

The idea of change came with the suggestion of new and exciting possibilities and additional meetings were held at other venues, including Easts Rules Club, Bond Junction, St George Clubrooms at Olds Park and even Bankstown Sports Club.  Tension was building with the group’s activities because not all clubs were involved with this action.

The 1978 Annual General Meeting of the NSWAFL was set for Monday 11 December at their offices, 64 Regent Street, Chippendale.

Unusually, the actual meeting was held in the front reception area of the small attached brick building where there was standing room only for most.  There was ample room in the rest of the building for the meeting to be held in.

League officials were very much aware of the move against them with both camps working overtime to secure sufficient votes to get over the line.

Each of the nine Sydney first division clubs had two votes.  The eight second division clubs each had one vote as did the NSW Junior Football Council, Newcastle AFL, South Coast AFL, NSW Country AFL, Central Coast AFL, Illawarra AFL and each board member of the league.  Life members also had the opportunity to exercise a vote but historically not many of these personnel turned out for the annual meetings.  Perhaps if they had  realised the significance of the possible outcome, they might have made the effort.

The meeting was extremely acrimonious with chairman, Bill Hart, flat out controlling the sometimes raucous attendees who were full of interjections.

Hart (shown here on the left) was defeated by Heafey in a close vote.  Country representative, Allen Baker was appointed to the Vice President’s position.

Many of the incumbent Board of Management were re-elected but several, along with Heafey, only lasted a year or two with a number of resignations listed in 1980.

One of the most disappointing aspects of the change was the sale of premises at 64 Regent Street, which incidentally the purchase of which was mainly funded by the Western Suburbs Football Club Ltd.  The building was far from salubrious but did represent the code with a main street location and somewhere to call ‘home’.

After the sale, League officials were then housed in the top floor at the Newtown Rules Club at 303 Cleveland Street Redfern, a converted picture theatre, until 1985 when they moved to new premises under the Bill O’Reilly stand at the SCG.

The enthusiasm and new Sydney Football League entity which resulted from the coup, did not last and when a new administration took control not that many years later, it all changed again.

Don Roach Passes

Don Roach, a former commissioner with the NSW AFL and Chief Executive Officer with the Sydney Swans, died on Sunday.  He was 71 and is survived by his wife Shirley.

There are probably few in the Sydney football scene today who knew Don.  His time as a real dominant influence was in South Australia.  Don played 158 games for West Adelaide and was the team’s captain and coach in 1966 and 1967; 42 games for Norwood, 33 games for Hawthorn and nine for the South Australian representative team.

Roach was a Life Member of the SANFL and inducted into their Hall of Fame in 2002.  He was named in the All Australian AFL team in 1961 and was life member of the South Australian National Football League. He was inducted into the SA Football Hall of Fame in 2002.

Don moved to Sydney to become chief executive of the Sydney Swans in 1985 and 1986.

His involvement in Sydney football was not always confined to the office.  In the August 1973, while working for the SANFL as a promotions officer, Don Roach, along with Norwood FC vice captain, Ross Porritt, visited NSW as part of the Rothmans National Sports Foundation.  The two conducted coaching clinics for young boys in Sydney, Newcastle and on the South Coast.

Don said of the talent in Sydney ” I was very please and surprised at the high standard of many of the boys attending these Rothmans Clinics. All of the boys exhibited a great desire to learn and these young players will assure NSW a most promising future growth of the code.”

In 1974 Don was appointed the General Manager of the SANFL and, in the ten odd years at the helm of SA football, was one of a band of South Australians who, at the time, loathed the VFL’s (as they were then) self given attitude as pseudo controllers of the game throughout Australia.  It was Roach who was a continual thorn in the side of the VFL and thwarted many of their moves to impose their ideas at the expense of other national affiliates and in most cases these were what were regarded ‘minor states’.  Of which, NSW was one.  It was this attitude towards the VFL that eventually was to prove his downfall.

Roach always said that the National Football League (ANFC) should be the recognized controlling body of the game and at times he went to great lengths to reinforce that stance.

However the VFL won the day.  In a astute move, the VFL’s Assistant General Manager, Alan Schwab, organised for Roach to be appointed the Chief Executive Officer of the Sydney Swans in 1985.  A job he held for just over 12 months but it brought him to Sydney, and removed a persistent thorn from the VFL’s side.  Sydney is where he remained.

A little known fact that Roach’s exhibited a fantastic foresight for the game when he started what what he believed became the most successful bi-product of Australian Football: Auskick.  “I wrote the rules on the back of a cigarette packet in 1968” Roach said “and called it ‘Mod Football’.”

This was the first and the start to Australia’s and possibly the world’s adoption of modified versions of open age sporting games particularly for young children.

It is a legacy that Don Roach will be remembered for for many years.