Footystats Diary, History of Australian Football in Sydney, 1877-2013

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Footy's best kept secret ...

1877 – 2013

see also,
Sydney, League & Association football ... more ...
(includes Office Bearers since 1880)
First Annual General Meeting of the NSW Football Association ... more ...
(report from Town and Country, May 14, 1881)
Sydney premiers, 1881-94, 1903-2013 ... more ...
(includes Goalkickers, Phelan & Snow Medals, Sydney AFL Hall of Fame)
James Edward Phelan, The Father of Sydney Football ... more ...
Ralph Robertson, "Missing in Action" ... more ...
Unearthing roots of Harbour City talent ... more ...
Australian Football Ground at Rosebery ... more ...
The remarkable Rupert Browne ... more ...


THE STORY BEHIND THE COMMITTEE OF NSW HISTORY

The paper chase for our history

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The 1996 Annual Report of the NSWAFL noted – on December 5 1995 the Committee of NSW Football History was formed to build upon the work carried out by Ian Granland and Ted Ray – joining with the forces provided by Paul Feain.

Paul Feain conducts The Cornstalk Bookshop in Sydney, with two outlets in Glebe and Newtown devoted to antiquarian books. A devoted supporter of Australian Football—from the juniors of his much-loved Glebe Greyhounds through the Balmain FC, plus support of the Sydney AFL club—he also collects artefacts of our code and it’s through one of his purchases that a photograph of the 1881 team of the original Sydney club exists.
 
Paul privately funded acquisitions which have provided our Committee with a library of press cuttings dating back to 1880, from the two major Sydney journals of our sporting history The Sydney Morning Herald (first published in 1831) and The Daily Telegraph—one should understand the unique opportunity to learn from facts written on the history of our code in this State, of which for the greater part has turned to dust.
 
The uniqueness of Paul’s acquisition of the files of the two newspapers is a story in itself; as big as the semi-trailers which transported the newspaper files from Darwin.
 
The Australian game owes much to the work of Ian Granland and Ted Ray down many years. The statistical history of Sydney and football in this State is the result of thousands of hours of painstaking research by both gentlemen.
 
The initial meeting in December 1995 commenced a revival of a singular desire of a committed group, to collect, preserve, protect and display memorabilia that for many years has been lost or forgotten.
 
The Committee of New South Wales Australian Football History was regenerated on December 17, 2002, with a new vision under the chairmanship of Ian Granland OAM.
 
The aforementioned Ian and Ted collectively have more than 100 years of memories of Australian Football in NSW, with a focus, but not restricted only, to the Sydney basin.
 
Other members of the Committee include Bill Carey, Paul Feain, Rod Gillett, Eddie Greenaway, Gus McKernan, Peter Ramus, Mark Rendell, Kevin Taylor and Ian Wright.

The Committee is working for the love of the game on a voluntary basis under the auspices of the AFL (NSW-ACT) Commission which has provided facilities for meetings, but no funding.
 
The publication of the first Journal of NSW Australian Football History is a means toward explaining the reason and purpose of our Committee, and a valid belief that sponsorship for our work will be forthcoming.
_________________________________________

One flag
One destiny
One football game: The Australian

 
In October 1905 the Australian National Football Council was formed with the purpose of all State bodies to be united under the one banner.
_________________________________________

Do you believe our pursuit is worthwhile?

 
How did the game born in Melbourne in 1858 to keep cricketers fit in the time of winter, progress and find interest in New South Wales?
 
By the 1880s, Australian football had become the dominant winter sport in Victoria, Tasmania, the Riverina and Broken Hill districts of NSW, as well as South Australia and Western Australia. These were regions where Melbourne merchants and their commercial travellers did business; where Melbourne-based banks had opened, and where Melbourne promoters, emigrants and investors were more likely found. According to Geoffrey Blainey in his 1990 work A game of our own … “that Sydney and its hinterland did not take to Australian-rules football was partly a reflection of Sydney’s suspicion of any game devised in Melbourne”.
 
From the formation of the first club in Wagga in 1881, clubs grew and a regular competition began in 1885.
 
In the early weeks of its inaugural season the Victorian Football Association (VFA) (formed 1877 in Melbourne to control the game) sought to introduce intercolonial matches. Australian football was to reach Sydney when a local club Waratah invited Carlton to play two matches, one each under Rugby and Australian rules. Apparently rugby had become rather slow and unattractive and the Waratah club hoped to make the point in a direct comparison with Australian football.
 
On Saturday June 23 1877 nearly 3000 spectators paid one shilling each to see Waratah beat Carlton under 15-a-side Rugby rules at the Albert Cricket Ground (where flats now stand opposite Redfern Oval). The following Monday, Waratah and Carlton played a 20-men-a-side ‘Victorian rules’ contest which the visitors won easily, reversing the Saturday result.
 
Encouraged by the success of the response, the VFA suggested to the Southern Rugby Football Union (SRFU) that regular intercolonial matches be inaugurated, starting in 1879. The SRFU declined, pleading there was no ground in Sydney suitable ‘for matches of so great interest’ – however, this was simply not the case. The New South Wales Cricket Association offered the use of its own ground (later called the Sydney Cricket Ground), but this was not ‘convenient’ for the SRFU and the VFA proposal was abandoned. Thomas Arnold, senior vice-president of the SRFU (who was educated at Rugby School), at the 1880 annual meeting gave the real reason – he thought is ‘almost frivolous’ to play intercolonial matches as the rules were so different and to alternate the rules would simply mean that each colony would win under its own rules. A second series of matches between Carlton and Waratah did take place and were closely contested, showing the problem of different rules were not insurmountable. However, the SRFU would not compromise – rather than play intercolonial matches against Victoria, it wanted to play rugby intercolonials against New Zealand.
 
The SRFU’s refusal to yield propelled supporters of the Australian game into action and at Stratton's Hotel in Woollahra on June 24,1880 held a well-attended meeting according to the Sydney Mail whose football writer ‘Leather-Stocking’ recorded –
 
“It is pretty well understood – that there are scores of footballers – who play the Rugby game under protest as it were, and would gladly welcome a radical change to the present method of playing football”.
 
A week later over 100 footballers formed the New South Wales Football Association (NSWFA) to play under VFA rules. At the formation of the Australian code in Sydney, the first president of the body was Phillip Sheridan who was president of the NSW Cricket Association, again offered the use of his association ground for intercolonial contests. The following month, another group of footballers formed to play under English Association rules and although soccer would threaten neither rugby nor the Australian game, it reflects the antipathy of rugby supporters toward the Australian game. Senior rugby officials welcomed the introduction of soccer which they believed would improve the skills of rugby players. Indeed, there was only one dissenter at the meeting, F Lyons Weiss, a committeeman of the NSWFA whose speech ‘nearly drove the Rugbyites to the refreshment bar’ declaring that –
 
“ … as the colonies in many matters, political and social, had struck out a path for themselves, he did not see why the same line of conduct should not be adopted in the game of football …”
 
At the start of the 1881 season there were only two Australian football clubs in Sydney, the East Sydney and the Sydney (refer photo below) clubs, though a third team, from Maitland, about 100 miles north of Sydney, competed against them regularly. Late in 1881 a club was formed at Petersham and in May 1882, Waratah formally switched its allegiance from rugby to the Australian code. (By comparison, there were 30 rugby clubs affiliated with the SRFU, and 15 in NSW country areas.) Sydney’s population of the day was 225,000 compared with Melbourne’s 282,000.
 
Also in 1881 the Trustees of the Association Cricket Ground announced their ground would be available and the NSWFA arranged two matches with the VFA. Perhaps through the patronage of Phillip Sheridan, the NSWFA played matches at the Association ground.
 
The first intercolonial match against the VFA was played in Melbourne at the MCG on Saturday July 1st 1881, and possibly because of Victoria’s greater skills, but also due to the ban by the SRFU on Sydney players taking part, the home side won easily 9.24 to 0.1 (when behinds were recorded but only goals counted). Six weeks later on August 6th, 5000 Sydneysiders paid to see NSW soundly defeated in the return match, 9.16 to 1.8. During the season the Melbourne FC also sent a team to play three matches against Sydney clubs but these were played on the adjacent open space of Moore Park and by comparison with rugby matches were poorly attended. Part of the reason was the unwillingness of Sydney followers to pay regularly to see football matches though press reports record these matches were poorly managed and advertised.
 
Clubs of the day consisted of the First 20, and Second 20. Where some rivals were of a higher standard their opponents often were allowed to field either 23, even 25 players. Club contests of 1881 were chiefly played at Moore Park though regular visits were made to the newly established colleges of St Ignatius of Riverview at Lane Cove and St Joseph’s at Hunters Hill. Years later James Edward Phelan widely referred to as the ‘father of Sydney football’ recalled –
 
“Preparatory to the opening competition games of the season, clubs vied with each other to secure a practice game at Riverview where Fr Gartlan, the then principal, dispensed hospitality in royal fashion. The writer retains vivid and pleasant memories of his first trip to the college with the Waratah club”.
 
The Australian game was being played in Queensland, the SRFU though keenly wanting to claim the colony brought a team to Sydney at its expense in 1882 to inaugurate intercolonial matches, as well as sending a team to New Zealand to establish relations. The SRFU used the Association Ground but the crowds were smaller than those enjoyed by the NSWFA against the VFA in 1881.
 
NSWFA clubs of the day were playing for the Alexander trophies as West Sydney, City and Redfern joined the throng. The code enjoyed wide interest in the Newcastle district where by 1884 Newcastle City, Newcastle, Merewether, Northumberland, Hamilton and Wallsend together with the afore-mentioned Maitland were in existence. It brought a call by the Northern Football Association, that the VFA –
 
“ … should make some effort for the advancement of the game in New South Wales – there were some 16 clubs in the Northern Association … and in addition to playing matches in Sydney, might play at Newcastle, Maitland and Wallsend, where it was expected their matches would have very liberal patronage …”
 
Clubs from Newcastle regularly played the Sydney teams, with the Sydney Morning Herald on August 22 1884 reporting in almost 1,000 words – “Despite the fact that Northumberland had a very strong team on Saturday last in the return match against Sydney, on Moore Park, the latter obtained a very easy victory. There were about 4000 people present, although the weather was cold, and at times showery”. The Sydney ‘reds’ won 10.11 to 3.2 with the report concluding — “In the evening the visitors were entertained at the Freemason’s Hotel, York Street. Mr Crisp occupied the chair. The health of the two teams was drunk very cordially, and the visitors left the same night by the Newcastle boat”.
 
“work in progress”

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RUGBY LEAGUE PROPOSED UNIFICATION IN 1933

The game they never played

Little known is the fact that rules were prepared and discussions were carried out in Sydney in 1933 to amalgamate Australian football and Rugby League.
 
It was not the first time that earnest thought was given to combining the two codes. A plan in 1914 was only thwarted that August by the outbreak of the First World War.

 
The Sydney Morning Herald on July 27, 1933 reported that the secretary of the New South Wales Rugby League (Mr Harold R Miller) proposed a fusion of the Australian game and Rugby League.
 
Mr Miller’s new set of rules suggested “The reduction from 18 players in the Australian National game of football is due (1) to decreased size of ground (160 by 130 yards); (2) probability with fewer players of more scope for spectacular high marking and passing”.
 
The Miller plan to alter the rules of the NSW Rugby Football League included –
 
<> Field of play to be oval (160 x 130 yards)
<> Number of players increased to 15
<> Abolition of the scrum and substitution of the method of bouncing the ball
<> Off-side to be permissible when attempting to take a mark
<> Player getting the mark to be the kicker

 
The Australian game to be altered –
 
<> Behind posts to be abolished and a cross-bar added to the goal posts
<> Tries to be permitted
<> Bouncing the ball every ten yards to be abolished
<> An amended NSWRFL tackle to be permissible
<> Permissible to pass the ball or knock the ball backwards by the hand and then run with it by any player
<> Knocking-on except from a mark attempted in the air will be penalised except when the defending side receives an advantage.

 
A conference between the two rival bodies was held on Wednesday August 2nd 1933 involving the Australian National Football Council when the triennial Carnival was being played between all States in Sydney – indeed a trial match (which proved unsuccessful) was played on August 11.
 
Nothing was achieved and both codes continued to go their own separate ways.
 
“work in progress”


THE FATHER OF SYDNEY FOOTBALL

Jimmy Phelan lives on


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James Edward Phelan was born at Huntly near Bendigo in 1861 (the same year as Charles Brownlow) and following schooling in Ballarat and his move to Melbourne he played both cricket and football with South Melbourne.
 
He migrated to Sydney in the 1880s playing with the West Sydney club of the Ultimo-Pyrmont suburbs during the days of the Flanagan Cup.
 
Though the Australian code was only 30 years old, the game of little marks was strong in the Sydney and Newcastle regions. However, it stumbled during the depression of the 1890s, and its demise was suffered after the end of the 1894 season when a weak administration failed to stamp out “irregularities”.
 
Jim Phelan’s love for the game emerged when he was approached to help re-establish the code’s presence in Sydney. In the company it is said of men that included Bill Strickland, the first man to captain the Collingwood FC when the Magpies were born in 1892. Strickland by 1902 was a Sydney hotelier.
 
Australian Football was revived in Sydney in 1903 with strong interest shown by the YMCA Society, indeed newspaper reports the reformation meeting was held at their headquarters in Sydney on February 12.
 
Phelan, together with Harry Hedger, Leo Alexander and brothers Les and Oscar Balhausen, prevailed on the new VFL (formed in 1896) to play a Victorian competition match at the Sydney Cricket Ground in support of the newly formed group of clubs under the title of the New South Wales Australian Football League. Patrons of the League were the NSW Premier of the day, Sir John See and the Governor His Excellency Sir Harry Rawson. One vice-president was the NSW Minister of Lands, Mr Edward O’Sullivan.
 
There was much activity as clubs were formed and reported in the Sydney Morning Herald – Paddington (Feb 17), North Shore (Feb 23), Sydney (Feb 25), East Sydney (March 5), Redfern and West Sydney (March 6), Newtown (March 20, when Phelan was elected Treasurer), Balmain (April 3), joined by Ashfield, Alexandria and the YMCA. with the first round played on Saturday May 9th.
 
The VFL teams arrived with great fanfare. Fitzroy and Collingwood played on May 23 at the Cricket Ground to an estimated crowd of 20,000 from which the gate takings of Six Hundred Pounds were donated to the NSW governing body.
 
Phelan, a confectioner by trade was also a respected Union official and in football through a number of trustees the national code strengthened its presence and established its own ground with grandstand, Football Park, at the corner of Gardeners and Botany Roads, Alexandria.
 
