Is AFL in Sydney finally seeing sustained growth?

Aligee Roar Rookie

By Aligee, Aligee is a Roar Rookie


59 Have your say

    While the first recorded game of Australian football in Sydney was in 1877, between the Waratah rugby club and the now-AFL Club Carlton, it wasn’t until 1880 that the NSW Australian Football Association was formed, albeit loosely.

    In that year, the first local game was recorded as being played between East Sydney, who defeated Sydney 3.10.28 to 1.6.12 at what is now the Sydney Cricket Ground.

    This was the first game of any football played on the ground.

    The game attracted a reasonable amount of newspaper exposure and rivalled the rugby code until 1894, when during one of the worst depressions to hit the country, the game fell from favour and the association collapsed.

    It was revived in 1903 when it was arranged for VFL clubs Collingwood and Fitzroy to fixture a match at the Sydney Cricket Ground in May of that year.

    This stimulated interest in the game, a new competition and the NSW Australian Football League was formed. To use a contemporary phrase, `the league was powering’. In 1911 it purchased a ground on Botany Road, Alexandria, and appointed a full-time secretary.

    The game in Newcastle mirrors somewhat the Sydney league, with the game introduced via miners in the 1880s. The game in the Illawarra was a relative latecomer, with the South Coast Senior league forming in 1969.

    In 2017, the game around the Sydney Basin is at its strongest in history.

    In 2010, there were 54 senior teams playing in Sydney, fast forward to 2017 and there were 79 (plus a few more in the NEAFL). In the Black Diamond League, centered around Newcastle, in 2011 there were 18 senior teams, in 2018, 41 teams have nominated. In 2013, there were 854 players playing senior football in the BDL and in 2016 there were 1034.

    In Sydney junior football, in 2012 in GWS’s zone there were 67 junior teams, in 2017 there was 155. In the Swans’ zone, in 2012 there were 210 teams, in 2017 there were 366 teams from under 8s to 17s.

    Schoolboy football in Sydney across elite private schools such as Shore, Riverview and Knox did not exist in 2012, yet on Saturday mornings in 2017, 50 teams were playing from Year 7 to 12, and quite a number of AFL footballers have been drafted from there. Something similar will happen next year in the city’s private girls schools.

    Newcastle junior football has also gone through something similar. In 2013, there were only eight under-9 teams, in 2017 there were 18. The Central Coast juniors, which is a separate junior league, has grown albeit slower than Newcastle.

    Yhe Illawarra league comprises 19 senior men’s teams across two divisions, and a junior league that has remained relatively static for a number of years – nowhere near the growth of Sydney and the Black Diamond League.

    The game of Australian football is as healthy as it has ever been across the Sydney basin and looks to grow even bigger in the coming years.

    Maybe, just maybe, the game can cement itself and beat the boom-bust cycle that it has had over its 140-year history in the state.

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    The Crowd Says (59)

    • December 27th 2017 @ 5:44am
      Kangajets said | December 27th 2017 @ 5:44am | ! Report

      Having lived and played in the black diamond league all my life it’s pretty staggering to see the recent growth. Particularly in women’s and juniors in the last 3 seasons .

      • December 27th 2017 @ 6:34am
        Kangajets said | December 27th 2017 @ 6:34am | ! Report

        Further to my above post . A lot of kids grow up in nsw playing soccer or rugby league so the skills of crossing over to afl are transferable,

        generally after a bit of practice learning a drop punt and marking is not that hard .

        With the emphasis in rugby league all about big kids now , afl gives all size kids a chance to play .

        • Roar Guru

          December 27th 2017 @ 10:19am
          Paul D said | December 27th 2017 @ 10:19am | ! Report

          “With the emphasis in rugby league all about big kids now , afl gives all size kids a chance to play ”

          A very good point and one that is often overlooked.

          Routinely I have to remind people on here that just because the elite level clubs in Queensland are dreadful, doesn’t mean at all that the same malaise inflicts amateur levels of the sport.

          it’s only once professional money & competition for elite talent is injected into the mix that we have issues with players walking away from the clubs up here. Amateur level competitions in Queensland remain very strong indeed.

        • December 27th 2017 @ 12:12pm
          Kris said | December 27th 2017 @ 12:12pm | ! Report

          The often repeated line about “kids of all sizes” in the AFL is a bit of a myth. In 2012 the height of an average Australian male was about 176cm. There are about 4 guys in the AFL of below average height.

