– Services Team Struggled

In 1940 the New South Wales Australian Football League resolved to hold a fund raising match between a NSW representative side and an Services team comprised of men in the military from camps in and around Sydney.

The NSW team was reasonably strong mostly made-up of players who had already represented the state in previous years.

The services side, with most if not all, playing for Sydney clubs came from camps such as the Sydney Showground and Ingleburn.  Some were in the RAAF based at Lindfield, Camden and Richmond.  There were no representatives from the Navy so the term Combined Services is really a misnomer.

Micky Stiff

Unfortunately selected players Smith, Ron Stoll, Colin Metherall and Hayes from the camp at Ingleburn did not arrive so the Services team was left short.  One who volunteered to play in their stead was state rover, Micky Stiff.  Stiff, at 24 had already represented NSW on over a dozen occasions from 1935 and his exploits on the football field were quite often extolled in delightful superlatives.  He was the brother of another courageous and talented NSW rover, Jimmy Stiff, who was killed in 1937.

The game was played on the Sydney Cricket Ground, No. 2, which was a small ground, with grandstand, immediately north of the SCG itself and since encompassed by the Sydney Football Stadium.

The pace was on from the first bell, and it was obvious early that both teams were out to keep the game open. NSW picked out their men better along the wings, but in the first half the services were more successful in the air. Mickey Stiff  was responsible for more than half of their goals in the first half — several from his own boot, and others coming from attacks initiated by the wiry little South Sydney star. Stephens, Whitbourne, Carlaw. and Baker were others largely responsible for the services lead at 10-5 to 6-15.

John Cruise from the Ingleburn camp was carried off with an injured ankle just on the half time break leaving the services side again short.

Reg Garvin

His place was taken by 29 year old Reg Garvin, a former Newtown player who had been recruited by St Kilda (that wouldn’t happen today) in 1937 and by this stage had played over 60 games with the Saints and would go on to captain-coach the club in 1942-43.  A fireman in Melbourne, he was in Sydney on holidays visiting his parents at Erskineville and just happened to be at the game.

Obviously his presence in the ruck added strength to the side when adopted a straight down the centre play combined with hard ruck work.  The Servlces had New South Wales unbalanced for a time but the better understanding between the New South Wales players more than equalised matters as the quarter progressed.

Their play in this term contrasted with Its earlier failures and with the Services lacking in condition they were unable to find a counter In stopping the brilliant play of their opponents adding 8-7 to 0-1.  New South Wales had a winning lead at three-quarter time of 14-22 lo 10-6.

The Services came back in the final quarter but it was too late.  They booted six goals to New South Wale’s five with the latter winning 19-23 (114) to 16-12 (108).

It is unknown how much was raised for the Australian Services Comforts Fund but this wasn’t the only game played in Sydney during the war to raise funds for our servicemen.

– Erskineville Oval – from the Old to the New

Jim Phelan, Newtown Official and NSWFL Secretary 1915-22
Jim Phelan Newtown FC Official and NSWFL Secretary 1915-22

In the latter part of his 79 years, Jim Phelan, largely regarded as the father of football in NSW, wrote articles for the local press and more particularly for the Sydney Football Record.

As far as the Record Editor was concerned, these were good to use as ‘fillers’;  something to fill a space when the normal correspondent had not submitted his literary obligation.

But to the reader all these years later, they provide a more personal explanation of what and when things took place in football.  Phelan quite often wrote about the old times in Sydney and while his passing years may have clouded his memory somewhat the essence of the facts were still there.

1933 Erskineville Oval
Players on the old ground.
You can see the trees from McDonald Park in the background

Hereunder is an article written by him not long before his death in 1939.  It talks about the reconstruction of the now not used Erskineville Oval, the scene of many great games and grand finals over the years.  The original ground, very much smaller than the present oval, ran east-west and was located more well to the west of the present ground.  In fact it took up an area where the public housing flats are now located in a section of land between Copeland and Ashmore Streets known as McDonaldtown Park and ran from Binning Street through to Mitchell Road.

In the reconstruction of the ground was very much under the eye of Phelan, who lived in the adjacent Binning Street and was an alderman on the then Erskineville Council.  A number of adjoined tenement houses in Swanson Street were demolished and new streets in Elliott and Fox Avenues were constructed together with quite a number of public housing units or flats.

The new ground was then built in a north-south profile as it now appears however because of its size the end boundaries were quite close the the adjacent streets.

The Alexandria-Erskineville Bowling Club was not built until 1956.