Success enjoyed however, was short lived as an ill-fated All States Carnival in 1914 resulted in the nation’s attention directed to the outbreak of World War I at the beginning of August.
 
Major assets of the League were lost and through five years of war the game was only able to continue during this period during to the undying efforts and commitment by people such a Jimmy Phelan.
 
In 1924, Phelan was paid the highest honour the game can bestow when he was made a Life Member of the Australian National Football Council, sincerely earned with energies to the interests of New South Wales.
 
Mr Phelan as an alderman of the Erskineville Council provided influence which resulted in the long tenure the Game enjoyed at Erskineville Oval. Towards his death, Phelan watched every stage of the new oval built to the requirements of the code, yet he died before its completion.
 
Melbourne’s Sporting Globe on his passing on November 15, 1939 wrote in the issue of November 23rd — “James Edward Phelan took off his coat and delved in where there was no glamour. Fearless in his utterances, he was always fair, and had no other object that the furtherance of the game he played in South Melbourne.
 
Often he was referred to as the grand old man of the national code in New South Wales, but the title was not complete. He was the grand old man of all football.”
 
James Edward Phelan is deservedly recognised as “The Father of Sydney Football”.
 
One year before his passing in 1939, Jim Phelan wrote a series of articles for the Football Record of the day. His recollections written are repeated. Passages have been edited and in several items, dates have been extended to reflect time for the ease of present-day readers.

 
The Phelan name lives on …
 
In the States of the Commonwealth where the Australian code of football stands pre-eminent in public favour, notable cricketers who have played the game without prejudice to their cricketing career indicates that South Australia provides the finest example. George Giffen (who kicked the first goal scored by the famous Norwood club), E.Jones, Clem and Roy Hill, A.Gehrs, J.Reedman, Vic Richardson, L.Chamberlain, are but  few of the many whose names will go down in history as great footballers.
 
In Victoria, memory fondly lingers around the football deeds of J.Worrall, W.W.Armstrong, R (Dickie) Houston, P.G.McShane, W.Carkeek, D.Smith, J.Rosser, J.Minchin, and others. In Tasmania, C.Eady, K.Burn, E.A.McDonald, played the game and all found places in representative Australian cricket teams.
 
New South Wales can also show its quota of great cricketers who identified themselves with the game.
 
Arthur Gregory (of the great cricketing family of the past) convened the first meeting to establish the game in Sydney in 1880. Since then, C.W.Beal (Manager of the 1882 Australian XI), Leon and W.Moore (relatives of C.G.Macartney), B.Dwyer (who died in England while fulfilling an engagement with the Sussex County team), A.Newell, D.Noonan, Tibby Cotter, W.Whitty and Victor Trumper, all played the game for varying periods.
 
Victor Trumper gave early promise of becoming a champion at the game. In 1893, while in his early teens, he played with Sydney in a match against Redfern, the latter winning by seven goals to three. Of Sydney’s 3 goals, Trumper scored two.
 
Club bickerings, in which the Sydney and West Sydney clubs were the chief wranglers, brought about the downfall of the game in Sydney at the close of 1894. Later on, Trumper played Rugby Union for Newtown club in which he was noted for his fine kicking and handling.
 
In 1898 he made a triumphal entry into the cricket world where the memory of his great deeds still live.
 
Had there existed in 1894, or the year immediately prior thereto, a body similar to the present Australian National Football Council, it is certain the game would have gone on to pre-eminence in New South Wales, as at that period the game vied with Rugby Union for first place in public patronage (rugby league being then unknown). The years between then and the revival of the game, by the formation of the present League in 1903, found many of the leading players transferring to Rugby Union in which code they have left imperishable records.
 
“Pity, ‘tis, ‘tis true,” but with the decease of the game in Sydney the magnificent edifice which had been built up in the Newcastle district where the game was almost supreme, also crumbled.
 
The lesson from the foregoing is that firm administration, to the utter exclusion of anything approaching rabid clubism, is the only road to progress.
 
Fate and faulty administration during crucial periods, has played a big part in connection with the Australian game in Sydney. To old-time followers who can recall the period between 1881 and 1893 it seems almost incredible that no master-mind came to light to save the game from the destroying forces of club rancour and bitterness exhibited in the latter year by the then Sydney and West Sydney clubs, and which unfortunately brought the game to an untimely end — players and public being heartily sick of the win, tie or wrangle methods. How effective the methods of the clubs named can be instanced by the fact that the late Dan Huthinson (Carlton player and captain) came to Sydney early in 1894 and made an attempt to revive the game by advertising that a scratch match would be played at Moore Park. The effort failed lamentably.
 
Present-day followers of the game will, probably, be surprised to read that in the period between 1884 and 1889, teams from Newcastle and St Ignatius and St Joseph’s Colleges were regular participants in games at Moore Park and  alternately, at the College grounds. The playing standard of the senior clubs was excellent, and when Victorian clubs visited Sydney (which they did more frequently then than now) they invariably made offers to some leading players. Among several who went to Victoria was E.Reynolds who shone as one of Fitzroy’s best half-backs and gained inter-colonial honours in games against South Australia.
 
The most memorable inter-colonial game that took place in Sydney during the period 1886 to 1891 was that between Carlton and Tasmania in 1890 at the Sydney Cricket Ground. It was a pleasurable sight to find an attendance of 15,000, each of whom thoroughly enjoyed the fine play. The game was graphically described in the Sunday Times the following day. In that game Bob Dawes was one of the youngest players in the Tasmania side. He later took up residence in Sydney, and was an employee of the Referee newspaper for many years. He has rendered wonderful service to the game by his writings, apart from the period he played the game in Sydney with the old Waratah club. Incidentally, he acted as field umpire in that bitter game, between Sydney and West Sydney which marked the demise of the game in 1893. It is worthy of note that after many disagreements between the clubs as to the choice of umpire, both agreed on the choice of Bob Dawes.
 
On the following Saturday (after the Carlton v Tasmania match), South Melbourne who had gone to Brisbane to meet a Queensland team led by Jack Gibson (ex Sth Melb) were to meet Carlton at the Sydney Cricket Ground, and the most pleasurable anticipation reigned in my mind during that week of the coming clash between those great rivals. And, for many reasons. Not yet thoroughly weaned from the glamour and excitement of the stirring games I had witnessed in Melbourne in the early 1880s, I was all agog to see my early Ballarat pals, Peter Burns and Harry Purdy in action again, as I oft seen them both in Ballarat and Melbourne. Again, had not Peter Burns brought discomfiture to Carlton in 1889, he kicked that wonderful goal on the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Would we in Sydney have the pleasure of seeing him repeat it?
 
On the Friday night while the Carlton and South Melbourne teams were being entertained, rain commenced to fall, and continued throughout the night and all day on the Saturday, with the result that the match had to be abandoned.
 
On the following morning, as the sun shone brightly, it was a disconsolate party composed almost wholly of South Melbourneites, which sat in Hyde Park lamenting with Peter Burns, Harry Purdy, ‘Dabber’ Decis and other of the vagaries of fate, and the ‘might have beens’ of life.
 
Fate and faulty administration had much, if not all, to do with the loss of the Australian Football Ground, situated on the boundaries of Alexandria, Mascot and Waterloo municipalities.
 
It was a glorious conception on the part of those responsible for the early moves in connection with the acquirement of the ground, but unfortunately, later movements nullified the early work.
 
The Australian Football Ground – a title and location probably unknown to the present generation of followers of the game – a dream of football Empire unfulfilled.
 
With the limited space, it is difficult to set out in proper detail the complete history of the venture. Suffice therefore, in 1910 the NSW League after being duly appraised of a scheme to purchase the old Rosebery Racecourse vested full control of its finances and other incidental auxiliary powers in the hands of a selected body of men whose work and love for the game was beyond question and reproach. Styled the League Trustees the body consisted of H.R (now Sir) Hugh Denison, H.C.Harte, A.E.Nash, J.J.O’Meara, L.A. and Otto Balhausen and J.J.Jagelman, all prominent men in the business and commercial world of Sydney.
 
Then, as now, the carping critic, both inside and outside the League was to be found attributing unworthy motives such as business considerations to one, or other, of that fine body of men who vision, enterprise and courage stands forth as the finest example in connection with the game in this, or any other State of the Commonwealth. So as to give full effect to my opinion, which time has strengthened rather than lessened, I shall have to introduce a personal touch that I was, at that period, and for many subsequent years, the writer for the game to the Referee and Sunday Times newspapers and though I voiced opinions both through the papers mentioned and at League meetings, disagreeing with the early lavish expenditure on the ground by the Trustees, the cardinal fact remained that each respected the other’s views as in the interests of the game and we became, if anything, firmer friends.
 
The purchase of the ground consisting upon 12 acres was effected at a cost of roughly £180/-/- per acre ($360.00). Within a very brief space of time its valuation had risen to over £400/-/- ($800.00) per acre.
 
Meanwhile the Trustees had opened negotiations for the purchase of the land from the football area covering the whole frontage to Botany Road, with the idea of building shops and dwelling houses thereon. Unfortunately a settlement as to terms was not reached. What a glorious vista had the scheme reached fruition. Let any reader of this brief article visualise the position today of the ownership of a beautiful ground within easy access to any of the present League clubs, North Shore excepted. So I turn, with a sigh from vision to reality.

On April 29th 1911, the official opening of the Australian Football Ground (situated on Botany Road Mascot) took place with ceremony due for the occasion. Mrs J.J.Jagelman after unfurling the Australian Flag declared the ground open. Speakers following were, Mr Albert E.Nash (President of the NSW League), Mr R.Toucher MLA (Victoria), Mr O.M.Williams (delegate of the VFL Melbourne University club) who said that Melbourne had many fine grounds, but it had none better than this future home of Australian football. Its future however, was short lived.
 
Today (in 1938) after a lapse of 27 years, I gather no personal consolation to be content with the purchase of the ground and to withhold lavish expenditure been followed, the League might still be in ownership of the ground proper.
 
However, on that beautiful autumnal day the playing ground, and its appointments (second to none in Sydney at the time) was a revelation to those present who had not watched its progress under the supervision of Mr Tom Sheely, who in his early days had played the game in the Newcastle District where it was then all popular. As a result of his fine work in the planning and building of the ground he was, later on, engaged by Stanton and Sons to lay out and build the now beautiful and populous suburb of Rosebery.
 
The match between Sydney and East Sydney clubs, set down for the occasion, was disappointing from a playing view point.
 
In commenting on the opening function I wrote the following for the Referee – “followers of the game in Sydney are wondering why the Victorian League, or clubs, after a splendid continuity of effort to popularise the game in New South Wales, failed to rise to the occasion in connection with the opening of the new ground on Saturday last. A golden opportunity has been missed, and, as a prominent interstate League official at Saturday’s gathering remarked, ‘it passeth understanding’.”
 
During the day it was announced that the membership of the ground, at a fee of One Guinea ($2.10), had reached the 200 mark, also that the Redfern Cricket Club, had arranged for a lease of the ground for cricket games.
 
The dimensions of the playing area — 194 yards in length and 156 in width was not conducive to interesting club games, on the whole, but the contests were not altogether shorn of interest and some wonderful games were witnessed between leading League clubs in the final rounds in 1911 and 1912.
 
In 1912, East Fremantle played a combined NSW team on the ground to the intense delight of a satisfactory attendance, although transport to and from the ground was far behind that of today.
 
Having no data at hand I cannot give the playing personnel of the teams or the actual result of the game (East Fremantle 7.12-54 d Sydney 7.7-49) but after a lapse of a quarter of a century I can recall the brilliant play of C.Riley in the half-back division for East, also that the once brilliant Victorian, Percy Trotter, was in the team and greatest pleasure of all to me, Dolly Christy, whom I had not seen since he and I were schoolboy opponents at football and cricket in Ballarat in the 1880’s.

In the same year Geelong played a NSW side on the ground and a splendid win resulted in a bare win for Geelong (the scores are unknown). A fine attendance roared its approval of a thrilling game. Bill Eason captained Geelong while his brother Alec, whose name will receive mention when the best rover the game has seen is being discussed, was also with the team. At my request I was appointed timekeeper to act with Peter Burns who was Geelong’s official timekeeper. In spare moments we lived over again our days in Ballarat.
 
In 1912, a team of second grade players from South Australia also visited Sydney under the managerial reins of Mr Fred Adams, a well-known football identity of those days. The local Junior Association was a virile and powerful body, its President being Mr E.W.Quinn, who for the past 20 years, or more, has been located in Victoria, where he is a leading light in the Timber Employers’ Association. Mr A.D.S.Provan was Hon.Secretary of the local body. There was keen rivalry between the opposing teams and a stirring contest resulted in a narrow victory for the local team.
 
And so high hopes was centered on the 1914 season. The Australian Football Ground had received its playing baptism. It was acclaimed by all who played on it as the best football ground in Australia. Enthusiasts were agog. Would the Carnival games be played on the ground? Cold reasoning however, pointed to the then poor facilities for transport of anticipated crowds that would flock to see the game. Eventually it was decided to hold the Carnival games on the Sydney Cricket Ground.
 
The Carnival was due to open on August 6th. On August 4th when all the State teams were assembled at the Australian Football Ground for the purpose of selecting competitors for the goal and distance contests at the Carnival games, the news was flashed by cable that England had declared war against Germany.
 
Fate had stepped in and dealt the game in Sydney a cruel blow. Had England’s declaration of war been made a few weeks earlier or later all might have been well as regards the continuity of ownership of the Australian Football Ground by the NSW Football League.
 
Sensing that a greater game had to be played, the players of the various State teams in the 1914 Carnival played brilliantly throughout the full series. Medals donated by the Referee newspaper were awarded the following as being the best players for their respective States:—
 
G.Heinz, Victoria
J.Pennicott, Tasmania
A.Tapping, West Australia
J.W.Robertson, South Australia
R.Robertson, New South Wales
P.W.Jones, Queensland

The financial loss from the Carnival was irreparable, and in due course the League Trustees tendered their resignations. That step resulted in the Australian Football Ground passing into the hands of Sir Hugh Denison who had generously relieved his co-trustees of their financial obligations in connection with the ground.
 
With the advent of the 1915 season, a small body of enthusiasts met in the Sports Club, Sydney. Mr H.C.Harte, one of the original Trustees attended the meeting which eventually decided to carry on. The principal executive officers appointed were Messrs E.W.Butler (since deceased) President, Mr H.Chesney Harte (Treasurer), Mr J.E.Phelan (Secretary).
 
