Sir Douglas Ralph Nicholls KCVO MBE OBE by Rod Gillett

Doug Nicholls
as a young man

The search for the Greatest NSW Team unearthed a most distinguished Australian, Sir Doug Nicholls.

Sir Doug was born on 9 December 1906 and raised on the Cummeragunja aboriginal mission on the NSW side of the Murray River, near Echuca.

He began working life as a tar boy on the sheep stations in southern NSW. After moving to Melbourne to play football he became a council worker, boxer in Jimmy Sharman’s travelling boxing show, professional foot-runner, pastor, advocate for aboriginal advancement, and finally, Governor of South Australia (1976-77).

He was knighted in 1972 for “distinguished service to the advancement of aboriginal people. He had earlier been awarded an MBE (1957) and an OBE (1968). He was awarded the high honour of KCVO (Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order) by the Queen in Adelaide in 1977.

However, it was on the Cummeragunja mission oval that he learnt to play football according to Roy Hay, the author of the recently released ground-breaking book, Aboriginal People and Australian Football in the Nineteenth Century (2019).

Nicholls played his early football with the Cummeragunja mission team in the Western and Moira Riding district league based around Nathalia that was the forerunner to the Picola Football League. We are still trying to establish if he was member of the team that won the 1921 premiership.

In 1925 he joined nearby Tongala then playing in the Goulburn Valley Football League where he linked up with his brother Herbert, better known as “Dowie” (Great Goals: Goulburn Valley Football league 1894-1994).

Nicholls went to Melbourne in 1927 to try out for VFL club Carlton and played some reserve grade games. He famously left Carlton after a trainer refused to rub him down after training because of his skin colour according to his biographer Mavis Thorpe Clark, author of Pastor Doug: An Aboriginal Leader (1965).

He subsequently joined Northcote in the Victorian Football Association (VFA) where he became a regular member of the team. According to the AFL Record (27-29 May 2016), he starred in the 1929 win as well as the losing grand finals in 1930-31. He won the club’s best and fairest award in 1929-1930 and finished third in the Recorder Cup for the best and fairest in the VFA.

The Sporting Globe reported in 1929 that ‘he flashes through packs of big men, whisks around small men . . . and attempts marks at the back of any six-footer’. Nicholls was 5 ft 2 inches (158 cm) tall, but muscular and lightning fast. He was also a professional runner and won the Nyah and Warracknabeal Gifts in 1929

A further highlight of his VFA career was representing the Association in interstate matches in 1931 against NSW at the SCG and against the VFL at the MCG.

Doug Nicholls
Fitzroy Footballer

In a preview of the NSW v VFA match, The Sydney Morning Herald (15 August 1931) rated Nicholls as one of the main attractions, “He is a beautiful pass and high mark. Is very plucky, and revels in crushes, out of which he bounces like a rubber ball”. The VFA won 16.11.107 to NSW 13.17.95.

In 1932, Nicholls joined Fitzroy in the VFL and played alongside the great Hadyn Bunton, originally from Albury who was selected as first rover in the NSW Greatest Team. Bunton befriended Nicholls at Fitzroy and made him feel welcome, according to Mavis Thorpe Clark.

After Bunton was killed in a road accident in 1955, Pastor Doug officiated at his memorial service in Adelaide.

Nicholls played 54 games and kicked two goals for Fitzroy in the period 1932-36. He finished third in the club best and fairest in 1934 behind Hadyn Bunton (Brownlow medallist 1931-32 & 1935 ) and Wilfred “Chicken” Smallhorn (who won the Brownlow medal in 1933).

In 1934 he became the first aboriginal player to represent the VFL when they played the VFA. The following season he was selected for the tour to play against Western Australia and South Australia. He played in both Victoria’s wins over WA but missed the match against the SANFL due to injury.

Nicholls returned to Northcote in 1937 but ongoing knee injuries forced him to retire in 1939.

However, he did return to home to Cummeragunja for one last game in 1940 for a fund-raising game against Echuca at the Victoria Park Oval in Echuca.

Nicholls also returned to Northcote as non-playing coach in 1947. He is believed to be the first aboriginal person to coach a senior football club. Another example of him pushing the boundaries for his people.

Sir Doug expressed his passion for the game of football in an article in the Sporting Globe (1 June 1935):

“I get a tremendous kick out of football, because I know my people in New South Wales follow my doings and play closely by wireless and in the newspapers. This always spurs me on, and gives me added confidence”.

Shepparton Street Art
a fitting tribute

The ultimate football tribute for Sir Doug Nicholls has been the naming of the AFL’s Indigenous Round in his honour.

– A Game Against The English

In 1888 the touring English Rugby side played a game of Australian football against a combined Northern Districts team (Newcastle-Hunter Area of NSW).

