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HISTORY OF FOOTBALL IN THIS LEAGUE
Few realise that Australian Football was played in Newcastle way back in 1883 and owes its origins, in part, to the Duguid Brothers: Jim, John and George, former gold miners from the large mines of Ballarat in Victoria.
At that time, gold was on the decline in their area and men who earned their living as miners began moving further afield. Some went to South Australia, some to New Zealand and a few to the coal fields in New South Wales.
The Duguid Brothers were three of these such miners.
It is difficult to portray what life was like in those times. There was little recreation; most of the workforce worked 10 hour days, six days a week. Sunday (if they didn't work) was for church, washing and chores around the home or tent. Only the gentry and (private) school boys could afford the luxury of playing sport, particularly football.
Nevertheless they were the main push for the formation of the Wallsend and Plattsburg Football Club in 1883 along with other ex-Victorians at the same mine who also had played the Victorian Game. A game which by that stage had developed its own unique characteristics, diverse from its origins of rugby and soccer football.
Newcastle City Football Club (a club still competing in the league) was also founded in 1883 joining others at Lambton, Singleton, Wallsend and West Maitland.
Clubs in those days did not play an organised weekly competition but rather played challenge matches against each other indescriminately late of a Saturday Afternoon and on public holidays.
Melbourne Clubs got to hear of the game being played in Newcastle and on the encouragement of the then governing body, the VFA, travelled by steamer to compete. South Melbourne played a composite team in July of 1883. The tours were generally incorporated with trips to Sydney or one time, Brisbane.
Fitzroy visited the city in 1888 and Port Melbourne a year later. These teams were eagerly received and lavishly entertained.
In 1886 a combined ‘Northern Districts’ side (Newcastle and environs was then known as Northern Districts) defeated Queensland, the English Rugby Team in 1888 and a touring Maroi Rugby side in 1889.
It was during this period that through these impressive wins, the code gained respect, support and reasonable attendances at grounds, even if they were on unfenced arenas.
The Black Diamond Cup came into existence after it was donated by the Richmond Tobacco Company for senior competition in the area. This competition itself sparked a phenomenal amount of interest and was for some time was dominated by the Wallsend Club, a very strong and powerful club of that period.
This Cup is still in existence and is the trophy competed for each year by the teams in the current competition.
Until recently it was not treated with a lot of reverence but over the past 10 years or so has seen it housed in the Newcastle Museum. Its removal now is only on the local grand final day under authorised escort, to be momentarily held aloft by the winning captain before white gloved officials whisk it back to it’s more formal surroundings.
The game failed in Newcastle in 1894 an event blamed on the severe depression of the time causing severe poverty in and around the area, the closure of pits and the movement of miners.
In reality, the Victorian Game had little chance of survival: clubs were mostly administered by players and with very few dedicated officials having an interest in running the small competition, the game fell into decline.
Football was revived on and off over the next fifty years. Sometimes there were clubs, sometimes a competition, but when a social tragedy struck the community, like the two world wars, a recession and the big depression of the 1930s, the fragile Australian Football competition was the first to suffer. Other codes were not so unlucky, their game by that time being intrinsically enamoured within the local community.
Then in 1948, not long after the second world war, Australian Football was officially reborn in Newcastle with the formation of a four team competition.
The code steadily regained its feet and slowly grew to a position of strength; well strength so far as the local supporters were concerned.
However in the early 1960s it floundered, falling to an almost rock-bottom position by 1969 within the sporting population of Newcastle when Bill Elliott, a former player and soldier, originally from Talbot Victoria, took over as president.
His unbridled enthusiasm and tenacity won out against all odds – clubs came and went but he stuck to his guns leading a code, which was very much the cinderella and maligned sport in the rugby league dominated city of Newcastle.
So much so that he was awarded life membership of the league in 1955 and in 1989, an Order of Australia for his services to Australian Rules Football.
Interest in the code was sparked on the Central Coast in the late 1960s and early 70s as the population blossomed with many people moving from Sydney, attracted by cheaper housing close to the beach. They could more easily access their employment in Sydney after the F3 Freeway was opened in 1965.
In 1971 a meeting was held in Gosford to form a club: The Gosford Tigers. (The club still exists today).
Their officials had to choose between Sydney and Newcastle as to which competition they might affiliate with. They chose Newcastle because Bill Elliott showed more interest in them than did officials from Sydney.
The only other time Australian Football had been played in the area was in 1951 when former South Sydney players, Joe Bishop and Ron Adams enticed their old club to play a game against the “North Coast Australian Rules Team” whilst an Under 14 team from Newtown competed against a team from Wyong High School as a curtain raiser on the Wyong Showground. This encounter proved to be a one off affair.
Other clubs were admitted over time and depending on the commitment of the respective officials, some continued and others fell by the way side until 1999 when, like Newcastle the league comprised only five viable clubs.
Meetings between the two groups, initially triggered by NSW AFL Officials, gained momentum when representatives from both groups got together, initially to form a provisional competition where all clubs could just get a variation and additional matches.
It was at first intended that both leagues would separate and revert to their original competitions after a few years but the strength and nature of this new league was such that it is destined to remain as a single and strong entity for a very long time.