          However more generally we are probably getting a bit better at directing the big heavy kids to rugby, the small nippy kids to soccer, and the taller-leaner kids to AFL. Lots more choices now and chances for kids to find their niche.

          • Roar Guru

            December 27th 2017 @ 12:28pm
            Paul D said | December 27th 2017 @ 12:28pm | ! Report

            Sure, at the elite level you need a bit of natural selection to go your way but in amateur level competition the emphasis on being tall is nowhere to be found. I’m 6’3″ – by no means a giant and yet I’m comfortably one of the tallest people in the team I play in.

            The other thing to ponder is that where kids are concerned if they’re playing against someone taller than them the worst that happens is that they get outmarked. Kids playing against much heavier kids in league is a lot more fraught.

            You’ll notice too that while kids rugby league has often been graded based on weight, no-one has ever suggested that kids AFL be graded based on height

            • December 27th 2017 @ 3:15pm
              Kangajets said | December 27th 2017 @ 3:15pm | ! Report

              5 ft 10 midfielder

              Never seemed a problem for me , but the game was mainly won on the ground , rather then the air in my day ….. .

              Old man yells at a cloud … etc

          • December 27th 2017 @ 2:29pm
            Aligee said | December 27th 2017 @ 2:29pm | ! Report

            How many people do you know who put their height up ?, AFL footballers like anyone else are not immune, who doesn’t want an extra inch :).

            I have to admit i am sceptical of some players reported heights.

            Plenty of players around 5,11′ or so which is about 180 cm and what traditionally is called a Collingwood 6 footer.

    • December 27th 2017 @ 9:48am
      Gyfox said | December 27th 2017 @ 9:48am | ! Report

      I remember the 70’s….grand finals at Trumper Park

      • December 27th 2017 @ 2:26pm
        Aligee said | December 27th 2017 @ 2:26pm | ! Report

        I would agree that the 1970’s were a pretty good time for Sydney football as were the 1940’s, however the 1920’s and 1950’s were the opposite.

        Sydney footy has been at a grass roots level boom and bust, i think Sydney footy may be moving past that and is becoming quite well entrenched.

    • December 27th 2017 @ 12:06pm
      RedV3x said | December 27th 2017 @ 12:06pm | ! Report

      It’s taken a long time for the stars to align. The introduction of television promoted the dominant sports and diminished the less popular sports. The Swans came along and revived NSW interest in football but it took a very long time, much longer than expected for grassroots to catch up and even longer for community football to catch up. With football in schools and private schools the situation is rounded off. The current boom in women’s football has been an added bonus and will propel the game forward for some time.
      With the introduction of GWS football is on a strong path forward.

    • December 27th 2017 @ 12:52pm
      Norad said | December 27th 2017 @ 12:52pm | ! Report

      Victory will be the day the Sydney Cricket Ground has a drop in pitch. But we still don’t know what bridge the two Sydney AFL teams are fighting over.

      • December 27th 2017 @ 2:33pm
        Aligee said | December 27th 2017 @ 2:33pm | ! Report

        Getting footy to be seen and heard in Sydney has been more traditionally like the Bridge over the River Kwai.

        That was quite a battle with twists and turns.

        Cant remember the name off the top of my head, but the SCG ‘President’ has claimed a drop in pitch will be over his dead body, a few years ago now.

        • December 27th 2017 @ 3:02pm
          Kangajets said | December 27th 2017 @ 3:02pm | ! Report


          Instead of drop in pitches

          Would the afl build the swans a 50000 seat stadium?

          • December 27th 2017 @ 4:46pm
            whiskers said | December 27th 2017 @ 4:46pm | ! Report

            That’s actually not a stupid idea. if the AFL could jag a piece of land in the appropriate spot, a dedicated AFL stadium in sydney would be great. The SCG aint ideal and the cricket people seem to think of the swans as a necessary evil.

            • December 27th 2017 @ 4:58pm
              Kangajets said | December 27th 2017 @ 4:58pm | ! Report

              I think the swans fans are rusted on, they are mainly eastern or northern suburbs demographics. Eventually I think they will build the swans their stadium in the east of Sydney

              • December 27th 2017 @ 8:18pm
                Aligee said | December 27th 2017 @ 8:18pm | ! Report

                Doubt it, the SCG is the Swans spiritual home, they are going nowhere.

