Quite often we are alerted to the passing of former NSW footballers but they don’t always receive a particular special mention in our blog.
However, recently we were informed of the death of Ralph Turner at the age of 83.
Ralph won two Phelan Medals, the first with South Sydney in 1959 when he polled an amazing 37 votes and the second in 1961 when he was captain and coach of the Sydney Naval side.
Born in 1936, Ralph joined the Navy from his West Preston home in Victoria in 1954; at the time he potentially had a promising career with Coburg in the VFA.
After his initial training with the Navy at HMAS Cerebus he was posted to HMAS Albatross at Nowra where he served most of his six years in that force.
Along with a number of other Albatross based players he joined the South Sydney club in 1955 and travelled to and from Sydney with his mates to play during those years until 1960 when he transferred over to Sydney Naval. This was the same year he left the Navy and although he had made an application to re-enter the service, it did not come to fruition.
Sydney Naval won the Sydney premiership that year and the following season Ralph took over as coach. He coached them to the grand final in 1961 and in the next season took ‘Naval to another flag, winning over Newtown. He remained with the club until the end of 1964.
Ralph represented NSW on several occasions, in several he was named in the best.
After labouring for a few years Ralph had joined the Air Force and in 1968, at 32, was captain coach of the Werribee Club in the VFA. Following this and with a subsequent posting to Richmond in NSW, he re-entered the Sydney’s football arena coaching Sydney Naval’s third grade. The following year was elected president of the new Combined Services club which played in the Sydney Second Division. That year he was also captain-coach and in 1973, just coach, although he did play a few games at the age of 37 and in one game, booted nine goals!
He was made a member of the Sydney AFL Hall of Fame in 2008.
Ralph retired to the Newcastle area and in his later years suffered from Parkinsons disease. He died peacefully in his sleep on Monday, 13 May.
In past days, the Australian National Football Council (ANFC) the peak body for the game in Australia, since absorbed by the AFL, conducted regular interstate carnivals where states played against other states in a round robin situation. Since WWII, because of the obvious disparity in standard, these carnivals were comprised of two divisions. They do not hold these type of events any more.
In 1947 Hobart hosted the first carnival following the war, the overall attendance and gate was marginally larger than the 1924 carnival, also held at Hobart (see image).
Carnivals of this nature are a testing time for players. The 1947 event was conducted over 10 days (including rest days) which is a fair commitment for all the players and officials who also at that time had to hold down a job, so it meant taking holidays.
New South Wales played four games:
defeated Canberra (as the nation’s capital team was then known, now ACT) 18-22 (130) to 7-8 (50)
lost to Tasmania in what was described as a fantastic match 16-10 (106) to 13-18 (96)
lost to South Australia 17-9 (111) to 5-10 (40)
defeated Queensland 14-16 (100) to 5-12 (42)
The major issue of the carnival was the weather. Before their third game against South Australia officials seriously considered cancelling the game. The North Hobart Oval was described as a “mud pie – again” and “atrocious” by a number of newspapers. It was so bad that the umpire could not bounce the ball and for the division 1 games officials decided to use a new ball each quarter however the poor old division 2 matches could only get a new ball at half time in their games!
The other problem for New South Wales, in particular, was the growing injury list. By the last game they had ten injured players and under normal circumstances these men would not have played but the team had no replacements.
It was so bad that an application was made to the authorities to allow the NSW coach, 38 year old Frank Dixon to play. Initially the request was granted along with permission for an Eastern Suburbs player, Jack Nicholls, a visitor to the carnival but subsequently permission was withdrawn because other teams did not have the same luxury. Dixon who had successfully captained and coached the South Sydney Club before the war had not played since his return to Australia following a severe wound received at El Alemein in North Africa during WWII.
These were the days before interchange and NSW took the field with the bare eighteeen players along with Newtown’s injured Frank Larkin standing by, hoping not to play as 19th man. And that was their complement for the match. Queensland, by the way, had similar problems.