The touring side has been described as a ‘British Lions’ although the team did not officially represent the (English) Rugby Football Union.  Nor did the Victorian Football Association (VFA – in those days), support the tour when the team toured through Victoria, in fact the secretary of the VFA in March of that year described the tour “…as I can see that nothing but evil will arise to our season and clubs”  [1]

The tour was organised by three professional English cricketers, James Lillywhite, Alfred Shaw and Arthur Shrewsbury.  Lillywhite had captained England against Australia in cricket’s inaugural test match at the MCG in 1877 and got the idea of bringing a football team from England to tour Australia after a discussion with a Mr. Headley, a journalist from the Leader Newspaper in Melbourne, who told him during the progress of a cricket match on the M.C.C. ground, that the game of football (in Melbourne) drew gates of 25,OOO and even 30,000″ [2]

There is no doubt that the first consideration of the football tour was to make money with the sporting aspect possibly a secondary thought. [3]  The matches by a touring Rugby team were proposed with their game in mind however those against Australian Football sides really supports nothing but the proposition that the games were played to make a profit.  However given all this, for the players to maintain a clear objective, free from personal antipathies and comprises as well as the consistent, almost daily playing of games on this mammoth tour, must have proven a real headache for the organisers.

So while in Melbourne, at that time easily Australia’s biggest city, the Englishmen (Lillywhite & Co.) declared in 1887 that on their next tour they would bring out a team of rugby players to take on the colonials, and in particular to challenge Victorian teams playing under their own code of rules.

In the 1880s, the differences between rugby and Australian rules of football was not that substantial.  The main variations being: 20 players instead of 15, the ability to call a mark after catching a kick, the absence of an offside rule and the need to bounce the ball every seven yards while running with it; and there were more.

The touring Lions of 1888 played 54 matches in Australasia, winning 33, losing 14 and drawing seven. That included 18 games of Australian Football, of which they won 6, lost 11 and drew one (in these matches only goals counted, even though behinds were recorded).

                                                    The 1888 British Lions Results in Australian Football



16 June Carlton FC Lost 3-8 14-7 25,000 MCG
20 June Bendigo FC Won 5-16 1-14 4,500 Back Creek Cricket Ground
22 June Castlemaine Reps Drew 1-2 1-4 1,500 Camp Reserve
23 June South Melbourne FC Lost 3-7 7-20 8,000 Sth Melb Cricket Ground
27 June Maryborough FC Lost 3-11 4-12 7,000 Princess Park, Maryborough
29 June South Ballarat FC Lost 3-7 7-18 7,000 Eastern Oval, Ballarat
30 June Fitzroy FC Lost 3-4 12-10 4,000 Fitzroy Cricket Ground
3 July Port Melbourne FC Lost 6-11 7-15 900 East Melb Cricket Ground
7 July South Adelaide FC Lost 5-9 8-9 5,500 Adelaide Oval
10 July Port Adelaide FC Won 8-8 7-8 2,000 Adelaide Oval
12 July The Adelaide FC [4]  Lost 3-5 6-13 3,000 Adelaide Oval
14 July Norwood FC Lost 3-1 5-8 8,000 Adelaide Oval
18 July Horsham FC Won 6-5 0-2 1,500 Horsham Rec Reserve
20 July Ballarat Imperials FC Lost 1-2 4-15  UK Saxon Paddock, Ballarat
21 July Ballarat FC [5]  Won 5-8 4-8 1,000 Saxon Paddock, Ballarat
25 July Sandhurst FC Won 3-2 2-10 UK Back Creek Cricket Ground
26 July Kyneton FC Won 2-7 1-5 1,500 Kyneton Racecourse
28 July Essendon FC Lost 3-5 7-16 meagre East Melb Cricket Ground
14 August Northern Dists FA Lost 4-5 9-19 1,200 Albion Ground, Maitland

(The games in red are two extra games we found which are not recorded in the official records of the tour.)

Most were keen to play against the English – the old country, there was an attitude of “we are (still) part of them.”

One of the most interesting football matches ever played in the Northern district (Newcastle-Hunter Region) under Australian rules, took place on the Albion Ground on Tuesday afternoon, 14 August in the presence of about 1200 spectators, including many ladies, who took a lively pleasure in the contest.  This was between the English Football Team and a twenty chosen from the Wallsend, Newcastle, Summerhill, Northumberland, and Our Boys’ Clubs. The visitors arrived in Maitland on the previous evening and were driven to Hodgson’s Royal and Main’s Excelsior Hotels, where everything possible was done to make them comfortable. Arrangements had been made that they were to be given an opportunity of seeing the picturesque country about Maitland, but by special request they were allowed to pass the morning roaming “at their own sweet will,” as they expressed themselves as tired and sadly in need of a rest.