With the flower of our football talent overseas, and Death’s cloud resting heavy and black over the homes and hearts of the people the outlook was a dark one, but due to splendid co-operation on the part of everybody concerned the League successfully weathered the storm and at the end of the war period, as the Australian Football Council was not functioning and the propaganda amount received from that source to but £40/-/- ($80.00) from 1915 to 1919.
 
During a part of the war period the Botany Road ground was tenanted by a gun club for pigeon shooting purposes and the once beautiful grand-stand became almost a wreck.
 
In 1922 Mr Con Hickey who was a great admirer of the ground as a playing area, and who also visualised its future possibilities, had an earnest talk with myself over the position. After a lengthy debate at the Australian Football Council held in 1922, a motion – “that all profits made at Carnival games be held in trust by the Council to finance Carnivals in which losses may occur, and to acquire ownership of playing grounds,” was carried on the casting vote of the Chairman Mr Charles Brownlow. That was encouraging to Mr Hickey and myself.
 
On my return to Sydney I secured an interview with Sir Hugh Denison and subsequently on March 19th 1923, he wrote to me that he was agreeable to the offer I had submitted him for the use of the ground for that season, with the option of purchase later on.
 
On March 23rd, the NSW League in its collective wisdom gave the proposition short shrift. Looking back over the years I cannot recall any decision of the NSW League that hurt me so much. I felt that the labour of years on behalf of the game in Sydney had been in vain; that vision had departed to be replaced by petty present-day considerations.

In 1925 or 1926 the ground passed into the ownership of the YMCA Society at a figure which was well within the powers of the NSW League on the proposals submitted to me by Mr Hickey in 1922.
 
In 1927 or 1928 the YMCA Society sold the ground to a Dog Racing Company at a reported figure of £23,000 ($46,000). It is now (1938) known as Shepherd’s Bush.
 
One may well quote Shakespeare and say, “none so poor as to do honour” to the sincere old time enthusiasts who put the Australian game before petty and personal considerations.

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His memory is perpetuated each season with Sydney’s highest football award, The Phelan Medal.

“work in progress”


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THE BLACK DIAMOND CUP

The 108th NSWAFL Annual Report for season 1996 noted a crowd of about 100 gathered at the Newcastle Regional Museum on June 18th for a formal presentation of what is understood to be the oldest football trophy still contested in Australia.

The elegant Black Diamond Cup was donated in 1887 by a Newcastle firm, the Richmond Tobacco Company and Hunter clubs have played for the trophy since then and holds a proud place in the history of the Australian game in NSW.

The president of the Newcastle Australian Football League, Mr Jim Arnold, told the crowd when the trophy was valued in 1986 it was worth $35,000.

The cup, first contested in 1888, pre-dates cricket's Sheffield Shield, first presented for the 1892/93 season.

Another long established tradition is the gold-mounted Wirth's whip awarded to the winning jockey of the Melbourne Cup each year. Corey Brown became the 121st recipient after his win in 2009. Mick O'Brien publican of the Royal Mail Hotel on NE the corner of Bourke and Swanston Street in Melbourne created the trophy in 1888. After that it became known as the Wirth's Whip when the Wirth brothers (Phillip and George) who ran a hugely popular circus which was pitched near the banks of the River Yarra where Southbank and the Victorian Arts centre is now. The circus flourished between the two World Wars both in Melbourne and Sydney. The advent of television was one of the reasons for its disbandment in 1963.


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Phillip Sheridan

 

 

 

 

PHILLIP SHERIDAN

A prominent cricket identity who was influential to providing the Albert Cricket Ground where the Waratah club and the visiting Carlton VFA team met on June 23 and 25 1877.

As a trustee of the Association Cricket Ground (the SCG from 1894) he further assisted the establishment of the national game in Sydney when the NSW Football Association (formed June 1880) and the Victorian Football Association (formed 1877) played the first inter-colonial on Saturday July 1st 1881.

For over a quarter of a century he was identified with the Sydney Cricket Ground. From 1878 to 1896, Mr Sheridan was a trustee and became manager from 1896, at a time when the SCG was recognised as one of the finest cricketing enclosures in the world.

Sheridan was president of the NSWFA from 1880 until the end of 1890.


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Albert E Nash

 

 

 

 

ALBERT E NASH

He was born in England and converted from rugby after witnessing games in Melbourne during 1890, and when moving to Sydney became the second president of the NSWFA, an honour he held until 1912.

Nash experienced the tragic collapse of the Australian code in Sydney at the end of 1894 when petty-parochialism overtook logic. Albert however was a strength when the resurgence took place with the rebirth of the NSWAFL in 1903.

Nash was one of the founders of the Australasian National Football Council when it was formed in 1905 and became its first vice-president.

During his period in office, he guided the purchase of the old Rosebery racecourse of more than 10 acres when the Australian Football Ground sporting complex was developed, with foresight half-a-century in advance of other football bodies in Melbourne and Adelaide. He lived a long life and passed away in Sydney in August 1960.


STORY OF THE TEAL CUP
AFL NATIONAL UNDER 18 CHAMPIONSHIPS

Born in Sydney in 1952

In 1951 a Queensland club official, Mr Roy Phythian, visited Sydney and conferred with the noted identity in NSW junior football, Arthur Bridgewater, with the view to an exchange of visitations at junior State level. To that time visits were few and far between. Indeed, 1952 saw the first visit to Sydney by a junior team representative of Queensland.
 
Domiciled in Sydney were dedicated supporters of the Balmain club, Mr and Mrs Teal, formerly of Richmond (Vic.). On hearing of the impending annual fixtures with Queensland, they provided the NSW National Football Union with a magnificent trophy, to be known as “The Teal Cup”, with 1953 to be the commencement of the annual exchange. Additionally, the Teal family donated the finance for the NSW State team to travel to Brisbane in 1953 for the inaugural Teal Cup contest.
 
Queensland annexed the Teal Cup in the first year, though 10 years elapsed before the next interstate match was played, namely 1963. In the years following, rivalry was extremely keen between the two states, with Queensland being the most successful in holding the Cup.
 
In 1972, with an eye to the future, NSW and Queensland resolved to take steps to have the Teal Cup series become National and 1973 saw the Australian Capital Territory enter the competition.
 
1974 marked the occasion when all other States were invited to compete in a National Championship, which was fully realised in 1976 when Caltex Oil became sponsors.
 
Since that time, the annual competition graduated under the auspices first of the VFL, then the AFL to become the premier junior event of the football calendar and has been played in all States and territories. The Commonwealth Bank claimed naming rights in 1995 and in 1996 the competition became the AFL National Under 18 Championships.
 
Teams of NSW and the ACT were united in 1996 when squads were drawn from the NSW-ACT Victorian State Football League Under 18 RAMS (Riverina, Murrumbidgee, Albury, Sydney).
 
Strong memories of passion for the game have remained since the Teal Cup began in 1953.


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The following is a record of a meeting for the formation of Australian Football in Sydney

Sydney Mail – Saturday, 3 July 1880

FOOTBALL NOTES – by Leatherstocking (William J Hammersley)

I suppose that the meeting which took place on Wednesday evening (June 30th) to consider the propriety of adopting the Victorian football rules has never been excelled in this colony in point of numbers and enthusiasm.  At 8 o’clock there were fully 50 persons present;  before the chairman took his seat the long room of the Freemasons’ Hotel (in York Street) was crowded, and in a very short time only standing room could be obtained.  To put down the number of footballers present at 100 is certainly not giving more than a fair estimate and even those who were sanguine that the movement would be warmly taken up were not prepared for such marked success at the outset.  This being the satisfactory state of affairs, it is a pity that anything should have occurred to mar “the harmony of the evening” to any extent whatever.  The first resolution moved was, - “That in the opinion of this meeting a radical change in the game of football as at present played in this colony is necessary;”  and this was distinctly read out to the meeting so that everybody could gather is purport.  The mover occupied some minutes in advocating the object of the resolution and a discussion, lasting some considerable time, ensued.  The resolution was then read by the chairman, put to the meeting, and carried unanimously.  Subsequently a committee was appointed to bring up a report recommending the adoption of certain rules and the usual vote of thanks to the chairman was also agreed to.  So far the business had proceeded without a hitch, the meeting having taken about an hour and a-half to consider what it was committing itself to.  But suddenly it struck one gentleman who had either been slumbering peacefully throughout the discussion, or whose perceptive faculties must be of the dullest kind, that the meeting had not adopted the Victorian rules, and no assurance that the committee intended to do so was sufficient to remove his suspicion that the meeting had been “got at”.  Things then began to get somewhat mixed;  but after a time the irregular discussion which had been going on was stopped, and a fresh chairman having been appointed, the first two resolutions carried amid great enthusiasm: “That the gentlemen present, or those who desire to do so, form themselves into an association to be called the New South Wales Football Association, and that they adopt the Victorian Football Association rules.”  This I, of course, admit was very emphatic and satisfactory, and no doubt set at rest the fears of these who seemed to doubt or suspect the intentions of the mover of the first resolution;  but at the same time the course adopted was not only unnecessary, but brought down some amount of ridicule upon the meeting.  Mr Monte Arnold, an arch-Conservative, who had previously delivered himself of a long oration on the merits of the Rugby game as opposed to the merits of the Victorian, chuckled immensely; and Mr Waldron, of the University Club, another strong Rugby adherent, also derived much enjoyment from the topsy-turvy nature of the proceedings.  The course adopted by the meeting, of discrediting the object of the mover of the principal resolution, was in very bad taste, as most footballers know how strong Mr Rogers favours the Victorian game to be necessary will rejoice at the establishment of and the earnest efforts he made to ensure the success of the present movement.  However, all footballers who believe a sweeping change in the present game to be necessary will rejoice at the establishment of an association for the promotion of the Victorian game;  and, for my own part, I trust it may have a prolonged and active existence.  The meeting was adjourned for a week, when office bearers will be elected and the by-laws to regulate the internal working of the association adopted.  (Sydney Mail – Saturday, 3 July 1880)


A meeting a week before at a hotel in Woollahra had been rained out, with only 6, including 3 press, attending. – I.G.)

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The centenary of the re-formation of the game of Australian Football in Sydney was celebrated in 2003.

A meeting convened in Sydney on December 17, 2002, resurrected work which had begun in the 1980's by Mr IAN GRANLAND and Mr TED RAY on the preservation of the history of football within the State of New South Wales.

The years of research has produced a vast number of items.

It has now been embraced by the COMMITTEE OF NEW SOUTH WALES AUSTRALIAN FOOTBALL HISTORY which is dedicated to collect, preserve, protect and display artefacts of the history of one of Australia's proudest inventions –
"a game of our own, the Australian".

This passage produces only a small part of the NSW story.

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Friday, March 1, 1996

Material gathered for this compilation has come from many sources. Momentum of piecing together the many layers of information has more recently built upon the work carried out by Ian Granland and Ted Ray, and joined with the resources provided by Paul Feain and the formation of the Committee of NSW Football History on December 5, 1995.

This draft is intended to form a base from which an eventual work may be finalised.

Recognition may eventually be formalised, however it is essential it is recognised, the research and distribution of information dating back to the 1880’s by Paul Feain from the pages of the "Sydney Morning Herald" and "The Daily Telegraph" was invaluable and only made possible by his purchase of these items.

In many cases assumptions rather than conclusions are drawn as we seek to find reasons without available valid reference.

PART ONE

For almost one hundred and twenty years the code of Australian Football has sought to be a major participant in the sporting life of the city of Sydney.

In Melbourne, cradle of the national game, crowds of 10,000 were already attending major contests before enthusiasts in Sydney gathered together to present the competitive aspects of the code in 1880.

Note: research is required to verify major members of this movement – a 1926 article appeared in the "Sydney Mail" according to a Jim Phelan article in "Australia Football News" in 1927 —

EARLY DAYS OF THE GAME (by P.E.J.) No. 4.

"A.N. Gregory was another keen follower and lover of the game in those days. Father of that talented, but unlucky cricketer, the late Charlie Gregory, he is still in the land of the living and only late as last year wrote an article for the "Sydney Mail" about the first meeting which was convened to establish the game in Sydney in 1880."

Derivatives of winter football games were being organised around the world as sport became a regular part of modern industrial society. At the time, Rugby was the only code of football played in Sydney following the formation of the University club in 1864. Rugby, a product of the English public schools earlier in the 19th century had its first 59 rules formulated in London in 1871 and three years later the control of the game was placed under the establishment of the Southern Rugby Football Union.

However, all was not well with Rugby with many complaining and there were those looking toward the popularity of the ‘Victorian Rules’ and its more open style of play without tight scrimmages.

It has been well-documented where Thomas Wentworth Wills and his friends created a game of Australian football which came to life in 1858. He was born on August 19 1835 at Molonglo Plains near where Canberra now stands. From the age of four he lived in the Port Phillip District (now Victoria). He was the eldest son of Horatio Spencer Wills, a prominent grazier in the Ararat district of Victoria, and his wife Elizabeth, nee McGuire.

He was an outstanding sportsman and was known as the ‘W G Grace of Australian cricket’ (1) When he was about 14, Wills made the long voyage via the Cape of Good Hope and was enrolled at the Rugby school in the English midlands where he was dux of his class, was captain of the school eleven, and excelled at football. He played cricket with Kent, Marylebone, Cambridge University, and United Ireland. Returning to Victoria at Christmas 1856, (2) he was then 21 and an automatic choice for the intercolonial team of 1857, and was captain in the following seasons. On July 10 1858 his now famous letter was published in Bell’s Life in Victoria suggesting that cricketers keep fit by playing a game like football in winter, and by May 17 1859 the first rules of Australian football had been devised, by Wills, William Hammersley, James Thompson (all high-profile Victorian cricketers) and Thomas Smith (a teacher at Scotch College) – they came together to draw up a set of rules at Bryant's Hotel on Richmond Road (Wellington Parade). The hand-written pages of 10 rules are preserved and in possession of the Melbourne Cricket Club. However it was far from the game we now know.

Football in many forms was played in Melbourne from the early days of its settlement and became an activity of boys in the developing grammar schools and colleges with the influence on ‘manly games’ visible in many English boarding schools. The early games were played on the vast expanse of parklands which surrounded the growing city. These games were not all alike apart from the use of a ball. The masters of the schools had all come from different backgrounds, as had they all fallen within the Rugby influence, that code may well have been Victoria’s inheritance.

