– What Could Have Been and What Didn’t Happen

The Sydney Football League, NSW AFL, AFL Sydney or whatever title you want to give it, and its had a number of changes over the years, has really made few ground break decisions in its 124 year history.

In many cases the officials who ruled the game simply missed the boat.

The licensing laws only permitted a certain number of licensed clubs to operate in NSW up until the mid 1950s and this number did not vary.

Following WWII, Frank Dixon, who captained and coached the South Sydney club in a very successful period in the 1930s was appointed vice president of the league.  He talked the executive into him approaching the then, Australian National Football Council (ANFC) for a loan of $10,000 to establish a licensed club in Sydney.

Dixon, a staunch Labor man who ended up Deputy Lord Mayor or Sydney City Council, travelled to Melbourne by train in 1949 to attend a ANFC Meeting.  Incidentally, on the train happened to be the prime minister, Ben Chifley.  Dixon returned with the guarantee of the $10,000 from the ANFC but a nervous executive in Sydney went cold on the idea and it never went ahead.

In 1948 three new clubs were admitted to the league, Western Suburbs, Balmain and Sydney University.  Wests were the only club to go on taste success.  They played off in successive grand finals of 1952-53 but had to wait until 1963 until they won a flag.  Neither Balmain nor Sydney University clubs could boast success until much, much later.

In the meantime a team from Illawarra joined the competition in 1949-50 but the travel and their lack of success accounted for their departure.

This was a time when six clubs dominated the competition, Eastern Suburbs, Sydney Naval, Newtown, St George, North Shore and Western Suburbs.  Liverpool joined the competition in 1954 after a couple of successful seasons in the Metropolitan Australian National Football Assn (MANFA – or really a Second Division, which folded in 1953).  It was a time when the league should have bitten the bullet and formed two divisions.  It didn’t.  Sydney was a growing city and the league should have capitalised on the popularity of the game during the war and immediately after.

This was particularly the case again in the early 1960s after Uni had dropped out in 1958 but replaced by new club, Bankstown.  Again they should have travelled down the two division track but failed to act.

In 1960 however they did introduce a dramatic change to Sydney football when they reduced the number of players on the field to 16.  This was thought to produce better football on the smaller Sydney grounds and perhaps encourage the formation of new clubs and reduce the instances of backing up to a minimal.

The purists were enraged with this change and by mid-season clubs forced the hand of the league executive to return to the traditional eighteen aside.

The basically unsuccessful club of Liverpool joined forces with the other battler, Bankstown in 1962 then two years later encouraged another new club, Parramatta to combine with them to form a new club: Southern Districts.  Initially this venture  produced a competitive club but eventually failed.  What it did do in particular was rob a team playing Australian Game from the then far western suburbs.  Parramatta then played out of Mona Park, Auburn.

It was around the same time that efforts were being encouraged to form a licensed club for Australian football in Sydney.  They had enough members, sufficient commitment and had identified premises at 224 Riley Street Surry Hills, a former hotel which was then trading as a private hotel (boarding house).

The prime mover in this action unfortunately died and so without a leader the whole issue fell flat.

Eastern Suburbs had a licensed club at Bondi Junction but as successful as it was could not maintain the repayments to a very expensive loan which funded the addition to the premises and the club fell by the wayside.  North Shore went all out to gain a license in the premises of Polonia Northside soccer club in Walker Street North Sydney. They were successful in this enterprise but unfortunately too this eventually failed.

St George made it to the licensing court but were refused their bid for a license at Olds Park on some technicality.

Despite all this, there has been some success in Sydney football and this was quite recently.

Garry Burkinshaw, the man in charge of Sydney footy between 2007-2014 soon realised there were problems when he took over the reigns.

He listened to the gripes, he looked how they do it in soccer and studied Sydney football.

Burkinshaw maintained that Sydney footy was not as tribal as it is interstate.  Players come to play their game and go.  They don’t stick around for the next game and they certainly don’t stay all day.

He decided the answer was divisionalisation where teams from various clubs of apparent equal strength would be best suited playing against each other.  So, apart from the Premier League competition, a reserve grade team which might have battled in the senior division was dropped to third or fourth division in the new setup.