NSW won the game easily however Larkin had to take the field late in the last quarter as a replacement for another injured player. When the game finished, Larkin was the only player standing with a clean, sky blue jumper. In an act of frivolity his team mates rushed to Larkin and rolled him in the mud so he finished up in the same fashion as themselves.
In the evening the North Hobart Club organised a ball for the wounded NSW team.
You would be surprised at the list of different grounds that have been used in Sydney over the years.
Today we are used to say, Picken Oval, Olds Park and maybe Henson Park, but there have been many, many others.
One obscure ground is Kensington Oval which is located in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney, between Kensington and Kingsford. It is not longer used by the code.
It was constructed in 1928 from a sandy area on land which was also part of the catchment for the Botany Swamps which was used for Sydney’s water supply in the 19th century.
The ground came online in 1928 and in 1929 was one secured by the league as a venue for first grade matches at a lease fee of £60 ($4,500 today) per annum. At the same time the league paid £500 for year for six years for the use of Erskineville Oval with £100 ($7,500) of that money to be used for improvements to the ground. A challenge by Rugby Union pushed the fee for the use of Trumper Park from £100 in 1928 to £160 ($12,000) in 1929; and these when in the times when admission to the ground was one shilling ($3.75), grandstand one and six ($5.65) or patrons could purchase a season ticket for twelve shillings and sixpence ($47.00).
Randwick Council built a grandstand for patrons but because the ground was not totally fenced, charging admission was a folly and most wrote off the use of the ground as a financial stream to the league.
South Sydney started training at the ground in 1928, previous to this they had trained at the now built on, Australian Football Ground which was on the corner of Botany and Gardeners Road, Alexandria. Prior on Moore Park.
During the 1930s depression the out of work players and those on shift work volunteered their time to realign the ground and at the same time lengthen it. A report from the Sydney Football Record in 1937 said
“There were scenes of great activity at Kensington Oval during the week. A small army of workmen cut away the high ground outside certain portions of the fence to enable the extension of the playing area to comply with the measurements required by the code.
This, coupled with the fact that the ground has been newly top-dressed and harrowed will make the oval comparable with the best Australian Football Ground in the state. By 8 May the full playing area will be ready to use. No more will it be known as the despised ‘marble ring’ as the added length and wide pockets will give ample room to flank men thus opening up possibilities for more brilliant play.
The dimensions of the oval will be 140 yards x 150 yards, five yards less than the Sydney Cricket Ground and the major axis will run parallel to the grandstand, thus affording the spectators a better view.”
The ground fell out of permanent match use when the league introduced Sunday matches which made available Erskineville Oval or Trumper Park to be used on consecutive days over the weekend.
South Sydney initially had use of the top potion of the grandstand as a clubroom however it was soon taken over by the local council to use as a library repository. Local junior rugby league began to use the ground for weekend matches and in 1974 South Sydney moved to Erskineville Oval as a training venue.
The development and expansion of NSW football took place mostly in the 1970s really makes you ask why?
The last major addition to Sydney football was in 1948 when Western Suburbs and Balmain re-emerged and Sydney University were formed.
But in the seventies not only did new clubs appear in Sydney, including Manly, St Ives, Sutherland, Blacktown, Mac Uni, Bankstown Sports, Campbelltown, Pennant Hills etc. but new leagues developed on the South Coast, the Illawarra and Central Coast all spawning new teams.
One reason offered for the expansion of the game was that the baby boomers began moving out to the suburbs and regional areas.
City clubs like Sydney Naval, South Sydney and later Newtown felt that exit and went out of business. These were inner city clubs that excelled during the first half of the last century but struggled when the youth was no longer there to take over.
The East Sydney Club, formerly Eastern Suburbs, emerged out of an amalgamation of Paddington and East Sydney Clubs in 1926. They withstood the exodus for most of the century however they began to rely heavily on interstate players and players from out of their area. They kept a junior division but it struggled to sustain the re-supply of players needed at senior club level. Eventually they combined with the University of NSW in 2000 to form a new club, UNSW-ES.
