That District Scheme Again

For some time in the first decade of the last century, many involved with the game wanted Sydney football to adopt a ˜district scheme.

District football meant the league determined an area of ˜accountability  for a club”. This would involve defining club boundaries by means of streets, landmarks and waterways.

Players who lived within the boundary of a particular club would have to play with that club or, obtain a clearance from them to play with another within the league. After establishment though, it would be difficult to apply these boundaries to current club players living outside these limits and expect them to change clubs if they had been with their club for some time.

Sydney cricket had adopted the ˜district scheme” in the 1890s and both rugby codes were either in the process of investigating the scheme or had adopted it by 1913.

The implementation of such a scheme for Sydney football was discussed for many years leading up to that year and Jim Phelan, after whom Sydney’s B & F is named and who is often regarded as the ˜father of Sydney (Australian) football’ was a fierce supporter and promoter of the scheme.

To his advantage, Phelan wrote for one or two Sydney newspapers during the leadup to 1913 so had a particular advantage in fostering his cause.

When it was eventually introduced in 1913 two senior clubs, Y.M.C.A. and Railway were immediately excluded from the competition although there was the offer for them to participate in the reserve grade, they declined.

Sydney adopted a similar arrangement to that of the South Australian National Football League with their District procedures. These district rules though, whether the Sydney officials understood it or not, had many more implications than those in other states.

Sydney had, and still has, a huge transient football population, whereas it would appear that the District Scheme was really meant, for the most part, for home grown footballers. So if someone moved to Sydney and lived in one district but had friends or colleagues in another, they would have had to provide a false address on their application to play in order to participate with their friends. And over the years, thousands did and the District Scheme became nothing short of a joke amongst all club officials.

But take it to a league meeting for change and next to no-one wanted to alter the status quo.

With the onset of the first world war, the district scheme was relaxed, particularly when clubs were forced into withdrawing from the competition.

Following the conflict Railway and Police teams were participating in the first grade and Jimmy Phelan was again on his soap box about the reintroduction of the District Scheme, presuming it would solve all the issues of an even competition.

And so a ˜select” committee was set up to look into the situation. As a prelude, districts in Sydney were defined for the following clubs: North Sydney, Sydney, South Sydney Eastern Suburbs, Central (Sydney-Balmain-Glebe). It is interesting to note that provision was also made for the inclusion teams in the Western Suburbs and St George areas.

The NSW league president of the time, Herb Ryall, was a dissenter. He claimed the game had made enormous strides (in Sydney) and should be left alone. In opposition, a certain critic highlighted the poor team equipment, partial numbers on players jumpers, the lack of umpires, “a few old wooden seats in a tin-roofed pavilion at Erskineville (Oval), the old dilapidated press-box, the standard of play, the league’s finances, lack of organisation etc.” He also said the only clubs that showed some organisation were Paddington and East Sydney, both of which were subsequently amalgamated to form a new club, Eastern Suburbs (later renamed East Sydney).

Nevertheless, the following clubs were admitted for the 1926 season: Eastern Suburbs, North Sydney, Newtown, Sydney, South Sydney and Western Suburbs with provision made for clubs at St George and Manly. Many records of the league were recorded from 1926 and it has taken eons to retrieve those that preceded that year.

At the same time there was a strong suggestion in 1926 that the major interstate leagues would combine to contribute four hundred pounds ($800 or $30,000 in today’s money) for the employment of a fulltime official in Sydney. His employment became “improbable in light of recent events.” although assistance in another direction will probably be forthcoming.â (we are working on this cryptic description).

So all this ˜District” business, again created the ridiculous but accepted situation, of players being registered under bodgie addresses, a practice continued for so many years the number is impossible to calculate. And yet this was done by ALL clubs and the practice laughed at over a beer or in unofficial situations. Even well placed league officials knew of the routine.

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