Mr. George Buxton, a most enthusiastic and ardent supporter of football and other athletic pastimes, was, however, always on hand to supply information, and to act as guide generally.

The Albion Ground had been specially prepared for the match which should be a memorable one from the fact that it was the only occasion on which the Britons had played under the Australian rules of football in New South Wales, and also the only one in which they had been compelled to strike the Union Jack, although they had only been successful in some half dozen matches under Australian rules in Victoria and South Australia, but they are well-nigh invincible at Rugby.

The contest was timed to begin at a quarter past three, but it was long after that hour before the English-men were driven on to the ground in a four horse omnibus, and it was approaching four o’clock as the men entered the field, where they were received with a hearty cheer. Two of the team wore a bit off colour, and their places were kindly taken by Norman and Kennedy of the Northumberland Club. The other members of the combination were a wonderful, sturdy and athletic lot.  They were captained by R L. Sneddon.

The Northerners were: R. Bower (captain), Giles, Bussell, Howell, Cosstick, Derkenne, Estell, Creighton, Smart, O’Brien, Adamson, Evans, Conn, Berthold, Griffiths, George and James: Du Guid,
T. Moore, Thomas, and Marshall; but they were a weedy looking lot when compared with their opponents, although they were all fast and game as pebbles. (love that expression)

Considerable disappointment was expressed at the absence of John Du Guid, Archie Moore, and Harris all Wallsend representatives who were unavoidably detained, so their places were taken by substitutes. As to the contest itself, it can at once be set down as a bad one, as the Englishmen did not know enough about the little points of the game to be a fair match for the Northerners, who fairly outran and out-kicked their opponents, who, however, were very proficient in the short time they have known the rules, is taken into consideration, but they were just a bit too heavy and too slow to be champions in the Australian game. There was not the slightest suspicion of wind, and the day was such a beautiful one for football that the winding of the toss by Bower from Sneddon, who led the Englishmen, made but slight difference” et-al [6]

“The match may simply be styled a “walk-over” for the Norths, who never played better than on this occasion. The Australian game is not popular with the Englishmen, and in their opinion would not succeed in England, if it were introduced there, as it is not a game adapted for a cold climate.  Another reason is that the team is an usually heavy one, and the game calls forth not weight, which is essential in Rugby, but the activity and dexterity which the stolid looking. Britons seem to lack–in other words, “They’re not built that way” – therefore their denunciation is easily understood. [7]

A real downside to the English (unofficial) tour was the death of the captain, Bob Sneddon.  He was given the captaincy of the team, but after 20 games of a 35 match series, Seddon drowned in an accident while sculling on the Hunter River in West Maitland, New South Wales, a day after the above match. He had ventured up river alone, and his team mates, Jack Anderton and Andrew Stoddart found him dead some time later. He was buried in Church of England cemetery in West Maitland.


[1] Australian Star – 14 January 1888, p.6
[2] Ibid
[3] Ibid
[4] Evening Journal – 13 July 1888, p.4
[5] Ballarat Star – 21 July 1888, p.2
[6] Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser – 16 August 1888, p.7
[7] Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 15 August 1888, p.5

– Football in Newcastle and the Hunter – updated

1889 Hamilton
Football Club

Australian football was first played in the NSW Hunter region in 1881 when a team was formed at West Maitland.

Rugby (Rugby Union) was then the only football code played in the area and an interesting comment was tagged onto the report of the new team’s formation: “The adoption of the Victorian rules by the newly-formed club will be regarded as a step in the right direction, as the Rugby game which is rendered so objectionable from its roughness and frequency of scrimmages, is gradually dying out in the metropolis and other places.” [1]

A month later the Northumberland (Maitland) Club was formed [2] and in the same year, clubs at Lambton, Wallsend/Plattsburg and Newcastle City were established. [3]

In 1883 the South Melbourne Club visited Maitland on Tuesday 17 July where they played a combined team of Newcastle and Maitland Clubs.  This was the only day in their schedule that they could visit the area and a public subscription raised ample funds to enable the team play the match at the Albion Ground.  An estimated 500 attended the game which was won by South 6-9 to 5-10 (behinds were not counted in the score in those days).  The home side were permitted to play three extra players on the ground against the visitors. [4]

In July 1885 the first recorded schoolboys game was played in the Newcastle District between Wickham and Wallsend Superior Schools resulting in a win for Wickham 2-10 to 0-5. [5]

In late July 1886 the Northern District players met a Queensland twenty on the Newcastle Cricket Ground before a crowd of 1500.  This match was played while on their way to Sydney for an inter-colonial match.  [6]  By August 30 there was enough momentum to form an association or league and on Monday 30 August 1886, before  representatives of from Wallsend, Northumberland, Carlton, Newcastle City, Stockton, Summerhill and Mount Zion clubs, with five apologies, the Northern District Football Association was formed. [7]

