In that year, the first local game was recorded as being played between East Sydney who defeated Sydney 3.10.28 to 1.6.12 at what is now the Sydney Cricket Ground. This was the first game of any football played on the ground.
Initially, games were arranged by clubs between each other but there was no premiership to speak of. Although a fixture was drawn up and played in 1887, an organised competition was not played until 1889 when clubs competed for the Flanagan Cup.
The game attracted a reasonable amount of newspaper exposure and rivaled the rugby code until 1894, when during one of the worst depressions to hit the country, the game fell from favour and the association collapsed.
It was revived in 1903 when the enthusiastic manager of the Sydney Institute for the Blind, Mr Harry Hedger, arranged for VFL clubs Collingwood and Fitzroy to fixture a match at the Sydney Cricket Ground in May of that year.
This stimulated interest in the game, a new competition and the NSW Australian Football League was formed. To use a contemporary phrase, `the league was powering’. In 1911 it purchased a ground on Botany Road, Alexandria, and appointed a fulltime secretary.
However, World War I prevented the game from establishing itself as part of Sydney’s culture, and at a very delicate time finances dried up, the ground was sold and clubs were reduced to five, playing only a first grade competition between 1917-1919.
When hostilities ended, the game gradually resumed in Sydney, but never to the level it previously held, with clubs coming and going.
The `District Scheme’ was introduced in 1926 which saw the abolition of institutional teams such as Railway and Police clubs, allowing only clubs representing electoral districts to be affiliated.
It also saw the amalgamation of the Paddington and East Sydney Clubs to form Eastern Suburbs, a name the club maintained until the 1970s, when it changed to East Sydney.
The Second World War brought many interstate servicemen to Sydney, many of whom joined various Sydney Clubs. The game developed a new level of popularity, with crowds of up to 4,000 regularly flocking to Trumper Park to watch the match of the round on the new game day of Sunday.
During this time, North Shore again fell into recess as they did during the First World War. Their place was taken intermittently by an RAAF team until 1948, when three new clubs – Balmain, University and Western Suburbs – gave the game a lift in Sydney. Still, it failed to win the allegiance of the football public.
Between 1930-50 there were a number of open age `district’ competitions. The largest was in the South Sydney area where teams such as Lauriston Park (where Mascot airport now stands), Rosebery, Botany and Alexandria made up a competition which later became the Metropolitan Australian National Football Association.
The 1950s was a very grim time for football in Sydney. While there were some talented players in the league, there was little development. In 1950, the league recorded a loss of one hundred and fifty pounds and there were no interstate games played at the SCG.
In 1965, and with the financial assistance from the Western Suburbs Football Club, the league was able to purchase a property at 307 Sussex Street, Sydney. This became headquarters and a fulltime league secretary was employed from 1964.
The league spread it’s wings in the 1970s by introducing multiple divisions within it’s competition. In 1980, following many name changes, the league became known as the Sydney Football League.
In 1978 the league’s administration was overthrown and it’s Regent Street premises sold and relocated to the Newtown Football Club at 303 Cleveland Street, Redfern.
Following the relocation of the South Melbourne Football Club to Sydney, public support for local football declined dramatically, and the league once again battled for a profile in NSW.
Permanent financial support by the VFL, as well as private ownership of the Sydney Swans, enabled Sydney football and the state body to amalgamate their administration and increase staff in the mid eighties.
Around 1987-88, the league suffered as the financial support from the private owners of the Sydney Swans slowed to a trickle. In a desperate bid to address the problem, the directors of the league and it’s CEO sought a meeting with the VFL Board.
This meeting was the catalyst for the VFL regaining control of the Sydney Swans, canceling the license held by a private consortium.
The league strengthened in the early 1990s, with probably the highest number of senior clubs participating in Sydney in 1992, when four divisions boasted 29 clubs with a total of 66 teams.
A complete review of football in NSW was conducted in 1998, resulting in considerable funding from the AFL. This review was the third of it’s kind.
The administration of the league has changed and relocated offices many times during the past 15 years, however it seems to be in a stable position in 2005.
Strange as it may seem, one of the more significant liabilities the league carried over the years was the production of the Football Record. First printed in 1927, it became a useful communication tool for the league and it’s clubs. However the time, effort and money required to produce it, with very few copies sold, became a burden to the league.
With the advent of computer technology, the Football Record is now produced in-house and available on-line. While the production values are still high, printing costs are minimized, ensuring communication via the Football Record continues in the Sydney Football League.
Ian GRANLAND, OAM History Committee