SYDNEY REP TEAM PLAY NEW ZEALAND

1888 Footballer 2 smallIn 1889 the New Zealand rugby team, colloquially referred to as ‘The Maoris’, probably to add some flavour to their side, played a game against a Combined Sydney Australian football team at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

The New Zealanders were returning home after an ultra-extensive 70 match tour of Britain.

They landed in Adelaide played then to Melbourne where they pitted themselves against several clubs including St Kilda and Essendon under the Australian rules of football and then a quick tour of Victoria country where, in one game, they were defeated by the Maryborough Club 6.9 to 1.2.

The team then made their way to Sydney where they played a number of rugby games against local sides.  Apparently because they had experience in the Victorian game a match was arranged against the NSW Football Association.

A crowd of 3,ooo turned up paying one shilling (10c) entry to the ground and if they wanted a bit of comfort, an additional one shilling to the stand.  Children were admitted at half price.

The Maoris were aided by the inclusion of four leading local Australian football players from the Waratah Club and naturally enough these were identified as the four best on the visitor’ s team.  The inclusion of these players was necessitated, it was said, because the New Zealand side “were short.”

The match finished in a draw: Sydney 4.10 to the Maori side’s 4.6.  The fact that it did, highlighted that the standard of the game in Sydney, which did not go unnoticed by the local commentators.  In a game the following week, the ‘Maori’ team travelled to Maitland where they were defeated by the Northumberland Club 6-7 to 3-4 before a crowd of 500.  Again the New Zealand team were three players short and had to be supplemented by some locals.

In June of the previous year, the visiting English rugby team were fixtured to play a game against the then VFA club, Fitzroy, on the Sydney Cricket Ground when the ‘Roys were in Sydney during a rep period in the VFL.  This game was in preparation to their tour of Victoria but the Brits. gracefully withdrew from the contest when it was realised that should they get a thrashing it could well affect crowds at the pending games in the southern colony.

Both the New Zealand and English teams played Australian football on their tours in an effort to gain revenue from admission fees (gate money) to fund their visit.  Twenty five thousand attended the Englishmen’s game v Carlton, ten thousand were at their South Melbourne encounter and even five thousand turned out for a match against country side, Maryborough.  So it was quite within their interests to play games in Victoria.

WHY DIDN’T FOOTY KICK ON IN SYDNEY?

Football logo 2We have often been asked why Australian football never did take on in Sydney?

The explanation is long and drawn out and possibly a controversial one.

The Society’s president, Ian Granland, has written a comprehensive but yet to be published account of Australian football in Sydney between 1877-1895 and in it he attempts to explain why the game failed to get off the ground in the NSW capital.

Here, he offers a frank and previously unexplored explanation.  In it Granland provided us with a brief but factual account of his theory why: “Bascially, it all started with politics,” Granland said.

Victoria, or Port Phillip (District), as it was then known, was part of the colony of NSW up until 1851 when under acrimonious circumstances (as far as the NSW authorities were concerned) it was granted separation and autonomy by Britain as a separate colony.

Those in control in Sydney were not happy.  Ironically though, it was they who had treated the Port Phillip district with disdain, but at the same time, did not want to lose the area from NSW control.

So there was this underlying current of unease, particularly for example when things like custom duties were introduced between the two colonies and collection officials were placed at various points along the Murray River.

There were other issues as well and these festering differences received a further shot in the arm in of all places on the cricket field in 1863  during an intercolonial cricket match between Victoria and New South Wales played on Sydney’s Domain.

During the game, Victorian wicket keeper, George Marshall, removed the bails when New South Wales batsman, Jones was wandering out of his crease, reigniting a similar incident when the two colonies had met previously.  The Victorian umpire, Jack Smith gave Jones out but the home state umpire, Richard Driver, president of the NSW Cricket Association and after whom the road in front of the SCG is named, decreed he was not out and said he had called ˜over” prior to Marshall’s action.

As a result, Victorian captain, Tom Wills (one of those acknowledged as a founder of Australian football) led his protesting team from the field under police escort only to be hit in the face with a stone while his other players were similarly assaulted.  Marshall and fellow professional, Bill Greaves, together with umpire Smith would not continue with the match and left for home by steamer; this was well before the rail line was connected to Albury.

This event created headlines in the two colonies and fuelled the situation.

So in 1877 when Carlton FC visited Sydney to play the rugby club Waratah in two games, one under Victorian rules and the other under the rules of rugby, it gave rugby (and Victorian) opponents the stage on which started their century plus opposition to what would become, the Australian game.

Sport was an easy target and as it turned out fitted the protagonists agenda nicely.