The earliest known game of football played between Victorian schools or clubs is recorded as the meeting between St Kilda Grammar and Melbourne Grammar as noted in the journal of Dr John E Bromby the headmaster of Melbourne Grammar on June 5 1858 when he wrote – his school had won. Two months later, Melbourne Grammar accepted a challenge from the Scotch College and as two of Melbourne’s best-known secondary schools, on Saturday August 7 1858 the Melbourne Morning Herald reported –

A grand football match will be played this day between the Scotch College and the Church of England Grammar School, near the Melbourne Cricket Club ground.

Lunch at the pavilion. Forty a side. The match will commence at twelve o’clock.

This match has become a legend and its status is recognised with a plaque erected on the outer wall of the MCG on the centenary of the game in 1958.

The Melbourne Football Club was formed on May 14 1859 soon followed by Geelong on July 18th and others soon blossomed throughout the State of Victoria. The original ten rules for an Australian code of football were formed on May 17 1859 and are housed in the Australian Gallery of Sport at the MCG. These rules were progressively altered then codified in 1866.

A round ball was used however, the oval ball was first noted in 1860 at a time when scratch matches prevailed but by 1863 more regular meetings between clubs were on the calendar. By 1866 new rules were adopted when Carlton, Melbourne, Royal Park and South Yarra clubs who together with University and Geelong competed for the Challenge Cup, this led to the South Yarra Challenge Cup of 1870, regarded as the first ‘premiership’ year.

In 1877, the Victorian Football Association (VFA) was founded to control the game.

By the 1880s, Australian football had become the dominant winter sport in Victoria, Tasmania, the Riverina and Broken Hill districts of New South Wales, as well as South Australia and Western Australia. These were regions where Melbourne merchants and their commercial travellers did business, where Melbourne-based banks opened up, and where Melbourne promoters, emigrants and investors were more likely found. According to Blainey, "… that Sydney and its hinterland did not take to Australian-rules football was partly a reflection of Sydney’s suspicion of any game devised in Melbourne" (3). From the formation of the first club in Wagga in 1881, clubs grew and regular competition began in 1885.

In the early weeks of its inaugural season, the VFA sought to introduce intercolonial matches. Australian football was to reach Sydney when a local club Waratah invited Carlton to play two matches, one each under Rugby and the Australian rules. Apparently rugby had become rather slow and unattractive and the Waratah club hoped to make the point in a direct comparison with Australian football. On Saturday June 23 1877 nearly 3000 spectators paid one shilling each to see Waratah beat Carlton under 15-a-side Rugby rules at the Albert Cricket Ground (where flats now stand opposite Redfern Oval). The following Monday, Waratah and Carlton played a 20-men a-side ‘Victorian rules’ contest which the visitors won easily, reversing the Saturday result.

Encouraged by the success of the response in Sydney, the VFA suggested to the SRFU that regular intercolonial matches be inaugurated, starting in 1879. The SRFU declined, pleading there was no ground in Sydney suitable ‘for matches of so great interest’ – however, this was simply not the case. The New South Wales Cricket Association offered the use of its own ground (later called the Sydney Cricket Ground), but this was not ‘convenient’ for the SRFU and the VFA’s proposal was abandoned. Thomas Arnold, senior vice-president of the SRFU (who was educated at Rugby School), at the 1880 annual meeting gave the real reason – he thought it ‘almost frivolous’ to play intercolonial matches as the rules were so different and to alternate the rules would simply mean that each colony would win under its own rules. A second series of matches between Carlton and Waratah did take place and were closely contested, showing the problem of different rules were not insurmountable. However, the SRFU would not compromise – rather than play intercolonial matches against Victoria, it wanted to play rugby intercolonials against New Zealand.

The SRFU’s refusal to yield propelled supporters of the Australian game into action and according to the Sydney Mail whose football writer ‘Leather-Stocking’ recorded –

"It is pretty well understood – that there are scores of footballers – who play the Rugby game under protest as it were, and who would gladly welcome a radical change in the present method of playing football".

On June 30th 1880 at a meeting held at the Freemasons' Hotel, York Street in the city some 50 people formed the New South Wales Football Association (NSWFA) to play under VFA rules. In the week following the establishment of the Australian code in Sydney, the first president of the body was Phillip Sheridan who as president of the NSW Cricket Association, again offered the use of his association ground for intercolonial contests. The following month, another group of footballers formed to play under English Association rules and although soccer would threaten neither rugby or the Australian game, it reflects the antipathy of rugby supporters toward the Australian game. Senior rugby officials welcomed the introduction of soccer which they believed would improve the skills of rugby players. Indeed, there was only one dissenter at the meeting, F Lyons Weiss, a committeeman of the NSWFA whose speech ‘nearly drove the Rugbyites to the refreshment bar’ declaring that –

" … as the colonies in many matters, political and social, had struck out a path for themselves, he did not see why the same line of conduct should not be adopted in the game of football …"

At the start of the 1881 season there were only two Australian football clubs in Sydney, the East Sydney and the Sydney clubs, though a third team, from Maitland, about 100 miles north of Sydney, competed against them regularly. Late in 1881 a club was formed at Petersham and in May 1882, Waratah formally switched its allegiance from rugby to the Australian code. (By comparison, there were 30 rugby clubs affiliated with the SRFU, and 15 in NSW country areas. Sydney’s population of the day was 225,000 compared with Melbourne’s 282,000.)

Also in 1881 the Trustees of the Association Cricket Ground announced their ground would be available and the NSWFA arranged two matches with the VFA. Perhaps through the patronage of Phillip Sheridan, the NSWFA played club matches at the Association ground.

The first intercolonial match against the VFA was played in Melbourne at the MCG on Saturday July 1st 1881, and possibly because of Victoria’s greater skills, but also due to the ban by the SRFU on Sydney players taking part, the home side won easily 9.24 to 0.1 (when behinds were recorded but only goals counted). Six weeks later on August 6th, 5000 Sydneysiders paid to see NSW soundly defeated in the return match, 9.16 to 1.8. During the season the Melbourne FC also sent a team to play three matches against Sydney clubs but these were played on the adjacent open space of Moore Park and by comparison with rugby matches were poorly attended. Part of the reason was the unwillingness of Sydney followers to pay regularly to see football matches though press reports record these matches were poorly managed and advertised.

Clubs of the day consisted of the First 20, and Second 20. Where some rivals were of a higher standard their opponents often were allowed to field either 23, even 25 players. Club contests of 1881 were chiefly played at Moore Park though regular visits were made to the two newly established colleges of St Ignatius of Riverview at Lane Cove and St Joseph’s at Hunters Hill. Years later James Edward Phelan widely referred to as the ‘father of Sydney football’ recalled –

"Preparatory to the opening competition games of the season, clubs vied with each other to secure a practice game at Riverview where Fr Gartlan, the then principal, dispensed hospitality in royal fashion. The writer retains vivid and pleasant memories of his first trip to the college with the Waratah club".

The Australian game was being played in Queensland, the SRFU though keenly wanting to claim the colony brought a team to Sydney at its expense in 1882 to inaugurate intercolonial matches, as well as sending a team to New Zealand to establish relations. The SRFU used the Association Ground but the crowds were smaller than that enjoyed by the NSWFA against the VFA in 1881.

NSWFA clubs of the day were playing for the Alexander trophies as West Sydney, City and Redfern joined the throng. The code enjoyed wide interest in the Newcastle district where by 1884 Newcastle City, Newcastle, Merewether, Northumberland, Hamilton and Wallsend together with the afore-mentioned Maitland were in existence. It brought a call by the Northern Football Association, that the VFA –

" … should make some effort for the advancement of the game in New South Wales — there were some 16 clubs in the Northern Association … and in addition to playing matches in Sydney, might play at Newcastle, Maitland and Wallsend, where it was expected their matches would have very liberal patronage …"

Clubs from Newcastle regularly played the Sydney teams, with the SMH on August 22 reporting in almost 1,000 words – "Despite the fact that Northumberland had a very strong team on Saturday last in the return match against Sydney, on Moore Park, the latter obtained a very easy victory. There were about 4000 people present, although the weather was cold, and at times showery". The Sydney ‘reds’ won 10.11 to 3.2 with the report concluding — "In the evening the visitors were entertained at the Freemason’s Hotel, York Street. Mr Crisp occupied the chair. The health of the two teams was drunk very cordially, and the visitors left the same night by the Newcastle boat".

SMH – June 24 1887
The many clubs playing the Australian game of football will be glad to learn that a valuable addition is being made to their number. Several of the undergraduates of the Sydney University who have learned the Australian rules have started a club, and with the assistance promised them outside the University, viz., by the members of the other Australian Universities, the club promises to be a great success. By careful management, it may in time rank as high in football circles as the present Rugby Club does among the football clubs in this colony. It will also have the benefit of probably bringing in our midst intercolonial University matches, which could prove a great attraction here. The members of the club will consist of graduates, undergraduates and matriculates of all Universities and Tasmanian Associates of Arts. A committee, consisting of Messrs M Ryan, G Evans, Kidston, Cock, and Wood, of the Sydney University, have been appointed to receive the names of all University members resident in Sydney and suburbs who wish to join the new club. A general meeting of the members will be held in a short time.

SMH – July 25 1887
There was only a moderate attendance at the Association Cricket Ground on Saturday last to witness the fancy costume football match in aid of the funds of the New South Wales Football Association. The band of the Blind Asylum was stationed on the lawn, and played during the afternoon. The players first marched from the pavilion around the ground in pairs, and the game then started—Muffs against Puffs. It was kept up for about an hour, and during that time great amusement was created by the antics and strange appearance of the players. There was a policeman, a lawyer, gentlemen of colour in numbers, two or three female characters whose dresses entangled them hopelessly, Irish peasants, a Moor, a Highlander, soldiers and sailors, a cigar, a cat, a fat boy, midshipmen, clown, harlequin, and several nondescripts. The game was of course merely a burlesque, but it afforded a good hour’s amusement.

From a distance in time it must be assumed there were many adherents to the Australian code who wished to play, but at best they played under very loose arrangements. There was a structure of organisation however most games were regarded as social occasions played on available parkland.

Indeed, regular meetings between Sydney clubs and Newcastle-based teams were often once or twice each year where a match was played and good fellowship enjoyed. Games between Sydney clubs for a trophy for a ‘premiership’ often numbered no more than eight or nine, when one major contest was played each weekend. The necessity of ‘proving’ their worth in the community of football required participation at the higher level of intercolonial matches, but the difference of standard was clearly apparent.

Within this climate of such loose arrangements the recall by Jim Phelan in 1938 focus on these elements –

Club bickerings, in which the Sydney and West Sydney clubs were the chief wranglers, brought about the downfall of the game at the close of 1894. Had there existed in 1894, or the year immediately prior thereto, a body similar to the (present) Australian Football Council, it is certain the game would have gone to pre-eminence in New South Wales, as at that period the game vied with Rugby Union in public patronage (rugby league then unknown). The years between then and the revival of the game, by the formation of the (present) League in 1903, found many of the leading players transferring to Rugby Union in which code they left imperishable records.

"Pity, ‘tis, ‘tis true," but with the decease of the game in Sydney the magnificent edifice which had been built up in the Newcastle district where the game was almost supreme, also crumbled.

The lesson from the foregoing is that firm administration, to the utter exclusion of anything approaching rabid clubism, in the only road to progress.

Fate and faulty administration during crucial periods, has played a big part in connection with the Australian game in Sydney. To old-time followers who can recall the period between 1881 and 1893 it seems almost incredible that no master-mind came to light to save the game from the destroying forces of club rancour and bitterness exhibited in the latter years by the then Sydney and West Sydney clubs, and which unfortunately brought the game to an untimely end — players and public being heartily sick of the win, tie or wrangle methods. How effective the methods of the clubs named can be instanced by the fact that Dan Hutchinson (Carlton player and captain) came to Sydney early in 1894 and made an attempt to revive the game by advertising that a scratch match would be played at Moore Park. The effort failed lamentably.

A summation in a 1987 research paper provided by Martin Sharp for Sporting Traditions, the Journal of the Australian Society for Sports History provides a perspective for this time under review and is not without its parallel in the 1990’s — Without a strong junior competition the NSWFA could not develop a lasting senior competition and, without regular matches against more skilled opponents, the senior sides were unable to improve their play. Irregular visits by strong intercolonial teams simply saw the humiliation of successive NSW teams. By comparison, rugby had a flourishing junior competition – all the major state schools and protestant private schools played rugby and by 1890 there were two junior competitions as well as the senior competition. Regular visits by New Zealand and Queensland teams provided strong opposition and although NSW was often too weak to challenge powerful New Zealand 15’s, it maintained an ascendancy over Queensland. More important, the tour in 1888 of an English team provided what sporting journalist J C Davis later termed encounters ‘matchless in athletic sport’ – matches between England and Australia. In the late 19th century Sydney looked to England to provide its ultimate football contests.

The 1888 English team played both codes and despite the SRFU’s earlier intransigence one is struck by their apparent interchangeability. In 1881 a proposal to send an Australian team comprising nine players from NSW, eight from Victoria and three from New Zealand was only abandoned when the Victorians withdrew. A proposal that an English team visit Australia in 1886 was also abandoned. It is not clear whether, with eight Victorians, the 1881 Australian team was to have played rugby, Australian rules or a composite of both codes. Certainly in 1886 Censor expected that the English team would play both codes, suggesting that –

The meeting of an English and an Australian team at the Australian game in Melbourne would draw one of the largest crowds ever seen … in the sports-loving metropolis.

Though the 1886 tour did not eventuate, the 1888 English team fulfilled Censor’s prediction. After winning its two opening games against NSW under rugby rules, the second before a crowd of 7000 at the Association ground, the English footballers travelled to Melbourne. 25,000 saw Carlton beat the tourists under Australian rules at the MCG and a week later 10,000 saw South Melbourne also defeat them. Of the 28 games the English footballers played, 16 were under Australian rules against Victorian and South Australian teams. Although soundly beaten by the Melbourne clubs, the Englishmen won five matches under Australian rules against Port Melbourne, Horsham, Ballarat, Sandhurst and Kyneton.

Shortly after their arrival in Sydney the English team agreed to play NSW under Australian rules but, upon its return from Melbourne and Adelaide the match had been cancelled. Presumably the team management bowed to pressure from the SRFU which, after the success of the southern part of the Englishmen’s tour, was not keen to encourage the rival code in Sydney.

In 1889, Andy Flanagan, an avid Carlton supporter moved to Sydney where he became a vice-president of the NSWFA. He donated a cup to be competed for by the senior Australian clubs in Sydney. Like other challenge cups before in cricket and rugby, the Flanagan Cup generated considerable public interest.

