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.