In mid-1887 Newcastle City reported that they had a renowned VFA player, Joey Tankard in their lineup when they were scheduled to play a match against Northumberland at Maitland Park. [8]

The Association indicated they could raise the astronomical amount of £150 (one hundred and fifty pounds) as an inducement for a VFA team to play in Newcastle. [9]

This possibly resulted in the visit of the Fitzroy Club the following year where they were schedule to play four games: May 26, v. Maitland District, Albion Ground, May 29, v. Maitland Juniors (23 players) on the Albion Ground and May 31 v. Newcastle District and June 2, v. Combined North, both on the Newcastle Ground.[10]

By this time Summer Hill had joined the Association and there were also junior teams (although the ‘junior’ age was probably under 21) in Carltons, Warwicks and Centennials.  It was noted around this time that the Newcastle City Club were prone to forfeit games, particularly against those teams where the outcome would have likely been in the opposition’s favour. [11]

On Monday 22 April 1889 (Easter) an exhibition game was played at Dungog, north of Maitland [12]  then later in the year a representative side from the Northern District Football Association travelled to Victoria where they played games against the VFA, Carlton, St Kilda, Ballarat and Fitzroy Clubs. [13]  Another club competing in 1889 competition was Merewether.

In 1890 the Newcastle Herald published the Hamilton Football Club’s annual report which provided in fine detail, the activities of the club since 1887.[14]1887 Northumberland Football Team - 1887-09-24 Town & Country Journal -p.643

By 1895 it was all over.  There was no trace of any club participating in either Newcastle or the Maitland area.  A similar phenomenon had occurred in Sydney however there issue was put down to poor management;  there was no such inference to the north with the only suggestions that some players, particularly juniors, had no idea what they were doing. [15]

The 1890s also brought economic depression to the country.  Did this impact on football?  It did not appear to on Rugby or Association Football (soccer).

So no football until 1898 when a supporter wrote to a local newspaper advocating a meeting to re-start the game.  The response was positive. [16]

Clubs were reformed in Wallsend and Maitland and they played a few games but then it again fell away only to be revived in 1903, the same year that football in Sydney was resuscitated. [17]

Since then however, football has been an on-again, off-again affair and it wasn’t until 1948 that Australian  Football gained a permanent footing in the district thanks in many ways to the number of service personnel being transferred to the area.

Then in 2000 when the Black Diamond Football League was formed football came assume a very solid position within the community and the play is now of a very good standard.

1881 Northumberland West Maitland
1883 Lambton, Newcastle City, Wallsend/Plattsbury
1885 West Maitland Half Holiday Club
1886 Stockon 2nds, Carlton 2nds, Summerhill, Mount Zion, Rix’s Creek, Morpheth
1887 Our Boys 2nds, Hamilton, Northumberland 2nds, Oakhampton 2nds, Lochinvar Oakhampton is north of Rutherford
1888 Wallsend Juniors, Merewether,
Burwood United,
1890 Tighes Hill, Broadmeadows juniors, Charlestown, Rovers, Hamilton Juniors, Vulcans.
[1] Maitland Mercury 9 July 1881 p.8
[2] Newcastle Morning Herald 13 August p.3
[3] Newcastle Morning Herald 7 August 1885 p.2
[4] Maitland Mercury 219 July 1883 p.4
[5] Newcastle Morning Herald 28 July 1885 p.8
[6] Newcastle Morning Herald 25 June 1886 p.5
[7] Newcastle Morning Herald 31 August 1886 p. 8
[8] Maitland Mercury 25 June 1887 p.12

[9] Maitland Mercury 28 June 1887 p.3
[10] Maitland Mercury 24 May 1888 p.5
[11] Newcastle Morning Herald 25 June 1888 p.6
[12] Maitland Mercury 18 April 1889 p.4
[13] Newcastle Morning Herald 5 August 1889 p.8
[14] Newcastle Morning Herald 11 March 1890 p.5
[15] Newcastle Morning Herald 4 June 1894 p.3
[16] Newcastle Morning Herald 16 June 1898 p.7
[17] Maitland Daily Mercury 22 June 1898 p.2

Sixteen a side

Sixteen a side, an interesting concept isn’t it?

The old VFA played sixteen a side for years, with great success I might add and there are probably many leagues throughout our land which still play with the same number.

Ever wonder why soccer is so popular?  Besides the fact that Mum thinks little Johnny won’t get hurt, here is the answer:

There are eleven players on each side;  not many to rustle up for a kick around is it?  Team A kicks (or faces) one way and Team B kicks the other.  The object is by not touching the ball with the hand, kick it through those goal posts at the other end.  Simple isn’t it?

