Sydney Uni footy club starts up in 1887 by Richard Jones

UniSydlogoAs a former player with the Sydney University Aussie rules footy club I was fascinated recently to read a look-back through history of my old outfit.

The club was formed in 1887 to play in the local Australian footy competition in a code variously known as Australian Rules, Australasian Rules or more pertinently Victorian Rules back in the day.

Reports of the club’s April 1888 AGM in the Sydney Mail and NSW Advertiser (no mention of the Sydney Morning Herald) stated that “the club was only formed on July 7th 1887 when other clubs were closing their seasons.”

“Three matches were played but as the number of member players was small it had to depend on the assistance given by the Sydney, East Sydney, Waratah and West Sydney clubs,” the report stated.

“Members should go to regular practice in order that they might be prepared to accept an invitation from the Melbourne University this season.”

Sydney Uni lasted just a season-and-a-half from its foundation in 1887. It then ‘tailgated’ (in the words of NSW Aussie Football History Society writers) onto the Teachers’ College club in the early years of the 20th centrury. In 1935-36 attempts were made to re-establish the Sydney Uni Australian Football Club, but without success. In April 1936 a notice was listed in the university journal ‘Honi Soit’ inviting students to form a club.

Not much published information is available nearly a century down the track, but some footy must have been played as Alan Grozier is listed as having received a university ‘Blue’ in Aussie football.

It took until 1947, a couple of years after world peace had been re-established following six years of war, that the club finally re-invented itself.

However it wasn’t until 1948 that Sydney Uni began to play competition footy officially. The coach was Jim ‘Bubber’ Phelan a famous name for the period in Sydney football. Nineteen-year-old Len Fulton was picked to play in the NSW State team against South Fremantle. And Tom O’Byrne a centreman originally from Tasmania was selected to represent NSW against Broken Hill in the same year.

By the following year 1949 O’Byrne, who was a Navy serviceman, was named State captain.

Additionally Sydney University was back in the inter-varsity competition in 1949 and the Light Blues downed Adelaide University in one important match-up.

From 1951 the State government paid out fees for sporting institutions at universities across NSW.

This enabled Sydney Uni to improve its facilities with dressing sheds around the ovals for those students involved in athletics, rugby union, Australian rules and soccer. Finance was still a club problem, though. One Sydney Sunday paper reported in a  3 June 1951 article that some University players had engaged in “inappropriate conduct.”

“They were wearing odd socks and, even worse, one player took the field sockless,” the write-up stated.

And my affiliation with the Sydney Uni Aussie Rules club ? Well, I played there in 1962 and 1963 primarily as a ruckman but also from time-to-time as the centre half-forward. We proudly wore the pale blue guernsey with a gold V and we were almost certainly the only amateur club in the NSW AFL.

Two clubs we played against had been admitted in 1948 to the Sydney competition, the same year Sydney Uni came back in. They’re Balmain and Western Suburbs although these days Balmain has discarded their old black and white vertical stripes and changed to yellow and black. They’re both still there in the competition.

And I’ve still got the broken front tooth (well-fixed by dentists down the decades) and a large-ish chin scar as memorials to my NSW AFL years. The broken tooth came about during a match against East Sydney. I took a mark about 20 metres out from our goalmouth and must have given an Easts’ defender a bit of lip as I prepared to line up for the shot. ‘Whack’ he went straight in the mouth. With blood pouring out from the wound I put the ball down on the grass and went looking for him.

“Forget about the payback. Kick the bloody goal,” our captain Peter Malouf fumed.

The split left-corner-of-the-chin came during a match against Sydney Naval at the Victor Trumper Oval on New South Head Road. The Navy Demons’ side has long since folded, but they did win the 1962 flag. An aggro little midfielder caught me off-guard at a boundary throw-in and I ended up unconscious on the deck for a few seconds. Maybe 20 or 30 seconds. The club first-aid people staunched the flow of blood, but the scar remains.

I wasn’t actually a student at Sydney Uni. back then, but a student at the Australian School of Pacific Administration at Middle Head, Mosman. Mates recruited three or four of us and we played for Sydney Uni for two seasons before heading north into the heat and humidity of Papua New Guinea.

There was a fair bit of driving in an ancient Ford throughout 1962-63 just to get to matches all over the Sydney suburbs – as far out as Parramatta, I recall. But by November 1963 we were in Papua New Guinea. I played for the Port Moresby club in the old Papua Aussie Rules competition in the mid-Sixties. We wore the white with the red V guernseys modelled on the old South Melbourne club. Those woollen jumpers had to be hand-wrung out at each quarter break just to get all the sweat  – or most of it – out of the guernseys.

I lasted just the one season (1965) before taking up writing for the Moresby South Pacific Post (later the national daily Post-Courier), focussing on rugby league previews and match reports and boxing summaries.

We had two Papua New Guinean pro boxers in the Commonwealth Top Tens in their respective weight divisions and I was involved in live calls of fight nights for the old ABC Port Moresby radio station, 9PA. The ring was placed adjacent to the Sir Hubert Murray Oval grandstand, but the trees around the perimeter were always packed with precariously perched free-loaders.

I also called rugby league matches for the same 9PA (with relays to 9RB, Rabaul) from the Boroko sports ground, and while only petrol money was involved with the ABC I got four toea (4 cents) a line for the Post-Courier stories.

When the ABC handed over to PNG’s NBC the petrol  money dried up and I moved to weekend sports roundups from 6.30pm as a volunteer.

But those reminiscences in more detail belong to website posts for another day.

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