Until 2017 it was broadly and commonly accepted that the Granville and District Soccer Football Association was founded in 1902 but this was incorrect. New detailed research however has now revealed that the Association was actually and unquestionably founded 2 years earlier in 1900.
The birth and rise of soccer football in Granville is undoubtedly linked to the establishment of the Hudson Brothers company (later called Clyde Engineering) located on the banks of Duck River at Granville. By the mid 1870’s Hudson Brothers was the colony’s largest building company earning a reputation for its mastery of carpentry and joinery with fine examples of their craft seen in the ceiling of the Great Hall of the University of Sydney and the magnificent Garden Palace which unfortunately burnt down in 1882. However, they would soon turn their business interests and attention to include ironworks.
After having won the government contracts to build and supply the rolling stock and locomotives for the fast-growing NSW railway network in 1876, Henry and Robert Hudson soon needed a much larger factory site to complement their Redfern factory as their success spawned more contracts for railway rolling stock and wagons from other state governments including Queensland and Tasmania. In late 1881 they purchased virgin land of dense scrub at Granville, a suburb that was being promoted as the Birmingham of Sydney. The 30 acre parcel of land extended from the railway line to the north, Duck River to the east, current day Sixth Street in the south and Clyde Street to the west
During 1882 the land was cleared and factory construction commenced on the site. At this time Hudson Brothers contracted an agent to secure trained and skilled labourers from Scotland. In late May 1882, 19 lads being a mix of iron foundry workers and blacksmiths from the valley of the Clyde left Glasgow under engagement of Hudson Brothers to work at their Granville factories.
They arrived in Sydney on a cold morning aboard the Austral on 27 June 1882. Soccer football was first introduced to Granville on 19 August 1882 when these same Scottish lads arrived at Granville with 250 other ladies and gentlemen on a special train that departed Redfern for the purpose of witnessing the ceremony of laying the Foundation Stone, plant commemoration trees and to inspect their new work premises which were rapidly being completed.
Upon their arrival one of the lads unpacked his soccer ball and invited his countrymen to have a kick on the cleared land adjacent Murphy’s Orchard at the southern end of the factory site. With the words, “Come on boys, let’s a have a kick”, soccer football in Granville was born!
It is believed our long, rich and proud history started with this very first kick, when 18 years old William Baillie the youngest and liveliest of those 19 Scottish immigrants, decided upon agreeing to leave Scotland to travel to the other side of the planet for work, that he would pack his brand new soccer ball and boots. Incidentally, soccer balls were so scare in the colony that it was not uncommon in the early years to substitute a leather ball with a hessian oats bag filled with rags and sewn tight.
These same 19 lads formed teams with the locals and the factory employees and played socially until 1885. In 1885 the Southern British Football Association was formed and the first NSW competition was established. To promote the fledgling sport, on 21 June 1885 in front of a crowd mostly ignorant of the rules of the game, an exhibition match was played at Parramatta Park between the Friendly Society of Parramatta and the Caledonians Football Club, a newly formed all Scottish team from Pyrmont. No doubt the Scottish lads of Hudson Brothers were motivated by this game and rallied the lads to field a team and to enter the new NSW competition confident they would do well.
Though it is believed and probable that the Scottish lads founded Granville Football Club in 1882 or perhaps 1883, there is certainly no debate as it was reported in the Cumberland Mercury newspaper that on 30 June 1885, the Granville Football Club was officially formed at a meeting in Goff’s Granville Hotel and the team featuring many of the Scottish lads was entered into the NSW competition. The meeting was of “good humour and good feeling”. The entrance fee was 2 shilling 6 pence for the first month increasing to 5 shillings every month thereafter. Robert Telfer, one of the Scottish 19, was elected Chairman and Treasurer. William Baillie was one of the committee members. In 1885 they used the cleared land at the southern end of Hudson Brothers site as their home ground. Their very first game on 18 July 1885 was a trial match against the Friendly Society of Parramatta on the back Domain of Parramatta Park. It was a one-sided affair with the Granville lads winning very comfortably 4-0.