If you are a junior coach in soccer how easy is it?  “You face this way and if the ball comes near you, kick it that way.”  And if you win the comp everyone thinks you are a genius. I have often thought “what a simple principle”  But what do we do?  We invent the best game in the world and muddle it up by introducing all these rules.  In 1859 there were 12.  How many are there now?

Plus, now the central umpire – there are three in the big time where this booming voice comes from secreted part of the ground to Intermittently adjudicate on a score – has the discretion to allow a free kick to go unheeded in order to ‘keep the game flowing.’   Great idea, but what pressure does that put on our umpires while Waldo Bloggs, who might be watching the game for the first time must ask himself, “what is going on?”

Anyhow16aside, enough of that.  The game was started with 20 players on each side with NO reserves or interchange.  All that changed in the 1890s when the new competition, the Victorian Football League, changed it to 18 aside.  Still no reserves.

Did you know that in 1935 the Eastern Suburbs Club in Sydney, a club long lost in the mix-up of clubs, names and teams put forward a proposal to cut the number of players from 18 to 16 (great idea).  At the same time they proposed a crossbar be put between the goalposts and a goal had to be kicked through and under the crossbar (I dont know about that one).  Starting to complicate things, isn’t it?  Well the concept went off to the long gone Australian National Football Council which failed to give it any support.

Then along came a ‘new broom’  in 1960-61  when Joe Boulus, from Broken Hill was appointed fulltime secretary of the NSW AFL (it was all honorary before then).  He followed Ken Ferguson who gave the league 35 years of his time as league secretary.  A fair effort and Ken was a lovely bloke.

They introduced sixteen aside in the Sydney competition.  However the traditionalists of the game howled it down, although they agreed they were playing on smaller grounds than most of Australia “but it wasn’t real football if there weren’t eighteen on the paddock.”  One reason Sydney football has failed is because some couldn’t see 16aside 3the forest for the trees.

So six months later and mid-season it was back to 18 aside.

Then in 1998 when the AFL usurped control over the game in NSW with an appointed administration as opposed to an one elected, John Livvy, the new CEO changed Sydney team numbers to 16. GOOD!  But it too didn’t last long so here we are, the majority of the teams in a what can broadly be described as a successful but sometimes struggling code in NSW, where if you can’t get the required numbers, you forfeit and yet we are still yet to get to where they would be happy with numbers playing the game.

Or is it that the majority of our young now play their sport on a tablet?

Do you know that in some soccer comps play 5 aside?

Some of Season 1960

Threepence smallHopefully by the end of today we will have posted all of the Sydney Football Records we have from 1927 and now including seasons 1982-3.

Some information from 1960 in particular is very riveting.  Amongst them are those of the Australian National Football Council Section 2 Championships played at Trumper Park in Sydney over a period of seven days.

With the passage of time and the constant change of administrators at the NSW Football League, this is one series that has been forgotten.

The combatants were: NSW, VFA, Queensland and “Canberra“ the latter playing under that title until midway through the 1970s. Here are the results:







25 June NSW 14-24 (108) QLD 13-19 (107)
26 June VFA 17-31 (133) Canberra 3-11 (29)
29 June NSW 13-13 (92) Canberra 13-12 (90)
29 June VFA 22-20 (152) QLD 3-7 (25)
2 July Canberra 16-16 (112) QLD 13-10 (88)
3 July VFA 23-24 (162) NSW 8-9 (57)


As well, there were some extraordinary lead-up games, particularly the games played during the week.

Before the VFA v Canberra match, Sydney University, who were not competing in the Sydney league that year, 13-11 (99) d Combined Newcastle 6-5 (41).

In the match Canberra v Qld, the curtain raiser was East Side v West Side while on the following day, which turned out to be the final in the game VFA v NSW, the Navy 9-16 (70) d Army 4-9 (33).

Frank DixonA very interesting aspect to the 1960 season which a few readers may remember, was the opening of the Frank Dixon (pictured) Stand at Trumper Park. It replaced a dilapidated timber stand which was built early in the first decade of last century and stood almost on the corner of Glenmore Road and Hampton Street.

Frank was a very charismatic character and a long time player and supporter of the game in Sydney.

While he probably deserves a page on his own (which we will work on) Frank was born and raised in Doncaster Avenue, Kingsford.  After attending St Mary’s Cathedral High School, he played rugby league as a youth then switched to Australian Football in 1926 turning out with with the Daceyville Waratahs Junior club, winning the best and fairest in his first year.

He later played with South Sydney and coached them to the 1934 & 35 premierships as well as runner-up in 1936 & 37.

He represented NSW on nine occasions from 1935-37 and at one stage was a player-coach of the state team.