This was the first time their officials saw the need to merge whilst Sydney (Naval) on the other hand had combined with the reserve grade Public Service Club in 1923 and not that much later with Balmain in 1926. On both occasions they stuck with their given name. They did however toy with the idea of changing the title to Glebe in about 1930, shortly after shifting their home ground to Wentworth Park, but, they maintained the title, Sydney, until 1944 when the naval influence in the club resolved to alter it to Sydney Naval.
Clubs have come and gone; the present Blacktown club for example is the third to assume that name.
While Newtown faded off to oblivion there did appear to be a whisker of light with the emergence of a new Newtown junior club some years ago. The aging South Sydney faithful may hold out a glimmer of hope that one day the Randwick Saints might work their way to the purpose built Australian football ground at Kensington Oval. But, like Trumper Park, the grandstand there has been demolished.
Hopefully by the end of today we will have posted all of the Sydney Football Records we have from 1927 and now including seasons 1982-3.
Some information from 1960 in particular is very riveting. Amongst them are those of the Australian National Football Council Section 2 Championships played at Trumper Park in Sydney over a period of seven days.
With the passage of time and the constant change of administrators at the NSW Football League, this is one series that has been forgotten.
The combatants were: NSW, VFA, Queensland and “Canberra“ the latter playing under that title until midway through the 1970s. Here are the results:
As well, there were some extraordinary lead-up games, particularly the games played during the week.
Before the VFA v Canberra match, Sydney University, who were not competing in the Sydney league that year, 13-11 (99) d Combined Newcastle 6-5 (41).
In the match Canberra v Qld, the curtain raiser was East Side v West Side while on the following day, which turned out to be the final in the game VFA v NSW, the Navy 9-16 (70) d Army 4-9 (33).
A very interesting aspect to the 1960 season which a few readers may remember, was the opening of the Frank Dixon (pictured) Stand at Trumper Park. It replaced a dilapidated timber stand which was built early in the first decade of last century and stood almost on the corner of Glenmore Road and Hampton Street.
Frank was a very charismatic character and a long time player and supporter of the game in Sydney.
While he probably deserves a page on his own (which we will work on) Frank was born and raised in Doncaster Avenue, Kingsford. After attending St Mary’s Cathedral High School, he played rugby league as a youth then switched to Australian Football in 1926 turning out with with the Daceyville Waratahs Junior club, winning the best and fairest in his first year.
He later played with South Sydney and coached them to the 1934 & 35 premierships as well as runner-up in 1936 & 37.
He represented NSW on nine occasions from 1935-37 and at one stage was a player-coach of the state team.
Frank enlisted for the Second World War where he was wounded at El Alamein, later became a proud ‘Rat of Tobruk’.
Upon return he was elected senior vice president of the NSW Football League and subsequently appointed non-playing state coach from 1947-1952.
He was involved in politics and for a number of years a Labor alderman for the ward of Fitzroy in the City of Sydney Council. He was deputy Lord Mayor of Sydney between 1960-62.
The new stand was opened on 25 June by Sydney Lord Mayor Harry Jensen and named after this legend of the game in Sydney.
The new stand, since now remodelled if not almost destroyed, “will seat 1500 people and has first class amenities, including tiled bath and shower rooms and dance hall and refreshment room.”
A strange mixture of Sydney archival football material turned up the other day. They were rescued by Society Benevolent Member, Dave (Spanner) Spence, from the Western Suburbs Club. Dave said he found them in a box at the league office with apparently no-one there with any knowledge as to where they came from.
* 1945 South Sydney FC Reserve Grade Premiership Pennant “this is the oldest existing premiership flag we are aware of”.
* 1950s South Sydney football jumper.
* Two South Sydney long sleeve football jumpers, in a unique design
* Two 1930s South Sydney long sleeved football jumpers.