Granville Football Club adopted black and white as their colours which then lead to adopting the Magpie as their logo thereafter. The team was a powerhouse winning their first competition game at Granville on 15 August 1885, 5-0 against Lambton Thistle Football Club. They remained undefeated to win the inaugural Rainsford Cup beating Caledonians Football Club, an all-Scottish team from Moore Park with many players from Pyrmont, in the final 3-1 in extra time at the Sir Joseph Banks Grounds at Botany.
In 1886 they moved to Clyde Oval and remained there until 1939 after the government reclaimed the land for the war effort. From their new home ground they repeated the feat of becoming Rainford Cup Champions, again undefeated by beating Canterbury Football Club 3-1 in the final on 12 September 1886, at Wentworth Park. In fact, their first loss only came in the final of the Rainsford Cup on 27 August 1887, where they lost to Hamilton Athletic Football Club 1-4 at the Agricultural Ground, Moore Park, in what was reported as a “scientific and hard-fought match”.
It is worth noting William Baillie played fullback in these 3 Granville teams and also captained the 1886 and 1887 teams. He and some of his fellow Scots including fullback John R Neilson, goalkeeper William Picken and his brother John playing halfback, who immigrated in 1885, would proudly go on to represent NSW in many intercolonial matches against the other state colonies. William Baillie would also captain the NSW team in 1886 and 1887.
Whilst the Granville Football Club teams were having its many triumphs and successes at a senior level, popularity of the game amongst the local children was slow and taking its time to develop as rugby union was the dominant football code. By the late 1890’s there were several local businessman and former soccer players affectionately called the “old timers” who were keen to improve the growth of the game in the Granville District but there was one true gentleman in particular who was a visionary and who was especially responsible for the founding of the GDSFA.
Frederick Barlow, himself a former Granville Football Club player, in May 1900 decided to form an Association and to introduce the “the pure game of football” into the local schools. He arranged the supply of soccer footballs, organised fields and goalposts and provided 11 silver medals for the champion team and 1 gold medal for the manager of the team. With initial interest and excitement a far afield as Dural and Carlingford, in its inaugural year 7 local schools entering 8 teams participated in the new competition.
For many of the children playing for their school teams and indeed their teachers who acted as coaches, they were totally new to the game, it’s rules and the individual and team skills required to play this new Association code with any degree of success. Notwithstanding the sport was not considered a novelty but rather greeted with much enthusiasm and even a certain degree of fierce competition especially between the larger schools at the top of the table trying to emulate the successes of their very popular Granville Magpies Football Club.
On Saturday 15 September 1900 in front of 800 excited spectators at the Clyde Ground on Parramatta Road, Granville North Public School were crowned the Association’s first ever Grand Champion defeating Granville Superior Public School 2-1.
The Fred Barlow Medals* were a highly sort after prize in the formative years of the Association and established Frederick Barlow as the Father of Granville Football, a true pioneer of the local game and a household name in the Granville District until well after his death in 1935. He served as the Association’s first Secretary in 1900, then Chairman the following year and continued as an Association committee member serving various positions for many years thereafter. Later he also held senior positions in the NSW Football Association and the sport’s first national body, the Commonwealth Football Association, becoming its President in 1922.
Frederick Barlow was not alone in his enthusiasm for Granville soccer football. Local politician, leading spirit in the district and the first mayor of Granville Council (before it merged with Parramatta Council in 1949) was John Nobbs. John threw himself into developing the Granville area to be an industrial powerhouse of Sydney and to literally put Granville on the map. He was primarily responsible for changing the name of Parramatta Junction to Granville in 1880 and then led the way to have the district declared a municipality in 1885.
John Nobbs was a keen advocate of the game of soccer football and was central in the game’s development in Granville. He too considered it a good, clean sport compared to the other versions of football such as Rugby and Australian Rules Football. He was involved in an official capacity as President or Patron of the Granville Magpies Soccer Football Club from the beginning of its formative years in the 1880’s.
