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.
As this season fades into history, we have been looking round for something to write about. The question is, where do we start.
Then we identified a year which heralded so much change to football in NSW: 1970.
It would take several sessions to outline what did take place in that year, so we have centred on just a few events.
It was Australia’s Bi-Centenary. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh together with Princess Anne and Prince Charles visited Australia to join with the rest of the country in the celebrations.
And they didn’t miss watching a game of Australian football as shown in the photo – details below
And in Sydney, a show for the Royals was put on at the Trocodero in Sydney’s George Street. This was a large dance and concert hall that operated between 1936 and 1971. It was once regarded as the “most glamorous dance palace in Sydney and accommodated up to 2,000 people”. It was the favoured venue for university and school ‘formals’, and hosted many important local rock and pop concerts during the 1960s. The block of cinemas has replaced the old Troc. between Liverpool and Bathurst Streets.
It was April when the Royal party “met young sportsmen (we don’t know if the word sportsmen refers to both genders) from all parts of the state” we were told.
“Our Australian Rules representatives included David Sykes, captain coach of Newtown, Rodney Tubbs the captain coach of Sydney University Club, Bob Sterling and Emmanuel (Manny) Keriniaua from the St George Club. Also Ian Allen, North Shore and NSW centre half back and Chris Huon, one of the young brigade of umpires making their mark on Sydney football.”
Both David Sykes, Ian Allen and Chris Huon are members of the Football History Society.
On the opening day of the season a team of Northern Territory Aboriginal Schoolboys played a Sydney Schoolboys team in an Under 16 match. The boys from the north cleaned up the Sydney side, 17-12 (114) to 11-12 (78) at Picken Oval.
It is interesting to look at the names of some of the Sydney players and the junior clubs they came from. For example:
Alan Bouch(son of NSWAFL Board Member, Doug)
Graeme Foster – later Balmain, East Sydney and NSW player
Mark Andrews – (son of Brian, a former state player and Balmain coach) who played with North Shore
David McVey – who went on to win a Kealey Medal with St George
Mark McClure – later captain of Carlton FC
Greg Harris – later state player and captain coach of East Sydney FC
Bill Free – former Newtown player was the coach
Other junior clubs that no longer exist or have had a name change:
Warwick Farm, Holsworthy, Green Valley, Bankstown Sports, Manly/Seaforth
In 1970, the long term league secretary Ken Ferguson retired and was given a well attended sendoff at the Western Suburbs Club.
At last the league introduced a second division after years of half-hearted attempts to cater for burgeoning clubs in Sydney. The clubs that comprised the league’s other open age competition since the demise of the Metropolitan Australian National Football Association in 1952 were: Warringah, St Ives, Salasians, Penshurst, UNSW, Sydney University and Western Suburbs. Later, North Shore and South Sydney also entered teams.
The second division thing just wasn’t right, it was unbalanced. Because they didn’t have enough clubs to go round in a stand alone competition, Sydney Uni, UNSW, South Sydney and Macquarie University fielded their senior teams in the normal open age reserve grade, which, like today, created problems at away games. This was corrected the following season.
1970 was Sydney Naval’s last hurrah. It was their final year in the competition after such a splendid involvement in the game dating back to 1881. There was an attempt to combine the club with the struggling South Sydney side but that too failed. South in fact, were on their knees after being relegated following a number of poor seasons. But with a band of willing workers they managed a further half a dozen years.
There were early moves to play a Victoria v South Australia game at the SCG mid season. The expenses were estimated at in excess of $30,000 (assessed using the Reserve Bank of Australia’s calculator today at $317,647.06), seems a bit rich, but thats the reason the game did not go ahead and Sydney had to wait until 1974 to see the Vics play the Crows at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Big news during the season was that Wests were to lose their home ground of Picken Oval to a supermarket complex. Canterbury Council failed to give the idea the green light so it was shelved but it didn’t take too many years before a further and very damaging issue effected the relationship between Wests and their ground.
The Newtown club opened clubrooms on the normally unknown mid level in the grandstand at Erskineville Oval. It wasn’t long though before they moved their social activities to the old Stage Club at 303 Cleveland Street, Redfern which became the Newtown Rules Club.
And finally for the first time in Sydney, the ABC telecast highlights of two VFL games each Saturday Night at the very late time of 10:50pm, well before the introduction of domestic VCR – recorders. It didn’t take long before the then very conservative ABC decided to ditch the show producing howls of complaint from footy followers. So much so that the league printed a form on which supporters could register their PROTEST to the Director of Programmes, ABC 2, Sydney. It worked and these highlights were retained for the rest of the season.
Our photograph of course is not Sydney football, but the Queen being introduced to the Fitzroy team in the same year. Some questions for you about this event:
* What ground was the game played at?
* Which team played Fitzroy on that day?
* What was the most unusual and in fact unique circumstance of this game?
And seeing Australia lost probably its most iconic prime minister this week, it is worth a mention that either in the late fifties or early sixties, Gough took one of his sons along to Rosedale Oval to learn the game of Australian football. We don’t think there were many follow up visits.
A great photograph sent into us by former St George and Campbelltown player, Peter Kilmister caught our eye and thought worthy of writing a short story about the team.
It is of Campbelltown’s first grade taken in 1979 when they wore the great jumpers of Red and Blue and were captained by Sydney League ‘Hall of Famer’, Ellis Noack.
The club had only started three years before this image was taken and with Sydney’s population bursting at the seams, it was only a matter of time before the game got a hold in new and flourishing south-west suburbs of Sydney.
