Sunday, 28 June 2015

Annandale – The Perennial Battlers (2015)

In 1900, the strongest Rugby Union clubs resided in Glebe, Balmain, Newtown and South Sydney. These clubs were all required to field three grades of teams which saw them drawing players from neighbouring suburbs.

Glebe were the most dominant and successful club during these early years of the 1900’s while their neighbouring suburb Annandale were a second grade feeder club for Glebe.

In 1908, when Glebe moved from the Metropolitan Rugby Union to the New South Wales Rugby League (NSWRL), soon followed by the Newtown, Balmain and South Sydney clubs, Annandale officials were optimistic that this might provide them with an opportunity to finally move into the first grade competition, however was not an option that the Metropolitan Rugby Union (MRU) were even contemplating.

The NSWRL had a reasonably successful debut season followed by a tumultuous beginning to their 1909 season, however a daring coup on the Rugby Union’s elite playing ranks, financed by entrepreneur James Joynton-Smith saw the MRU decimated for a second year.

The rebel Rugby Union players of 1909 played in 3 exhibition games billed as the Kangaroos v the Wallabies. After the third game, The NSWRL had failed to raise enough funds to repay Joynton-Smith, so a fourth match was scheduled to be played on the same day as the 1909 final between South Sydney and Balmain on September 18.

On August 28, 1909, Annandale announced that they had disbanded from the MRU and had joined with the NSWRL. On the same day five Annandale players, coupled with some Newtown Rugby Union players, participated in an exhibition game against Eastern Suburbs, in the undercard match before the Australia v Maori Test at the Royal Agricultural Ground. With some lenient officiating by the referee towards the newcomers, as they were new to the rules, they won the game 8-5.

On September 3, 1909, the MRU gathered to discuss the rebel players and decided to formally expel Jack Barnett, Alby Burge, Jack Hickey, Paddy McCue, Chris McKivat, Peter Burge, Robert Craig, Edward Mandible, Arthur McCabe and William Farnsworth for their involvement in the Wallabies exhibition games.

The following day, the MRU cited the Annandale club and the Newtown players who participated in the exhibition game against Eastern Suburbs

After these players were expelled, the MRU board then turned their attention to Annandale and ruled that a decision would be made on their fate at a later date.

On September 18, the Kangaroo’s and Wallabies played their fourth exhibition game which, despite Balmain refusing to participate in the final, still generated just enough income to fully repay Joynton-Smith.

Four days later, the MRU met again and decided to expel Newtown players R.Gavin and Viv Farnsworth, along with five Annandale players and a second grade Newtown player for their involvement in the exhibition game with Eastern Suburbs.

Two of the expelled Annandale players were Angus Lennon and Robert Gray who both spoke about the code switch. Lennon revealed that “we went over (to Rugby League) because Annandale will never have a decent show of forming a district club while we are Glebe’s district.” This sentiment was one that run deep within many at the club.

Gray revealed, “I had one night’s meeting to learn the rules. Arthur Hennessy was there; we met at the corner and went to the training room. The only reason I went over was because I thought I would like the League rules better.”

On March 14, 1910 the Annandale Rugby League Club held its first official meeting at the Collondale Hall. The meeting was presided over by Horrie Miller, Harry Flegg and Edward Larkin, officials of the game’s governing body.

It was at this meeting that the New South Wales Rugby League officially declared that Annandale would be the eighth team to join their first grade competition for the 1910 season, effectively replacing the recently departed Newcastle side, despite not having a designated home ground. They would take the field wearing maroon and gold coloured jumpers.

The first secretary of the Annandale club was Walter Henry Clutton, a member of the Liberal Party and a Police Sergeant. The vice-president elected at the same meeting was Alderman James Robertson, who was also the Mayor of Annandale. In mid-August 1910, Clutton resigned from role with the Annandale club to focus on his political career. Both Clutton and Robertson put forward nominations to be the Liberal candidate in the seat of Kahibah at the 1910 federal election. Clutton won the nomination, however his joy was short lived when he managed to obtain just 15% of the votes in his seat. In 1918 he served in WWI in Rabaul, before contracting malaria and being discharged.

