Australian rules football in New South Wales
|Australian rules football in New South Wales|
|Governing body||AFL NSW/ACT|
|Representative team||New South Wales|
|First played||1877, Sydney|
|Registered players||95,100 (total)
|Single match||72,393 (2003). AFL Sydney Swans v. Collingwood. (Telstra Stadium, Sydney)|
Australian rules football in New South Wales has been played since the 1870s, however it has a checkered history in the state and has been generally overshadowed in popularity as a winter sport by the rugby football code. Despite having been played continuously in most areas of the state, Australian Football has been lesser known in Sydney until the last three decades. This phenomenon is sometimes considered as to be behind the Barassi Line. However, Australian Football has been the dominant code in the Riverina region (the part of NSW closest to Victoria), and the dominant code in Broken Hill (located near the South Australian border) for over a century and its popularity is constantly increasing Northward.
The code's recent growth in popularity in Sydney (where the majority of the state's population lives) has been partly tied to the success of the Sydney Swans which moved to Sydney in 1982. Since 1996, when it first made the Grand Final and its popularity peaked, the club has generated a greater amount of media hype and public interest as well as much greater participation for the sport. Due to successive finals appearances the interest has been sustained over many seasons and again peaked in 2005 and 2006 with two successive Grand Final appearances and the first premiership since the club's relocation. Another AFL premiership win in 2012 for the Sydney Swans and the introduction of a second AFL team in Sydney, the Greater Western Sydney Giants has increased the momentum behind Australian Football in Sydney. With two AFL teams there is an AFL game every week in Sydney now. At the height of its popularity, Aussie Rules has generated a following among the Sydney working classes where rugby league is most popular, competes heavily with rugby union for support in the middle and upper classes, and faces decreasing competition from football (soccer).
Australian regional rivalries have played a large role in the Swans success in a national sporting competition. Ironically, the cultural rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne did significantly hamper the sport's growth in New South Wales. In 2008 the AFL stated their intention to establish a second team in Sydney by 2012, to be an expansion team based in the western suburbs. An Australian Senate enquiry into the Tasmanian AFL Bid concluded that Sydney had "insurmountable cultural barriers" to the establishment of a second AFL team. In spite of this, the second Sydney club was successfully established and commenced AFL competition in 2012. In Sydney, parts of northern New South Wales and to the majority of the state's population, the sport is referred to as "AFL", but in the Riverina region, it is often referred to as "Aussie rules", "Footy" or "Football".
- 1 History
- 2 Governing Body
- 3 Participation
- 4 Audience
- 5 Major Australian Rules Events in New South Wales
- 6 Notable players from New South Wales
- 7 Representative Side
- 8 Principal venues
- 9 References
- 10 External links
- 11 Leagues & Clubs
The First Leagues
The first recorded game of Australian rules football in Sydney was between the Waratah rugby club and the Carlton Football Club in 1877, two days after a rugby game between the two clubs and 14 years after rugby was first played in the state.
Waratah and some others claimed that the Australian rules resulted in a more exciting game, but the rugby authorities repeatedly rejected suggestions to switch codes or even play intercolonial matches under alternating rules against Victoria. In response, the proponents of the Australian game formed the NSW Football Association in 1880 and in 1881 the first Australian rules game between NSW and Victoria was played in Sydney. The NSWFA was small, with only a few clubs, including Waratah who switched code in 1882, and competition did not begin in earnest until 1889, when clubs competed for the Flanagan Cup. Having trouble gaining access to enclosed grounds, and therefore gate receipts, the association also had trouble with antagonism between its clubs, and it collapsed in 1893.
The NSW Football League was born on 12 February 1903 at a meeting held in the YMCA Hall in George St. The NSWFL promoted the game in schools and the Victorian Football League (VFL) held premiership matches in Sydney in an effort to establish the code. In 1908, largely through the switch of codes by the talented Dally Messenger, rugby league established itself into the culture of Sydney, and although Australian football remained popular, the NSWFL was again denied access to enclosed grounds and the new professional code further drew players from the NSWFL. By 1911, Australian rules had achieved more support than rugby union, according to The Referee, but only because the main rival was now rugby league.
The Australian National Football carnival of 1933 was held at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Several matches drew large crowds, particularly those involving New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and West Australia.
Following the successful interstate football carnival, in 1933 a proposal by the New South Wales Rugby League to amalgamate Australian football and rugby league was investigated and a report, with a set of proposed rules, known as Universal football, was prepared by the secretary of the NSWRL, Harold R. Miller and sent to the Australian National Football Council. A trial game was held in secret, but the plans were never instituted.
Three of the original NSWFL clubs are still in existence and currently play in the Sydney AFL — North Shore, East Sydney (now UNSW-ES) and Balmain, but the league never grew to a substantial size or obtained significant support.
The first professional VFL/AFL players from Sydney and the Sydney AFL did not begin to emerge until the 1980s. Russell Morris was one of the early players to make the grade, followed by Sanford Wheeler, Greg Stafford, Nick Davis and Lenny Hayes. In recent years, there has been a dramatic increase in AFL players coming from the Sydney region, and in 2007, a total of 11 AFL players identified themselves as coming from this region.
