Rabbitohs, Roosters: Electorate football foes

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    South Sydney are favourites to get over the Wests Tigers. (Digital Image by Grant Trouville © nrlphotos.com)

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    ‘Electorate football’ sounds like a euphemism for the humbugging of us by vote-seeking politicians; instead it is the scheme that gave birth to the Roosters-Rabbitohs rivalry over a century ago.

    Through the 1890s in the Sydney rugby scene club supporters and footballers from Redfern (‘Waratahs’ or ‘Norwoods’ clubs) and Paddington FC would each gather outside their favourite local landmark pub early Saturday afternoons, then proceed en masse, walking behind a raised large flag in their team colours bellowing out chants, songs and war cries, to the big match grounds at Moore Park.

    In early 1900 the NSWRU resolved to do away with all of the city’s existing rugby clubs (apart from Sydney University), replacing them with a ‘district club scheme’ that would divide the metropolitan area up into roughly equal parts of rugby-playing resources (i.e. players).

    It wasn’t a salary cap scheme, and players couldn’t be paid, but it was a socialist mechanism aiming to spread out the talent and have an even club competition.

    On the evening of 16 March the Union’s officials gathered at a city pub, armed themselves with a brew or tonic, and spread out before them on the table an electoral boundaries map of Sydney and its suburbs.

    After much debate, they settled on seven districts, using NSW government’s electorate boundaries to mark out each’s territory – depending upon which side of the road you lived, it alone decided your playing allegiance henceforth.

    Flout the rules, forget to remind mum or sister not to dry your football jersey within view of the neighbours or the street, and you could face a lengthy suspension and forced to front up to the right club’s training shed.

    It was here, under this new scheme, that for the first time that the words ‘South Sydney’ and ‘Eastern Suburbs’ entered the lexicon of Sydney football. Within days the new clubs were bestowed their now traditional colours of red and green (cardinal and myrtle), and the red, white and blue (tricolours).

    Eastern Suburbs – The whole of the electoral districts of Paddington, Woollahra, Waverley, and Randwick, King, Fitzroy and Bligh.
    South Sydney – The whole of the electorates of Redfern, Darlington, Waterloo, Newtown-Erskine, Botany, Flinders, Belmore, and Cook.
    [Source: “The Rugby Rebellion” by Sean Fagan]

    Rugby’s version of the Rabbitohs had become extinct by the time of WW1, but in 1905 they won the NSWRU’s first grade premiership.

    There was great excitement for a game early in the 1906 season when as defending premiers Souths were to meet an Easts team chock full of newly-promoted juniors – among them two bright, precocious young backs, Dally Messenger and Albert Rosenfeld.

    The crowd milling outside the newly built Sydney Sports Ground before the game, spilled across Driver Avenue into the Moore Park open fields, unable to get in as the gatekeepers couldn’t keep up.

    All of a sudden men from the back began to push forward, and in the ensuing crush the towering exit gates were burst inwards and open, letting tens of thousands pour into the ground for free.

    With over 25,000 present this Souths versus Easts encounter was the best-attended club rugby union match yet seen in Sydney, and outside of Shute Shield grand finals, seemingly still holds the record 107 years on.

    The Tricolours defeated Souths in a hot, fast and sometimes fierce contest 6–3. Messenger was the hero of the day, landing a booming 40-yard penalty goal to clinch the victory. For most Sydneysiders this was the day he first came to prominence and they read or heard his name.

    When rugby league began two years later, it copied (or ‘borrowed’ or ‘stole’) the NSWRU’s district club scheme of 1900 (without University). Souths and Easts continued in their established names and colours.

    These two neighbouring clubs were the first giants of the Sydney (today NRL) premiership. When the 35-man Kangaroos party was selected in August 1908 to visit England and Wales under manager James J. Giltinan, each supplied a third of the squad – the remaining third came from the other six Sydney clubs, plus Newcastle and Brisbane.