On July 4 1891 a match between Sydney and West Sydney attracted 5000 spectators and a month later on August 22, 6000 saw the final match between West Sydney and Waratah. Unfortunately the matches were played on Moore Park so the NSWFA could not charge the spectators, though possibly this was at least part of the reason for the large crowds in the first place (4). By the early 1890’s most important club rugby matches were played on the Association Cricket Ground or the new Royal Agricultural Society (RAS) Ground, next door. Phillip Sheridan had stood down as president of the NSWFA in 1890 (for Mr G N Griffiths) and the SRFU had a virtual monopoly on the Association Ground during the winter. On the rare occasions Flanagan Cup matches were played on the Showgrounds, attendances were disappointing.

In an effort to increase interest in the Australian code the NSWFA brought Carlton, South Melbourne and a Tasmanian team to Sydney in 1890. Unfortunately two of the matches were abandoned because of heavy rain. The loss of these potential gate receipts, together with the loss of the Association Ground, ended a real chance of raising enough money to organise competitive football.

Without a strong junior competition and without a wide presence across the school system the NSWFA was beginning to show the signs which would lead to its collapse. Junior teams from St Ignatius and St Joseph’s were playing at their college grounds against grown men. Whilst St Ignatius exclusively played the Australian code it suffered serious damage when the Sydney club without apology failed to meet an engagement at Riverview in 1890. The college played one more season but turned to the rugby code playing Newington on May 29 1892, and though they played out the year, they were lost to Australian Rules.

The 1891 competition was devised with West Sydney, Waratah, Sydney East Sydney (who retired) and St Ignatius playing for the Flanagan Cup, with the clubs of St Joseph’s College, South Sydney, the Young Australians, West Sydney 2nd 20, and Carlton club playing for the Junior Cup.

The Flanagan Cup was popular with non-paying spectators but it was also a source of ill-feeling between clubs. The Cup was the first formal competition for Sydney Australian football clubs and some responded poorly to the competitive spirit. In the 1891 final West Sydney aided by some players from the East Sydney club, beat Waratah who were understandably upset by the ploy but were happy enough the following year when a similar tactic cost West Sydney the final.

In a match against Sydney, West Sydney played an ineligible man and was disqualified. Rather than win the Cup by default, Sydney chose to play a final but the West Sydney team did not appear, still believing they had won the earlier match fairly, and so Sydney was awarded the 1892 premiership to retain the Cup.

In 1893 the NSWFA’s annual report declared 1892 to have been the most disastrous year in its history; the ‘petty jealousies’ of 1891 had been replaced by "a keener and more bitter form of antagonism". The report concluded – "Although the year 1891 was painfully disastrous to the progress of the Game, yet it remained for the close of 1892 to almost crush it out of existence".

Apathy, bitterness and poor management combined to bring about a decline in membership – in 1893 there were not enough clubs to continue the competition ‘in a satisfactory manner’ and ‘owing to the disorganised state of the Association’ and the disbanding of a number of clubs ‘circumstances did not warrant the arranging of intercolonial matches’.

The collapse is emphasised by the failure of any reports on the Australian code in Sydney to appear in the Sydney Morning Herald during the winter of 1893.

A brief revival was experienced in 1894 however from this distance of a century later it much be realised during this period (5) Australia was moving toward federation and experienced considerable political, social and financial unrest as the Eastern colonies suffered a severe depression between 1890 and 1894. As Manning Clark observed – "in November (1890) Barings failed in London, and this in turn led to the rapid withdrawal of deposits from Australian financial institutions. Public works stopped, as did most private building. Government servants, contractors, the men in the building trades, bank clerks, and financial companies were affected. In March 1892 one bank failed, another closed its doors in the following January, and in April and May thirteen banks in Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland closed".

A competition was revived for 1894 when Sydney, East Sydney, Redfern, West Sydney and the mid-season formation of Darlington played regular scratch and premiership matches on Moore Park, sometimes at the newly-named Sydney Cricket Ground, as well as the Showgrounds and Wentworth Park. Three representative fixtures were played when the Metropolis met Northern Districts (Newcastle) at the Showgrounds on July 21 when the Sydney clubs won 9.5 to 5.8. The reverse fixture was at Newcastle on August 11 when Sydney defeated Districts 2 goals to one. Under the name of Metropolitan, the Sydney clubs on July 14 at the SCG played Western Districts which comprised members of Bathurst, Bathurst Old Boys and Orange; however no result is recorded. Wallsend maintained their connection when they played West Sydney at Wentworth Park on July 7th when "there were several thousand people present" (6) which ended in a draw, West Sydney 1.9, Wallsend 1.6.

The conclusion to the 1894 season was recorded by the SMH on Monday August 20th – "Football under Australian rules reached its lowest ebb last year, the lack of interest evinced in it being the result not so much of the scarcity of players as the want of strong management for the affairs of the association. This year, however, a lot of fresh blood has been infused into the association committee, and, owing to better arrangements generally, much lost ground has been recovered. Two new clubs were started during the year — the Redfern and the Darlington — and the Redferns, who made a start early in the season, now hold the premier position.

The Darlingtons did not get going till the beginning of July; and although their representatives have not scored a win so far, the improvement which is evident in their play in each match warrants the assertion that next year the other clubs will act wisely in not despising them".

"It will be seen, as already stated, that Redfern come out with the lead, having scored 28 points out of a possible 32 points. Much of their success is due to the energy and good management of their secretary, Mr John Robertson. The team too, was always well handled by its Captain Mr Hutchinson, whose play in every match this season was much admired. In club matches the Redferns were defeated only once. The match was the best contested this season, the West Sydney team winning 6 goals to 5. The Redferns were vanquished on one other occasion, which was when they visited Maitland and tried conclusions with the Northumberlands, who scored two goals to the Redferns nil. They kicked 44 goals in club matches, and only 17 were kicked against them. The Sydneys come second on the list with a record of six wins put of nine matches, their vanquishers on each occasion being the Redferns. In the Sydney team are a lot of young players, and it is very creditable to their coaches that the club occupies such a good position.

Next come West Sydney, with a record of three wins and one draw for seven club matches played. This was the only Sydney Club that succeeded in beating the Redferns, and it is astonishing considering the splendid game which the team played on that occasion that they do not hold a higher position on the list. They have a really good team, and, if well managed, should make a bold bid for next year’s premiership".

"The East Sydney Club have not had a successful season, having scored one win and one draw out of eight matches. The Darlingtons have already been alluded to.

The Association is about to consider the advisability of allowing the teams to play with only 16 men a side next season. It is pointed out that by doing so better contests would be witnessed, and that there would not be such a long tail to most of the teams. Besides, an extra senior club could be formed with the four men who would be thrown out of each of the present senior teams. The greatest objection to the proposal is that it would be contrary to the rules as passed by the Australian Football Council. This objection, however, is not looked upon as insuperable by the majority of the association. If this concession is granted it is said that there will be at least four new clubs next season."

It was not to be.

In 1895 there was no competition and the Australian game was not organised again until 1903. The last recorded match of the century under the Australian rules was at Moore Park played between Sydney and Darlington on Saturday August 25, 1894.

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PART TWO

Revival

SMH – Thursday January 29 1903

FOOTBALL

THE AUSTRALIAN GAME

An advertisement in this issue refers to the Australian game of football being re-introduced here. A large number of the residents of Sydney are desirous of the game with which they are familiar being established here. It is intended to form an association. The acting secretary, who has just returned from a trip to the Southern states, has the assurance of the bodies controlling football in South Australia and Victoria, that anything in their power to assist the game here will be rendered gratuitously.

 

SMH – advertisement

FOOTBALL — A Public MEETING will be held in the I.O.F. Rooms, No. 283 George-street (opposite Hunter-street, on the 30th INST., at 8 o’clock p.m., to consider the formation of an Association under the Australian Rules. Everyone interested therein is invited to attend.

W. J. WILLIAMS, Secretary (pro tem.).

SMH – Saturday February 7 1903
A well-attended meeting of the provisional committee appointed at the last general meeting of the movement to reintroduce the Australian game into Sydney was held at the I.O.F. rooms, No. 283 George-street. Several reports were received, and the following sub-committees were appointed: Constitution: Messrs. L. Balhausen, R.A. M’Leod, M’Kellar, D.A. Madden and F.J. Hart. Players: This committee was formed with a view to ascertaining who were supporters and who were players and consists of Messrs. Victor Trumper, B.K Edgar, H. Hedger, J. Hedger, H.Rappiport, W. Padula, W. Grayson, W. Butler, A.B £36 (sic).

SMH – Friday February 13 1903
A meeting of footballers was held in the Y.M.C.A. Hall last evening, with a view to forming an association to revive the Australian game of football in Sydney. Mr. H(Harry) Hedger presided, and there was a large attendance. The reports of the provisional committee showed that the proposal of establishing the game on a firm basis in the city and suburbs were exceedingly encouraging.

The chairman stated that it was not the intention to form suburban clubs on an electoral basis. It would be inadvisable to do so until the game had made substantial progress. A Sydney club had already been formed with a membership of 40. A club would be formed next week at Paddington, in which Mr. Victor Trumper had promised to take an active part. Arrangements would be made for inviting two Melbourne clubs over to give an exposition of the game for the benefit of the public. Together with Mr. J.J. Virgo he had waited on the secretary of the cricket ground and had been promised the use of the ground free of charge in May. He moved — "That the New South Wales Football League be now formed."

This was seconded by Mr D. A. Madden, and carried unanimously.

The rules for the constitution of the league were then considered.

The afore-mentioned Martin Sharp when writing his 1987 paper found the involvement of the YMCA as intriguing — "Like the priests and brothers of St Ignatius and St Joseph’s in the 1880’s, members of the YMCA were taken all round Australia on their religious duties and, having seen Australian football played in Melbourne and Adelaide, they may well have been keen to see it re-established in Sydney.

Six weeks before the inaugural meeting of the NSWFL John Virgo took up the position of General Secretary of the YMCA in Sydney, having transferred from the equivalent post in Adelaide. Elected a vice-president of the NSWFL, Virgo was one of a number of former Melburnians or Adelaidians who wanted to see the game played in their new home. Other vice-presidents of the NSWFL were Alfred Meeks, a Melbourne-educated merchant who lived in Adelaide before moving to Sydney in 1888 and Alfred Nash who had been president of the earlier NSWFA.

The federal spirit also played a part in the revival of Australian Football and, as in the 1880’s, its presence was linked with the debate between Australian nationalists and imperial patriots."

SMH – Wednesday February 18 1903
A CLUB FORMED IN PADDINGTON

A meeting was held at Sinnott’s Town Hall Hotel, Oxford-street, Paddington, last night for the purpose of considering the adviseability of forming a club for the borough of Paddington to play under the Australia rules. Mr H. Hedger, J.P., presided over a good attendance. At the conclusion of a lengthy discussion it was unanimously resolved, on the motion of Mr. Edgar, to form a club, to be named the Paddington Football Club. The names of 45 intending members were handed in, and Mr. Victor Trumper was appointed secretary pro tem. The meeting was adjourned for a week, when the officers for the year will be elected.

SMH – Tuesday February 24 1903
THE AUSTRALIAN GAME

A good deal of interest has been taken in the revival of the Australian game in and around Sydney, and it bids fair to become well established in this State during the coming season. Already a league has been formed in Sydney to govern the game in New South Wales, and under it there have now been three clubs—viz, Sydney, Paddington and North Sydney—and others are now under consideration. Some old Rugby and British Association players intend taking up the Australian game.

SMH – Thursday February 26 1903
THE AUSTRALIAN GAME

"Australian" writes:– Ás one interested in the Australian game of football I am pleased to observe its introduction into this State. It is a very scientific and open game, and I feel sure it is only a matter of time when its votaries in New South Wales will be counted in thousands. At the present time New South Wales and Victoria and South Australia are able to play interstate cricket matches, but are unable to play interstate football matches on account of the two States playing a different game. If only to bring about the possibility of inter-state football matches the Australian game should in my opinion, be welcomed. Why should we not have our inter-state football matches as well as inter-state cricket matches? In Victoria the attendances at first-class football matches runs to 30,000, and even more, during the Saturdays throughout the season and I feel sure this could be attained here if the Australian game were played. I am glad to note the formation of several clubs in different parts of the city and suburbs."

The first meeting of the newly formed Paddington Football Club was held at Sinnott’s Town Hall Hotel, Oxford-street, Paddington, on Tuesday night. The following were elected as officers for the ensuing season:– Patron, Sir William M’Millan; president, the Mayor of Paddington (Alderman W.H. Howard); vice-presidents, Alderman C.W. Oaks M.L.A., Alderman W.F. Latimer, M.L.A., Mr. David Storey, M.L.A., Senator J.C. Neild, Captain Lynch, Alderman A.J. Kenny, Mr. Robert Usher, Mr. J.S. Brunton, Mr. Thomas J. West, Mr. Thomas Jessep, M.L.A., Mr J.H. Guy and Mr. A. Pointing; joint secretaries Messrs. V. Trumper and B.K. Edgar; treasurer, Mr Burton; committee, Messrs. H. Thompson, W.F. Wills, Rev. F.B. Cowling, W. Day. Ashbury, A.S. Matthews, A. Colgan, F.R. Webb, T.G. Coleman, F. Lord, with the secretaries and treasurer ex officio. The annual subscriptions was fixed at 5s. The colours were selected—blue and white jacket, blue knickers, and blue and white stockings.

SMH – Friday February 27 1903
NEW SOUTH WALES FOOTBALL LEAGUE

The third general meeting of the New South Wales Football League was held at the Y.M.C.A. Hall last night. Mr. F. Poole occupied the chair, and there were 145 members present. The rules were read and adopted. A letter was read from the Victorian League according their hearty support to the league, and promising that a team would visit this State during May next. It was reported that the movement had been taken up very enthusiastically, and five clubs had been already formed with an average membership of 60. A report was read from the players’ committee which showed that out of 202 members in the league 119 were players.

NORTH SHORE FOOTBALL CLUB
A large and enthusiastic gathering assembled in the School of Arts, North Sydney, on Monday (23rd) evening, for the purpose of forming a football club at North Shore to play under the Australian rules. Mr. D.A. Madden occupied the chair, and was supported by Messrs. Hedger, Sullivan, Middleton, Padula, and F.J. Hart.

The chairman gave a brief history of the doings to date of the New South Wales Football League, and informed those present that the club would not be antagonist to the interests of other clubs in the district, but was merely to uphold the sport generally, and if possible to further it.

The club was eventually formed, and will be known as the North Shore Football Club. A provisional committee was appointed, and was composed of the following gentlemen:– Messrs. L.S. Spiller, D.A. Madden, G.V. Padula, F.J. Hart, A.W. Ballhausen (sic), T. Spiller, A. Middleton, W.J. Williams, E.A. Wright, F.A. Beetson, C. Millard, E. Butcher, E. Truman, E. Robertson, and E. Attwater. Mr G.V. Padula was appointed hon. secretary pro tem.

