Grand Final Time in Sydney

Premiership favourites, East Coast Eagles, had a mortgage on the premiership a couple of years ago, that was before they made what could be described as the ill-fated and expensive shift to the NEAFL where they played as ‘Sydney Hills’.

They won the flag in 2009-10 & 11 after being defeated in the 2008 and 2006 grand finals, the latter following a season without loss but they did managed to eclipse the reserves premiership.

Clubs in Sydney have come and gone, who could imagine the most successful until very recent years, Newtown, would slide out of the competition? And for that matter, Sydney or Sydney Naval, as they were known as from 1944 and here was a club that was formed in 1881.

For the most part, the shift in population shows a shift in football domination.

Gone are those inner city clubs like Sydney, Newtown, South Sydney and Eastern Suburbs.

And the grand final venues. Many have been tried including Erskineville Oval (new and old), RAS Showground, SCG No. 1 & 2, Kensington Pony Track, Henson Park and of course the ever popular, Trumper Park.

Here was a ground that had an almost magnetic appeal to both players and spectators. The players who liked the confinement of a small ground and amphitheatre like atmosphere and the spectators who were always close to the play whether in the stand (old and new – since demolished) or on the hill.

Former league secretary, Rhys Giddey made headlines in 1963 when he declared the attendance at the Western Suburbs v Newtown grand final of over 11,000. He later confided that it all made good reading in the newspaper. Trouble is these written suppositions become fact.

There were other big crowds recorded at Trumper Park, including one of 10,000 in the early fifties when NSW played a visiting side. Again, the League’s ability to accurately record attendance numbers was very limited.

And to Blacktown, the current venue for finals matches. Despite the centre of Sydney now recorded west of Parramatta, getting crowds to Blacktown does present a challenge. The facilities are good but nevertheless it is a long way for those used to watching the game closer to town.  Last year’s premier division crowd was recorded at ‘around’ 1000.

One way is to compare the gate takings and while there has been a variance in the entry fee over the years, it is still an indicator of crowd numbers. It would be interesting to dig deeper for the reason of the large disparity between 2009 and 2010 -.  Click image to enlarge.

Sydney Grand Final Gate Takings small




Other records of crowd numbers were kept, but not maintained. Here is a graph of gate takings from 1930-60.  Click image to enlarge.

Sydney Football Attendance I small


Timekeepers Clock
Timekeepers  Clock

We have written much about football and its peripheral activities and now one subject comes up that takes place in each game and at times continues to be as vexatious as ever:  Timekeeping.

The rules of the game say that each team must supply a timekeeper and the reason for this is simple.  It ensures that the time each quarter, breaks and match itself is timed correctly and stops cheating.

The rules also say that each timekeeper must have his or her own timepiece with which they should maintain the times of those periods.

The president of the History Society, Ian Granland, is a person with undoubted credentials in this area, after he told us that he first began to keep time for a first grade match in Sydney at age 17.

“Like many struggling clubs, there was no-one else.  I was handed the clock and team sheet and told to go and sit in the press box with someone from the other club and keep time.” Granland said.

“What?  That’s not my idea of a fun day at the footy” I thought.  “That’s for old blokes who can no longer play or who don’t want to pick up the jumpers after the game” but, he went on “I was stuck with it.”

“I was a quick learner and soon found out that a good timekeeper can win or lose you a game.  I went on to work with some solid shonks in the local football fraternity, an area you probably don’t think counts.”

“First, I was told, ‘look, you write down the goalkickers and I’ll keep the time, don’t bother using your clock’ (I never could work out why there were two clocks in the first place – but there was a reason).

So on a windswept day at Erskineville Oval in Sydney, a naive young Ian Granland sat in the back seats of the grandstand (there was no pressbox) with his opposition number to keep time.  “It didn’t take me long to realise that although my colleague feigned stopping the clock (for time out) when my1988 Erskineville Oval 001 small team was kicking with the wind, he didn’t and the reserve was the case with his side.  My education in timekeeping had started.  And there were and still are, other lurks to the caper.”

