– 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




Some of us are into statistics, some are not.

Obviously the honorary secretary of the NSWAFL from 1936-60 and then fulltime secretary between 1966-69, Ken Ferguson, was. (A young Ken Ferguson is pictured)

In a meticulous effort, Ferguson, a clerk with NSW Railways, maintained a chart of the gate takings from the attendances at all grounds in Sydney between 1930-50.

Right up until the early 1980s, the league took the gate takings at all games.  They paid gate keepers and also for the hire of the grounds and kept club affiliation fees to a minimum.

Ferguson kept a record of gate takings in each year; The competition matches, finals, the particular ground at which the income was received as well the takings at interstate matches that were held in Sydney.  His details were all recorded in Australia’s former currency of pounds, however, in our main graph (left)  we have converted the figures to dollars.  The problem is we don’t, at this stage, have sufficient information to provide the changes in gate charges and their respective increases over the years.  Also, there was an additional charge for those who wanted seating in grandstands at the grounds.  This was only available in that period at Trumper Park and Erskineville Oval.  The difference between the actual gate charges and the additional payment for grandstand seating was was never separated.

Another statistic we have not shown is say, the average male wage of the day, to the admission charge, which would give you some idea of the depth of the fee.

Previously, we have shown a graph of the total gate takings over the years and in fact up to 1960.  We have replicated this graph for our story.  The income is shown in pounds.

Our primary graph showing the yearly takings at the respective grounds may be a little difficult to understand, particularly when reading from 1948-50 because more grounds came online when three additional clubs, Western Suburbs, Balmain and University, joined the competition.  Additionally the programme does not allow us to feature more colours and/or line designs to differentiate the many number of grounds displayed.

You will see in green, the enormous jump in gate takings when Sunday football at Trumper Park was introduced during the war.

Sunday football was not primarily introduced in an attempt to raise more revenue for the league.  Sport played on Sundays was not only frowned upon but virtually illegal and the league almost found themselves in court over the issue.

They were however, the first sport (in particular, of all football codes) to play on Sundays.  This came about because of the lack of grounds at which they could charge a gate and gate money was by far the largest income stream for the league.

Fortuitously, and as we have mentioned, this occurred during WWII, and because there were so many servicemen in Sydney, many of whom were star players from other states, patrons (and in particular, other servicemen) thronged to Trumper Park to watch them play.

In retrospect it was an element of their time that officials in Sydney not only failed to recognize but more importantly, failed to capitalise upon this boost in popularity in the sport.  This increased income from the gate, as you can see, grew into the thousands, but where did the money go?  Another opportunity lost for Sydney football.

More Intervarsity News

Following our recent article regarding Sydney University and their participation in intervarsity activities, a further publication has come into our hands concerning another Universities’ Carnival held in Sydney.

This time it was June 1957 with a more ornate carnival programme published by the Australian Univeristies’ Sports Association.

The Sydney league published a couple of articles in their Football Record.  Article 1Article 2.

Unfortunately the University of Queensland could not make the trip citing the “call-ups”, that is to say, eighteen year olds who were then subject to the national draft, as being the reason for their non-appearance and yet, they were able to submit players for the combined team to play NSW.  These players were obviously over the age of 18.

So it was left to Adelaide, Melbourne, Tasmania, Western Australia and Sydney to battle out the competition.  The list of  players from the University of Adelaide were delayed for publication in the official programme and because they missed the print date, in true University style, beside each number the word “Croweater” was shown.  The Sydney University team is shown in the attachment.

All games were played on University Oval with a team selected to represent the Combined Universities defeated NSW on Sunday 9 June at Trumper Park.  Click to read.


We mentioned recently that Sydney University first put their toe in the water in the Sydney competition in 1887 but only lasted for a season and a half.

With some of their history, we have taken the following from the club’s website (www.suanfc.com) :

In 1935 attempts were made to re-establish the Sydney University Australian Football Club but without success. Again in April 1936, a notice was published in “Honi Soit” inviting students to form a club. Some Australian football must have been played at about that time as Alan Grozier is recorded as having been awarded a Blue in Australian football, but was not until 1947 that the club finally reincarnated itself. Even then its entry to the competition was delayed and it was not until 1948 that it started to play officially. The club got off to a promising start and seemed to have a number of good players. The club captain, John Marshall, was a former Canberra representative and the coach was “Bubber”  Phelan, a famous name in Sydney football. Len Fulton, a 19-year-old rover was selected in the State team to play South Fremantle. Tom O’Byrne a centreman from Tasmania was selected to play against Broken Hill in the same year and in 1949 was State captain. The Club received instant recognition within the University and was awarded three Blues in 1948, three in 1949 and three in 1950. The captain, John Marshall, ruckman and later Doctor John Neasey (who had played for Hobart University) and  Tom O’Byrne were the recipients in 1948.

The Club was soon back in the Intervarsity competition which was held in Sydney in 1949 in the course of which Sydney University actually defeated Adelaide University.

The revival was well timed because from 1951 the government commenced to fund fees for sporting institutions at universities which led to approval by the Sydney University Senate for the improvement of sporting facilities including the provision of dressing sheds on the ovals for those participating in athletics, rugby union, Australian rules and soccer.

It did not take long before the club established one of its long-standing traditions by playing the same team in first and reserve grades in 1951 after the annual inter-varsity competition. The club lost most of its games that year and attracted considerable criticism for not being competitive, but the most stinging criticism came in the Sunday paper of 3 June 1951 when it was reported that some of the University players engaged in inappropriate conduct because they wore odd socks and, even worse, one player took the field sockless.

In 1952 it was reported that the post-inter-varsity tradition was fulfilled again when on 9 July 1952 in a match against South Sydney 13 reserve grade players doubled up as a number of players had  arrived back in Sydney at noon for the game that afternoon after travelling by train from Adelaide which they had left at 6 PM on Thursday. The club was in trouble because the team had travelled to Adelaide without having obtained permission from the League, but the secretary, Ken Ferguson, showed some compassion by indicating that in his view any player who played after so many hours on a train deserved praise. (with thanks to their website manager for this information)

As we scoured through our records we found some additions that might well be of interest.

Firstly, as you will see, is a photograph of their 1949 match in the Intervarsity carnival against the University of Adelaide.

Second is the programme from the 1949 Carnival which you can read by clicking here.  In addition to this we have been able to dig up the match programme from the 1953 series, also held in Sydney and you can view this document by clicking here.

If these documents prove too big to view, simply print a copy.

With the club’s elevation into the NEAFL it will be very interesting to see how they perform, not only on the field but how their administration stacks up.  It is no secret that prior to Mark Skinner’s involvement, the club struggled off the field.  Since however, they have become a very well oiled unit and begin their quest in the big time competition with training commencing 6.15pm, from 9 January at St Pauls Oval, Sydney University.  We are unsure if you can follow their progress on Tweet.