1890 Erskineville Oval 2 thumbnail
1890 Erskineville Oval (MacDonaldtown Park)

2016 map Erskineville Oval thumbnail
2016 map
Erskineville Oval

Here is what Phelan wrote and remember it was written in 1939:

“As the new oval progresses towards completion, numberless questions have been asked as to its future tenancy.  To one and all my answer has been that such is in the lap of the Gods.

The present day anxiety being evinced has been displaced the one time aversion and antipathy to Erskineville Oval.  One sees many changes in the relatively short space of 40 years.  Evolution is all around us working perhaps slowly, but nevertheless surely.  Such can be said of the game itself.

The 20 aside game of my day, and the concomitant little marks have improved, others in the mind of enthusiastic old timers, have declined and the day is not far distant when a halt will surely be called to the alternation of rules of the game.  So much, by the way.

By reason of the many changes in the administrative personnel of the NSW League since its inception in 1903, and the fact that early books and records are not in possession of present officials, a complete history of the league operations is well night impossible.  However, as one (and the only one) who can lay claim to have been present at every annual meeting of the League since its inception, I am confident that memory will serve me right in this effort to set forth details in connection with playing grounds and Erskineville Oval in particular.

Following the great success of the Fitzroy-Collingwood initial match on the Sydney Cricket Ground in 1903 the following clubs were formed:- Sydney, Paddington, East Sydney, Balmain, North Shore, West Sydney, Redfern, Newtown,  Ashfield, Y.M.C.A. and Alexandria.  As Rugby League was then non-existent the securing of playing grounds was simply a question of ability to pay for the use of them.

The formation of eleven clubs following the Fitzroy-Collingwood game is indicative of the enthusiasm aroused at the time.  The wisdom of accepting such a number of clubs was questioned at the time by some of the then League members.  Within a short space of time Ashfield and Alexandria clubs dropped out.  The remaining clubs, however, continued to exist for some years.

Since the inception of the League, premiership final games have been played on the following grounds:- 1903, 1904, 1908 and 1909, Sydney Cricket Ground No. 1; 1905 and 1915 Sydney Cricket Ground No. 2; 1906, 1916, 1917 and 1918 Agricultural Showground (now Fox Studios); 1907 Kensington Racecourse (now University of NSW), 1911, 1912 and 1913, Australian Football Ground, Alexandria; 1910, 1914, 1919 and from thence on, Erskineville Oval.

The foregoing supplies a most effective answer to those who continually assail me for my advocacy of Erskineville Oval, with the one plea “that the game generally, and the finals in particular should be played on a central ground, to wit the Sydney Cricket Ground, or the Agricultural Showground”.  In their ignorance, or antipathy to Erskineville Oval, they did not know, or if knowing would not admit the fact that central grounds had been tried and financial results were overwhelmingly in favour of Erskineville Oval.

While I have always thought, and expressed myself as occasions arouse, that false modesty is as bad an attribute as overweening vanity, I feel that it would not be desirable to set forth in this short article the various episodes that arose in connection with the retention of Erskineville Oval as the home ground for the game in Sydney.

The concern that was almost wholly mine, during the past 21 years is now being shared by others as the time approaches when “farewell” must be said to the ground that has served the League for a generation, and whose atmosphere is, on the whole, more congenial in a football sense than that of any other playing ground controlled by the League.

“Gone from the old home, gentlemen, moved up into the now,” will, I trust, be the greeting to patrons of the game in 1940.”

With the changing nature of the area, the Newtown Club has been resurrected, albeit in a junior club, and a very successful one too, which plays out of Sydney Park, the old brick pit at St Peters.

It is interesting to note in the current day map, the change of the name of the Kurrajong Hotel, opposite the ground, to the Swanson Hotel.

Grand Final Time in Sydney

Premiership favourites, East Coast Eagles, had a mortgage on the premiership a couple of years ago, that was before they made what could be described as the ill-fated and expensive shift to the NEAFL where they played as ‘Sydney Hills’.

They won the flag in 2009-10 & 11 after being defeated in the 2008 and 2006 grand finals, the latter following a season without loss but they did managed to eclipse the reserves premiership.

Clubs in Sydney have come and gone, who could imagine the most successful until very recent years, Newtown, would slide out of the competition? And for that matter, Sydney or Sydney Naval, as they were known as from 1944 and here was a club that was formed in 1881.

For the most part, the shift in population shows a shift in football domination.

Gone are those inner city clubs like Sydney, Newtown, South Sydney and Eastern Suburbs.

And the grand final venues. Many have been tried including Erskineville Oval (new and old), RAS Showground, SCG No. 1 & 2, Kensington Pony Track, Henson Park and of course the ever popular, Trumper Park.