* Twelve cans of 16mm film showing various 1978 Sydney football games
* Four unidentified reels of film
The flag and the jumpers are all part of the estate from the late Alby Young (pictured), a life member of the league and South Sydney who had a lifetime involvement with the club and the game in Sydney where he was very well known. He died in his in his early nineties in 1995. All items are in reasonably good condition considering their age and unknown storage locations. All jumpers are woollen and appear to be manufactured in Sydney by ‘Murdocks’, David Jones and Anthony Horderns & Sons. One has been repaired by darning, an almost lost art these days. The flag appears to be cotton and apart from a few holes, looks good.
The History Society was aware of his legacy but thought it had been thrown out in one of the many cleanouts at the league over the years. They were ecstatic at the find most of it still existed and have already begun to preserve the material garments and identify the film reels where possible, which have been catalogued and classified.
1940s note the darning
click to enlarge
When it comes to those without identification it is envisaged one of the more experienced members will have to sit when the film is played to identify the teams and the game. Then they will all be put on DVD for long term preservation. It is expected that this will be a costly exercise and Society officials will have to revisit their budget to enable this expensive process to take place. We have already been quoted $35 per 100 feet for DVD conversion and collectively, there’s many thousands of feet of film for processing.
Following searching inquiries we finally found out the origin of the film. It was taken during 1978 and used on Kevin Taylor’s Half Time Footy Forum, during the early direct telecast of the VFL Match of the Day. The attached photograph shows the panel in that year with guest, Fitzroy president Frank Bibby at a time when it was mooted that Fitzroy would move to Sydney. It was taken in mid-1978 at the Epping studios in Sydney of ATN7. From left: Nick Rogers, Fitzroy president Frank Bibby, Ian Wallace, compere Kevin Taylor, John Armstrong, Joe ‘Cleopatra’ Armstrong and Peter Gray, who is on the right.
To ascertain a more exact idea of the jumpers an approach will be made to a former 89 year old South Sydney player to see if he can identify the era of the unknown jumpers.
The South Sydney Club participated in Sydney football in 1890-93. Upon the resurrection of the game in 1903, founding club, Redfern changed their name to South Sydney in 1911. The club folded following the 1976 season.
Society president, Ian Granland played for and was involved with South Sydney in his youth and tells the story that it was quite well known that Alby had all his football treasures in a camphor box at his Rosebery home. Little would anyone realise that these treasurers, one of which must have been Alby’s football jumper when he played, would surface after all these years.
Australian football has always owned the tag as the poor relation in Sydney.
The game was first introduced to the city in 1880 upon the formation of the NSW Football Association. It took until the following year before any clubs were formed: Sydney and East Sydney were the first and the East Sydney of those days should not be confused with the East Sydney of the 1980s & 90s.
Immediately the game attracted the wrath of rugby officials led by top protagonist, Monty Arnold who said at the Association’s formation “if the Melbourne and Carlton clubs were playing a match in Melbourne, and the Kelly gang were firing within a quarter of a mile of them, he did not believe there would be a soul looking at the football”
Arnold and his co-horts were absolutely opposed and vitriolic to the new game and its introduction was made all the worse when some tried to change the rules of rugby because of its many dangerous aspects. Paradoxically, they welcomed the formation of the soccer association.
A few Sydney journalists were sympathetic to the Victorian game but when it sank into anarchy, in-fighting and bitterness they dropped off and the game failed to move into the 1895 season.
It was left the since unrecognized enthusiast and former player, Harry Hedger, pictured, to lead the resurgence of the game in Sydney in 1903.
Its development went well and the game became stronger reaching out to schools and junior grades. Poor management in the purchase of the original Rosebery Racecourse site on the corner of Botany and Gardeners Road, Mascot and the onset of WWI put the game back to almost a zero base. But with steady work and commitment from officials of the league it clung on, despite being comprised of only five clubs in 1917. There was no second grade during the war and for the most part the junior competition also disappeared.
There was a spark of hope during the 1920s when NSW defeated the VFL in 1923 and again in 1925 but it again slumped into its familiar rung on the ladder as the least favoured game in the city.