Frank enlisted for the Second World War where he was wounded at El Alamein, later became a proud ‘Rat of Tobruk’.

Upon return he was elected senior vice president of the NSW Football League and subsequently appointed non-playing state coach from 1947-1952.

He was involved in politics and for a number of years a Labor alderman for the ward of Fitzroy in the City of Sydney Council.  He was deputy Lord Mayor of Sydney between 1960-62.

The new stand was opened on 25 June by Sydney Lord Mayor Harry Jensen and named after this legend of the game in Sydney.

The new stand, since now remodelled if not almost destroyed, “will seat 1500 people and has first class amenities, including tiled bath and shower rooms and dance hall and refreshment room.”


Threepence smallThis week we updated the 1960 Sydney Football Records Collection online and found them very interesting reading.

This now completes the full quota of Football Records published in that year.  To view, click here.

Unique to this season was the posting of more than one Record per round. Then, the league printed a certain number of Football Records for each particular match which included the team lists of only those competing teams. So in effect, each game received a different Record.

More interestingly is the posting of the full publication of all the Records from the Australian National Football Council Section 2 Championships played at Trumper Park in Sydney over a period of seven days.

With the passage of time and the constant change of administrators at the NSW Football League, this is one series that has been forgotten.

The combatants were: NSW, VFA, Queensland and Canberra, the latter played under that title until midway through the 1970s. Here are the results:


25 June NSW 14-24 (108) QLD 13-19 (107)
26 June VFA 17-31 (133) Canberra 3-11 (29)
29 June NSW 13-13 (92) Canberra 13-12 (90)
29 June VFA 22-20 (152) QLD 3-7 (25)
2 July Canberra 16-16 (112) QLD 13-10 (88)
3 July VFA 23-24 (162) NSW 8-9 (57)


As well, there were some extraordinary lead-up games, particularly the games played during the week.

Before the VFA v Canberra match, Sydney University, who were not competing in the Sydney league that year, 13-11 (99) d Combined Newcastle 6-5 (41).

Frank Dixon - NSW AFL Vice President, State Coach & Captain. Capt Coach Sth Sydney FCIn the match Canberra v Qld, the curtain raiser was East Side v West Side while on the following day, which turned out to be the final in the game VFA v NSW, the Navy 9-16 (70) d Army 4-9 (33).

A very interesting aspect to the 1960 season which a few readers may remember, was the opening of the Frank Dixon (pictured) Stand at Trumper Park. It replaced a dilapidated timber grandstand which was built early in the first decade of last century and stood almost on the corner of Glenmore Road and Hampton Street.  At its best it held 150 people with the change rooms at the top of the stairs, which proved a real problem with players, dodging the females with whirling umbrellas while running to their cold showers after the game.

The new stand was opened on 25 June by Sydney Lord Mayor Harry Jensen and named after a legend of the game in Sydney.  Frank Dixon was a former deputy Lord Mayor of Sydney.

This new stand, since remodelled if not almost destroyed, will seat 1500 people and has first class amenities, including tiled bath and shower rooms and dance hall and refreshment room.


1938 NSW State Team to Launceston 1 smallWe have often been asked about NSWs history of interstate games and how successful they had been over the years.

Well we can tell you that the NSW Football Association, the forerunner to the NSW Australian Football League, played their first representative game at the MCG on 1 July 1881.  The match was against the then VFA which was the first controlling body for football in Victoria.  The VFL was formed in 1897 from some clubs that then comprised the VFA.

Behinds were not counted in the score in those days, winners were judged by the number of goals they kicked and just as well in this first game because the VFA or Victoria, kicked 9-24 to 0-1.  The game in Sydney had only been going for 12 months while of course it was founded in Melbourne with the first game recognized as being played in 1858.

NSW played twenty six representative games between 1881 and until the Association’s demise in 1894 and only won against their regular nemeses, Queensland.  They drew several of their other matches, mostly because behinds were not counted, an anomaly in the game that was changed in 1897.

When the code was resurrected in Sydney in 1903, VFL clubs were falling over themselves to visit and play against the locals.  Some of the games were listed as NSW versus … or Metropolitan or alternatively, Combined Sydney and many of the records of the matches were lost or no effort was kept to maintain them.  So it has taken many long years of research and investigation to locate details of the respective games.

NSW’s most significant victories have been two over the VFL which were both played in Sydney.  They won the first of these in 1923, 15-11 to 11-19 and the other two years later by a point 13-10 to 13-9.  It is fair to say though on the weekends these games were played, the VFL fielded at least two other representative sides playing other interstate games so maybe their top side was not that which was fielded against NSW.