    The Kangaroos had sailed a week before the 1908 premiership decider, robbing the final game of its star power. South Sydney won a close contest over Easts 14-12 and were presented with the Royal Agricultural Society Challenge Shield – the first team to win three premierships in succession would become the permanent owners of the trophy.

    The Rabbitohs won again in 1909, and with three rounds remaining in 1910 seemed certain to complete the three-peat and claim the Shield.

    However, after spending most of the season staying out of club football and instead concentrating on rep games, Dally Messenger unexpectedly returned for Easts, and with two long range goals from halfway, carried his team to an 8-3 victory over Souths.

    The two premiership points not won that day ultimately saw Newtown awarded the 1910 competition title, and Souths had lost their chance to lock up the Agricultural Shield in Redfern.

    The dagger plunged into Souths by ‘Dally M’ continued to be twisted over the ensuing seasons, when he led Easts to three premiership titles in a row (1911-13). In gratitude the Easts club gave the Shield to Messenger, and in recent years his descendants passed it on the National Museum in Canberra.

    The Rabbitohs won the premiership again in 1914 and 1918 to move ahead of the Roosters tally, and have never been behind their east-side rivals again. The closest Easts have come was after their 1945 grand final win over Balmain, which left Souths on 11 titles, Roosters 9.

    While it is well known that Souths have been marooned on 20 since 1971, Easts (Sydney) have only won three premierships in the past 68 years.

    Over the seasons the NSWRL changed and moved the boundaries between the districts, and now at NRL level the lines that once divided Sydney’s clubs don’t count for anything at all really – except when the ‘friendly’ neighbours that are the Rabbitohs and Roosters meet.

    Just as it was long ago in the 1890s, when that happens, you better know what side of the street you’re from.


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    The Crowd Says (26)

    • September 3rd 2013 @ 3:22am
      Jonathan said | September 3rd 2013 @ 3:22am | ! Report

      What about Randwick? Per the extract, that is part of Eastern Suburbs territory. However in rugby union, they have their own club and in rugby league, Randwick City Council encompasses Kingsford, where Souths Juniors is based

    • September 3rd 2013 @ 6:34am
      Clevo said | September 3rd 2013 @ 6:34am | ! Report

      I still can’t get over when I saw the council made south sydney rabbitohs flags flying along the median strips of the beaches this year along Maroubra, coogee and clovelly. I was disgusted. Especially for the latter two. How they get away with that in Easts territory

      • Roar Guru

        September 3rd 2013 @ 7:17am
        no show said | September 3rd 2013 @ 7:17am | ! Report

        Those Cardinal & Myrtle colours look good anywhere 🙂

      • September 3rd 2013 @ 7:50am
        James d said | September 3rd 2013 @ 7:50am | ! Report

        Maroubra and coogee junior clubs are under souths, clovelly can’t explain that one should’ve asked the council haha

        • September 3rd 2013 @ 10:19am
          Clevo said | September 3rd 2013 @ 10:19am | ! Report

          They didnt used to be until a few decades ago souths and balmain kicked up a stink and Easts were forced to give away some of their areas.

          And by the article Maroubra and coogee are Easts through randwick council

          • September 3rd 2013 @ 10:27am
            Troy Mullins said | September 3rd 2013 @ 10:27am | ! Report

            I can tell you right now, Randwick council has a Sh*load of Souths banners ready to go out if they win on Friday, so be prepared just in case!

            • September 3rd 2013 @ 11:27am
              Clevo said | September 3rd 2013 @ 11:27am | ! Report

              Im Gonna have to get ready to by a ticket to flee the country if that happens. Double flee if the election goes as expected (or forced by news ltd)

              • September 3rd 2013 @ 1:27pm
                Freddy from Bondi said | September 3rd 2013 @ 1:27pm | ! Report

                +1, +1

          • September 3rd 2013 @ 11:26am
            Three Hats said | September 3rd 2013 @ 11:26am | ! Report

            Don’t get mixed up with The Union boundaries, based on Electoral Boundaries of the time.
            The League boundaries have been re-drawn a few times in the past,
            Anyway Electoral Boundaries change at every election, due to population fluctuations.