He took advice from clubs and said there was no real opposition to the model.  He got members from each club in a room and put his proposition.  It took over three months in the planning and together with colleague, Bob Robinson, they introduced a competition which has, for the most part, been extremely successful.

There are more teams winning games and all but St George, Camden and Illawarra clubs, from twenty four participating in the Sydney league,  have participated in finals.

This new and novel competition has promoted success in other clubs too.  Penrith who were down to one team now boast three, North-West are fielding more sides along with Camden and there a four new clubs now participating in the competition. (this article was initially published in 2012)

This new system leaves it open for established teams to field more teams and enthuse new or junior clubs to field senior teams.  The way is open for the establishment of more clubs but most particularly, nearly all competitions in Sydney senior football are competitive.

The downside to divisionalisation is that clubs MUST be particularly organised.  Three teams could be playing at three different locations so all players and officials have had to commit themselves to turn up,  in all probability in these circumstances, there would be not players to back up in the event there is not a full team to take the field.  Each team must be a self contained unit: umpire (if required), goal umpire, runner, water boys, manager, runner etc.

At least one Sydney initiative has succeeded but apparently with those purists at it again is now up for change

 

 

SYD FELSTEAD PASSES

While reported on the passing of Alf Penno this week yet another legend of Sydney football, not a player but an administrator, has died suddenly.

He former long term St George president and league official, Syd Felstead, passed away in June 2011, he was 92.

St George Football Club historian, Pat McCourt, penned a profile of this very well respected man who really had the game at heart:

Syd’s journey through life is an amazing story!  His contribution to Australian Rules at St George, throughout Sydney and NSW is invaluable.  I will be brief in my summary; however on Syd’s passing we have to pay a tribute, acknowledge who Syd Felstead was and what he did to establish junior competitions of Australian Rules throughout Sydney.

Syd Felstead born 26 August 1919, Bendigo Victoria, his father dying in early 1920s as result service at Gallipoli and gassing received in France in WW1.  After moves around Victoria, and Paddington in Sydney in 1928, Syd and his mother moved to Dora St Hurstville in 1930 at start of the depression. A time when Syd and his mother eked out a living; Syd on his bike, he named “Greenie” doing deliveries and collecting manure in his billy cart [made from a fruit box and wheels off a pram], selling a cart load to neighbours for sixpence [now five cents]!

In 1934 at age 15, having passed the Intermediate certificate, Syd left school eventually got an apprenticeship at ACI Glassworks as a crystal glass cutter, earning eleven shillings and sixpence per week [today’s currency; one dollar and fifteen cents]. He traded his bike “Greenie” on a new Malvern Star, paying it off at two shillings per week [present currency; twenty cents] and played junior Rules matches in local school and local park competitions! Syd commenced in 1938 with St George AFC, in Reserve Grade [St George Third grade was not formed until 1958].

Syd was associated with some greats of that St George era; likes of Phonse Kyne, Jack Browne, and Stan Powditch and was lucky to witness St George’s Premiership in 1938.  Syd also had a strong affiliation with the committee and between 1938 and 1957 (allowing for time spent overseas in WWII with RAAF, crewing in Wellington and Lancaster bombers), played a total of 128 senior games; was a member of 1951 Reserve Grade premiership.

After returning from war, Syd with partners started their own cut glass business, and continued playing with St George, mainly as fullback.  During his time as a player, Syd was an active committee member, with Andrew Glass as President. In 1955 Syd became President, holding the position for 20 years when he stepped aside in 1974.  Under his Presidency, St George played in three consecutive Grand finals between 1964 and 1966; winning 1964 Premiership!

Behind the scenes with colleagues from various Sydney Clubs, Syd was active developing the junior base of all Sydney Clubs. He chaired committees to establish St George junior clubs in 1950s; likes of Como, Peakhurst and Boys Town [all since faded into history]. Present junior Clubs [Ramsgate, Miranda, Cronulla and Penshurst] established with assistance from; Ruben Fraser, Alan Gibbons, Alex Melville.  Some of Syd’s achievements, included –

Life Memberships and Awards

 Life member of St George AFC – awarded 1953

Life member of AFL (NSW/ACT) – awarded 1967

In 2000, received from Prime Minister an Honour Award for 2000 Bi Centennial celebrations – for past contributions to Australian Rules

