– Junior Football Part II

A A Laird

As written previously, football was resurrected in Sydney in 1903 after disintegrating in 1895.

This meant that organisers had to start from scratch but there appeared to be tremendous enthusiasm within those who had put their shoulders to the wheel to see the game once again played in the NSW capital.

The first annual report of the NSW League read, in part: “The first annual meeting of the New South Wales Football League was held in the Y.M.C.A. Hall, where there was a large attendance. The Hon. E. W. O’Sullivan occupied the chair. The annual report set out that the League was constituted in 1903 by the association of eleven newly formed club, but as one club became absorbed into another the present League comprised ten clubs. Great attention was paid by the League in introducing the game into the, public schools. In June last Mr. Nash formed a special committee to undertake that work, and their efforts had met with extraordinary success.”

Mr Mr. E. W. O’Sullivan was Minister for Public Works and a former Tasmanian.

He went on to say “He looked upon New South Wales as a big paddock, and If they wanted to play the Australian game he thought they were entitled to do so ….. There was some doubt at the time of its inception, of its success, but after the lapse of twelve months there could be no doubt, because the ground covered was so great that further success was sure to be secured. ” [1]

Speaking at the same meeting, Mr. J. J. Virgo,  secretary of the Australasian Union of YMCA, said that “when, three years , ago, some half-dozen gentlemen met for the purpose of endeavouring to start anew the Australian game In Sydney none of them, even the most optimistic, dreamt that within such a short space of time the game would have grown locally to anything like Its present proportions,

“When one came to think of the conditions then existing regarding football mutters . it was a fine performance that the league had accomplished. Now it was beyond dispute that the game was firmly established,, and It was accepted as one of the things that had to be. Needless to say, that had not been brought about without the exercise of much forethought and patient, unceasing perseverance on the part of those at the head of affairs. Considering all the circumstances the progress made by the Australian game In Sydney was little short of wonderful. No doubt a great deal ‘of the success, was due to the foresight of the league In establishing competitions In the public schools and the Catholic primary schools of the city and suburbs.

“Work was commenced In 1904, and so many schools took the game up, and with such enthusiasm continued playing it, that when the 1905 season came round the question arose regarding the necessity of providing some competition to meet the requirements if the lads who had left school in the Interim, and might be desirous of continuing playing the national game from then onwards. With the object of filling that need, A. A. Laird (a government shorthand writer) took the matter in hand.”

“Considering that the lads had only had one season’s experience of the rules the most that was expected was that some half-dozen clubs might be formed, and that number would have been thought entirely, satisfactory. Advertisements were inserted (in newspapers) and meetings held in various centres, with the result that the following clubs were formed to play Australian rules:—

Balmain ‘A’ Balmain ‘B’ Dulwich Hill Eastern Suburbs Kegworth Maristonians
Newtown Petersham North Shore Redfern St Peters St Vincents

double the number anticipated. Two delegates were appointed by each club, and these met at the Y.M.C.A. Hall (thanks to that sterling supporter of, the game, Mr. J. J. Virgo) on the 7th May -last. In the good .times corning .for the game locally It will be interesting’ to know the names of the delegates who were present on that occasion and formed the association that means absolute success for the game here.”

“Rules were adopted, and a competition arranged, the. conditions regarding the latter being. ‘that no player taking part should be over the age of 19 years at the commencement of the first round’ and interest was keenly sustained In that competition throughout the season. [2]

So you can see that while the schools competitions were well catered for the weekend ‘juniors’ at that stage were not really boys at all, but young men.