In the first thirty years of the last century they defeated Queensland (on several occasions), Port Adelaide, Geelong (twice), Tasmania (twice), South Adelaide, West Torrens, Melbourne, ACT, Sth Aust Football Assn and most of these games were played in Sydney.  They lost the rest which we have calculated as seventy.

The state has competed in numerous national carnivals, which up until the first war were played every three years in different states however in latter decades were relegated to competition between Tasmania, ACT and Queensland while the other states played in the same carnival but against supposedly (and more correctly) stronger opposition between themselves.

NSW have also played in at least three amateur carnivals, the most recent in a country championships carnival in Wagga in 2012.  The other two were held in Adelaide in 1936 and Launceston in 1938 and we have included a photograph of the team taken as they travelled to the apple isle by boat.

As part of the 1988 Bi-Centenary celebrations, a pure State of Origin team was selected to compete in the carnival in Adelaide.  They lost their game against South Australia but recorded their first ever win over WA 10-8 to 9-12.

Some might remember the pseudo State of Origin team NSW fielded on a rainy night game against the VFL on May 22 at the SCG.  They won that match 13-8 to 10-16, much to the chargrin of Victorian selector, Ted Whitten.  We say pseudo because the team contained several Sydney Swans players who were not born, nor played their junior football in NSW.

To sum it up, NSW have lost far more than they have won in interstate contests and now the state combines their fortunes with players selected from the ACT, so here’s to the future.

1963 – 2

Sherrin angle with 1963 grey backgroundAll seasons in Sydney football are different but 50 years ago, 1963, just appeared to be that little bit different again.

A year after 2UW broadcast the VFL Grand Final in Sydney in what can only be described as a very unique media event, the league started 1963 five hundred pounds ($1,000) in the red.  Prior to this the league finished 1962 with a deficit of five hundred and forty three pounds ($1086.00), four hundred and one pounds ($802.00) in 1961 and three hundred and seventy five pounds ($750.00) in 1960. This may not sound like much money today but back then, they were almost insurmountable figures for a struggling code.

Former Western Suburbs and Bankstown player, Rhys Giddey had been appointed the league’s secretary working out of a small building at Trumper Park.  He went on to assume a fulltime appointment in the position.

1963 followed at least one season of administrative turmoil and because the previous (honorary) secretary had been summarily dismissed in mid January (1963) then officials failed to get hold of any of the financial records until nearly three months in, so a set of unaudited accounts were presented to members at the AGM.

The league certainly had their problems.

On the club scene, calls for a two division system were ignored.  The Liverpool and Bankstown clubs amalgamated which reduced the competition to eleven clubs.  This necessitated a bye and there were suggestions that two other unnamed clubs should also amalgamate.It didn’t happen.

However the league engineered the draw so that the top teams from 1962 played each other twice as did the lower five clubs.  Top and bottom sides then only had to meet on one occasion.  This ensured the presentation of the game at a generally higher standard overall with the lower clubs “meeting under more equitable condi1963 Neil Wright - Wests coach smalltions.”

Western Suburbs were hailed as the glamor club upon the construction of the only Sydney licensed premises fronting onto Picken Oval.

The club signed a former VFA player, ruckman Neil Wright as their coach on a four figure fee, something unheard of in Sydney football.  This was when St George paid their ex-VFL coach two hundred and fifty pounds ($500) and South Sydney paid theirs, one hundred pounds ($200).  Wests also openly announced that it would pay both their first AND reserve grade players.  Another exceptional occurrence in the league and made it difficult for other clubs.

In total the Magpies had fifteen new players from interstate and country areas in 1963.  They also afforded the top dressing of their Picken Oval ground in preparation for the season.

Then on the eve of the finals Wests were hit with a savage blow when coach Wright was admitted to Prince Henry Hospital with hepatitis.  His place was taken by former club captain, Peter Kuschert.

Meanwhile, Hurstville Council decided to call for tenders for a large scale development of Olds Park and the St George Club was one which submitted a proposal for a 21 year lease for the site.

Rain forced the postponement of all round 4 matches in late April.

The Parramatta club got themselves into strife in a match against St George in early May when they played 16 unregistered players.  These were all former players of the Liverpool club which had since amalgamated with Bankstown and the players’ registration was locked in with the last placed, Liverpool/Bankstown Club.  Parramatta were fined a hefty fifty pounds ($100).

In May, St George took the opportunity to travel to Newcastle on their bye weekend where they defeated the Hamilton Club 8.15 (63) to 6.11 (47).  A week later they scored an impressive 15.15 (105) to 0.2 (2) win over Eastern Suburbs at Trumper Park, however in mid June they too had a shock when a last minute goal by Sydney University’s John Weissel gave the students a rare win over the Saints.

