VFL INTO SYDNEY

In an effort to kickstart the game in Sydney after it had imploded in the mid 1890s, Fitzroy and Collingwood played a competition match at the SCG on 23 May 1903 attracting 20,000 spectators.

We have displayed a very rare programme from the match where, for the first time, players names and jumper numbers were published for spectators to view.

Both clubs paid their own costs and left the six hundred pound gate with the newly formed, NSWAFL, to further promote the game in Sydney.

Prior to these arrangements the Collingwood fans attempted to veto their involvement in the match because it meant losing one of their competition games, so it was decided that the entire gate from that weekend’s football in Melbourne would be pooled and divided equally amongst the then eight clubs of the league.  The club (Fitzroy) that lost their home game in this encounter was also allocated a semi final to their ground.

In round 2 of the same year a rail strike prevented the Carlton players from journeying to Geelong for their match so the game was postponed.  Quick to act, NSWAFL officials asked that the game be played in Sydney, which it was.

However this game too had trouble when rain washed out their 1 August clash at the SCG forcing a postponement until the following Monday.  Then, before 5,000, including the Governor of NSW, Geelong defeated the Blues by 10 points.

But, it doesn’t stop there.  The following year Melbourne played Essendon on 28 May also at the SCG.  As things would have it the rain came again and this time it was torrential.  Newspapers reported that the rain “was phenomenal” and that in the morning of the match, any chance of a game would be remote.  However, the rain stopped around midday and after 1.00pm there was not a cloud in the sky.

The rain however had done its damage however and only 6,000 ventured to witness the match which was easily won by Melbourne.

The Bombers took their time going home, this time by ship.  They did not get to Melbourne until late on the following Thursday night after a rocky journey in big seas.  The side did not train and four of their best were unavailable for their subsequent game against Fitzroy which they lost convincingly.

One or two VFL matches were played in Sydney following this period but generally, the euphoria had gone and the Sydney officials were left popularise the game themselves.

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