SYDNEY FOOTBALL CLUB
A general meeting of the Sydney Football Club (Australian game) was held at the Forbes Hotel on Wednesday evening, when a good number of members were present. Mr. S.A. Madden occupied the chair. The rules, by-laws, &c., for the future management of the club were adopted. It was decided to join the New South Wales Football League.

SMH – Monday March 2 1903
EXHIBITION MATCHES AT SYDNEY

Melbourne, Saturday,

At a meeting of the Football Association(sic) on Friday (27th ult.) Mr. H. Hedger, of Sydney, was invited to speak on the subject of the introduction of the Australian game of football into New South Wales. He suggested that two Victorian teams be sent to Sydney in May to play exhibition games, and that the teams should ask for as small a share as possible of the gate money, as there would be difficulty in financing matters. It was decided that two teams be sent, and that in order to stimulate public interest that the game to be played in Sydney should rank as one of the fixtures for the Victorian premiership. The Fitzroy and Collingwood clubs volunteered to send their best teams to Sydney and to pay all expenses, leaving the whole of the gate receipts intact for the New South Wales promoters. This generous offer was warmly acknowledged by Mr. Hedger.

SMH – Saturday March 7 1903
AUSTRALIAN RULES

A well-attended meeting was held at Womerah Hall, William-street on Thursday evening, Mr. D. Levy, M.L.A., presiding. A motion that a club be formed in East Sydney was proposed by Mr. E.W. Butler, seconded by H. Hedger, supported by Messrs. H. Knight, D. Sullivan, H. Rappiport, Kewin, M’Leod and Gleeson, and carried unanimously. A large number of those present signified their intention of playing the Australian game during the coming season (including several Rugby players). A provisional committee was appointed to draw up the rules for the club. The meeting closed with a vote of thanks to the chairman who gave a substantial donation to the funds of the club.

The attention of those interested in the Paddington Club is drawn by advertisement to the meeting to be held at Sinnott’s Hotel on Tuesday next, also to the fact that players and others are invited to meet at Centennial Park on Saturday, at 3 p.m., on the polo ground, to have some kicking practice.

SMH – Monday March 9 1903
A meeting was held at the Redfern Town Hall on Friday night for the purpose of forming a football club in the district to play the Australian game. The Mayor (Alderman G. Parkes) occupied the chair, and he outlined the objects of the meeting, and stated that he would give the club as much assistance as possible. On the motion of Mr. J. M’Kellar, seconded by Mr. A.E. Kerwin, it was resolved that a club be formed in Redfern under the auspices of the New South Wales Football League, to play the Australian game. About 21 persons signified their intention of becoming members of the newly formed club.

SMH – Monday March 16 1903
WEST SYDNEY FOOTBALL CLUB

A largely-attended public meeting of members of the above club was held in Mr. Coffill’s Hall, Harris-street on the 6th instant, Mr. Frank Pascoe presiding. The meeting was intended to explain the Australian game to those unqualified with it, to enrol members, and elect officers. Several footballers from Victoria joined. The club officers were elected, and it was decided to commence practice at once to enable the team to get well together before the season commenced.

SMH – Saturday March 21 1903
The New South Wales Football League is meeting with a large measure of success in its efforts to introduce and firmly establish the Australian game into this State, and thus bring about the possibility of inter-state football matches between this State and Victoria, South Australia, and Tasmania. At present some nine or ten clubs have been formed in and around the metropolis, while others are being added–two or three every week. Apparently the game is destined to fill an important position in the winter sports of the State.

SMH – Tuesday March 24 1903
THE AUSTRALIAN GAME

The tenth club to play football under the Australian rules was formed at St George’s Hall, Newtown on Friday night last (20th), and a strong team was got together, some 30 names being handed in as players. The club will commence practice at once in preparation for the ensuing season.

The outlook for the league and Australian football in this State is most promising, and it is apparent that the game under Australian rules is going to fill a big place in the winter sports of the community, being everywhere taken on with great enthusiasm. The formation of further clubs is engaging the active attention of the league.

The first general meeting of the East Sydney Football Club (Australian rules) was held at Womerah Hall, William-street, on Thursday evening (19th), Mr. D.Levy, M.L.A., presiding. The rules of the club, as drawn up by the provisional committee appointed for that purpose, were discussed, and adopted. The election of office-bearers for the ensuing season resulted as follows:– President, Mr. D. Levy, M.L.A.; vice-presidents, Messrs. P.E. Quinn, M.L.A., (next part of text wrongly-set, name probably Mr H. Hedger) Aldermen J. Lane Mullins, J.P., A. M’Elhone, J.P., T.J. West, J.P., Milner Stephen and A.H. Conroy, M.P.,; hon treasurer, Mr H. Knight, J.P.,; hon secretary, Mr. E.W. Butler, J.P., assistant secretary, Mr. P.G. Kenny; delegates to the New South Wales Football League, Messrs. H.C. Harte and H. Knight; committee, Messrs. D. Collins, P. Kenny, A.W. Thorpe, W. Berkley, Lubraski, M. Donovan, and R. Levy.

SMH – Saturday March 28 1903
AUSTRALIAN RULES
The playing members of the Sydney and Redfern football clubs (Australian rules) are requested by advertisement to meet on Moore Park, opposite the Captain Cook Hotel, this afternoon, to play a scratch match. In view of the forthcoming matches with the famous Collingwood and Fitzroy clubs from Victoria, who intend playing an exhibition (sic) match on May 23 in Sydney, as well as a series of matches with New South Wales clubs, it is expected that the members of the above clubs will turn up in order to get into form as early as possible, so that those who are selected to play against the Victorian clubs may render as good an account of themselves as possible.

NEWTOWN CLUB
At a meeting of the Newtown Club (Australian rules) on Wednesday evening (25th), and presided over by the Mayor of Newtown, the following officers were elected:– Secretary, Mr. J.P. Buckley; treasurer, Mr. J.E. Phelan; committee management, Messrs. Keogh, Rowley, L.G. Jones, Waddy, M’Sweeney, Ashton, Power, W. Jones and Penton.

First record of 1903 matches

SMH – Monday April 20 1903
On Saturday the newly-formed Ashfield Electorate Football Club (assisted by Mr. Rappiport) played its first match at Summer Hill against the Sydney F.C. and notwithstanding the absence of many players the suburban team gave their more experienced opponents a keenly contested game, showing good pace and endurance, but lacking the skill and strength which will result from training and combined practice. Sydney, 6 goals 5 behinds, 41 points; Ashfield 5 goals, 5 behinds, 30(sic) points. The notable players were: Sydney, Hodge, Iverack, Daw, and Ward; for Ashfield, Morris, Frost, Kelly, Hanwell, Miller, Coleman, and Fisher (captain).

The 1903 competition comprised 11 clubs —

Alexandria
Ashfield
Balmain
East Sydney
Newtown
North Shore
Paddington
Redfern
Sydney
Y.M.C.A.
West Sydney

Check required — No cutting of meeting to form the Balmain club, yet I know I have read it before. Past info points to Balmain being formed on April 3 1903 at their local Town Hall, the meeting chaired by the Mayor.

Does anyone have documentation to prove or otherwise discount the prior legend which had it that — a group in 1902 set out to re-establish the code "which included BILL STRICKLAND who had been the first captain of Collingwood when the Magpies were born in 1892 and who then was a Sydney hotelier, with LEO ALEXANDER and brother OSCAR BALHAUSEN and a HARRY HEDGER …" — Strickland indeed played eight seasons with Carlton VFA (1885-92) then transferred to Collingwood where in 84 games, captained the Magpies to their 1896 VFA grand final victory over South Melbourne. He also played 17 VFL matches with Collingwood before retiring at the end of the 1897 season. A Collingwood book ‘A Century of the Best’ records — "Previously a ‘licensed victualler’ (in more modern parlance he ran a pub) in Johnston Street, Strickland took up employment with the Federal Government and moved to Sydney. There he continued his involvement with football, coaching a police team with considerable success, and also spent more time pursuing his other great interest — fishing. He was also a composer of music, once having written a piece called ‘Quadrille, Magpies’ which the local band played at the unveiling of a new clock on the Club’s grandstand in 1894. Strickland lived in Sydney for the rest of his days and survived until the grand old age of 95". — meaning he passed away here in 1958 or 1959 being born August 17 1864.

(1) Oxford Companion to Australian Sport, p381, 1992
(2) A Game of Our Own, p11, 1990
(3) G.Blainey, A Land Half Won, 1980
(4) Martin Sharp, Sporting Traditions, 1987
(5) Manning Clark, Short History of Australia, 1983
(6) SMH, July 10, 1894

For later inclusion — Australasian Football Council was formed in 1905 under the banner of ‘One Flag, One Destiny, One Football Game: The Australian’.

For later inclusion –

Several productive periods for the game were enjoyed — when Nationalistic pride rose following Federation in 1901 … which briefly lasted until the arrival of the First World War of 1914-1918. Indeed, after the reformation of 1903 until war was declared late in 1914, the code enjoyed success in the development of juniors and the creation of an exclusive venue which was decades in advance of Waverley Park in Melbourne and Football Park in Adelaide which were not realised until the 1970s.

The Victorian Football League (VFL) was created in 1897 by a breakaway of eight clubs from the 20-year old VFA.

When the 1903 movement to reform the code in NSW became apparent, the VFL vigourously gave its support by playing the first match for premiership points outside of Victoria at the Sydney Cricket Ground to 20,000 people on May 23. The gate takings of some $600 was donated to the new local body and further programming of VFL matches, both for premiership points and by exhibition followed in 1904.

The VFL also provided funding for the distribution of propaganda material to schools providing a climate which produced many budding prospects. In just two years the growth of the code was considerable, producing the winning Petersham school team high enough in value to play the curtain-raiser to the 1904 grand final at the MCG and defeat its Melbourne equivalent in Albert Park State.

Expand this section

Enclosed grounds proved to be the achilles heel. The Rugby opposition held control and access to major arenas in the early part of the century and it was not until 1911 the Australian code in Sydney gained its first enclosed ground. But already, a newer opposition by the break-away of Rugby League in 1908. The national code now had two major competitors, for supporters, but most of all, for the heart-and-minds of the development and playing of the game at school level.

Recovery after the 1914-1918 world-wide conflict saw the code begin to blossom again from the mid-1920s. Though the New York stock crash did not occur until October 29 1929, effects on the Australian economy had begun as early as 1927. Ten per-cent unemployed in 1928, rising to 13% in 1929, 23% in 1930, 28% in 1931, and a monstrous 33% by 1932. Modest improvement started in 1933 but even in 1938, nine per-cent of the work-force were still out of work. Then the world was again plunged into another World War of six-years duration between 1939 and 1945, and its aftermath.

One of the most telling failures of the code in Sydney has been its inability to obtain suitable playing fields on where the higher-points of Australian Football can be displayed. Together with the lack of junior development across the years, the code has always been one of a social nature where ex-patriates from the dedicated footballing southern states can gather, to play out their days and dreams.

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THE AUSTRALIAN FOOTBALL GROUND

Daily Telegraph, Wednesday March 22 1911

Since last season the New South Wales controlling body has secured another site for a playing area. This is the old Rosebery racecourse, 10 acres in all. It was intended to put it in order at once, but nothing will be done now until the Victoria tangle is straightened out, and in the event of professionalism being adopted over there, it may be that the idea of making the area into a playing ground will be abandoned.

Daily Telegraph, Saturday June 17 1911
ADELAIDE, Thursday –Mr A.E Nash, vice-president of the Australasian Football Council, arrived yesterday to attend the meeting of the executive of the council with regard to the coming carnival. He expressed the most optimistic views of the progress of the Australian game in New South Wales, which, he said, was the only State in the Commonwealth in which the Australian football body possessed its own ground.

Daily Telegraph, Wednesday July 5 1911
The League’s new ground—the site of the old Rosebery racecourse—will be ready for play next season. The area exceeds 10 acres, and provision is being made for other games, including cricket, lawn tennis, croquet, and bowls. The comforts for onlookers include a commodious grandstand on the western side, and a smaller one of the eastern. Attached to the players’ rooms will be accessories to training, in the shape of shower baths and a massage room.

The Australian Football Ground was officially opened Saturday April 20 1912. A friendly was played between Sydney 7.8-50 and East Sydney 2.8-20.

Daily Telegraph, Monday April 22 1912
On Saturday the official opening of the new grounds at Alexandria took place in the presence of the leading officials and supporters of the Australian Football League. (This is the first known usage of this title).

Mr A.E Nash (president of the League) said they were that day celebrating the official opening of the new grounds, on which in the future the national game of football—the Australian—would be played. As they respected the Australian flag and believed in Australian unity, so they believed in the Australian game of football.

Mr O.M Williams, representing the Victorian Football League, complimented the New South Wales League on securing such splendid grounds. In Victoria there was none better.

______________________________________

The life span of the Australian Football Ground was brief. Though the venue boasted excellent facilities it was judged the 1914 Carnival of football states in August would be held at the central location of the Sydney Cricket Ground. The calamity of the First World War clouded the carnival from which the NSW League suffered considerable losses. During the four years of war, the Australian Football Ground passed into the hands of newspaper proprietor Sir Hugh Denison who in 1912 as a patron of the League had donated One Hundred Pounds for the erection of a grandstand at Rosebery. The land was sold in 1928 and became the site of many factories. A small strip of parkland is all that remains.

_____________________________________

A new spirit and brighter prospects for the Australian game in NSW emerged in the mid-1990’s when the Sydney Swans football team created great interest by making the League Grand Final in 1996. In the history of the club, in their former incarnation as South Melbourne they had not featured in a Grand Final since 1945. The Swans reached the pinnacle in 2005 by winning its first premiership since 1933.

Extraordinary crowds have supported the club in their matches at the Sydney Cricket Ground. The record crowd for an AFL match in Sydney was reached for the Saturday night contest on August 30 1997 when 46,168 paid to watch the fixture. A surprising figure in light of the fact the capacity of the SCG is 42,000. The level in membership support of the Sydney club broke records with 31,175 achieved in 1999, and seems limited only to the capacity and requirements of SCG Trust members at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

The Olympic Games were held in Sydney in September 2000 which resulted in the development of large sporting facilities at Homebush. Following the Olympics, the main venue of Stadium Australia was developed for the playing of regular AFL competition matches. A peak attendance of 72,393 people watched Sydney play Collingwood on the night of Saturday, August 23, 2003.