The establishment of football in Sydney followed a more traditional line from the mother country and in the early 1860s they began to play rugby, not soccer. Strangely this was not the case in Victoria whose population exploded upon the discovery of gold in 1853.  Victoria then began to develop into a very rich colony indeed, leaving Sydney authorities more bitter at their territorial and population loss.

Gradually, football clubs began to pop up all over Victoria but with no central theme, most invented their own rules or played a general version with a local bias.

At that stage Tom Wills was a rugby man through and through.  He had been educated at the Rugby School in England and played the game there.

When he involved himself with a bunch of cronies playing ˜football” on the Richmond1891.10.01 - Illustrated Australian News small Paddock in 1859, it was decided they should write some rules for their game.  He suggested the rules of rugby but the others were unfamiliar with the game so his suggestion was dismissed. This group of seven then wrote ten simple rules for their football which would go on to become the foundation for the Australian game of football.  This actual list of rules incidentally, still exist today and is housed in the MCG Museum.

So there you have it.  Sydney playing under Rugby rules and Victoria under a hybrid brand which became their rules.  Sydney had some highly placed people endorsing and promoting rugby, Melbourne apparently did not.

The political differences flowed onto the sporting field or for that matter, in anything that Sydney or NSW had to do with Victoria and yet, over the years, the reverse was not the same.

The early loathing of the Victorian game and the venom from the architects of it, particularly in Sydney, was simply inconceivable and to my thinking quite childish.

I can cite many occasions of pure spite against Australian football in Sydney, none worse than in May 1903 when the VFL assisted to resurrect the game in Sydney by staging a competition match at the SCG between the Collingwood and Fitzroy clubs.

To counter this the NSW Rugby Union (Rugby League was yet to be formed) fixtured a double bill.  One game, at the adjacent Sydney Sports Ground, featured the NZ All-Blacks and another game next door at the RAS Showground.  Each had a (reduced) entry charge of sixpence (5 cents).

Despite the charge at the SCG of one shilling (10 cents), the game attracted 20,000.

So not only did Australian football have to battle generally to introduce the game to Sydney, the Sydney Swans also fought for acceptance when they emerged in 1982. They had to battle with opponents of the game, many of whom saw rugby, not so much with a mortgage on football in NSW – because they offered no opposition to soccer when it was introduced, but as the game of preference.

1908 FootballerThis attitude has gone on year after year, decade after decade, spurred on by some journalists looking for a cheap headline. It has permeated into following generations, many of whom really had no idea why they held such an aversion to Australian football, they simply followed suit.

The approach led to fear of it over taking and to some extent envy at the mere mention of the game of Australian football.

Thankfully this attitude is slowly changing so that all Australians can now enjoy the skills and wonderful features of our great national game.

South Adelaide Football Club Tour

In 1884, only a few years after the, NSW Football Association (a forerunner to the NSW Aust Football League), South Australian Club, South Adelaide, which were formed in 1876, toured the Eastern States and played a series of matches in Sydney.

They stayed for two weeks and played in five games and team included most of the players who would go on to be premiers in South Australia the following season.

Their first, in Newcastle had to be abandoned because of the state of the ground following tumultuous rain so in an impromptu match on Thursday 26 at the SCG, they played local club, Waratah.  This was the only club to change its allegiance from rugby to the Victorian game during those very early years of the formation of the game in Sydney.

A crowd described as meagre attended the match where the South Australian club ran over the top of Waratah, 10.8 to 1.1.  In those days behinds, although displayed, were not counted in a teams score and as well,  matches were not played in four quarters, but two halves.  South Adelaide kicked 9 goals in the second term.

The following Saturday also on the SCG, they drew their game with NSW 3.15 to 3.9.  The tramway department arranged for additional trams to run at frequent intervals to the ground during the afternoon in an expectation of a large crowd.  Only 1500 turned up to watch the match.

During the afternoon the City Temperance band kindly volunteered their services and “performed some choice selections of music which were greatly appreciated by the occupants of the grand stand.”

On Tuesday before a crowd estimated at only 100, South Adelaide defeated East Sydney by one goal, but because of their inaccurate kicking, they kicked twenty one (uncounted) behinds while East could failed to score however were noted as registering three behinds.

Two days later their scheduled game against the Sydney club was postponed, again because of the weather, and on Saturday 5 July at the SCG they easily defeated a defiant NSW team 9.8 to 5.7.

The Sydney Club wanted their share of glory and challenged South Adelaide to a game on the following Monday – the day of their departure from the city.

     Billy Goer

Sydney fared better than East however the captain of the Sydney team, George Crisp, complained that several members of his team failed to follow his direction in the game and the committee of the Association indicated that if it re-occurred they would name the delinquents.

A strange comment coming from Crisp who along with Billy Goer, former Carlton Vice Captain, did not play.  The fact that the game had to be played early because of the scheduled departure of the South Australian team by rail in the afternoon could well have accounted for their late non-appearance.