Australian Football was introduced to the Riverina region of New South Wales in Wagga Wagga in 1881 with a match between sides from Wagga Wagga and Albury. Subsequently, a local competition formed in 1884 around Wagga Wagga. The league went through many incarnations including the Murrumbidgee District Football Association (1897), Wagga United Football Association (1898–1921), Riverina Mainline Competition (1922–24), Rock and District Association (1925–1926), Wagga and District Association (1926), Wagga Football Association (1928–1957).
In these early days, the league produced champion players including Haydn Bunton, Sr..
The South Western District Football League commenced in 1894 and the Farrer Football League commenced in 1957.
In 1982, at the instigation of the Victorian Country Football League (who had jurisdiction over the area at the time), the South Western District Football League, the Farrer Football League and the Central Riverina Football League were all combined into the Riverina Football League and the Riverina District Football League. The district league reverted to the Farrer Football League in 1985.
In 1995, these two leagues came under one umbrella of the Murrumbidgee Valley Australian Football Association.
Further south towards the Murray River, the Ovens & Murray Football League including teams from Albury formed as the Ovens & Murray Football Association in the early 1900s. Clubs also formed in the smaller towns around 1900 and played ad hoc fixtures against each other, as well as organising formal competitions during the 1900s and 1910s in southern Riverina such as the Coreen & District Football League (formed as the Coreen Football Association), the Hume Football League and the Albury & District Football League. At the conclusion of the 2007 season the Coreen league was disbanded with most of its clubs joining the Hume league for the 2008 season.
In the modern era, the Riverina has produced a wealth of players for the VFL/AFL, including champion players including Wayne Carey, Paul Kelly, Dennis Carroll, John Longmire, Leo Barry, Shane Crawford and Brett Kirk. Some other players from the region to have played AFL level football include Harry CunninghamHarry Cunningham (footballer),Dean Terlich and Sam Rowe.
Western New South Wales
Australian football was first played in Broken Hill in 1885 between Day Dream and Silverton. Informal competition began in 1888 between 4 clubs. The Barrier Ranges Football Association formed in 1890, which later became the Broken Hill Football League. In recent years, the area has produced such players as Dean Solomon and Brent Staker. Stephen Hywood played on the Half Back Flank for Richmond in the 1972 Grand Final losing to Carlton. Due to transfer problems he resumed his career at Glenelg in 1973 and played in the 1973 Glenelg Premiership team. Hywood was seen as one of the best Back Flankers ever to play the game.
Five clubs were established in the Newcastle area: Newcastle City, Plattsburg, Northumberland, Lambton, and Singleton.
In 1883, a touring South Melbourne Football Club defeated a combined Northern District team by only one goal.
In 1888, a touring Fitzroy Football Club defeated Wallsend by 10 goals to 5. The following year, Wallsend defeated Fitzroy.
The game was first played in the Coffs Harbour area as late as 1978. The North Coast Australian Football League was formed in 1982 and has grown rapidly. Australian football is now the dominant code in Coffs Harbour. The area has recently produced AFL players including Sam Gilbert.
Sydney Swans & National Competition
The debt ridden South Melbourne Football Club moved to Sydney in 1982 and was renamed the Sydney Swans. It became the first club based outside of Victoria and represented the VFL's first serious attempt to broaden the game's appeal, culminating in its extension into a national competition, the AFL.
On 31 July 1985, for what was thought to be $6.3 million, Dr Geoffrey Edelsten "bought" the Swans. In reality it was $2.9 million in cash with funding and other payments spread over five years. Edelsten resigned as chairman within less than twelve months. By 1988 the licence was sold back to the VFL for ten dollars. Losses were in the millions. A group of financial backers including Mike Willessee, Basil Sellers, Peter Weinert and Craig Kimberley purchased the licence and bankrolled the club until 1993, when the AFL stepped in.
With substantial monetary and management support from the AFL, the club survived, and with player draft concessions in the early 1990s, has fielded a competitive team throughout the past decade.
Since 1996, the Swans have made the finals in each season except 2000, 2002 and 2009.
The culmination of the recent success is the 2005 premiership against the West Coast Eagles played in front of 91,898 at the MCG, taking the flag to Sydney for the first time and breaking a 72-year drought for the club from when it was based in South Melbourne It also broke the longest premiership drought in the history of the competition.
Despite the final success of the Swans, the former Melbourne based club struggled for many years to gain support of the Sydney public.
Modern era and GWS Giants
The Australian Football League has expressed intentions to invest in junior development in the growing Sydney market, particularly in Sydney's west and compete head on with the established rugby football codes, particularly under new CEO Andrew Demetriou.
A second team in Sydney is a key strategy of the AFL. North Melbourne, who have been suggested as likely candidates for relocation, played several home games in Sydney in 1998. However poor crowds led to the Kangaroos abandoning this practice. The Western Bulldogs have been also suggested as a candidate for relocation.
In 2005, the AFL went on a Sydney-centric recruitment drive, offering a NSW scholarships program and young apprentice scheme.