      • September 3rd 2013 @ 11:20am
        Three Hats said | September 3rd 2013 @ 11:20am | ! Report

        Clevo, Maroubra and Coogee are in Souths Territory. The junior clubs are the Coogee Dolphins and Maroubra Lions.
        Clovelly is on the border in Easts Territory. Everything North of Alison Road is Easts. South of Alison Road is in Souths territory./
        Suck it up mate!

        • September 3rd 2013 @ 3:27pm
          Clevo said | September 3rd 2013 @ 3:27pm | ! Report

          “Local Sydney league boundaries were based on local government boundaries when clubs were formed back in the early 20th century. Souths’ boundaries were based on the municipalities of Redfern, Botany, Alexandria, Mascot and Waterloo, while the Roosters’ boundaries were those of the eastern municipalities of Paddington, Woollahra, Vaucluse, Randwick and Waverley.

          “Many of these councils have since amalgamated, as demographic changes affected the inner and eastern suburbs of Sydney. Randwick Council has a western boundary of Anzac Parade and incorporates all those eastern suburbs east of Anzac Parade, and these suburbs like Randwick, Coogee and Maroubra were all part of the Roosters’ territory from 1908 to 1929. Does anyone living in those suburbs then or now not claim to live in the eastern suburbs?

          “But in 1929 a number of clubs led by Souths and Balmain helped change the NSWRL constitution so that instead of needing 75 per cent [of the vote] to remove a team from the competition, only 50 per cent was needed. Once the constitution was changed, Balmain, with Souths’ help, moved to kick foundation club Glebe from the competition. Roosters fans can’t miss the irony in this, given the events 70 years later.

          “Soon after, these same clubs changed the constitution back, to protect themselves from future expulsion, so 75 per cent of the vote was again required to remove a club from the then NSWRL. As part of the deal to remove Glebe, Balmain took over Glebe’s territory and Souths annexed that part of the Roosters territory east of Anzac Parade and south of Alison Road. The Roosters were as a result left without much of their natural territory, and a large future source of young talent. This was very relevant because for many years you needed to reside within your team’s boundaries to play for that club.”

          • September 3rd 2013 @ 9:14pm
            James D said | September 3rd 2013 @ 9:14pm | ! Report

            mate glebe wouldve gone the way newtown went, could you imagine those teams in the nrl they would have 0 supporters or very few just like your team :P. You talk about the change in 1929, yeah fair enough they were the decision taken then, but hey my question is why did 5 out of the 9 clubs agree to kick glebe out, to blame just souths and balmain would be ridiculous. Also you talk about territory change what ARE YOU KNOWN AS TODAY??? oh thats right SYDNEY ROOSTERS NOT EASTS so dont give me that crap that your so innocent, changed your name when we got illegally kicked out to take our territory but thats all in the past mate and besides you should thank souths juniors for letting your 4 junior clubs to participate in OUR junior comp.

            • September 4th 2013 @ 8:48am
              Clevo said | September 4th 2013 @ 8:48am | ! Report

              “Your” “you” !??
              Don’t assume all people that debate all the ridiculous claims souths fans are bitter roosters fans
              I actually go for the future premiers cronulla.

            • September 4th 2013 @ 8:48am
              Clevo said | September 4th 2013 @ 8:48am | ! Report

    • Roar Guru

      September 3rd 2013 @ 12:16pm
      sheek said | September 3rd 2013 @ 12:16pm | ! Report

      Great stuff as usual Sean.

      Gee, it would be nice to learn more about the decade from 1898-1907, specifically because this is the period when rugby union had Sydney & NSW to itself, discounting for the moment the efforts of Australian football to make inroads.

      Those electoral boundaries had a rather arbitrary swipe to them, didn’t they. Interesting also, how Sydney University continues to be given “special” status right up to the present day.