Following the game, some members of the Sydney club drove the opposition team to the (then) Redfern rail head by a four horse drawn bus where, after “after the usual shaking of hands,three lusty cheers were given as the train moved away.”

COLLINGWOOD FANS DIDN’T WANT TO LOSE GAME

In 1903, Harry Hedger, who worked for the NSW Blind Society, visited Melbourne where he addressed a meeting of the VFL asking for two clubs to play a competition match in Sydney as a promotion for the re-establishment of Australian Football.

The game had been played competitively between 1881-95 in Sydney but, mainly due to bad management, it folded.

Born inTasmania, Hedger, was very much a dedicated employee of the NSW Blind Society, eventually receiving an OBE in 1935; his other passion was Australian football, and all this took place in Sydney.

During the 1880s & 90s he played for East Sydney, Sydney, Waratah, City, West Sydney and Our Boys clubs, for the most part, to keep them viable and in existence.  As well he turned out for the Sydney University team which visited Melbourne in 1888.  He represented both Sydney and NSW on numerous occasions and at various times umpired several games.

Hedger was captain of several of these clubs where he also took on official positions as he did with the Association.

He was passionate about his football and at his own cost took the train to Melbourne where on 27 February he met with VFL officials.  He implored them to send two teams to Sydney for a match which he believed would help kick-start the game in the NSW capital.

The Fitzroy Club secretary, Con Hickey said his club was willing to travel to Sydney at its own expense and forego any share of the gate receipts.  Eventually, Ern Copeland, secretary of the Collingwood club said that his club would also make the trip under similar conditions.  To engender interest, the game would be part of the home and away competition matches.

The VFL then resolved that the proceeds of all games played in Melbourne on the day of the Sydney match would be pooled and divided equally between all clubs in the league and the ground on which their scheduled encounter was to be played would be awarded one of the semi final matches.

It was estimated that the game would cost each club at least three hundred pounds ($600) each.

Hedger left the meeting quite happy but when Copeland confronted his members at the 9 March Annual General Meeting, a motion was passed that the game not be considered a competition match and that it be merely an exhibition.

This was greeted with dismay and resentment in Sydney resulting in an immediate letter to the VFL outlining how the decision would detrimentally effect the standing of the re-emerging code.

Eventually the VFL upheld their earlier decision and the game went on to be played before a crowd of 20,000 at the SCG on May 23.  The six hundred pound gate ($1,200) was left to the new football league in Sydney to promote their activities.

The reigning premiers, Collingwood took a party of 43 with them and a budget of four hundred pounds ($800) while Fitzroy, who were to that date undefeated, had 50 in their group.  These two clubs went on to play off in the 1903 grand final which Collingwood won by two points.

Also in 1903 Hedger chaired the formation meetings of several clubs, including North Shore, and for some time in that decade was the president of the YMCA Club.  He died in 1937 aged 78 years never really receiving the recognition due for his long standing commitment to the game in Sydney.

Our photograph shows Harry (or Henry) Hedger in 1923 when he accompanied the NSW team to Melbourne where they played Victoria.

Jim Phelan’s Writings

(YOU CAN NOW READ THE ATTACHMENT – link below)
Jim Phelan was one of the most influential and hard working honorary officials Sydney has seen.

A product of the Victorian Gold Mining boom, he learned his football around Ballarat and upon moving to Sydney played with the Waratah Club in 1888-9. He re-emerged in 1892 as Secretary and player of the East Sydney Club.

When the code was resurrected in Sydney in 1903, following an almost ten year hiatus, he became the inaugural secretary of the Newtown Club until the outbreak of World War I when, mainly due to financial and man-power reasons, the game in Sydney again almost came to a crashing halt.

Between 1914-25 Jim took on the position of honorary Secretary of the League (General Manager) and was a huge influence in it’s continuation, particularly during the first war.

It was also during this time that Jim wrote, on a casual basis, about football in Sydney  for The Arrow, one of the many Sporting Publications.  It is from his accurate and to the point reporting of the game, at a time of distress for Sydney football, that we are able to form a picture of how the game was played and organised during that period.  We shall present these at a later date.

Jim was made a life member of the NSW Football League, then, following his prolonged period as the NSW delegate to the Australian Football Council – a national body representing each state and territory (since absorbed by the AFL), he was bestowed with life membership to this organisation in 1924.

So much did the football people of Sydney respect the tenacity and ability of this determined confectionery salesman, that the title of the Best and Fairest Medal was altered during the mid 1930s to bear his name.

Fortunately, Jim also wrote about many of his experiences and past times which were published  in the Football Record of the day, some of which we have transcribed and are included here for you to read.
Click Here for Phelans writings