Here was a ground that had an almost magnetic appeal to both players and spectators. The players who liked the confinement of a small ground and amphitheatre like atmosphere and the spectators who were always close to the play whether in the stand (old and new – since demolished) or on the hill.

Former league secretary, Rhys Giddey made headlines in 1963 when he declared the attendance at the Western Suburbs v Newtown grand final of over 11,000. He later confided that it all made good reading in the newspaper. Trouble is these written suppositions become fact.

There were other big crowds recorded at Trumper Park, including one of 10,000 in the early fifties when NSW played a visiting side. Again, the League’s ability to accurately record attendance numbers was very limited.

And to Blacktown, the current venue for finals matches. Despite the centre of Sydney now recorded west of Parramatta, getting crowds to Blacktown does present a challenge. The facilities are good but nevertheless it is a long way for those used to watching the game closer to town.  Last year’s premier division crowd was recorded at ‘around’ 1000.

One way is to compare the gate takings and while there has been a variance in the entry fee over the years, it is still an indicator of crowd numbers. It would be interesting to dig deeper for the reason of the large disparity between 2009 and 2010 -.  Click image to enlarge.

Sydney Grand Final Gate Takings small




Other records of crowd numbers were kept, but not maintained. Here is a graph of gate takings from 1930-60.  Click image to enlarge.

Sydney Football Attendance I small

Grounds In Sydney’s Major League

Ground imageClubs in Sydney have used many different grounds throughout their history.  As well as the home grounds set out below, there are also many other neutral grounds that clubs have used over the years.

Manly Warringah have used Weldon Oval at Curl Curl for nearly all of their history. The only exception to this was for two years from 2009 to 2010 when Pittwater Oval was used.  During those years, Weldon Oval was being redeveloped, and was out of commission.

Pennant Hills have also had a reasonably stable ground tenancy. Ern Holmes Oval, previously called Pennant Hills Oval No 2, has been used for almost all of its history.  The narrow shape of the ground was the main factor leading to Pennant Hills recent relocation to Mike Kenny Oval at Cherrybrook.

The Western Suburbs Club is another case altogether.  They have used several grounds throughout their history.  In the early years after their formation in 1947/48 Wests firstly played their home games at Henson Park Marrickville.  They then moved to St Lukes Oval, Concord. Matches were also possibly played at the nearby, Concord Oval. In 1957, Wests moved to Picken Oval at Croydon Park.  That was a privately owned ground by Bill Picken, a trotting trainer.  A trotting track surrounded the ground where the horses were used in training.  Wests built their licensed club adjacent to the ground.  Unfortunately, a dispute between the licensed club and a member of Mr Picken’s family led to the club losing the use of the ground.

The then club set about redeveloping a disused brick pit at Ashbury, which was to become W H Wagener Oval.  Many hours of volunteer labour were put into the new ground, but several years were to pass whilst the surface settled after its being filled.  During that period, Wests used Macquarie University Oval for its home games.  The club found that crossing the Parramatta River was just too far for the club’s supporters, and no doubt fewer people ventured back to the licensed club.  so the Club then moved its home games for one season to Outer Jensen Oval at Sefton.  That was the home ground of Bankstown Sports Club (who later moved to Kelso Oval).

At last W H Wagener Oval became West’s ground , although a relatively short distance from Wests Licensed Club it was still a reasonable barrier to patrons returning to the clubrooms.  In more recent years, Picken Oval reverted to Council ownership, and the juniors played their games there.  An upgrade to Picken, including the building of an amenities area, led to Western Suburbs returning to their home at Picken Oval not that long ago.

St George in its earliest years mainly used the grounds arranged by the league including SCG No 2, Erskineville Oval and Trumper Park.  Home games were played occasionally at Kogarah Jubilee Oval.  Hurstville Oval became St George’s home ground for several years, before Olds Park at Mortdale became their home in 1965.  Some matches have been played at Olds Park No 2, but mainly for lower grades.  Redevelopment of Olds Park led St George to also play some games at Bankstown Memorial Oval as well as Kelso Oval, Panania.

Most of Sydney Uni’s games have been played at University Oval No 1.  The adjacent University Oval No 2 has also hosted games.  Recently several games have also been played at St Paul’s Oval which is also on the University campus with then entry off City Road.

Both of the founding clubs of University of NSW- East Sydney have had several home grounds.  For this discussion, Eastern Suburbs for most of their existence played at Trumper Park, Paddington.  Easts also played some home games in the 1950s at Waverley Oval, Bondi and slightly earlier at The Sydney Sports Ground.  The Sports Ground no longer exists, but it was in Driver Avenue, Moore Park, next to the also demolished, SCG No 2.  This was basically where the SCG car park is today.