In 1979 the club finished in third position after they were beaten by the St Ives Club in the preliminary final at Trumper Park, where this photo was taken.
At the end of the home and away season they were in second place in the then Second Division with fourteen wins from seventeen games. They were rolled in the second semi by Bankstown Sports then again by St Ives the following week 16.15 (111) to 12.12 (84).
Ellis played that season in company with his two sons, Geoff and Steve who went on to play with Campbelltown when they participated in Sydney’s premier division. All three are in the photograph. Geoff came second in the goalkicking that year booting 48 majors while Dad, probably playing at full forward and at 42 kicked 31.
The club’s seconds finished minor premiers but then went out in straight sets, failing to make the grand final.
The Under 20 competition that year was only comprised of four teams so it would have been extremely difficult not to make the finals. The club finished second to HMAS Nirimba both on 50 points but were beaten in the grand final by one goal, 4.10 (34) to 3.10 (28). Bob McCartney won the league’s B & F for that grade, the Hart Medal, with 17 votes.
We see popular History Society Benefactor Member, Keith Claxton in the photo, so its good to see his interest has continued with the code.
Towards the end of the 1970s a certain section of the Sydney football community were tiring of the league administration led by long term president, Bill Hart.
As successful as it was in its own way, it was seen as old fashion, not up with the times, anti VFL and still followed doctrine that had been laid out earlier in the century.
Added to this was the growing interest the VFL was showing to extend their influence into Sydney. In 1974 Victoria v South Australia played at the SCG which attracted 20,000 fans but more importantly the game was televised live to W.A., Tasmania, South Australia, ACT and most country areas of NSW.
In those days the Victorian Government would not permit the VFL to play their games on Sundays in that state so they began looking for different venues where their football could be televised back into Melbourne. Sydney was one such location which had the potential to fill the void most admirably. It is safe to say at that stage, there was no premeditated vision to expand the competition interstate.
A lot of the acrimony in Sydney had to do with the NSWAFL’s participation in the Escort Championships. This was a separate knock-out competition which began in 1977 involving then only the 12 VFL clubs but by 1979 it also included all WAFL clubs, NSW, Tasmania and the ACT. The following year all clubs in the SANFL became involved along with Queensland.
NSW’s involvement was not without distress when the NSWAFL Board of Management resolved in August, 1978 to involve the state in the series but only after a fairly volatile debate which was then followed by a very close vote.
So with this underlying feeling that the old school would not move with the time plus and rancour in NSW’s involvement in the Escort Championships, a clandestine group began to meet at the then Newtown Rules Club, 303 Cleveland Street, Redfern, with the ultimate aim of unseating the administration of the league at the December 1978 AGM. At that time and for the previous 75 years, the NSWAFL conducted not only the football affairs of part of NSW but also the Sydney competitions.
If successful the group were promised by the VFL the appointment of a ‘fulltime professional administrator for the league.’ This was despite the fact that the NSWAFL had had a fulltime secretary with assistant, since 1964.
In October 1978, part-time television personality, Kevin Taylor, who, by that time, had been sacked by the league as their media representative, laid out the plans of the new group in an article in a local inner-city newspaper, The Sydney Shout, so it was quite clear that the clandestine tag had been quickly lost with the machinations of the time.
Along with Taylor, Bern Heafey was one of the prime movers in the Sydney football power play. He was an affable character who had football at heart. Heafey had one year as president of the North Shore Club in 1951 at 23 years of age but later involved himself with St Ives, a second division club, where he was also president. In time, he was to become the face of the new faction but only for a short period.
The idea of change came with the suggestion of new and exciting possibilities and additional meetings were held at other venues, including Easts Rules Club, Bond Junction, St George Clubrooms at Olds Park and even Bankstown Sports Club. Tension was building with the group’s activities because not all clubs were involved with this action.
The 1978 Annual General Meeting of the NSWAFL was set for Monday 11 December at their offices, 64 Regent Street, Chippendale.
Unusually, the actual meeting was held in the front reception area of the small attached brick building where there was standing room only for most. There was ample room in the rest of the building for the meeting to be held in.
League officials were very much aware of the move against them with both camps working overtime to secure sufficient votes to get over the line.
Each of the nine Sydney first division clubs had two votes. The eight second division clubs each had one vote as did the NSW Junior Football Council, Newcastle AFL, South Coast AFL, NSW Country AFL, Central Coast AFL, Illawarra AFL and each board member of the league. Life members also had the opportunity to exercise a vote but historically not many of these personnel turned out for the annual meetings. Perhaps if they had realised the significance of the possible outcome, they might have made the effort.
The meeting was extremely acrimonious with chairman, Bill Hart, flat out controlling the sometimes raucous attendees who were full of interjections.
Hart (shown here on the left) was defeated by Heafey in a close vote. Country representative, Allen Baker was appointed to the Vice President’s position.
Many of the incumbent Board of Management were re-elected but several, along with Heafey, only lasted a year or two with a number of resignations listed in 1980.
One of the most disappointing aspects of the change was the sale of premises at 64 Regent Street, which incidentally the purchase of which was mainly funded by the Western Suburbs Football Club Ltd. The building was far from salubrious but did represent the code with a main street location and somewhere to call ‘home’.
After the sale, League officials were then housed in the top floor at the Newtown Rules Club at 303 Cleveland Street Redfern, a converted picture theatre, until 1985 when they moved to new premises under the Bill O’Reilly stand at the SCG.
The enthusiasm and new Sydney Football League entity which resulted from the coup, did not last and when a new administration took control not that many years later, it all changed again.