Australian rules football in New South Wales

Australian rules football in New South Wales
Australian rules football in New South Wales
Ar contesting-web.jpg
Two ruckmen contest the bounce in a suburban western Sydney AFL game between the East Coast Eagles AFC and Campbelltown Kangaroos AFC
Governing body AFL NSW/ACT
Representative team New South Wales
First played 1877, Sydney
Registered players 95,100 (total)
7,225 (adult)
Sydney AFL
Ovens & Murray Football League
Black Diamond Australian Football League
AFL Canberra
Sapphire Coast Australian Football League
South Coast Australian Football League
North Coast Australian Football League
Summerland Australian Football League
Tamworth Australian Football League
Audience records
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 troubled history in the state, traditionally lags in popularity as a winter sport behind the rugby football codes.

Despite having been played continuously in most areas of the state, Australian rules football has been virtually unknown in Sydney and northern New South Wales until the last two decades and these areas are generally considered to be behind the Barassi Line. However, it has been popular in the Riverina region (the part of NSW closest to Australian rules' birthplace in Victoria) for over a century.

The code's recent growth in popularity in Sydney (where the majority of the state's population lives) has been inextricably tied to the success of the Sydney Swans which moved to Sydney in 1982 and remain the state's only Australian Football League (AFL) club. Since 1996, when it first made the Grand Final and its popularity peaked, the club has generated a small amount of media hype and public interest as well as participation for the sport. Due to successive finals appearances this interest has been sustained for all two seasons and again peaked in 2005 and 2006 with two successive Grand Final appearances and the first premiership since the club's relocation. Even at the height of its popularity, attributed by many[who?] to the image of the Swans, Aussie Rules has failed to generate a following among the Sydney working classes where rugby league is most popular and competes heavily with rugby union for support in the middle and upper classes and faces increasing competition with the participation and attendance growth of Association football in New South Wales.

Australian regional rivalries have played a large role in the Swans success in a national sporting competition. Ironically, however, these rivalries, particularly the cultural rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne also 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. However an Australian Senate enquiry in to the Tasmanian AFL Bid concluded that Sydney had "insurmountable cultural barriers" to the establishment of a second AFL team.[1]

In Sydney, parts of northern New South Wales and to the majority of the state's population, the sport is almost always referred to as "AFL", but also often by a number of pejoratives including "aerial ping pong" and profanities.[citation needed]

In the Riverina region, it is often referred to simply as "Aussie rules", "Footy", or "Football".



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.[2]

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.[3]

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.

A New South Wales player marks over a West Australian opponent in the goal square at the 1933 Australian Football Carnival held at the Sydney Cricket Ground. The teams are New South Wales and Western Australia. (Photographer: Sam Hood.)

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.[4]


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.

During the 1970s, the region produced many great footballers including the famous Daniher family, Terry Daniher, Neale Daniher, Anthony Daniher and Chris Daniher.

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, including champion players including Wayne Carey, Paul Kelly, Dennis Carroll, John Longmire, Leo Barry, Shane Crawford and Brett Kirk.

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. [1]


Australian football was introduced to Newcastle, New South Wales in 1883 when the Wallsend Football Club was formed by miners from Ballarat.[5]

In 1888, the Black Diamond Cup, Australia's oldest existing and active sporting trophy, was first awarded to the champion team in the region.[5][6][7]

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.

North Coast

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. 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.

In 1996 the Swans lost the grand final to North Melbourne, which had been their first appearance in a grand final since 1945. The game was played in front of 93,102 at the MCG.

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

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.[8]

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.

Governing Body

The governing body for Aussie Rules in NSW is AFL NSW/ACT.


In 2007, there were 7,225 senior players in NSW/ACT and in 2006 a total of around 95,100 participants.[9] 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. [2]. 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.[10](table 22)


Attendance Record

Major Australian Rules Events in New South Wales

  • Australian Football League Premiership Season (Sydney Swans)
  • 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 careers in New South Wales. Haydn Bunton, Sr., born in Albury, 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 became the second player from New South Wales to the win the Brownlow in 1999. Wayne Carey, who grew up in Wagga Wagga, is considered one of the greatest players of all-time.

Representative Side

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.

See Also Interstate matches in Australian rules football

Principal venues

  • Sydney Cricket Ground
  • Telstra Stadium, Sydney
  • North Sydney Oval
  • Bruce Purser Reserve
  • Ern Holmes Oval
  • Henson Park
  • Picken Oval
  • Village Green
  • Drummoyne Oval
  • Gore Hill Oval
  • North Dalton Park
  • Olds Park
  • Sydney University No.1 Oval


External links

Leagues & Clubs

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