The depression years of the thirties brought no solace and for the most part the league was locked with six clubs and only two grounds where they could truly derive a gate â€“ the strength of their income.
Then WWII brought new hope. Australian football was the first sport to move to Sunday football, for no other reason than they desperately needed that additional venue where a gate could be charged. It was during this period that servicemen from interstate were in or moving through Sydney and they played with local clubs.
Names like Collingwood’s captain, Phonse Kyne was the captain and coach of St George, Alby Morrison who was chosen in Footscray’s team of the century was with the RAAF team, future Brownlow Medalist, Bill Morris played with South Sydney while 17 year old Western Australian, Jack Sheedy, another AFL Hall of Famer, turned out for the Sydney Club.
These are just a very few of the football talent in Sydney during the war.
Following hostilities the game was riding high in public opinion, particularly so when three new clubs, Western Suburbs, Balmain and Sydney University were added to the competition in 1948.
During the fifties the image of the game lapsed especially when newspapers highlighted the negative parts of the game: fights and problems in matches.
More clubs were formed and joined the competition leading to twelve in 1962 “a perfect time to turn the competition into two divisions.” It didn’t happen and the change from 18 aside to 16 aside in 1960 was also overturned mid-season.
By this time though, Western Suburbs gained their liquor licence and became very much a supporter and promoter of the game playing out of the same Picken Oval as now, but then it was surrounded by a training trotting track and privately owned. The club though pumped thousands of dollars into the game and supported the league’s purchase of offices in Regent Street, Chippendale.
Football didn’t really move, they had lost many chances though by the seventies two new divisions had been formed.
In 1978 a coup threw out the popular league president Bill Hart and eventually his cronies went with him. The VFL backed move with promised support didn’t last long before the administration in Sydney really struggled.
Then came the Sydney Swans and new VFL money and finance through the Swans licence scheme. This eventually fell over and the club was subsequently taken over by the league. Sydney football though had solidified and were well led with a move to more permanent offices in the Wentworth Park Grandstand, Glebe, where a number of other sports were domiciled.
Of course things always change and in 1998 there was a further takeover by the AFL which has funded the league and NSW football ever since. It resulted in more staff, more people on the ground but are there more playing the game?
The elected officials have gone and the game is run by bureaucrats in their central Moore Park Offices.
Makes you wonder with all the changes the game has endured over the past 134 years, what the future holds for Sydney football?
In some sense it doesn’t have much but in others it has a lot. It certainly has a rich past.
As the reputation of the History Society becomes more prominent, the existence of awards, trophies, medals and other material from past years is slowly emerging.
Recently the Society received a note from Rob Powers, the grandson of R H Powers, a former state representative and captain on the Sydney Club during the twenties.
Mr Powers presented photographs of the medal his grandfather won in 1926 playing for Sydney. It was for the best and fairest in the Sydney competition and at the time called, The Ellis Trophy. The name was changed to the Provan Trophy and in 1936, the Phelan Medal, in recognition of the service Jim Phelan provided the NSW football community during his lifetime.
1926 was the first occasion the award was made and followed closely on the heels of the VFL which established the Brownlow Medal in 1924. It was created and named in honour of Charles Brownlow, a former Geelong footballer (1880-1891), club secretary (1885-1923) and VFL president (1918-19).
Mr Powers said he came across the medal whilst cleaning out the estate of his late parents.
More recently a NSWAFL Life Membership Medal which was awarded to Rupert Browne in 1932 has surfaced. Mr Browne was a school teacher and sports master at the Gardeners Road Public School, Mascot from 1911-1950.
Together with two other Sydney teachers, he was responsible for putting hundreds of young boys through the game, most of whom went on to play with the South Sydney Club but others filtered out to different clubs within the city. Many, many of these boys represented the state and at least one, Frank Gascoigne, won the Phelan Medal, the competition’s best and fairest.
He died in 1953, aged 66 after being hit by a car in suburban Sydney. Certainly a cruel way to take a man who had given so much to the code. As a mark of respect to the memory of Mr Browne, former students erected memorial gates at the school, which still stand today.