A dedication by the Australian Football League to substantially finance and implement a long-range plan to secure the status of the Australian code in the states of NSW and Queensland resulted in the formation of the AFL (NSW-ACT) Commission at the end of 1998.

We may yet see the code of Australian Football find its rightful place in the community of sport of the traditional rugby states.

________________________________

Recommended reading —

Oxford Companion to Australian Sport, p381, 1992
A Game of Our Own, p11, 1990
G.Blainey, A Land Half Won, 1980
Martin Sharp, Sporting Traditions, 1987
Manning Clark, Short History of Australia, (Mead & Becckett 1983

SMH, July 10, 1894
This Football Century, 1995 (Wilkinson Books)
100 Years of Australian Football (Penguin 1995)

Last accessed — Friday, January 31 2003

All content is subject to edit, addition and–or deletion.

Footystats, December 12, 2013

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Ian Granland
Australian Football Ground at Rosebery
Missed opportunity for code; 1912-1928

Availability of playing grounds has always been a problem for Australian Football in Sydney. They were either lacking in adequate dimensions, their acquisition was too difficult or in the early times, the financial justification for enclosed (fenced) grounds was not an option.

The sport was a 'Johnny Come Lately' into Sydney even given its failure only a handful of years before and by the first decade of the twentieth century, Rugby was firmly established as the main winter code.  Soccer too, whilst never really a huge influence on the Sydney sporting scene, had it's roots soundly enough entrenched within society.

In the years following the resurrection of the game in Sydney in 1903, there was continued pressure to play matches on enclosed grounds and later for the NSWFL to secure their own ground.1

There were a number of reasons for this:

l With no fences, poor ground conditions and spectators forever encroaching onto fields it made it difficult for play to proceed, particularly when crowd numbers at times, ran into  thousands, suggesting too that nothing had changed in 30 years.

l The professionalism of the game detracted when played on a park.3 (as opposed to an oval which had perimeter fencing)

l When matches were played on an enclosed ground, the number of which were limited in Sydney, the ground hirer charged a considerable percentage of the gate takings. On 11 August 1909 for example, where an estimated 4,000 spectators attended Erskineville Oval to see NSW (sic) v South Melbourne, the Trust took 55% of the gate.4

l The securing of enclosed grounds for finals, which was exacerbated in 1906 when the lack of an available (enclosed) ground caused a semi final between Newtown and Balmain was postponed. Additionally the challenge final (grand final) in 1907 had to be suspended for two weeks leading in October whilst officials could locate a suitable fenced venue.5

l Commentators frequently urged the League to take more positive steps in obtaining their own ground.6

It was also glaringly obvious to officials that playing on a league owned ground meant that all proceeds from attendance charges remained with the sport.   Where possible, and certainly in the latter half of the first decade, they maintained a policy of playing their finals and all representative games on enclosed grounds.

In those early days the only available enclosed grounds were the Sydney Cricket Ground, the Agricultural Ground (RAS Showground, Moore Park) and later Erskineville Oval and Trumper Park (Hampden Oval).  Of course, the other codes too were just as keen to secure these venues and with their popularity far greater than Australian Football, the ground hirer stood to gain more profit having them using the facilities as opposed to the Football League.

The League held a lease on Erskineville Oval from 1910 but the two other venues provided a much larger capacity for spectators. It paid £300 for it's first tender of Erskineville to the "Trust" for the 1910 season, a huge amount of money in those days.  It was planned to play all the major games on that ground for the season.7

In 1907 the old Erskineville Oval situated on four acres of land situated approximately where the public housing now stands and reasonably adjacent to the present ground was fenced.   The money for this project was provided by the Metropolitan Rugby Union on the proviso that they be granted permission to charge admission to first grade matches.  A public furore resulted with local residents demanding general access to the ground.  A compromise was subsequently reached.8

The League also gained use of the Agricultural Ground No. 2, however its surface was "far from perfect".9

Other ground problems dogged the competition with a match between North Shore and Balmain postponed when the players found their venue of Birchgrove Oval being utilised by other sports when they arrived for the game.10

The first game recorded as being played on Erskineville Oval was between
Newtown and Balmain on 20 July 1907, the one and only for the year.11 The fact that this game was played when the Metropolitan Rugby Union had funded the construction of a 9 foot fence around the ground earlier in the year and had apparently leased the ground for 16 matches in that season is certainly an achievement on someone's behalf.12

Wentworth
Park, although not a venue for Australian Football at that stage, was enclosed in August 1907 with a nine foot fence through a £1200 grant from the state government.  The additional ground improvements provided terrace seating for 4000 people.13

 All representative and special (i.e. VFL v VFL) games were played on enclosed grounds.  In the vast majority of these matches the visiting teams paid their own expenses and did not seek a percentage of the gate as a gesture to enable the fledgling NSW Football League to become financially established.14

This situation may well have set the scene as a false income stream for the league's which, as we will see, slowly diminished in the years immediately leading into World War I. (see table 1)

In fact initially, interstate clubs almost lined up to visit Sydney as an opportunity for their club and players to visit Australia's largest the birthplace of the nation with nationalism and patriotism very high in some of the minds of Australians. (see table 2)

Each year the league would receive a bevy of letters from various interstate clubs, not all in capital cities, seeking patronage for their tour.

In June 1908 South Australian club Norwood visited Sydney and besides donating an expensive premiership shield, then valued at £40 paid their own way and also left the gate takings accounting for an estimated 5,000 spectators.15

A much more interesting fact of their trip was that league officials could not find an enclosed venue for the match and it was only with the good grace and acquiescence of the "Metropolitan Rugby Union" which moved their match from the Sydney Cricket Ground to allow the Norwood game to proceed.16

The league's annual report of April 1909 highlights the fact that 1908 was the most difficult year for grounds "We have always had this very serious trouble with us and 1908 was the worst in our history ..."   and so the pressure continued to build both within the administration and with others for the league to seek, preferably, it's own enclosed ground.17

There is no doubt then that a such a enterprising venture by an amateur sporting organisation in Sydney, merely seven years old, to make such a purchase did have some justification and was not a wild whim of some over enthusiastic patrons of the game. After all, none of the other codes, apart from cricket, had made any such move.

It was Hugh Dixson's energy and commitment that saw the Western Australian Football Association (WAFA) established in 1885. Dixson changed his name to Denison and was later to become Sir Hugh Denison and was widely recognized as the father of Western Australian football. (history of football in WA).

He had business interests in Adelaide and was a member of the South Australian Parliament before moving to Sydney in 1908. (History of the Carclew CastleAdelaide

There, he continued his business interests as proprietor of the Sydney Sun and later Melbourne Sun News-Pictorial, cigarette companies and the Macquarie Broadcasting company. He died in 1940.

He was elected patron of the league in 1911.18

As competition for enclosed grounds increased in Sydney, particularly with the introduction of the professional game of Rugby League in 1908, pressure built for the league to do something to provide some professionalism to their code. The trouble was that there were very few available such grounds, if any, in the near Sydney area which could satisfy the wants of Australian Football.

In September, Jubilee Oval at Glebe is upgraded being 'beautified' and fenced with a pavilion to be constructed.19

(Rosebery Racecourse was one of many racing venues in and around Sydney.   It was owned by John Wren, a Victorian racing and gambling entrepreneur who had a string of racecourses throughout Australia and a strong Collingwood supporter.20

Wren had decided to dispose of Rosebery Racecourse which was situated on 12½ acres at North Botany or contemporarily, Mascot, on the north west corner of Botany and Gardeners Roads where factories are now located.

A replacement racecourse, also to be known as Rosebery Racecourse was under construction in Gardeners Road, further towards Kingsford which was eventually demolished in the 1960s to make way for the Eastlakes Shopping Centre and home units.21

Several other racecourses also served the area. Ascot at Lauriston Park where Kingsford Smith Airport is now located, Victoria Park in Joynton Avenue Zetland, Kensington Pony Track where the University of NSW in Anzac Parade now stands and of course, Randwick Racecourse.22

The North Botany (Mascot's original name) site was first recorded as a venue for Australian Football in 1906 when Association or second grade games were played there.23

The area purchased by the league at North Botany is now quoted at 10 acres.24

Concern is shown regarding the future of interstate visits from Victoria into Sydney because of trouble concerning the payment of players and their professionalism with the possible resultant income (from such matches) being discontinued and this then throws some disquiet over the grounds viability.25

The purchase price varied with the SMH reporting its cost was £1,945.26

A further report of 1913 gives the cost of the ground at £9000 and further states that the acquisition of the ground was principally through the agency of Mr H R Denison.27

In 1911, the league president, A E Nash spoke as vice president at the Australasian Football Council executive meeting about the progress of the game in NSW which he said "was the only state in the Commonwealth in which the Australian Football Body possesses its own ground".28

Jim Phelan, a person of immense integrity within the game in the first three decades of the century;  the inaugural and long serving secretary of Newtown FC and later Secretary of the League, after whom the league's best and fairest medal is named, wrote a number of articles late in his life which were printed in the league's weekly programme, The Football Record.

These are his reminiscences in 1938.

In this year (1911) one of the most significant advances of Australian Football in NSW took place, albeit for a short time.  The NSWFL being duly apprised of a scheme to purchase the old Rosebery Racecourse vested full control of it finances and other incidental auxiliary powers in the hands of a selected body of men whose work and love for the game was beyond question and reproach.  Styled "The League Trustees", the body consisted of H.R. Denison (later Sir Hugh), H.C. Harte, A.E. Nash, J.J. O'Meara, L.A. and Otto Balhausen and J.J. Jagelman, all prominent men in the business and commercial world of Sydney.

Then, as now, the carping critic, both inside and outside the league was to be found attributing unworthy motives such as business considerations to one, or other, of that fine body of men who's vision, enterprise and courage stands forth as the finest example in connection with the game in this or any other state of the Commonwealth.

So as to give full effect to my opinion, which time has strengthened rather than lessened, I shall have to introduce a personal touch by stating that I was, at that period, and for many subsequent years, the writer for the game to the "Referee" (a weekly) and "Sunday Times" newspapers and though I voiced opinions both through the papers mentioned, and at League meetings, disagreeing with the early lavish expenditure on the ground by the Trustees, the cardinal fact remained that each respected the other's views as in the interests of the game and we became, in anything, firmer friends.

The purchase of the ground, on the boundaries of the Mascot, Waterloo and Alexandria municipalities (Botany and Gardeners Road), consisted of close upon 12 acres was effected at a cost of roughly one hundred and eighty pounds per acre.

Within a very brief space of time it's valuation had risen to over four hundred pounds per acre.   Meanwhile the Trustees had opened negotiations for the purchase of the land from the football area covering the whole of the frontage to Botany Road, with the idea of building shops and dwelling houses thereon.

Unfortunately a settlement as to terms was not reached.  What a glorious vista had the scheme reached fruition.

Let any reader of this brief article visualise the position today (written in 1938) of the ownership of a beautiful ground within easy access to any of the present league clubs, North Shore excepted.  So I turn with a sigh from vision to reality.29

Considering in those days that travel was mostly vide public transport, the football public travelling to the ground had ample.  An electric tram, with duplicated line operated from Circular Quay and city railway along Botany Road to Botany as well as from Kingsford along
Gardeners Road, intersecting at Botany Road.30   (These two roads were boundaries of the complex).

Of course the football ground itself had to be surveyed and this was carried out by Cyril Hughes, a leading player with the South Sydney Club and an army surveyor, originally from Tasmania.31

Critics, and some might suggest supporters and officials from the Newtown club, were keen that Erskineville Oval not be lost to the code so eventually in 1911 that ground was secured for the league for that season with all important fixtures to be played there. The new ground at North Botany was not expected to be ready for use until 1912.32

The League only made a profit of £170 from Erskineville Oval in 1911.  This was the only ground which they controlled.33

Although admired and considered headquarters of the league prior to the introduction of the AFG, Erskineville Oval  was considered "on the small side for a proper exposition of the game ... although admirably situated to serve the present wants of the league".34 (J E Phelan was a correspondent for the Herald and most likely wrote that quote).

Not all were happy with the league's decision to purchase the ground at Rosebery and designation as it's headquarters.  After all it was a long way from the city and near grounds like Hampden and Erskineville Ovals.  The journalist from the Sydney Morning Herald wrote a diatribe about the situation with the headline "Freehold v Leasehold".  In it he questioned the wisdom of the purchase, asked what was to become of Erskineville Oval however suggested that the Railway Commissioners (then controllers of trams) extend the two penny section to Gardeners Road to make the trip more economical for commuters to the ground.35

Others from the press praised the move,36 and went on to eulogize the virtues of the ground and its facilities.37

It seemed everyone was happy that Erskineville Oval was retained by the league for the 1912 season, the Herald noting "it is a wise step and will be particularly gratifying to the members of the Newtown Football Club who have largely benefited through the league holding the ground". 38

These comments were made at the opening of the ground and at the first game on 20 April 1912, "The land is situated at Alexandria and provides a playing area of the full size, 200 yards by 150 yards; there is also a very neat and commodious grand stand, with dressing rooms, baths and refreshment rooms.39   It is the largest freehold titled ground in the state.40
 
It was proposed to initiate a local competition in the South Sydney area to take advantage of the ground.  Mr W Prince, caretaker, umpire and official of the South Sydney club undertook to coach the youths.41
 
To the accompaniment of much cheering from the enthusiasts, the NSW Premier, Mr J.S.T. McGowan laid the foundation stone on Saturday 3 February 1912, for the pavilion to be erected at the ground. The fences were up, the oval was being levelled with sides sloped for the 'thousands of sightseers (spectators).  He made an appropriate speech.42
 
NSWFL President, Albert E Nash said that a second enclosed ground had been secured and a third would be under control shortly.  The Australian Football Ground became available to the league mainly through the efforts of H.R. Denison.  It was of 10.5 acres.  Football to occupy it for winter with other sports for the remainder.   The trustees had decided that the ground shall be open free of charge to the schoolboys of the metropolitan district as the organisation is to run in conjunction with the Public Schools Athletic Association.  Boys training under the Federal defence scheme will also have the use of the ground in dry weather and the lower part of the pavilion on rainy days The donations, including £100 from Mr Denison were announced.43
 
When the VFL informed the league that they were unable to send a team to take part in the opening of the new ground on 20 April 1912, the trustees decided that 1911 grand finalists, East Sydney v Sydney would be the first game played there.  Not all delegates of the league were in agreement with this decision, one suggesting that the carnival eighteen be opposed by the next best and so it went on.44
 
