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​Newtown's Ellis Noack marks strongly.

A Review of the 1963 NSW Football Season

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New South Wales was unique among Australian states in 1963, and  indeed until the forced relocation  to Sydney of South Melbourne two decades later, in that the highest standard of football was played not in the state capital, but in various outlying areas. In 1963 that meant the city of Broken Hill, and those regions of the state which adjoined the border with Victoria. Because Broken Hill had stronger cultural and economic links with Adelaide than Sydney it favoured football over the rugby codes. Moreover, its league was affiliated with the SANFL rather than the NSWANFL and so details of football in the city are included in the chapter on South Australia. Similarly, clubs in those parts of New South Wales which adjoined the Victorian border invariably played in competitions which included Victorian rivals, and such competitions were historically deemed to be part of the Victorian football    infrastructure. Consequently, information on competitions like the Ovens and Murray Football League – one of the strongest country leagues in Australia in 1963 – can be found in the chapter about Victoria.

Football in Sydney in 1963 was a distinct fourth in the pecking order of rival football codes, behind rugby   league,   rugby   union  and soccer. It was also struggling financially, although this situation would gradually improve over the ensuing decades. Historically, the code had enjoyed some proud moments, notably during the 1920s when its interstate team had twice procured victory in Sydney over powerful VFL combinations. Football in New South Wales in this period also tended to be stronger than in Tasmania, which has traditionally tended to be accorded the distinction of being Australia’s fourth strongest football state.

By 1963, however, the New South Wales interstate team’s fortunes had plummeted to an all- time low. Its two bona  fide interstate matches for the season were both played away from home, and resulted in losses to the ACT by 11 points in Canberra and to arch rivals Queensland by 17  points in Brisbane. It was the start of a four season sequence during which the men in blue and black lost every interstate clash. An idea of just how far the game in New South Wales lagged behind that in other states can be gauged by the result of a challenge match played in Sydney in 1963 between the NSW interstate team and Combined Universities, a side littered with star amateur players from the southern states. The visitors won this match with effortless ease by eight goals.

It is perhaps somewhat surprising therefore to note that players in Sydney’s premier competition, the New South Wales Australian National Football League, were not amateurs. Western Suburbs, the competition’s wealthiest club, which boasted its own licensed premises, even paid its reserves players.

Known as the Magpies, Western Suburbs were warmly favoured to take out the  1963 senior grade premiership, which they ultimately did. However, they certainly did not have things all  their own way. After appointing former VFA ruckman Neil Wright as senior coach they suffered a major body blow when, on the eve of the season, he was taken seriously ill, and had to be replaced by club skipper    Peter    Kuschert. Nevertheless Wests, who boasted numerous players from interstate in their ranks, soon  proved themselves the team to beat. The Magpies had won only one premiership since world war two, and had last contested a grand  final five years ago, losing to Eastern Suburbs by 7 goals. They had not even qualified for the final four since 1959, but in 1963 only Newtown seemed capable of derailing their ambitions. Almost inevitably, it was Newtown and Western Suburbs who fronted up to one another at Trumper Park on grand final day, in front of a crowd officially given at the time as 11,337, but later admitted to be rather smaller.

As was typically the case in top grade Sydney grand finals  of the time, the match was extremely tempestuous, with the on-field violence starting shortly after the opening bounce when players, fists flying, converged on the centre of the ground following an infraction in the ruck. Flare ups continued all day, but when the teams concentrated on football it was the Magpies who did so to better effect, and they ended up edging home by10 points, 14.14 (98) to 12.16 (88). Western Suburbs remained a force in Sydney football until the end of the 1970s, adding another seven flags from fourteen grand finals over the course of the ensuing sixteen seasons.

The Magpies’ 1963 grand final opponents Newtown went by the colourful nickname of the Blood-stained Angels. Sixty years earlier, the club had been among eleven founder members of Sydney’s senior football competition, which was originally known as the New South Wales Australian Football  Association. The club was an important part of the Sydney football fabric, and had enjoyed noteworthy success – fifteen premierships – between the late  1920s  and  early  1950s.  The 
Blood-stained Angels re-emerged as a force in the 1960s, a decade which saw them contest half a dozen senior grade grand finals, winning those of 1967 and 1968, both against Western Suburbs. They were also successful in 1970, overcoming North Shore by five goals, but this proved to be the last of the club’s nineteen senior grade flags. The club continued to qualify for the finals on a regular basis until the early 1980s but the VFL’s controversial decision to force South Melbourne to relocate to Sydney upset not only Swans fans but also the diehard  Sydney football fraternity, who overnight saw attendances at their team’s matches dwindle alarmingly. Inevitably, this had a pronounced negative effect on club finances, and Newtown, despite continuing to perform creditably on the field, was harder hit than most. After struggling to make ends meet for five years the Blood-stained Angels were finally forced to call it a day at the end of the 1986 season. Their demise left Sydney football irretrievably poorer and less colourful.