There is nothing like a good club timekeeper, who comes along to the game does their job, interferes with no-one and goes home.  For every club, that’s one big and important job out of the way.

But of course on the other hand there are other disorganised clubs, many of whom are college teams, that just sit an injured player on the seat and expect them to perform.  No, it doesn’t work like that.

Umpires and their signals are another question.  If there is a prolonged stoppage in play, the officiating umpire must signal time out by raising their hand in the air and blowing the whistle.  Some forget and it’s not the timekeeper’s job to take on that responsibility, so if you see the clock ticking away while a stretcher is on the ground it’s maybe because the umpire is a bit lax.

But, the rules do provide for umpires who forget to signal ‘time back in’.  Should the umpire fail to do this the timekeeper/s can take it upon themselves to restart the clock. Sometimes umpires just raise their hand.  You have to watch the game.

Then of course, if you are at a match where a timepiece, more likely digital these days, is able to be viewed by the public, you might see the clock either stopped or operating when it should not and in fact the game stoppage has been addressed by the umpire.  This could be because of slack timekeepers.  Or if a timekeeper has been taken short and there is no-one to replace him or her….. and so the list goes on.

Every league will have bad timekeeping stories, there are no good ones because no-one notices the timekeeper if all goes well.  And, as an aside, did you know that many local rules provide for if and when the two goal umpires cannot decide on the score, they must consult with the timekeepers, who too, are supposed to be noting the score each time a point or goal is kicked.

But here’s a great story: In 1961 Newtown FC protested the result of its six point loss in the preliminary final to Sydney Naval when it was revealed that the siren sounded 12 minutes early to end the first quarter. This came about when the president of marching girls team (which was to perform at half time), plugged her music into the power board and in testing it, pressed the wrong switch which sounded the siren.  Nothing could be done because the players stopped and changed ends (there were no quarter time huddles then).

This certainly caused a conundrum with officials quickly deciding to spread those lost 12 minutes over the next three quarters. However they failed to tell anyone.  Was that a wise move? Was it within the rules? Maybe a situation like this had not been considered possible?

To add insult to injury, at the end of the game the sole central umpire failed to hear the final siren with both teams level on 88 points.  Sydney Naval player, Jack Harding had marked 40m out but his kick failed to reach the goal just as the siren sounded.  Oblivious to this, umpire Colbert called “play on” which allowed Naval player, Alan Waack, to gather the ball and boot a goal.  Sydney Naval had won by six points! The umpire even returned to the centre of the ground for the bounce before he finally acknowledged ‘time’.

Now you’re not going to believe this but a few weeks later in the grand final between North Shore and Sydney Naval there was a further timekeeping issue.

When starting to pack up towards the end of the of the match, acting league secretary, Joe Boulus, in dismantling the public address system, accidentally sounded the siren eight minutes before the end of the last quarter. Vice President, George Henry, jumped the fence and ran to tell the umpire but it was too late.

Let me tell you, similar things still go on today around Australia, we just don’t hear of them.

One thing I often see on the TV at times, is the clock being stopped in AFL games because of a complication in the game, when clearly the umpire has not signalled time out.  Have the rules changed?

Hail the long forgotten administrator in our game, The Timekeeper.  Lets have a Timekeepers Round for the thousands each weekend who perform that duty.

(We were going to publish a story about the introduction of the timekeepers clock into VFL football in 1923 but that can wait for another day.)


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) Warringah
Graeme Foster  –  later Balmain, East Sydney and NSW player Ermington
Mark Andrews(son of Brian, a former state player and Balmain coach) who played with North Shore Warringah
David McVey –  who went on to win a Kealey Medal with St George
Mark McClurelater captain of Carlton FC Eastern Suburbs
Greg Harris –  later state player and captain coach of East Sydney FC St George
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.

1970-04-01 - Chris Huon Invitation to Royal Reception small1970 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.

You can send your answers to this address: Click here.