              • December 27th 2017 @ 9:54pm
                Kangajets said | December 27th 2017 @ 9:54pm | ! Report

                Their spiritual home is lakeside oval in south Melbourne, so they reckon . The bloods lol

              • December 27th 2017 @ 11:07pm
                Aligee said | December 27th 2017 @ 11:07pm | ! Report

                Well that would be for Melbourne Swans members, or old south Melbourne fans, i think we can safely say for the bulk of Swans members the SCG is.

          • December 27th 2017 @ 8:16pm
            Aligee said | December 27th 2017 @ 8:16pm | ! Report

            The AFL might help to build a new AFL stadium in Sydneys SW at some stage as nothing is there really for footy, but the SCG’s positives for footy outweigh the negatives, fantastic historic ground.

            • December 27th 2017 @ 9:56pm
              Kangajets said | December 27th 2017 @ 9:56pm | ! Report

              SCG is a great ground, but a terrible place to get to .

              Maybe 20 years away , but I can envisage the swans moving .

          • Roar Guru

            December 28th 2017 @ 8:15am
            Redb said | December 28th 2017 @ 8:15am | ! Report

            No, why would you. Cricket and AFL are good ground sharers in the main, different seasons and they make their stadiums pay their way.

            • January 1st 2018 @ 11:18am
              republican said | January 1st 2018 @ 11:18am | ! Report

              …..concur, however there has been some historically fractious politicking between the two as well.
              I wonder if the commercial engineers of our code plan to dumb the game down in respect of playing surface anyway.
              A metaphor for our rationalised, homogenous world, the truncation of codes.
              Perhaps a rectangular future will be realised in my life time; saints preserve us…………

        • December 27th 2017 @ 3:07pm
          Alicesprings said | December 27th 2017 @ 3:07pm | ! Report

          Drop in pitches at the SCG (and the GABBA) will happen eventually, OHS and the almighty dollar will see it happen.

          It may however have to wait for a changing of the guard at both grounds.

          • Roar Guru

            December 27th 2017 @ 3:10pm
            Paul D said | December 27th 2017 @ 3:10pm | ! Report

            I was told on here previously the Gabba doesn’t have large enough industrial entrances to support drop in wickets – would require a major redevelopment for that to happen, and given the parlous state of the budget, I don’t think that’s happening anytime soon.

            Would need crossrail to be finished first, and THEN demand for seats such that the ground repeatedly found itself overflowing. I suspect a redevelopment would only happen if compromises were made by all codes that the State Government had greater access to the stadium to host events, concerts etc to try and recoup some of the costs in upgrading the ground, which sport alone will not be able to fund.

            • December 27th 2017 @ 3:36pm
              Alicesprings said | December 27th 2017 @ 3:36pm | ! Report

              I find the access excuse a bit of a furphy. They’re able to drive a truck onto the GABBA to get an Adele concrete set up.

              It will happen sooner or latter. A bit of give and take – without footy these stadiums would be a shadow of themselves i.e. the WACA.

              • Roar Guru

                December 27th 2017 @ 3:43pm
                Paul D said | December 27th 2017 @ 3:43pm | ! Report

                Gabba is a curious case tho – whereas WA and SA have seen major stadium upgrades driven by AFL, Queensland elite level AFL pulls such pitiful crowds that the drive for upgrades aren’t there.

                Neither international cricket nor AFL have been able to pack the Gabba for close to a decade now. Last time the Gabba sold out day 1 of a test match I think was first test of the 2006 Ashes, and the Gabba hasn’t sold out ever for an AFL game as far as I’m aware.

                It’s now the 5th best stadium in the country by some margin, behind all the other major cities, and this will be reflected in poor cricketing fixtures at international level going forward – and in fact, already is beginning. The 4 big bash games are the only time it sells out now.

                I guess I’m saying don’t sweat on it happening anytime soon. I’d be astonished if much changes beyond tinkering round the edges of the ground before 2025ish at the earliest.

      • Roar Rookie

        December 27th 2017 @ 2:35pm
        Grobbelaar said | December 27th 2017 @ 2:35pm | ! Report

        Perhaps a more modest item of infrastructure should be considered, like a laneway.

        • Roar Guru

          December 27th 2017 @ 2:46pm
          Paul D said | December 27th 2017 @ 2:46pm | ! Report

          Laneways – hip, trendy and frequently packed in the evenings.

          Maybe the A League could be a light rail system or something. Trendy, European, and yet by and large ignored by Australians.

          • December 27th 2017 @ 3:00pm
            Kangajets said | December 27th 2017 @ 3:00pm | ! Report

            Good to see the a league feature on the afl site . Light rail is the future of Sydney.