So these medals and trophies are out there but neither of these two mentioned are in the Society’s possession. We would be pleased to hear from other readers who might know of the existence of similar awards.
Firstly sorry to our readers about the stagnant situation of our website over the past few days. It appears our hosting company has had some problems.
In the meantime, the Society has had some unique trophies from the 1930s repaired and returned to the organisation for display. (click images to enlarge)
Almost two years ago a person contacted the Society saying he had found two ‘Australian Rules’ trophies at a metal re-cycle place (image above) on the Central Coast of NSW and asked if we were interested in them.
These trophies, which were in a very poor condition, had been awarded to a former top line player in Sydney during the 1930s, of whom we have written many lines.
His name was Jimmy Stiff and he played with the South Sydney Club and in interviews before their death, three separate leading Sydney football identities said Jimmy Stiff was the best player they had seen in Sydney football, and these judges were no slouches.
Jim lived at Mascot and attended the Gardeners Road School. While there and under the tutelage of teacher-mentor, Rupert Browne, he, like many members of his family, began to play Australian Football.
At an early age he was selected in the NSW schoolboys team where he excelled. Then, at 17, while playing with the South Sydney Club, he was chosen to represent NSW. In and out of the reserves, in 1930 he came equal third in the Phelan Medal and also runner up in the Sanders Medal (reserves B & F). He had won the Sanders Medal in 1928. Then in 1931, at age 20, he was named as the best player in the state’s match against Victoria on the SCG.
In 1933, again playing for NSW, Jim won the best player at the All-States Carnival held in Sydney over 10 days – against all the stars from other states, including the likes of triple Brownlow Medalist, Hayden Bunton. At 1.6m and 64.5kg he was a dynamo but possessed an erratic attitude towards football.
He was tragically killed in a motor cycle accident in 1937.
We found one of the trophies to be of a very significant nature. It is the 1933 best & fairest award at the All-States Carnival in Sydney – the Major Condor Trophy – now 80 years old!
When we got it, it was in bits and not in good condition.
We gave it to an antique restorer who worked tirelessly to bring this and another that Stiff had won playing for South Sydney in 1935, back to life.
They now take pride of place amongst the many former football trophies the Society has on show at the rooms in the Western Suburbs Football Club at Croydon Park, Sydney.
We have written before about how WWII saw a huge increase in crowds attending Australian football in Sydney mainly brought about by the talented servicemen footballers transferred to the city for training and depot work.
Recently a document passed across our desk which provided hard statistics of crowd fluctuations pre and post hostilities.
This 1945 paper said that crowds had increased more than 400 percent over pre-war days.
It went on to state that attendances in 1944 were the highest for 20 years and yet the total competition gate during the first eight rounds in 1945 had topped the corresponding period in the previous year by 25%.
From 1920-25 the average weekend attendance was between 4,000 to 6,000 however that figure dropped to less than half in the ensuing eight seasons. Even during the depression of the 1930s attendances declined further.
It all changed during the war when gradually crowds began to grow and there is no doubt the introduction of Sunday fixtures, as shown in our graph, had a huge impact on attendances at games. It must be remembered here when viewing these statistics that there were only three senior games played in Sydney each weekend and they include the regular increase in attendance fees which cannot be differentiated.
The Sunday factor was highlighted in round 6, 1945 when a total of over 12,000 witnessed the games over the weekend of June 2 & 3.
Four thousand attended the Newtown v St George fixture at Erskinville Oval on the Saturday while over at Trumper Park, another 3,000 saw the RAAF side, full of VFL stars, gain its first win over premiers, Sydney Naval.
It was on the following day however, when Eastern Suburbs hung on for a thrilling five point victory over South Sydney 12.12 to 12.7, before a record home and away crowd in excess of 5,000 people.
It just goes to show that, under the circumstances and given the right conditions, people did attend football in Sydney in big numbers in Sydney.