The Coup of 1978

Towards the end of the 1970s a certain section of the Sydney football community were tiring of the league administration led by long term president, Bill Hart.

As successful as it was in its own way, it was seen as old fashion, not up with the times, anti VFL and still followed doctrine that had been laid out earlier in the century.

Added to this was the growing interest the VFL was showing to extend their influence into Sydney.  In 1974 Victoria v South Australia played at the SCG which attracted 20,000 fans but more importantly the game was televised live to W.A., Tasmania, South Australia, ACT and most country areas of NSW.

In those days the Victorian Government would not permit the VFL to play their games on Sundays in that state so they began looking for different venues where their football could be televised back into Melbourne.  Sydney was one such location which had the potential to fill the void most admirably.  It is safe to say at that stage, there was no premeditated vision to expand the competition interstate.

A lot of the acrimony in Sydney had to do with the NSWAFL’s participation in the Escort Championships.  This was a separate knock-out competition which began in 1977 involving then only the 12 VFL clubs but by 1979 it also included all WAFL clubs, NSW, Tasmania and the ACT.  The following year all clubs in the SANFL became involved along with Queensland.

NSW’s involvement was not without distress when the NSWAFL Board of Management resolved in August, 1978 to involve the state in the series but only after a fairly volatile debate which was then followed by a very close vote.

So with this underlying feeling that the old school would not move with the time plus and rancour in NSW’s involvement in the Escort Championships, a clandestine group began to meet at the then Newtown Rules Club, 303 Cleveland Street, Redfern, with the ultimate aim of unseating the administration of the league at the December 1978 AGM.  At that time and for the previous 75 years, the NSWAFL conducted not only the football affairs of part of NSW but also the Sydney competitions.

If successful the group were promised by the VFL the appointment of a ‘fulltime professional administrator for the league.’  This was despite the fact that the NSWAFL had had a fulltime secretary with assistant, since 1964.

In October 1978, part-time television personality, Kevin Taylor, who, by that time, had been sacked by the league as their media representative, laid out the plans of the new group in an article in a local inner-city newspaper, The Sydney Shout, so it was quite clear that the clandestine tag had been quickly lost with the machinations of the time.

Along with Taylor, Bern Heafey was one of the prime movers in the Sydney football power play.  He was an affable character who had football at heart.  Heafey had one year as president of the North Shore Club in 1951 but later involved himself with St Ives, a second division club, where he was president.  In time he was to become the face of the new faction but only for a short period.

The idea of change came with the suggestion of new and exciting possibilities and additional meetings were held at other venues, including Easts Rules Club, Bond Junction, St George Clubrooms at Olds Park and even Bankstown Sports Club.  Tension was building with the group’s activities because not all clubs were involved with this action.

The 1978 Annual General Meeting of the NSWAFL was set for Monday 11 December at their offices, 64 Regent Street, Chippendale.

Unusually, the actual meeting was held in the front reception area of the small attached brick building where there was standing room only for most.

League officials were very much aware of the move against them with both camps working overtime to secure sufficient votes to get over the line.

Each of the nine Sydney first division clubs had two votes.  The eight second division clubs each had one vote as did the NSW Junior Football Council, Newcastle AFL, South Coast AFL, NSW Country AFL, Central Coast AFL, Illawarra AFL and each board member of the league.  Life members also had the opportunity to exercise a vote but historically not many of these personnel turned out for the annual meetings.  Perhaps if they had  realised the significance of the possible outcome, they might have made the effort.

The meeting was extremely acrimonious with chairman, Bill Hart, flat out controlling the sometimes raucous attendees who were full of interjections.

Hart (shown here on the left) was defeated by Heafey in a close vote.  Country representative, Allen Baker was appointed to the Vice President’s position.

Many of the incumbent Board of Management were re-elected but several, along with Heafey, only lasted a year or two with a number of resignations listed in 1980.

One of the most disappointing aspects of the change was the sale of premises at 64 Regent Street, which incidentally the purchase of which was mainly funded by the Western Suburbs Football Club Ltd.  The building was far from salubrious but did represent the code with a main street location and somewhere to call ‘home’.

After the sale, League officials were then housed in the top floor at the Newtown Rules Club at 303 Cleveland Street Redfern, a converted picture theatre, until 1985 when they moved to new premises under the Bill O’Reilly stand at the SCG.

The enthusiasm and new Sydney Football League entity which resulted from the coup, did not last and when a new administration took control not that many years later, it all changed again.

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