We have written before to provide some type of response to the many enquiries we receive about why Australian Football failed to take on in Sydney like it did in the majority of other states in Australia.
Today we are going to relook at the subject but of course the result is well known.
Australian (or Victorian) as it was known in the very early days was first introduced into Sydney in 1881 when the NSW Football Association spawned the Sydney and East Sydney Club.
Already by then rugby (it was only rugby union then) had a very strong hold on the winter sporting interests in NSW and in particular, Sydney.
At any one time there was only a maximum of five or six senior (Australian football) clubs participating in Sydney during the 1880s while rugby could boast anywhere above 50 or 60. Each year the rugby code published increased numbers in their fold.
But it just wasn’t the fact that rugby had embedded itself into the NSW psyche. There were some in the rugby community who saw the Victorian intrusion as a threat and used every opportunity and technique to bad-mouth the Victorian game. One in particular was Monte Arnold, a stock broker and later a civil servant who joined his brother to work at the NSW parliament in Macquarie Street, Sydney.
He was for some time secretary of the Southern Rugby Union (later NSW Rugby Union) and a leading official with the very right wing, Wallaroo Club in Sydney. He was very outspoken against the southern game and savage in his sarcastic idiom towards it. He just did not stop.
So of course coming from such a well placed and educated member of society his type of rhetoric permeated amongst the rugby fraternity despite at the time what could be described as a ‘sympathetic press’ towards the Victorian game.
Mismanagement, infighting and a real lack of foresight killed the game in Sydney in 1895 and it wasn’t until eight years later that it was resurrected.
Its revival saw a lot more supporters, clubs and players and prior to 1910 it was played in quite a number of Sydney’s schools.
And yet an article written in 1913 was pretty much on the mark. By then Rugby League had been introduced and was continually outshining Rugby Union as the major code. It said:
“Four codes will bid strenuously for public patronage, but it is recognised that the Northern Union game will stand highest in favour. British Association (soccer) is making giant strides, but until those controlling it can secure central grounds, there will not be much possibility of the League citadel being threatened. Australian Rules can never become as soundly established in Sydney as in Melbourne. The Rugby Union, has had to give way before the more spectacular League game, but the staunch enthusiasts who have stuck to the old rules (Rugby Union) are sanguine that the day will come when they will hold sway again. They must recognise, however, that so much ground has been lost that the chase after the League will be long Indeed…..
The Australian Rules, or as it is . more popularly known here, the Victorian game, does not seem to be making the progress that it promised a few years back. The advent of the (Rugby) League gave it a kick that took a lot of wind out of it. The game Is undoubtedly a clever one, and I have seen many stirring contests In Melbourne by such teams as Carlton, Essendon, South Melbourne, and Fitzroy.
THE WORLD’S BEST. Summed up, a person who likes football, and wishes to put in a Saturday afternoon watching or playing it, has absolutely no excuse, to offer. Every branch is played, and the facilities are good. There Is no place in the world where there is such a variation in football as Sydney is provided with.”
Following WWI, the game in Sydney did not have the same hold on the public as it did before. One interesting consideration as to the probable support given to Rugby League was from the very wealthy entrepreneur and newspaper giant of his day, James Joynton Smith who was president of the New South Wales Rugby League between 1910-28, he was patron in 1929-43.
Of course Arnold was not the only adversary Australian Football had in Sydney. Much later when Horrie (H R ) Miller was the secretary, he would go out of his way to schedule big games against any representative or VFL match played at the SCG not wanting to give “the Aussie Rules a free kick.”
This attitude continued way into the 1980s and possibly beyond with the fear that ‘that Victorian game’ would take hold.