Third in 1963 was North Shore, which had won a premiership as recently as 1961. The club continues as a key member of the Sydney Australian Football League to this day. Known as the Bombers, like Newtown the club was a founder member in  1903 of the Sydney senior grade competition, of which four premierships since the onset of the twenty-first century have    given them a total of thirteen.

Sydney Naval, which joined the competition during the second world war, enjoyed its peak years  in the early 1960s, reaching a hat- trick of grand finals between 1960 and 1962, the first and last of which were won. In 1963 the club slumped to fourth, rose to third in 1964, and dropped to fourth again in 1965, the last season it would contest the finals. During the late sixties and start of the  seventies the club struggled, and ultimately disbanded after the 1971 season.

The pre-season merger of Bankstown and Liverpool gave the NSWANFL a total of eleven clubs  in the 1963 season, with the  top four at the end of the minor round qualifying to play in the finals. The seven clubs which ultimately failed to contest the finals, in the order in which they finished, were St George, Balmain, Sydney University, South Sydney, Parramatta, Eastern Suburbs and Liverpool-Bankstown. St George would go on to take part in the next three grand finals, all against Western Suburbs, winning the first, but losing those of 1965 and 1966, before enduring a prolonged slump. Of the remaining clubs Eastern Suburbs, which would change its name to East Sydney in 1968, would enjoy the greatest amount of future success, claiming premierships in 1971, 1973, 1976, and 1980-1-2-3-4 before enduring financial difficulties of the same sort, and with the same principal cause, as Newtown.   However, unlike the Blood-stained Angels East Sydney was not forced into mothballs but, after battling on until the end of the century, survived by means of a merger with the University of New South Wales.

Winner of the 1963 Phelan Medal, Sydney football’s most prestigious individual award, was Ray Sharrock of Western Suburbs, who was capable of playing equally well in a variety of positions, but was most frequently used by his club at full back. Newtown’s captain-coach  Ellis Noack kicked 55 goals to be the season’s top goalkicker.

As was mentioned earlier, outside Sydney there were parts of New South Wales where football was more popular and the standard of play higher. However, there were also regions of the state in which the game was not played at all or even, in some cases, known about. Indeed, fifty years ago there were only a handful of organised, senior grade football competitions in existence in New South Wales.  One such, the Newcastle  Australian Football League, had been formed in 1948, and had generated a surge in popularity in the code during the 1950s. By 1963, however, the level of interest had waned considerably, and the competition only survived into the ensuing decade with great  difficulty. Newcastle City procured the 1963 premiership, the first of four in a row. Another highlight during the season was the visit of NSWANFL club St George to play local  side   Hamilton.   The visitors won by 16 points, 8.15 (63) to  6.11 (47).

Perhaps the longest running Australian football competition outside Sydney or Broken Hill to be based entirely in the state of New South Wales was the Northern Riverina Australian Rules Football Association which had been formed in 1924. The 1963 senior grade premiership was won by Lake- Burgooney which overcame Four Corners in the grand final. It  was the second of an eventual four successive flags for the Tigers who in 1972 were renamed Lake Cargelligo.

Formed in 1933, the Hume Football League was a relatively strong  competition  which  in 1963 saw Jindera win the first of two successive senior grade flags.

The Farrer Australian Football League had been established as recently as 1957, with Culcairn taking out the 1963 premiership, the club’s first, thanks to a 15.12 (102) to 8.12 (60) grand final defeat of Temora.

Among the other entirely New South Wales-based competitions in 1963 were the New England Australian Football League, contested entirely by students at the University of New England in Armidale, the Central Riverina Football League, and the Coreen and District Football League.

The large number of competitions which involved clubs from both New South Wales and Victoria included the Kerang and District Football League,  the Millewa Football League, the Murray Football League, the aforementioned Ovens and Murray Football League, the Picola and District Football League, the Sunraysia Football League, and the Tallangatta and District Football League.