1874 and all that Who was the “Premier Club of the Colony of New South Wales” ? If you are interested in Sydney club rugby you would think that it would be quite easy to find out who were the premiers from the time of the start of the New South Wales Rugby Union in 1874 (as the Southern Rugby Football Union). Well like life and relationships, the question of who were premiers is complicated. For one thing, there are two differing lists of “premiers” for the years 1874 to 1878. One is the accepted (“official”) list which appears regularly in newspapers and is quoted in rugby publications and on wikipedia. The second is the one appearing in Tom Hickie’s book -"A Sense of Union. The History of the Sydney University Football Club" 1998 (Appendix 49 page 351). Tom Hickie acknowledges (page 36 of his book) that:- “…it has generally been accepted by both official andunofficial rugby publications that the premier clubs from 1874 to 1879 were as follows: 1874 Waratah; 1875 Balmain; 1876 Wallaroo; 1877–1879 Wallaroo.” However, he believes that this list is incorrect. For the years of 1874, 1875, 1877 and 1878, his list is at variance with the “official’’ list. For 1876, and from 1879 onwards the two lists are the same. Based on a review of the 1874 season (as reported in the Sydney Mail of 9 October 1875), plus research into the result of matches published in newspapers, Tom Hickie’s view is that: “the NSWRU records are probably incorrect for 1874 [giving the premiership to Waratah], but also for attributing 1875 premiership to Balmain .” [Hickie page 37]. It is clear from Tom Hickie’s research that Sydney “premiers” in 1874 and 1875 were not the clubs that won the most games. In 1874, the Wallaroo Football Club was undefeated. The Waratah club, on the other hand, lost two games (one to Wallaroo, one to St.Leonards), but the “accepted” list has Waratah as the “premier club” in 1874. Similarly in 1875, Balmain only won two games (against University and Goulburn). It lost a return match against University, lost to Waratah, and drew with Wallaroo. Balmain, however, is listed as 1875 premiers. The Tom Hickie list for 1874-1878 is: 1874 Wallaroo (instead of Waratah) 1875 University & Waratah(instead of Balmain) 1876 Wallaroo(the same) 1877 University(instead of Wallaroo) 1878 Wallaroo & Waratah(instead of Wallaroo alone) Sadly, there is no help from records of the Southern Rugby Football Union to resolve the issue. Hickie (page 36) reports that “the SRFU at its AGM, held in April 1875, did not declare a premier club for 1874 ..” An example of two authors that used the “accepted” list are: Jack Pollard in "Australian Rugby Union - The Game and the Players" 1984 - page 86. John Mulford in “Men in Scarlet: History of the Balmain, Glebe and Drummoyne Rugby Clubs 1874-2000” pages 1.2 and 1.3 ; and also in “Guardians of the Game – The History of the New South Wales Rugby Union 1874 -2004”). John Mulford refers to Balmain as the “1875 Premiers”. He writes how their game against Goulburn, in August 1875, “sealed the First Grade Premiership for Balmain.” He also accepts (in “Guardians of the Game” page 23) that the Waratah club were “winners of the club premiership in 1874”. Why the difference? Some speculation It was not until 1883 (with the introduction of the Gardiner Challenge Cup) that a structured competition was established with a centralised list of fixtures arranged by the Rugby Union. Previously, clubs arranged their own matches and did not necessarily play the same teams or the same number of games as their rivals. The Tom Hickie list is based on results as reported in the papers. He has compiled competition tables from available results (and awarded competition points for wins and draws) to decide/illustrate the most successful club. However, no such tables existed nor were competition points awarded in those years. Competition points (or “points attained”) only came into use in 1890. To add a further complication, Tom Hickie decided his “premiers” by only considering the games played between the top (three or four) clubs and not on all games that they played. This is an approach that takes into account the factor of “quality of the opposition”. Results of matches against “junior” clubs are ignored. In 1882, there was a similar view in the Sydney Mail that only 4 clubs mattered: “ . the only contests which were looked to with any degree of interest [over the years] were those in which the University, Wallaroo, Waratah, and King’s School were engaged.” [Source: Sydney Mail Sat 10 June 1882 p923] However, “junior” clubs did occasionally defeat the established “senior” clubs and influenced the pecking order between those “senior” clubs. There was also the question of the King’s School. See below. Oh no! Not another list ! If all games are considered, a third list emerges (with some differences to the existing two). The “accepted” list, The Tom Hickie list,Based on all matches played 1874 Waratah, 1874 Wallaroo, 1874 Wallaroo 1875 Balmain, 1875 University & Waratah, 1875 Wallaroo 1876 Wallaroo, 1876 Wallaroo, 1876 Wallaroo 1877 Wallaroo, 1877 University, 1877 The King’s School 1878 Wallaroo, 1878 Wallaroo & Waratah, 1878 Wallaroo What are we going to do about the King’s School ? As can be seen from the comment in the Sydney Mail above, the King’s School was considered one of the leading clubs of the period. However it is never included in any of the lists of “premier clubs” (by Tom Hickie or anyone else). In 1877, “The King’s School Football Club” was undefeated. It was the most successful club that year. Similarly, they were also undefeated in 1873, and again not acknowledged as the leading team. In 1877, King’s played 12 matches winning them all. It beat Wallaroo (3 times) and University (twice). So there is no argument that they faced weak opponents. In comparison, that year, Wallaroo and Waratah clubs lost 4 games each, and University two. It should be noted that the King’s School was a full member of the Rugby Union – no membership distinction was made between schools, universities or any other kind of clubs. It was involved in the setting-up of the Southern Rugby Football Union in 1874, and its headmaster (Mr. R.F. Burkitt) was elected as chairman of the first meeting. The King’s School F.C. is not listed as the “premier” club because (so the argument by Tom Hickie goes) its players were not only students, but also included masters and ex-students who on other occasions played for other clubs - primarily for Wallaroo. Burkitt was one of such players. However, players playing for more than one club was not restricted to the King’s School. This was not uncommon at that time. There were incidents of University players turning out for St Leonards, and Toxteth players for Waratah. It seems that if your club wasn’t playing that day you could turn up and play for someone else. Remember that the games had no prizes - only boasting rights were involved. Eventually rules were put in place (in 1879) to control this. This issue became even more important when a formal competition started (in 1883). So how were premiers decided if not by match results? The short answer is we don’t know. If you read the papers of the time, the title of “The Premier Club of the Colony” appears, on occasions, to have been awarded by a decision of the Rugby Union or its management committee. It was not necessarily given to the team that had the best results on the field. Results mattered, but other criteria may have also been used. What these were are not known, but quality of the opposition may have been a factor. There are indications that being “voted” premiers was a method that confirmed your status, even when club games became centrally organised. For example, Redfern winners of the first Gardiner Cup in 1883 were undefeated, but in their annual report they still talk about how they were “unanimously voted supreme”. In 1894, a committee of the Rugby Union voted Wallaroo as the “premier” club, despite a strong claim by Randwick who had beaten Wallaroo in two finals that year. The chairman of the Rugby Union committee proposed that both clubs be made joint premiers. The Wallaroo representative objected and put the motion that Wallaroo be voted premiers. This was carried. Much commentary and protest letters to the papers followed. So club politics could also play a hand! It should be noted that Randwick are shown as the premiers for 1894. All this does not resolve the issue of who were the “correct” premiers, but it does give an insight into why there are different listings.