Three or four officials, in particular, A A Laird, Harry Cave and J A Kelso put all their efforts into promoting the game in the schools, which for the first few years and before Rugby woke up and began to reoganise saw a great number of Sydney schools regularly playing the game:

Following is the draw for the first round of the 1904 Schools Competition, under the auspices of the N.S.W. League (Australian Rules) :
No. 1 District (Central).— Cleveland-street, v Crown-street, on Friday; William-street v Redfern West, on Friday; Blackfriars v Ultimo, on Thursday; Pyrmont v Glebe, on Thursday; Forest Lodge a bye.
No. 3 District (Eastern Suburbs). — Plunket-street v Double Bay, on Friday; Woollahra v Bondi,- on Thursday; Waverley v Randwick, on Friday Coogee -v. Kensington, on Thursday.
No. 4 District (Southern Suburbs) — Gardners-road v Waterloo, on Thursday; Alexandria v Erskinevlle on Thursday; Camdenville v Redfern A, on Friday; Redfern B v. Newtown North, on Friday; St. Peters, a bye.
No. 5 District (Illawarra Suburbs – St George) Tempe v Arncliffe on Thursday; Rockdale v Kogarah on Thursday; Hurstville West v Canterbury; on Thursday; Dulwich Hill v Marrickville, on Friday;- Marrickville West a bye.
No. 6 District (Western Suburbs). — Petersham v Summer Hill, on Friday; Ashfield v Croydon Park; on Thursday; Croydon v Burwood, on Friday; Homebush v Auburn, on Thursday.
No. 7 District (North-Western Suburbs).— Balmain v Darling-road, on Thursday; Birch grove v Nicholson-street, on Friday; Smith-street v Leichhardt, on Thursday; Leichhardt West v Drummoyne on Friday; Kegworth a bye. [3]

Before the match on the 28th May between VFL Clubs, Essendon and Melbourne at the SCG, there were matches between a combined team from the northern and eastern district schools, and game from schools from the southern v the western districts schools.

[1]  Australian Star 9 April 1904, p.2
[2}  Australian Star 17 April 1906, p.3
[3}  Evening News 18 May 1904, p.2

INTESTING READING

Glancing through the newly posted 1907 Australian Footballer we came up with some interesting facts and information:

By April the Illawarra Club had a ‘splendid membership’ and are very eager to see the Association Competition (reserve grade) commence.  They secured the Bexley Cricket Ground and their secretary, Wilson, said that they were a sure thing for the premiership again.  The Illawarra ladies were also enthusiastic to help the boys by attending all their matches.  The article went on to say “Well done girls, but you have rivals in the St Leonards (they also played in the reserve grade) lady supporters who will no doubt be in force this season”.  Note: The Illawarra was the area we know as the St George region.

The North Shore club had secured rooms at 189 Walker Street, North Sydney.  Makes you wonder what they did there.

The junior competition which actually was a schools competition, was known as the Young Australian Association.  Many of the boys who participated in the competition in that year, and later, were killed in WWI.  There was a team in the competition representing Carlingford-Balmain.

Interesting: When the NSW Rugby Union lent the Erskineville Council a sum of money to expend on the council’s oval, it was foreseen that Newtown was going to be debarred by this somewhat peculiar proceeding.  The paper reported that is was cheering however to know that red and white’s have secured training quarters equal to anything they had on the oval.

In what we could only describe is perhaps an embellished report, certainly by today’s standards, one issue said that in 1906 82 senior teams with 732 members and 26 junior teams with 515 playing the game were participating in New Zealand.  Although later reports from the secretary of the league in New Zealand, B Sandford suggested the growth of the game there in 1907 was indeed flourishing.

This 1907 publication is the first reference we have seen to the word ‘footy’ although spelt ‘footie’.  The word has recently been adopted by rugby league, rugby union and soccer enthusiasts and yet the writer can well remember Channel 7 commentator and former Ruby League and Union great, Rex Mossop, deriding the term on a Sunday Morning Sports show many years ago as a ‘little kids word’. How times change.

And finally, a general callout appeared in the 1907 Australian Footballer for 80 umpires to officiate at school games each week during the season.

If you haven’t taken the opportunity to read the publication, it is well worth the effort.  Click here to go there.