Sydney Naval with All Guns Blazing Sail to Victory in 1960

     1960 Sydney Naval FC Premiers – mascot Ken Wilson

By Dr Rod Gillett

Danny Wilson, one of the leading goalkickers in Sydney football in the 1950s, led Sydney Naval to a grand final win over Newtown for the Sydney AFL 1960 premiership this time from the back pocket!

Playing in his 250th game, Wilson was named best player for Naval. According to the Sydney Morning Herald (9 September 1960) report of the game Wilson was “…Newtown’s biggest stumbling block. He repeatedly saved in the backline and made many clearing dashes which turned back the Newtown attacks”.

It was a stunning victory by Sydney Naval who trailed by 8 points at ¾ time but forged to the front at the start of the last term and despite a late comeback by the Blood-stained Angels to draw level with a goal with ten minutes to go; but Naval kicked the last two goals of the match to win by seven points.

It was Sydney Naval’s first premiership since 1944 when it beat RAAF in the grand final. At that time both teams were laden with active servicemen with VFL backgrounds who were stationed in Sydney during the war.

It was prior to the start of the 1944 season that the ‘Sydney’ Football Club received permission to add the title ‘Naval’ to its title. The club was the first one formed in Sydney in 1880. Playing in Melbourne colours, Naval was runner-up to North Shore in 1961, and then won the flag again in 1962, by again beating Newtown at Trumper Park.

Sadly, the club folded in 1971 after forfeiting both grades due to a player shortage in July; Naval had languished at the foot of the table from the late 1960s. The club had no juniors and were heavily reliant on navy personnel.

  Jack Harding

The captain-coach Sydney Naval in 1960 was, believe it or not, local product Jack Harding, who had returned from Fitzroy in 1956 to coach the club. Harding played 27 games for Fitzroy from 1952-54. He had started playing footy quite by chance. He went to a junior game at Moore Park in 1949 to watch a friend play but was coerced to play.

He went on to play seniors for Sydney Naval the next year and represented the league against Newcastle. Harding was captain-coach of the NSW team at the 1960 ANFC second division carnival in Sydney.

Jack who worked for the Sydney City Council, married Dorothy, the sister of team-mate Danny Wilson’s wife, Iris, better known as “Bubby”.

Danny had come to Sydney in 1946 and while serving in the navy and started playing for Sydney Naval in 1947 alongside legendary cricketer Keith Miller (later the first Chief Commissioner for the NSW AFL)

He served on the HMAS Shropshire until 1949 when he was discharged. Originally from Melbourne where he had played with South Melbourne Districts, he meet Bubby on shore-leave, married and settled in Sydney.

After leaving the navy Danny Wilson worked for Ron Bennett’s menswear, and in the sixties ran the store in King Street Newtown. Naval’s best player each week used to receive a shirt as a trophy from the store when Danny was club president from 1964-1970.

Wilson had a distinguished football career in Sydney. He played 340 games for Naval and kicked over 600 goals in a career spanning 1947-62 including two premierships. He captained Naval in 1953-54. He booted 87 goals in 1956 to win the league goal-kicking and won four club best and fairest awards.

He represented NSW on ten occasions including against Victoria at the SCG in 1949 and at the 1950 ANFC Carnival in Brisbane. He was named in the best players against Victoria on both occasions.

Danny Wilson was inducted into the Sydney Hall of Fame in 2006.

  Brad Wilson
          playing Rugby League

His son Brad (pictured left), who played junior football for Peakhurst and then rugby league for St George 1981-82 recalls very happy days with the whole family going to Trumper Park when his father was involved with Sydney Naval,

“My brother Ken (who had an illustrious rugby league career at Newtown including playing in the Bluebags grand final team in 1981) and I used to play kick-to-kick on the ground. We loved the atmosphere, it was so alive”.

“Then after the game the partition in the change rooms under the grandstand would be moved, and the players and their families would join together for food and drinks and a sing-a-long. Dad’s signature tune was That Old Black Magic. Mum and dad made so many friends through Aussie Rules. Jacky Dean and dad were great mates”.

Danny, Brad and Ken all kicked with their left-foot. Danny’s sons were famed in rugby league for their kicking and ball-handling skills. Ken once kicked the only point for a game in NSWRL history when he slotted a field goal for Newtown to win 1-0 against St George in 1973. Danny taught them how to kick drop kicks in the backyard of the family home in Bexley.

The left-foot Wilson kicking tradition continues with Brad’s son Matthew now on Sydney University’s NEAFL list. However, as a Norths junior product, he will ply his trade with North Shore in the Premier League this season. 

Much of the information for this article was gained the Sydney competition match day programs going back to 1927. These are accessible from the Society’s website: click here

Movement in the Seventies

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.

1966

19661966 could be judged as just another year in Sydney football.  The footy system went on as normal but we take a deeper look at the season which is just 48 years ago.