John Nobbs, together with Frederick Barlow and other enthusiasts, were instrumental in forming the Granville Association, which developed into a major soccer Association covering almost one third of the Cumberland Basin and bringing soccer competitions to schools in the district, thus creating “the finest nursery in the colony” of skilled footballers for the Granville Magpies and the game’s higher levels. John Nobbs was elected the Association’s first president and also held the various positions of Chairman and Patron for many years until his death in 1921.
John Nobbs and Frederick Barlow were wholehearted supporters of soccer football in the Granville District. Nobbs had earned the esteem of the members of the Association. It seemed that there was hardly a trophy or medal presentation ceremony held for Granville soccer that John Nobbs did not officiate over, nor a photograph of a Granville District football team in which John Nobbs, with his distinctive mutton chop whiskers, did not appear.
After the Association’s first year success with the local schools, the following year the Association expa nded its competitions to include teams and clubs from outside of schools and it resolved to have 3 grades of competition – A, B and C grade.
In 1901 the A grade competition was a school’s only competition for under 14 year old boys, so as to give small schools an equal chance against the larger schools – 10 schools entered the competition and it was won by the undefeated Granville North Public School again defeating Granville Superior Public School 1-0 in the final. They received the highly prized Fred Barlow Medals.
The B Grade competition was for boys the ages between 14 and 16 ½ years old – 6 teams entered the competition and it was won by the very first member club to in fact join the Association, the Granville Blue Stars Football Club defeating Rosehill Football Club 5-1 in the final. They received the Young & Parker Medals.
Incidentally, Granville Waratah entered a team in this competition and today remains the Association’s only foundation club.
The C Grade competition was for over 16 year old and all ages and was greeted with “unbounded enthusiasm” – 6 teams entered the competition and it was won by Clyde Engineering Football Club defeating Granville Shamrocks 3-1 in the final at Clyde Engineering Sports Ground in front of 1,500 very excited spectators, including a very large proportion of ladies for whom the committee of the Association and the officers of the Clyde Sports Club had provided seated accommodation around their sports oval.
It is worth noting that there was a real international spirit attached to this exciting final. The south side of the Granville rail line was unquestionably Scottish. Since the late 1870’s the parcel of land south of William Street bounded by Blaxcell and Clyde Streets was the
New Glasgow Estate and the area was affectionately known as “Little Scotland” well into the mid 1900s. The name Clyde was taken from the River Clyde that flows through Glasgow.
The Shamrocks, however, was a club from the other side of the tracks where there was a distinctly Irish community. In fact, the area north of the rail line to Pitt Row (the row of parks on Pitt Street South Parramatta, which today include Jones Park and Ollie Webb Reserve) was called Irish Town for decades. One could just imagine the excitement from the day of the final hearing all the differing Scottish and Gaelic accents passionately cheering for their team and complaining about referee decisions.
At the conclusion of the second season, the Association was not content to award the C Grade winners just medals – the Nobbs Medals. On the night on Saturday 28 September 1901, the Association held its First Annual Dinner at the Granville School of Arts. With much cheer, pride and ceremony, the Association unveiled the Challenge Shield and awarded Clyde Engineering Football Club the honour of making history becoming the first team to win the Challenge Shield and to have their name perpetually engraved upon it.
Today the Challenge Shield is Australia’s oldest continuously played for soccer football silverware, and possibly the Southern Hemisphere…and we are proud it is still in Granville.
*Unfortunately, the Association does not have a Fred Barlow Medal to display. If you can assist the Association with obtaining a Fred Barlow Medal, your support would be greatly appreciated.
2019 Acknowledgments: The GDSFA wishes to thank and acknowledge the research of Noel Dona and the support of the Granville Historical Society, City of Parramatta Council Archives and historian and author Dr. Philip Mosely.