There was a suggestion of an arbor day at the ground where people could plant a tree which would carry a tablet  bearing their name on condition that the person so desiring the honour paid the expenses of the planting.  This suggestion was accepted with much glee.45
 
Mr J J Jagelman (a trustee and solicitor) unfurled the Australian Flag and Mr Nash bounced the ball to start the game. During half time Mr Nash on behalf of the trustees, presented Mr Sheehy with a cheque for fifty pounds in recognition of his services in the superintending of the work of laying out the grounds.  In reply Mr Sheehy announced his intention of spending the money in the advancement of the game of Australian Football.46
 
Attendances fell below expectation at the opening of the ground however the uncertainty of the weather was blamed and the fact that and interstate game was not scheduled as the opening match.47
 
The league offered Sturt & East Fremantle FC games during the season however did not increase any inducement through a share of the gate to come to Sydney other than that normally offered to Melbourne Clubs.  This then leads to speculation that interstate clubs no longer left their share of the gate with the league in support of the game.48

Some delegates consider such a stance with clubs from Western Australia "unwise".  The trustees contended that they had to face a big responsibility in financing the new ground.  This was admitted but it was also indisputable that even if the trustees granted 50% of the takings to East Fremantle the balance of the proceeds which would pass into the hands of the trustees, would be larger than the returns from a club fixture which, contends the writer, fill the bill if the Western Australian team excludes Sydney from its eastern tour.49
 
The Kalgoorlie team received special terms in 1911 however because of the responsibility of financing the new ground the trustees were unwilling to offer a more reasonable financial agreement.50
 
Everything was moving along so well when in 1913, the league lost the rights to Erskineville Oval after three continuous years at the ground.  The NSW Rugby League tendered and won the rights meaning that unless the league could secure an additional enclosed ground they would be forced to play one game on Moore Park – an unenclosed ground.51
 
Moore Park provided for between 20-30 football grounds, mostly rugby.52
 
1912 saw a huge increase in gate takings to £691 which was an exceptional increase on the 1909 figure of £195.  The league promoted the idea of the acquisition of its own ground at North Botany as the major reason for the loss.53
 
The league relied heavily on 'The Propaganda Fund' which was derived from 2.5% of the net gate takings from all VFL matches.  Sydney club delegates wanted the money for NSW from this source directed to specific purposes however an apparent clash with the trustees of the Australian Football Ground over the application of these funds appeared to be a looming problem.54
 
The Daily Telegraph notes that the trustees of the Australian Football Ground practically control the finances of the League.55
 
No interstate teams visited Sydney in 1913. St Kilda was all set to journey there for a match on September 6 but their quiet prospects for the finals precluded them from the trip, whilst the stoppage of the Queensland visitation was blamed on an apparent smallpox epidemic.  Carlton also failed to fulfil the proposed interstate fixture in Sydney.56
 
In fact the only interstate team to play in Sydney was a South Australian combined second grade team which struggled to finance the trip and was supplemented by the trustees of the Australian Football Ground with a donation of £50.57
 
Since the League trustees acquired the Australian Football Ground, the work of Secretary to the trustees, which carries the duties of secretary of the New South Wales Football League, had assumed big dimensions, and to be effectively carried out demands whole-hearted and assiduous attention.,  Mr A M Little, who has carried out the onerous and heavy duties for the past two years, has placed his resignation with the trustees owing the business and for private reasons.  Mr Little has done admirable work during his term of office, and followers of the game will regret his retirement.   Applications for the position are called for by advertisement by the League trustees, and the position is being made a remunerative one.58

Mr L Davidson who had been working with the league as a field umpire and coach to the public school teams was appointed to replace A.M. Little as full time secretary of to the trustees of the Australian Football Ground in mid September 1913.59
 
Initially 300 membership tickets of the Australian Football Ground were issued "under liberal terms" however by 1913 this number had diminished considerably.  The new secretary, Mr Davidson, proposed new terms of membership which would also admit all holders to the SCG for the 1914 Carnival.60
 
The league blamed the smallpox epidemic of 1913 for the drop in membership tickets to the Australian Football Ground.  They went from 292 in 1912 to 79 in 1913 with hopes to raise the number to 300 in 1914.  The trustees were doing what they could to increase the sale of these tickets and hoped for the co-operation of the clubs.  They approved the following scale: Hon. Member (two ladies tickets), one guinea, senior playing member (two ladies tickets), 10s 6d; second grade players (two ladies tickets) 7s 6d; young Australian players (one ladies ticket) 3s 6d and schoolboys 2s 6d.61
 
By mid April the membership figures for the AFG had doubled "and the prospects of a record being established are bright".62
 
There was early conjecture whether the 1914 carnival would be played on the Sydney Cricket Ground because of it's lease to the NSW Rugby League, with at least two states indicating they would not play on any other venue.  An arrangement was eventually agreed to whereby two Saturdays, August 1 and 8 were secured for the carnival on condition that the MCG be released for Rugby League on the same dates for play against the English.63
 
South Sydney held their 1914 annual meeting at the Newmarket Hotel which is diagonally opposite the Australian Football Ground at Mascot.64
 
Interest in the game appeared to dwindle in the 1913 season as evidenced in the deficit of well over £230 in the leagues finances for the year65 which was blamed on the introduction of the "electoral system" (district) and the loss of Erskineville Oval.  The latter was regained for the league for 1914.66
 
It is difficult to judge problem times for the league but certainly 1913 appeared to be a turning point.  There was mention made of "lavish furnishing" at the Australian Football Ground;  Ariah Park's visit to Sydney where they were just beaten by the eventual premiers, Sydney;  A combined Metropolitan team received a 53 point defeat at the hands of an Albury combination whilst another representative team visiting Duntroon College received "the father of a thrashing". 67   The deficit for the year certainly did not help things which was now blamed on the lack of visiting teams, the smallpox epidemic and only two revenue producing grounds.68
 
Of the expenditure, which officials were extremely conscious of, £58.2s was for expenses in sending the NSW team to Queensland.69

The league was happy that besides Erskineville Oval, they had secured Hampden Oval for the 1914 season which would do away with having to play games on the unfenced Moore Park.70
 
The NSW Rugby League were to consider a proposal to meeting with Australian Football officials regarding the sharing of grounds.71
 
All but the grand final was played at the Australian Football Ground in the 1914 final series, which is a very puzzling situation.  It and the reserve grade grand final, although on separate dates were played on Erskineville Oval.  The gate takings for the reserves grand final, less the gateman's fee, were donated to the Patriotic Fund after the ground had been given free of charge by the trustees of the ground.72
 
Mr Phelan's writings continue:
And so high hope was centred on the 1914 season.  The Australian Football Ground had received its playing baptism. It was acclaimed by all who had played on it as the best football ground in Australia.  Enthusiasts were agog.  Would the Carnival games be played on the ground?  Cold reasoning however, pointed to the then poor facilities for transport of anticipated crowds that would flock to see the game.
 
Eventually it was decided to hold the carnival games on the SCG.  The carnival was due to open on August the 6th.  On August 4, when all the state teams were assembled at the Australian Football Ground for the purpose of distance contests at the carnival games, the news was flashed by cable that England had declared war against Germany.   Fate had stepped in and dealt a cruel blow.  Had England's declaration of war been made a few weeks earlier or later, all might have been well as regards the continuity of ownership of the Australian Football Ground by the NSW Football League.
 
The financial loss from the carnival was irreparable, and in due course the league trustees tendered their resignations. That step resulted in the Australian Football Ground passing into the hands of Sir Hugh Denison who had generously relieved his co-trustees of their financial obligations in connection with the ground.73
 
At the 1915 Annual Meeting of the League it was decided to dispose of the Australian Football Ground, on which there was a debt of £9,000.  A E Nash, J J O'Mearer and J J Jagelman resigned as president, treasurer and commissioner for disputes and the entire trustees also submitted their resignations.74
 
The league is decimated with so many players signing on in the army.  For example and probably worst hit, South Sydney retain only four players from their premiership team of 1915.  Some though pursue other interests.75
 
Mr Phelan's writings continue:
With the advent of the 1915 season, a small body of enthusiasts met in the Sports Club, Sydney.  Mr H.C. Harte, eventually decided to carry on.  The principal executive officers appointed were Mesrs. E.W. Butler – President, H.C. Harte – Treasurer and Mr J.E. Phelan – Secretary.
 
With the flower of our football talent overseas, and death's cloud resting heavy and black of the homes and in the hearts of the people the outlook was a dark one, but due to splendid co-operation on the part of everybody concerned the league successfully weathered the storm and at the end of the war period had reached a state of comparative affluence by its own efforts, as the Australian Football Council was not functioning and the propaganda amount received from that source amounted to but forty pounds from 1915-19.

During a part of the war period the ground was tenanted by a gun club for pigeon shooting purposes and the once beautiful grand stand became almost a wreck.  In 1922 the late Mr Con. Hickey, who was a great admirer of the ground as a playing area, and who also visualised its future possibilities, had an earnest talk with myself over the position.   After a lengthy debate at the Australian Football Council held in 1922 a motion, "That all profits made at Carnival games be held in trust by the Council to finance Carnivals in which losses may occur, or to acquire ownership of playing grounds" was carried on the casting vote of the chairman, the late Mr Charles Brownlow.  That was encouraging to Mr Hickey and myself.

On my return to Sydney I secured an interview with Sir Hugh Denison and subsequently, on March 19, 1923, he wrote to me that he was agreeable to the offer I had submitted him for the use of the ground for that season with the option of purchase later on.

On March 23, the NSW League in its collective wisdom gave the proposition short shift.   Looking back over the years, I cannot recall any decision of the NSW League that hurt me so much.  I felt that the labour of years on behalf of the game in Sydney had been in vain;  that vision had departed to be replaced by petty present-day considerations

In 1925 or 1926 the ground passed into the ownership of the YMCA Society at a figure which was well within the powers of the NSW League on the proposals submitted to me by Mr Hickey in 1922.

In 1927 or 1928 the YMCA Society sold the ground to a Dog Racing Company at a reputed figure of twenty three thousand pounds.  It is now known as Shepherd's Bush.   One may well quote Shakespeare and say, "none so poor as to do honour" to the sincere old time enthusiasts who put the Australian game before petty and personal considerations".76



 
1  Daily Telegraph, May 15 1907
  2  The Referee, October 9 1909
  3  Ibid
 
4  Daily Telegraph, August 11 1909
  5  SMH Aug 27 1906, Ibid Oct 3 1907, The Referee Sept 22 1909
  6  The Arrow, Sept 18 1909
  7  Daily Telegraph, Dec 8 1909
  8  Daily Telegraph, April 5, 1907
  9 Ibid
10  Daily Telegraph, June 3, 1907
11  SMH, July 22, 1907
12  Daily Telegraph, April 5 1907
13  SMH, August 3 1907
14  The Referee, April 7 1909
15  Ibid
16  Ibid
17  Ibid
18  SMH, April 12 1911
19  Daily Telegraph, Sept 5 1910
20 
21  Phelan's reminiscences
22  Phelan's reminiscences
23  Newspaper references of the day
24  Daily Telegraph, March 22 1911
25  Ibid
26  SMH, April 10, 1911
27  Daily Telegraph, December 3, 1913
28  Daily Telegraph, June 17 1911
29  NSWAFL Fooball Record, July 30 1938
30  Tramways of Sydney by David Keenan
31  NSWAFL Football Record, Sept 26, 1959
32  SMH, May 17, 1911
33  SHM, May 22 1912
34  SMH, February 25 1914
35  SMH, December 20 1911
36  The Arrow, April 5 1911
37  Daily Telegraph, July 5 1911
38  SMH, December 27 1911
39  SMH, April 22 1912
40  SMH, April 17 1912
41  SMH, April 22 1912
42  SMH, February 5 1912
43  Ibid
44  SMH, April 3 1912
45  SMH, July 17 1912
46  SMH, April 22 1912
47  SMH, April 24 1912
48  SMH, April 3 1912
49 Ibid
50 Ibid
51  SMH, 26 March 26 1913
52  Daily Telegraph, September 17 1913
53  Daily Telegraph, April 23 1913
54  SMH, September 24 1913
55  Daily Telegraph, September 17 1913
56  SMH, August 13 1913, Ibid, August 20 1913, Ibid, Sept 17 1913,
57  Daily Telegraph, September 17 1913
58  SMH, August 13 1913
59  SMH, September 17 1913
60  Daily Telegraph, December 3 1913
61  Daily Telegraph, March 18 1914
62  SMH, April 15 1914
63  SMH, October 29 1913, SMH, February 25 1914
64  SMH, February 25 1914
65  SMH, March 20 1914
66  SMH March 11, 1914
67  Ibid
68  The Referee, March 21 1914
69  SMH, March 23 1914
70  SMH, April 1 1914
71  Daily Telegraph, April 1 1914
72  SMH, September 14 1914
73  NSWAFL Football Record, September 3 1938
74  The Referee, April 24 1915
75  The Referee, May 8 1915
76  NSWAFL Football Record, September 3, 1938

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The remarkable Rupert Browne
and the memorial gates
GENERAL:  At three o'clock last Thursday afternoon (March 3rd) the official opening of the RUPERT BROWNE MEMORIAL GATES, giving access to the Gardener's (sic) Road Public School, took place. These gates were erected by the Old Boys' Union of the School and the local P & C Committee in commemoration of the late esteemed Life Member, whose demise was recorded in last annual report.


1953 ANNUAL REPORT (page 8) — OBITUARY
It is with extreme regret we record the passing from our midst of the following illustrious members:-
RUPERT BROWNE, on 4-4-53, in his 68th year. Mentor and friends of thousands of Australian football adherents, who cherished his acquaintance.

Through his life long pal, Mr H G Shepherd, we gleaned some interesting information respecting our departed colleague.

Strange to say Rupert never played our code, yet became an outstanding schools' coach, turning out hundreds of young footballers, who later made a name for themselves in Australian football.

It was in 1903, on the reformation of the NSW Australian National Football League, when Mr Browne was teaching at a school in the Leichhardt district, he was approached and formed an Australian football team. He transferred to Gardeners Road Public School in 1912 and it was there that he blossomed as a successful coach.

During the past 24 years there has not been one New South Wales team selected without one of his former pupils being a member. In fact, at times he had three or four representatives in the side.

It would take many pages to name the players who passed through Mr Browne's hands. He always referred to the Stiff brothers, Jim and Mick, as the most accomplished of his lads.

The late Mr Browne managed many teams interstate, and also arranged country tours for his teams.

Australian Football officials years ago recognised his worth to the code when they bestowed upon him the highest award, that of Life Membership.

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