'Bunty' McMahon - played for New South Wales and Randwick
during the late 1880s and 1890s.
its inaugural meeting in 1865, the Sydney Football Club holds
the honour of being Australia's first rugby club.
first 'inter-club' match took place between Sydney F.C. and a
team placed in the field by the Australian Cricket Club. Held
in Sydney's Hyde Park on June 17, 1865, Sydney F.C. were victors
by one goal to nil.
months later, students at the University of Sydney are recorded
playing matches against each other, seemingly in preparation for
a match against Sydney F.C. held on August 19.
has been thought that University formed a football club in 1863
or '64, however, it is now clear there is no evidence to support
this. Newspaper reports record no matches amongst the University
students or inter-club matches until after the arrival of Sydney
F.C. in the winter of 1865. This appears to be supported by comments
made by Richard Teece in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1907,
where he recalls taking part in the formation of Sydney's first
rugby club '42 years ago'. He was referring to the Sydney F.C.
any event, none of the matches were held entirely under the rules
of Rugby School. In the 1860s the laws of 'football' were in a
state of flux, with local variations in existence throughout the
British Empire and the USA. Many clubs and players simply relied
upon the interpretations of others as to what the rules were.
It was not until the formation of the Rugby Football Union (RFU)
in 1871 that clubs began to align themselves with a defined set
Melbourne, the capital of Victoria, a set of local rules had been
adopted in 1858 (based on a mix of rugby, soccer and other English
and local variations). In 1866 a move to introduce 'Victorian
rules' (later called Australian rules) to Sydney appears to have
caused a rift between the clubs. It ultimately only left the University
club, and a team placed in the field by the Military and Civil
Cricket Club, playing any football at all (which was primarily
the matches at this time were played on the University Oval and
were umpired by John Jackson Calvert. Calvert was well versed
in the various forms of football in England, particularly the
rules of the Rugby school. He had attended Oxford University and
his father was a professor at Cambridge University. Calvert was
a well known man in Sydney, he was a member of the NSW parliament
and one of the colony's cricket selectors for matches against
Inter-club football practically disappeared over the late 1860s,
with only a handful matches played between the University, a new
Sydney F.C. and teams from visiting English naval ships, some
of which were played on the city's Domain grounds.
The largest obstacles to growth in the sport were a lack of grounds
on which football could be played, and a lack of common agreement
on what form of football rules ought to be observed. The Wallaroo
F.C. was formed in 1870 to play "according to the rugby rules"
by William 'Monty' Arnold with his older brother Richard, who
(apparently) had been a student at Rugby school in England.
New gentlemen's clubs and private schools followed including the
King's School, playing on the Parramatta Domain, along with St.
Leonards, Lyndhurst College, Camden College, Sydney Grammar School,
Waratah F.C., Newington College and a handful of others. The increase
in interest in rugby was primarily in the rapidly growing private
schools, under the guidance of schoolmasters who had come from
England. It coincided with the population of Sydney increasing
by almost half through the 1860s, from 96,000 to just under 138,000
Having football played under the patronage of the schools also
provided a solution to the problem of the lack of playing fields
in Sydney. Credit must also be given to the leaders of the Wallaroos,
who negotiated with the City Council and gained agreement for
the use of Moore Park fields, within which the Sydney Cricket
Ground now stands.
with the private schools, the Wallaroo club was also instrumental
in ensuring the amateur ideals of refined English society were
followed in Sydney sport. Concepts in rugby such as a club competition
structure, defined player positions, team training sessions (other
than for fitness), the use of a coach, compensating for lost travelling
expenses and attracting paying crowds were directly foreign to
the amateur ideal.
over the differences in the playing rules followed by each club
or school reached a head by 1874. The Wallaroo club proposed a
football conference of all teams to decide on a codified set of
on-field rules - unsurprisingly the Wallaroo members pushed for
the adoption of rugby rules, without any alteration. Ultimately,
this led to the formation of the Southern Rugby Football Union
(later renamed as the New South Wales Rugby Union / NSWRU).
By 1877 the SRFU had thirteen member clubs from the twenty-three
known to be playing rugby football in colony of New South Wales.
To tighten its grip on the rugby game, the Union adopted a rule
that its clubs could only play other member clubs - proposed matches
against 'non-subscribing' clubs had to receive prior approval.
NSW team (later called Waratahs) played its first inter-colonial
game in 1882, against Queensland (later called 'The Reds'). A
British team toured Australia and New Zealand in 1888. The exchange
of visits led to the continued growth of rugby, and by the 1890s
the code had taken hold in the colony, thwarting attempts by Victorian
rules and soccer to gain the ascendancy.
Sean Fagan, The
Thomas Hickie, They Ran With The Ball
The Sydney Morning Herald
NSWRU / ARU archives
Keyword related: NSW Waratahs Rugby