St George AFC ‘Hall of Fame’ –  inducted in 2005 one of five initial inductees

 

Some other contributions and achievements [there were many] –

[As recorded in Syd’s hand written notes, held by me]

Elected to Board of Management of NSW ANFL 1956

Appointed Team Manager for NSW Teams from 1958 to 1965

In 1966 appointed by Sutherland Council to Ground Allocation Committee

Awarded Australian Sports Medal by Commonwealth Government

Served as Chair Person in formation of both Junior Assoc, and St George body of NSW ANFL Junior Planning Committee

Chaired formation committee of St George All Age Comp/Open Age League [now defunct]; subsequently became NSW League Second division comp

Included in book published [2000] recording “History of Hurstville Oval”

Suggested, had passed initial concept of Club Championship Points at NSW League

Held positions in 1950s and 1960s as President and Delegate to NSW ANFL

Awarded ˜Merit Award” by Australian Football Council

Olds Park – Syd was instrumental in 1968/1969 in securing the initial 21 year lease on Olds Park when St George made the move from Hurstville Oval.  Syd was involved in 1970 in the unsuccessful application to obtain a liquor licence for St George at Olds Park which was backed at time by Bill Picken [Western Suburbs fame].

Due to his strong Australian wide connections in Aussie Rules circles, whilst President, Syd was instrumental in getting the likes of Dale Dalton, Don McKenna, Dennis & Ray Pegg, Ralph Todd, Graham Cornes and many other interstate recruits to play with St George.

Syd was always strongly supported by his wife, Betty [nee O’Reilly b.1924] whom he married during the war and had four children; Graham, Sandra, Robyn and David. Both boys played briefly at St George, where Betty was a pillar of strength, working in the canteen at Hurstville Oval, selling raffle tickets and organising social functions. They retired to live at Vincentia, where Betty passed away in May 2005.

It can be categorically stated; Syd fathered the St George AFC junior competition as it stands today – Patrick McCourt was a member of initial team that started Miranda junior club! Syd’s blue print to establish St George junior clubs, was adopted by other Sydney Clubs.

Syd Felstead made a valuable contribution to successes enjoyed by a vast base of Australian Rules players, supporters. He established basis for present day operations for many persons who continue to participate, enjoy Australian Rules throughout Sydney and NSW. St George benefited from Syd’s earlier work; winning eleven, Third Grade Premierships between 1958 and 1980; with two runner ups and only three times did it not make the final four in that era.

Australian Rules is poorer upon the passing of Syd Felstead. Syd was a pioneer; St George has lost an icon!

For contemporary players and followers of Sydney football, Syd was a regular attendee at the league’s annual Phelan Medal Night.  Syd Felstead “was really a nice guy.”

St GEORGE ALL-AGE

The A grade in Sydney’s Metropolitan Football Association folded around 1954 and all that was left for new clubs was the NSW Football League – first grade.

Any new clubs like Liverpool and Bankstown of the 1950s then were thrust into a competition playing against well drilled and talented players.

Sydney University dropped out of the Sydney competition in 1958 and did not return to competitive football, and then it was to the Sydney Reserve Grade competition, until 1961.  There was a suggestion that during this time some at the University did attempt to conduct an All-Age competition but as yet we have not been able to verify this.

Whether or not the void for open age football at a non-league standard during this period was recognized, there was strong enough move in the St George area in the mid 1960s to form the St George AFL or as it was more colloquially known: St George All-Age competition.

Of the six or seven sides that competed during it’s existence most were from junior clubs within the St George District: Como/Janalli, Boystown, Penshurst, Heathcote were four such teams.

In 1967 a team from Wollongong competed and then a year later a mostly navy side from Nowra played in the competition.

A “well known” football Sydney football identity of the time, Peter Crosland, was the secretary of the association and as an adjunct to the competition he edited and published a weekly football programme which was given the title, The Recorder.

This was an eight page journal which contained some club notes, lists of teams, club colours, a few officials and an editorial.

The History Society has managed to get hold of a number of copies of The Recorder and we have posted the edition of 16 June 1968 here for your information.

If there are any more in existence or copies of the league’s Football Record, we would be please to see them.

Click HERE to read the edition of The Recorder we referred to.