By 2007, at least two of the NSW/ACT scholarship recipients had been officially promoted to AFL rookie lists, qualifying them for selection in the senior squad in the event of long term injury to listed players.
In 2008 the AFL stated their intention to establish a second team in Sydney, to be based in the western suburbs, as part of the expansion of the competition. This process was completed with the establishment of the GWS Giants who played for a season in the North East Australian Football League prior to commencing competition in the Australian Football League in 2012.
In 2007, there were 7,225 senior players in NSW/ACT and in 2006 a total of around 95,100 participants. Although this makes Aussie Rules Footy one of the fastest growing sports in the state, the overall participation per capita is only about 1%, the lowest in Australia. .
It should be noted that the ABS utilised a small sample size of 20,126 private dwelling in obtaining their data of participation numbers for 2011/12.  The AFL's own Record Season Guide states that for 2011, 131,829 people played the game in the state of NSW. This figure included 41,626 Auskick registrations. In 2012, the figure was 148,230 people of which 48,965 were Auskick registrations.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics "Children's Participation in Cultural and Leisure Activities, Australia, Apr 2009" estimated 18,000 AFL participants in NSW and 1,400 AFL participants in the ACT.(table 22)
The Sydney Swans averaged 41,205 people through the gate per home match in Sydney during 2006. In 2013, the average has decreased to 29,104. This is partly due to the redevelopment of the Bradman Stand at the SCG.
Major Australian Rules Events in New South Wales
- Australian Football League Premiership Season (Sydney Swans and Greater Western Sydney Giants)
- Australian Football League NSW Derby – Swans v Giants (held twice annually at ANZ Stadium starting in 2012)
- Annual Exhibition Match (North Sydney Oval) Sydney Swans vs Essendon
Notable players from New South Wales
A number of notable players have been born in New South Wales or played the majority of their junior careers in New South Wales; many of these players have been from the traditional Australian rules football areas of Broken Hill or the Riverina. Australian football pioneers Tom Wills and H. C. A. Harrison were born in New South Wales in the 1830s.
Notable players from the Riverina include: Australian Football Hall of Fame Legend Haydn Bunton, Sr. (Albury), who was the first player born in New South Wales to win the Brownlow Medal and the Sandover Medal, in 1931 and 1938 respectively; Shane Crawford (Finley), became the second player from New South Wales to the win the Brownlow in 1999; and Wayne Carey (Wagga Wagga), won the Leigh Matthews Trophy twice in the 1990s. Notable players from Broken Hill include Dave Low, Robert Barnes and Bruce McGregor, who all won Magarey Medals in the 1910s and 1920s, and Jack Owens, a three-time SANFL leading goalkicker.
Many notable players have also been recruited from Sydney, as despite the lack of media attention the game has been played in Sydney since the 1880s and still generated players of high quality. Some of the best include Roger Duffy (1954 premiership player who was recruited from Newtown), Michael Byrne (1983 premiership player with Hawthorn), Bob Merrick (a leading goal kicker in the 1920s), Jarrad McVeigh (2012 AFL premiership captain) and Lewis Roberts-Thomson (2005 & 2012 premiership player for the Swans) amongst others.
The NSW/ACT representative team have played State of Origin test matches against all other Australian states, as well as being part of a combined "Allies" side. They still play at U18 level.
- Sydney Cricket Ground
- Telstra Stadium, Sydney
- North Sydney Oval
- Blacktown International Sports Stadium
- Bruce Purser Reserve
- Ern Holmes Oval
- Henson Park
- Picken Oval
- Trumper Park Oval
- Monarch Oval
- Village Green
- Drummoyne Oval
- Gore Hill Oval
- North Dalton Park
- Olds Park
- Sydney University No.1 Oval
- Sydney too weak for second AFL team, Senate says from heraldsun.com.au
- M. P. Sharp, Football in Sydney before 1914, Sporting Traditions Vol 4 No 1 November 1987.
- S. Fagan, 'Rules' Almost Had Sydney's Paddock in rl1908.com, 2006.
- Hot Spots – Breeding Grounds of Today's AFL Footballers from theage.com.au
- "Football gold mined in coal country". Australian Football 150 Years. Australian Football League. Retrieved 18 March 2010.
- "History of football in this league". Black Diamond AFL. Retrieved 18 March 2010.
- "Black Diamond Football League Kicking Goals in Grassroots Administration". SportingPulse. 30 September 2002. Retrieved 18 March 2010.
- AFL courts Sydney market ABC Radio transcript
- More chase Sherrin than before – realfooty.com.au
- Ed. Michael Lovett (2012) AFL Record Season Guide 2012 & 2013. Slattery Media Group. p 1008 & 1034
- Wilks, M. (2011) Australian football clubs in NSW Bas Publishing. ISBN 0781921496134 p. 61 & 75<
- The Hidden Story of Australian Rules in Sydney
- NSW Footy History
- Australian Rules Almost Held Sydney
- "NSW Team of the Century". Full Points Footy. Archived from the original on 9 January 2012.
- Sydney Australian Football Foundation – non-profit organisation assisting development of the code in Sydney
Leagues & Clubs