      • Roar Guru

        September 3rd 2013 @ 12:42pm
        sheek said | September 3rd 2013 @ 12:42pm | ! Report

        I should clarify the above by saying the adoption of electoral boundaries as sporting areas had a rather arbitrary swipe to them, is what I meant.

        Anyway, it seems to have worked rather well, right up to state/provincial comps.

      • Columnist

        September 3rd 2013 @ 12:50pm
        Sean Fagan said | September 3rd 2013 @ 12:50pm | ! Report

        Cheers Sheek. Remarkably (well, I thought so) the 1908 NSWRL rules/regs document that sets out the club boundaries, also included provision for a Sydney Univeristy club – so even in RL, right at the very start, the Uni still got a special provision & the NSWRL wanted them. Uni was left as an option, even though Manly, St George and Sydney weren’t, even though they were in existence in Sydney first grade RU when RL laid out its map. So it does appear to me the NSWRL management definitely put their minds to the matter of a Uni club, more than future district clubs.

        Interesting reading the tos & fros of the student-driven push in early 1920 to enter a Sydney Uni club into the Sydney RL competition, and that it actually began with the object of having the existing rugby club switch codes – which on a vote taken purely amongst active players would have won, but it seems past players continued to have a right to vote, and the club committee members managed to revive every last greybeard still living in Sydney they could find, and the club did not switch.

        This year the Uni club is celebrating 150 years, but that meeting in 1920 was a very near thing – as it turned out, the Uni has had clubs in both codes ever since, but it could easily have just been RL alone. That may have been a body blow to RU in Aust given how fragile it was in the early 1920s. I suspect though if the Uni club had swapped codes, and somehow the NSWRU gone on, no doubt a new Sydney Uni RU club would have emerged at some point.

        • Roar Guru

          September 3rd 2013 @ 2:20pm
          sheek said | September 3rd 2013 @ 2:20pm | ! Report

          Thanks Sean,

          I didn’t realise SU came that close to defecting.

          Hmmmm, don’t give me ideas Sean, that near-defection can be used against SU in the future. 😉

          Especially whenever they want to go on about being the first rugby club in Australia (which I understand, is contestable anyway).

        • May 14th 2017 @ 9:25pm
          Mark said | May 14th 2017 @ 9:25pm | ! Report


          fascinating reading

          what were the original 1908 Eastern Suburbs boundaries as it looks like Sydney RU district was not initially re-allocated

          In 1907 West and East Sydney electorates were Sydney RU while South Sydney electorate was in Souths RU

          There had been many name adjustments and ward splits but fundamentally these 3 still remained

          West Sydney being originally Glebe RU territory and East Sydney – Easts RU territory until Sydney RU arrived in 1905


    • September 3rd 2013 @ 4:05pm
      bemused said | September 3rd 2013 @ 4:05pm | ! Report

      south of coogee bay hotel souths,north of cbh easts.inside ground zero

    • September 3rd 2013 @ 5:45pm
      Hondo said | September 3rd 2013 @ 5:45pm | ! Report


      Thanks, this is much better than the SMH poor attempt this morning


      Where does SURL play now – last time I looke they didnt asppear to be in the Uni comp??

      Smithfield – that explains everything – didnt the former leader of the Opposition (the one before Rudd) play for them??

      • Columnist

        September 3rd 2013 @ 7:35pm
        Sean Fagan said | September 3rd 2013 @ 7:35pm | ! Report

        Hondo. SURL were in the NSW Tertiary Student Rugby League comp just a few seasons back. I presumed they were still there, but a quick google search suggests they may have dropped off the perch.

        Re politicians & rugby, I think you are referring to Mark Latham, but he played for Liverpool. When I was playing Sydney Uni RU were for a while in 2nd division with Smithfield and Liverpool in the early/mid 1980s. Tony Abbott was no longer playing for Uni then, but Joe Hockey did a bit later.

    • September 3rd 2013 @ 10:25pm
      David said | September 3rd 2013 @ 10:25pm | ! Report

      The 1917 rugby league constitution has the boundary between Easts and Souths as Rainbow street. This was moved to Alison Rd in 1947

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