            Great analogy Paul

            Might be best to stick to your experience of Brissie afl if u try to put down other codes .

            The biggest problem afl will have in nsw is cracking the western suburbs for crowds . If u want to use the A league as a comparison, soccer is huge amongst the west in Sydney . The Wanderers draw slightly better crowds then gws sometimes on par with nrl in Sydney , but the problem is Western Sydney is saturated for pro sport teams .

            As someone who has attended gws games , I’ve been to about 20, how the heck do we get crowds to follow the giants ?? With all the freebies they hand out they still can’t pull a crowd . Will this be a 30 project like the swans were ?

            • Roar Guru

              December 27th 2017 @ 3:08pm
              Paul D said | December 27th 2017 @ 3:08pm | ! Report

              Aw cheers Kanga, I do enjoy your anonymous alternating bouquets and brickbats

              • December 27th 2017 @ 3:12pm
                Kangajets said | December 27th 2017 @ 3:12pm | ! Report

                Thanks Paul

                Happy to tell u how it is


              • Roar Guru

                December 27th 2017 @ 5:55pm
                AdelaideDocker said | December 27th 2017 @ 5:55pm | ! Report

                Lol, a tad harsh there Kangajets.

                You’ll find that most of the AFL posters (at least on here) are quite articulate, actually.

              • December 27th 2017 @ 6:45pm
                Kangajets said | December 27th 2017 @ 6:45pm | ! Report

                Paul d and yourself certainly are quite articulate.
                I think Paul and myself have history but he seems like a nice bloke.

                The square up comment was for a bit of banter only .

            • December 27th 2017 @ 4:49pm
              whiskers said | December 27th 2017 @ 4:49pm | ! Report

              yes. it will be a 30 year project.

              • December 27th 2017 @ 5:01pm
                Kangajets said | December 27th 2017 @ 5:01pm | ! Report

                Fair enough.

                I’d rather see afl growing in the west of Sydney then rugby league. I was a league player once too and they have destroyed the game nowadays

                Soccer and afl will happily thrive in the west eventually.

            • December 27th 2017 @ 5:40pm
              Alicesprings said | December 27th 2017 @ 5:40pm | ! Report

              Assuming AFLHQ doesn’t alter their course in 25yrs (GWS has already been around for 5yrs) it is probable that GWS will have the level of support that the Swans currently enjoy. Hopefully by that time Tasmania will also have a team??

              Most people seem to forget the laughing stock that the Swans were when they first started up. Like watching history repeat.

              • December 27th 2017 @ 6:46pm
                Kangajets said | December 27th 2017 @ 6:46pm | ! Report


                I clearly remember the laughing stock that was Sydney .

                Only through Paul Kelly and tony Lockett did they get some credibility in 1996

              • December 27th 2017 @ 7:35pm
                Alicesprings said | December 27th 2017 @ 7:35pm | ! Report

                Agree regarding Paul kelly, fascinating how players from the Riverina have shaped both clubs.

                With 55k plus members, a turnover of $50m plus and average crowds of 35k they are now the biggest football club in NSW..not too many people predicted that. Those figures should be benchmarks for GWS.

                Also was good to see GWS draft a player from Western Sydney this year. As of next year 14/44 of their list is from NSW.

              • December 27th 2017 @ 7:53pm
                Kangajets said | December 27th 2017 @ 7:53pm | ! Report

                The demographics of Western Sydney are so different to the east where the swans are located and I can’t see the crowds growing

                Although I think junior afl will thrive along with football ( soccer )
                I don’t think there gws crowds will ever greatly rise , it’s a culture thing, football soccer and rugby league and hotted up cars ,, just not afl in the west of Sydney as a spectator sport .

                I will get to a few giants games a year but I live 4 hours away , but I doubt they will average crowd above 10000 except for derby or Collingwood games

                I’d reckon gws will be relocated in 10 years to be honest , not because of lack of juniors but because of t lack of crowd or tv ratings
                Possibly give Tasmania a team to follow

              • December 27th 2017 @ 8:20pm
                AR said | December 27th 2017 @ 8:20pm | ! Report

                In the early 90s (about 25 years ago) the Swans averaged about 9k to every home game.

                Now they boast the biggest crowds and membership base of any sports club in Sydney.

                The same will happen with the Giants. Just takes time.

              • December 27th 2017 @ 9:59pm
                Kangajets said | December 27th 2017 @ 9:59pm | ! Report

                A r

                Swans in the posh end of town is nothing like Western Sydney .

