Dr Rodney Gillett continues the series on famous grounds in NSW with a look at the oldest oval in Sydney still being used for Australian football named after Victor Trumper
On any Sunday in the wintertime of the 1960s the big bookies in Sydney would go to the footy at Trumper Park. After fielding at the races on the Saturday, the bookies would huddle together in the front section of the Frank Dixon Grandstand and ply their trade.
“They would take bets on anything”, the late Jack Dean told me in an interview back in 2008, “Result of the game, half-time, quarter-by-quarter, whether a bloke would kick a goal or not. And it was quite obvious what was going on. Punters lined up to get a bet on.”
Back in this period Trumper Park would host the match-of-the day at Trumper Park. Most of the finals were also played here including grand finals from 1956-1978 as well as representative fixtures against interstate teams and VFL clubs.
Jack Dean played for Eastern Suburbs in the 1950s, and then after a stint coaching Ardelthan in the Riverina, he returned to play for Sydney Naval in the early 1960s. It was the home-ground for both clubs. “It was tough, hard footy, being such a small ground (138 m x 114m ) there wasn’t much room to move. It suited me!”, Jack, a tough no-nonsense ruckman, told me.
Trumper Park was the home-ground for the club known as “Easts” (alternatively East Sydney or Eastern Suburbs) since the reformation of the NSW Australian Football League in 1903. It was only with the merger with the University of NSW club in 1999, and the subsequent relocation to the Village Green at the university, that Easts left Trumper Park.
The University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) club formed in 2000 took the place of East Sydney and made Trumper Park its home-ground. However, with the Bats elevation to the Premier League from the 2011 season, Waverly Oval has gradually become the senior team’s home ground with lower division teams playing at Trumper.
However, the ground remains the base for the East Sydney Junior footy club which is reputedly the largest junior AFL club in NSW with over 700 boys and girls playing Auskick and in junior competitions.
Trumper Park was named after the legendary cricketer Victor Trumper in 1931. Trumper played cricket for Paddington at the ground. He also played football for the Sydney club in the 1890s, but these games were played on Moore Park.
The ground was originally known as the Hampden Park Oval, in honour of Viscount Hampden, who was Governor of NSW (1895-99), and was opened in 1897.
At the opening of the oval there was a great demonstration of community feeling – the owners of produce stores gave bags of potatoes, butchers in the district gave a sheep each, bakers gave bread and grocers gave jams and tea. A bullock was roasted whole and various games were held, including a fancy-dress football match (Sydney Morning Herald 23 June 1897.
However, it’s the East Sydney football club that is inextricably linked to Trumper Park.
Former East Sydney player and official Bob Wilton, now the convenor of the Past Players’ Association, remembers first going to the ground as a seven-year old with his father Bill in 1950 to watch a game, “It was a magical place for me. So lively, all the players were big and strong and were smothered in oil. I was entranced”, Bob told me in an interview for this piece.
Bob, who lived close by the ground and went to Glenmore Public School, started playing for his beloved Easts in the Under 12s when he was 9 years old. He and his brother, Garry, and school-mates, Brian Ratcliffe, the Gray brothers, Jim and John, and Ken and Brian Airth, all started in the juniors and went onto play senior footy for the Bulldogs.
“Our coach Roy Hayes (Easts’ star player) was a god to us”, Bob told me. “We played against teams from Newtown, South Sydney, and Balmain at the Bat and Ball Oval on Moore Park”.
In the 1950s and early 60s the match of the round was played at Trumper Park on Sundays. At the time the NSW Rugby League matches on Saturdays at the SCG. “There was always a good game on particularly involving Easts, Newtown, Wests, and even Sydney Naval” recalls Bob Wilton (pictured right marking over a Wests opponent in the 1971 grand final at Trumper Park), “and they attracted pretty good crowds, the grandstand and the hill would be packed with spectators”.
“It (Trumper Park) was a little colosseum with an emotion-charged atmosphere, the crowds came to watch the gladiator ruckmen like Jack Dean take on Jacky Armstrong from Souths or Newtown’s Ellis Noack. Also big Freddy Pemberton from Wests, who used to coach
“Grand Final day every year had a terrific atmosphere; people would come from all over Sydney by train, or tram, or by foot, to crowd into Trumper Park. The bookies would be there, and you could buy a beer, even on a Sunday from the tuck shop under the grandstand”.
“Änd invariably there’d be an all-in brawl to start the game, Sydney football”, Bob recalled wistfully of the ground that remains close to his heart and many other older footy fans in Sydney.