Annandale’s first game was on April 30, 1910 against Newtown, where they were overwhelmed by eventual premiers Newtown 31-6. They then went down in a close contest to neighbouring Balmain 8-2 the following week before facing their former parent side in the MRU, Glebe. Annandale again put in another spirited display but went down 17-10. After losing to Easts 20-12 in their 4th game, Annandale then won 5 and drew 1 of their next 9 games to finish the season respectably. One of those wins came in Round 9 against Glebe by 10-7. It would be the only time in 23 games that they achieved the feat.

1911 saw Annandale again win 5 and draw 1 of their 14 games, this time finishing 5th. Utility forward Robert Stuart became the first man playing for Annandale to be selected to represent Australia when he was named in the Kangaroo squad to tour England in 1911-12. He played 2 games on tour but no Tests.

Despite a respectable first few seasons, it was revealed in 1912 that Annandale still had no training ground. When the team first formed they trained on a block of land known as Johnstone’s estate. In the two years after, many buildings have been erected in this area making the land smaller and inadequate. Annandale secretary W. Lennon needed a large enough venue for the 74 players from all 3 grades to train on. He approached Petersham council for use of Petersham Oval, Leichhardt council to use Leichhardt Park, the trotting association for Epping grounds and to the city council to use Camperdown Park. Each request was denied. He also applied to the city council to have Federal Park upgraded for training purposes, as it did not contain dressing sheds, no water, no lights which was also denied. Despite these difficulties, the team did not give up and made the most of what they had. The club slid backwards, winning just 2 games.

In 1913 the Annandale club elected James Giltinan as their president. Giltinan was the man who helped finance and organise Rugby League’s birth just 6 years earlier. It was also in this year that Annandale decided to withdraw from the second grade competition. The club managed just 3 wins through the year, finishing equal last with Wests.

The 1914 season was the first of a number of disastrous seasons for the club as they struggled to compete with all clubs. They had just 1 win, 1 draw and 11 losses as they approached their final game against competition leaders Souths. Newtown were second on the ladder and needed to win their game against Norths, and for Souths to lose to Annandale for them to become premiers. The Newtown players invited Annandale to train with them at the Metters ground, Newtown’s home ground, as well as offering a one pound reward if they could beat Souths.

Newtown went on to Norths 20-12. Souths however were caught by surprise at the enthusiasm of the Annandale side and at halftime, their game was locked at 3 all. But 3 second half tries to nil in Souths favour saw them win 14-5 and claim the premiership.

If the geographical disadvantage inflicted upon Annandale wasn’t enough, the First World War saw a number of players in the area enlist in the war effort. They won 3 of 14 games in 1915 and 4 of 14 games in 1916.

Their first game of 1917 against neighbouring rivals Glebe saw about the greatest controversy in the games existence at that time. Dan Davies played for Glebe in their 26-5 win, however Annandale protested as they knew that Davies was living in Annandale, not Glebe, therefore he should have played for Annandale. Glebe had their 2 competition points deducted for the win and Davies was banned for life. Davies returned and played in Newcastle. The NSWRL decided to ban almost every player, administrator and club in the Newcastle competition. The decision was eventually overturned in 1921.

Over the next 4 seasons, Annandale won just 2 of their 55 games, each season they played a rougher and more unattractive style of play. This saw crowd figures for Annandale games drop and potential local players lose interest in the game, resulting in Annandale relying at times on borrowed players from outside their region. In 1918 and 1920 they failed to win a single game.

On October 13, 1920 the NSWRL Committee decided at a meeting to axe Annandale due to their poor record, poor style of play and inability to field a team of local players. Four of the other eight clubs that voted to axe Annandale were Balmain, Glebe, Newtown and Wests, all of whom would benefit from their demise. Shortly after the decision was passed, delegates of all 4 clubs set about splitting up the Annandale region so that they would all get a share.

A motion to rescind the decision was put forward but was emphatically voted against, and with that, the existence of Annandale whimpered into non-existence.

Annandale 1910-1920
Played 163, Won 26, Drew 6, Lost 131, For 1118, Against 2756

*******This article appeared in Rugby League Review magazine*********