The East’s loss was their greatest in the club’s history and many attributed the atrocious weather conditions as one of the reasons for their poor performance.  It was a poor season for Easts, finishing second last.

Most fans chuckled quietly in round 6 when Parramatta included an untried 199.5cm American, Harvey Haddock in their side to meet Eastern Suburbs.  Hadock was a sailor on the USS aircraft carrier, Coral Sea which was visiting Sydney.  Easts won 17.7 (109) to 13.14 (92).  Hadcock battled to get a kick.

NSW played three interstate games that year and lost the lot.  There was a two goal loss to Queensland in Brisbane, an eleven point defeat by the ACT in Canberra and an eight goal loss to Combined Universities on the June long weekend at Trumper Park.

On 14 July, Eastern Suburbs backman, John Grey was charged with kicking boundary umpire Leo Farley in a game against St George.  Grey was subsequently outed by the Tribunal for five years.

Burly Newtown captain-coach, Ellis Noack won the league’s goalkicking with 55 majors while versatile, Western Suburbs fullback, Ray Sharrock, who played most of the season in a back brace, won the Phelan Medal.

Sharrock was instrumental in his club’s grand final victory over Newtown before a record crowd at Trumper Park.  League secretary, Rhys Giddey gave the attendance as 11,337 but admitted years later that he may well have over liberally over-estimated the figure.

As in many of Sydney’s grand finals, the 1963 version was no exception  It opened sensationally with an all-in brawl after an incident in the ruck snowballed and players from all parts of the field rushed to join in the melee.

Players from both sides stood trading punches until central umpire Mal Lee together with goal and boundary umpires separated them.

Newtown’s Gordon Hancock, in later years a leading figure in the Bankstown Sports club, was reported for striking and Wests John Griffiths was charged with kicking.  Wests won 14.14 (98) to Newtown’s 12.16 (88)  after the Magpies were down by nine points at the final change.

The league cancelled the proposed 15 September two hundred and fifty pound ($500), Premiers v The Rest game and replaced it with a final of the post season knock-out competition between St George and South Sydney.

Not to spoil their poor record, the league again finished the 1963 season again in the red.  This time though it was a much more manageable figure of thirty seven pounds ($74.00)


In July 1882 the Geelong Football Club played a series of games in Sydney.

While such visits by the (then) VFA clubs were seen as supporting the struggling code in NSW, the locals were never any match for these strong Melbourne district clubs.  They kept coming but the press in Sydney soon grew tired of promoting and reporting on contests which were severely one sided.

Charles Brownlow, after whom the Brownlow Medal is named, was playing for Geelong at the time and was one of the 23 players in the Geelong party.

They arrived on the 7:00am train from Melbourne at the Redfern Railway Station – Central had yet to be constructed. There, they were met by a large number of the local footballing community and driven in two drags to the Cambridge Hotel in Oxford Street.

Geelong played four games during their stay, each of which they won decidedly.

On Saturday 10 July they played the East Sydney club at the SCG.  Unfortunately it rained throughout the match, at times quite heavily and to such an extent that officials considered calling the match off.  The conditions were understandably very sloppy with some players flat out holding the ball.

It was estimated that only 300 braved the elements to see the visitors win 7.15 to 0.7 (only goals in that period were counted in the score although behinds were nearly always shown in the results).

The following Tuesday Geelong met the Sydney Club, also at the SCG, this time in fine weather where the crowd was recorded as between 500-600.   Sydney wore a navy blue uniform with scarlet caps and hose (socks).

They could do little to stem the might of the Geelong side who won this encounter 15.22 to 1.1.

Then, two days later, Geelong met the Petersham club at the same ground.  This was a minor side that only last two or three seasons when Petersham was considered a small village outside Sydney.

They were captained by Fred Wedd,  who had previously played with the Melbourne FC and represented Victoria.  His team appeared to have a few local talented ring-ins making up their number.

By this time the Geelong players realised that they could do it pretty easily and won this match 5.17 to 0.2.

On the following Saturday, Geelong played the NSW team who were made up from the 100 or so footballers participating in the game in Sydney at the time.

This game was again at the SCG before a more respectable attendance of around 3,000.

The weather was recorded as splendid and special trams had been put on to transport the spectators to and from the ground.  Former Melbourne FC player, R B Sibley, captained the NSW team which performed much more creditably than Geelong’s three previous encounters.

It is worth noting part of the description of the game in the Sydney Morning Herald where the journalist reported: “Sydney players were believed to have been profitably instructed by the illustrations of their (Geelong’s) intimate knowledge of the game, and hopes were also expressed that their visit to Sydney would be repeated.”

On the 17th, the Geelong contingent left Sydney by train bound for Albury where they were scheduled to play a match against local representatives.  A large muster of Sydney footballers were on hand to bid them farewell.