University of NSW originally played on neutral grounds such as Trumper Park and Erskineville Oval.  In the late 1970s they used the Little Bay Sports Complex, part of the Uni of NSW Sports Fields. The land was later sold off and used for housing.  The facilities at Little Bay were quite good, but the ground was often subject to strong winds, being very close to the coast.  Uni of NSW moved to the Village Green at the main campus at Kensington.  Village Green is the home ground of the new unified club.

North Sydney Oval was, for a long period, used as North Shore’s ground. Chatswood Oval was also used in the 1930s.

The church across the road from North Sydney Oval in Miller Street used to object to the sounds of the whistle, and the bell or siren to mark the quarter start or endings, whilst their services were conducted on Sunday Mornings.  This forced their Under 19s games during the 1960s and 1970s to be played at the desolate, Gore Hill Oval, whilst Reserve and First Grade were played at North Sydney Oval No 1.

The ground was really too small for Australian Football and costs became prohibitive when the council redeveloped the ground building extensive and historic grandstands.  North Shore then relocated to Gore Hill Oval at St Leonards.  During their relocation era, a number of home games were also played at Macquarie University Oval.

UTS, despite being the most recently formed club participating in Premier League, have already played at two different home grounds.  Trumper Park was no longer used for senior football when East Sydney merged with Uni of NSW, so UTS secured the long term AFL ground.  UTS adopted the Bats emblem from the fruit bats that occupy the large trees surrounding Trumper Oval. More recently, Waverley Oval, with its newly constructed grandstand is now shared with Trumper Oval for UTS home games.

When the Campbelltown club first entered the senior competition in Sydney in the mid 1970s, they played at the Ingleburn Army Base ground. Then they relocated to Memorial Oval, Ingleburn.  Upon their promotion to what is now Premier League they moved to Macquarie Fields Oval, originally called Edelsten Oval after Dr Geoffrey Edelsten.  The ground has since had several name changes.

1940 NSWAFL President’s Address

N P Joseph President NSWANFL smallWe have located an interesting article written by the president of the NSW Australian Nation Football League, Mr Norman P Joseph.  The second World War was only a matter of months old and he wrote the following for the Anzac Day issue of the Football Record:

“With the opening of the 1940 season, I would like to take advantage of the courtesy of the Editor of the ‘Record’ in extending a hearty welcome to all followers of the National Code.

It is unfortunate that the season should be ushered in, in the midst of war, but it is the League’s intention to carry on as usual, according to the Government’s idea, that sport, as well as business, is essential to Australia’s daily life.  We have, therefore, made preparations for a full season’s programme;  but, if at any time the Government thinks that some restrictions should be put on sport, I feel sure the members of my league will unanimously agree to fall into line with any plans that will assist the Government in its great effort to help the Empire win the War.

Our main activity will, of course, be our Premiership Competition.  This will be carried on in the usual way and the only variation will be in the matter of grounds.  The League has another term for the use of Trumper Park and Kensington (Oval), in addition we have secured dates at Kogarah Oval and probably Sydney Cricket Ground, No. 2.

As regards Erskineville, patrons are fully aware that the old ground has been demolished by the Housing Improvements Board and in its place1988 Erskineville Oval 001 small has been built what will eventually be one of the finest suburban grounds in Australia.  The League has already installed there and we hope that when the new grandstand is built that we will attract a great number of people who hitherto have never come out to this ground.  If they do, we feel sure they will be most agreeably surprised at the elaborate plan on which this new ground has been built, and also the size of the playing field, which is probably one of, if no the largest, in the Metropolitan area.

The standard of our clubs should again show further improvement, as despite the fact that we have lost some of our players through enlistment, there has been quite an influx of talent from other states, and these together with some of our very promising juniors should lift up the standard considerably.

There are prospects of visits by teams from South Australia, Western Australia and possibly Victoria this year and the League will do its utmost to stage as many interstate matches as we can reasonably manage, and patrons may look forward to seeing one or more of the big Southern Clubs in action.

It would now seem that the National Code is established beyond all doubt in New South Wales, particularly in Sydney and with the steady progress that has been made the last few years if should not be long before our game is one of, if not the major winter sport.

We shall be very pleased and hope to renew acquaintances with our old supporters together with many new ones, and hope that they will all thoroughly enjoy a very interesting and prosperous season of the great winter sport – Australian National Football.”