Wests won the flag before a crowd of 7,000 at Trumper Park, Sydney Naval’s Norm Tuxford took out the Phelan Medal, Don McKenna an army recruit from the St George club booted 71 goals to win the first grade Leading Goalking Award, the league returned a (never to be repeated) profit of $2,575 on the Football Record, Eastern Suburb’s Roy Hayes, was made life member of the league, a junior competition was started in the Balmain-Ryde area which included North Ryde, Ermington, Pennant Hills-Normanhurst as well as a Balmain junior club and long term league secretary, Ken Ferguson once again took the reigns at the league, this time in a fulltime capacity.

The league consolidated their newly acquired premises at 64 Regent Street Chippendale, (a photo of which now adorns the website front page in a rotating banner) and again recorded their recognition and appreciation for its purchase to the Western Suburbs Licensed Club.  Sydney Naval and Eastern Suburbs clubs, separately, had their applications for a licensed rejected by the Licensing Court.

A direct and live broadcast (albeit of the second half) by Channel 7 of the Western Suburbs v Sydney Naval game on June 4 game gave the code a lift while East’s captain-coach, Alan Gray was transferred to Wagga prior to the end of the season, upsetting the club’s plans for the finals  Souths had a foreign legion in the senior side which only contained three locals.

Junior players in the state’s Under 15 training squad included Jack Slade (Newtown), Phil Fenny (Wests), Paul Paitry (Easts), Chris Bucko and Paul McCook (St George) were some who would go on to play senior football in Sydney.  Peter Hastings, SC, QC, former Tribunal Chairman who now heads the NSW Crime Commission, was president and player of the Sydney University Club.

Forty-two year old, Jack Armstrong, The Black Fella, retired from umpiring.  Incidentally the Society is working on a story of this once legend of Sydney football which will be published soon.  Ellis Noack was captain-coach of the Southern Districts club.  St George moved to their new home on the site of a former quarry which became Olds Park.  In the rules of the game, the flick-pass was ditched.

History Society president, Ian Granland, began his long journey in football administration when elected secretary of the South Sydney club at age 17 and Vice President, Bill Carey, played his 100th consecutive first grade game for Balmain.

Former VFL umpire and Sydney Naval Coach, Bill Quinn, who went on to become a wonderful supporter of the Sydney Swans club, was appointed coach of the NSW Umpires Assn.  And who could not forget the appointment of Ray Catherall as Sydney Naval’s coach.  Ray, a restauranteur,  had Mother’s Cellar and Moby Dicks restaurants at Kings Cross in his stable.  He gained international notoriety by playing ‘soothing’ music to his players in the change rooms at half time breaks.  He only last one season at the club only to move on to coach Sydney University the following year.

However one of the biggest and least remembered events of the season was the umpiring furore at Trumper Park on July 10 when NSW played North Melbourne.

Our last featured photograph prompted a few memories when, in the days of one (central) umpire, the then Umpires’ Assn secretary and the 1965 Sydney grand final umpire, Len Palmer, was ‘unappointed’ from the game and replaced by VFL umpire, Stan Fisher.

We contacted the Ettalong based Palmer to get the real story.

KilligrewHe said he was at the ground and had begun to change into his umpiring attire when Kangaroo’s coach, the 168cm former St Kilda dynamo, Alan Killigrew (pictured) told officials that “he would not let his boys be umpired by someone from a football outpost like Sydney.”  When asked to be reasonable about the matter and that the 31 year old Palmer, who was after all,  was straight off the VFL Reserves Umpiring list in 1964 and quite competent of handling the match, but the volatile Killigrew refused and stood his ground.

Minutes before the start of the game, Sydney officials had no choice but to capitulate.

Palmer said he had been told before the match that a VFL umpire was at the ground but he did not know his identity.  North Melbourne had brought Fisher to Sydney for the game but there appeared to be no prior communication on the appointment between the two organising parties.

Fisher, who began his VFL umpiring career in 1963 and by then had umpired over 40 league games, was embarrassed about the controversy and suggested to Palmer that they eac do one half.  Palmer could see the problems this could cause and declined his offer.  He then sat on the sideline as the reserve umpire but joined in the after-match hospitality at the Wests Club.

NSW was soundly beaten 20.17 (137) to 7.11 (53).  And incidentally, several current members of the Society were in that NSW team including Brian Tyler, Denis Aitken and Peter Burgess.

As a show of their support for Palmer, the league had sent him to Canberra only weeks before to umpire the Queensland v ACT game at Manuka Oval.  He 1966 NSWANFL 1st Semi Final 1 smallalso umpired the 1966 Sydney Grand Final before he retired from umpiring due to his work in the TAB.

When asked if he had any regrets he said no, “Football gave me a great journey through life and I have made some wonderful friends.  I wouldn’t change a thing” he replied.

Our photograph shows Len Palmer taking the field for the 1966 Sydney Grand Final at Trumper Park.  Note the crowd.  The footballs the umpires had in their hands were used for bouncing and throw-in practice.  None was the match ball.