                It’s a rich people socialite thing to be seen with a swans scarf .

                That is not the image of Western Sydney .

                Gws could get good crowds one day , but I would not hold my breath .

              • December 27th 2017 @ 8:23pm
                Aligee said | December 27th 2017 @ 8:23pm | ! Report

                I disagree, i dont think GWS are going anywhere, i think they are becoming entrenched where they are, they may never be as big as the Swans but neither are teams like GC, PA or the Dockers in their respective states.

              • December 27th 2017 @ 8:48pm
                Kangajets said | December 27th 2017 @ 8:48pm | ! Report

                U could be correct . It’s an ugly look though if they bottom out crowd wise like Brisbane Lions and Gold Coast suns

                I agree the junior base is west Sydney entrenched now though .

              • Roar Guru

                December 27th 2017 @ 9:30pm
                AdelaideDocker said | December 27th 2017 @ 9:30pm | ! Report


                I’d argue that Port are massive here in South Australia. They don’t have the raw membership numbers as the Swans, but they’re still very big down here.

                I betcha that even though the Swans have more members per se, you’d notice support for the Power more throughout Adelaide than you would the Swans in Sydney, if that makes sense.

    • December 27th 2017 @ 4:49pm
      I ate pies said | December 27th 2017 @ 4:49pm | ! Report

      Short answer is no. I live around the area and most kids who play footy have parents from footy states. Most people in NSW still think it’s a soft game for Mexicans

    • Roar Guru

      December 27th 2017 @ 7:01pm
      mds1970 said | December 27th 2017 @ 7:01pm | ! Report

      I was chatting to a mate today who is involved with a club in Sydney.
      A few years ago they’d had the standard seniors, reserves & under 18s. By last year they’d built up to four senior mens teams, two under 19s teams and a womens team. And fielded a full 22 players in every grade every week; and were rotating their 4ths and womens teams to make sure everyone got fair game time.
      Next year they’re nominating a second womens team and possibly a 5ths team.
      It’s an impressive growth rate. They’ve had some success, with a couple of premierships; and built a good club culture. And these are fertile times for the game in Sydney, and several clubs are reporting increases in numbers. Womens footy in particular is a growth area.

      • December 27th 2017 @ 7:45pm
        Kangajets said | December 27th 2017 @ 7:45pm | ! Report


        Similar story in Newcastle afl too

      • December 27th 2017 @ 8:14pm
        Aligee said | December 27th 2017 @ 8:14pm | ! Report

        That seems very big, to create a good club culture you want to play your home games at home not some secondary oval away from your clubs true home ground, i remember coaching a kids team that was under 12’s, the club had 4 under 12’s and we trained away from the clubs spiritual home and played most home games on a secondary oval in the next suburb, it felt like we were not actually part of the club, one of the big problems in Sydney is lack of space and clubs like Pennant Hills with 5 senior mens teams, 2 under 19’s and 2 womens teams must struggle to get a game on the home ground, not to mention the juniors who also want a go.

        AFAIK the AFL CEO has promised to have a go at fixing the lack of space issues in Sydney, not sure how this will pan out.

      • Roar Guru

        December 28th 2017 @ 8:16am
        Redb said | December 28th 2017 @ 8:16am | ! Report

        I the AFL women’s game in NSW and potential growth has startled both the rugby codes into action.

        • December 28th 2017 @ 10:32am
          Aligee said | December 28th 2017 @ 10:32am | ! Report

          According to some posters on the RL board that is a big no!!, AFLW had nothing to do with it, of course any subjective analysis puts paid to that wonky theory, however i think the gold medal from the womens rugby 7’s actually stung the AFL into action a bit quicker than what they wanted.

        • December 28th 2017 @ 8:42pm
          TWLS said | December 28th 2017 @ 8:42pm | ! Report

          Spot on with that comment.
          The private Girls Schools in Sydney mentioned in the article have only just given the ok to admit Aussie Rules Footy to their programs, after requests from Parents and the Students.
          As a matter of interest those schools have a variety of sports -The football activities cover Touch, Soccer Football, Futsal and now Aussie Rules – Currently neither of the Rugby Codes are present.
          That School network covers 30 Schools Statewide and AFLNSW has said they will eventually start up a Statewide Comp.
          There were about 8 Schools who signed up for the trial last month and at least a few put two teams on the field, which for a non heartland region is extraordinary, which I can speak with some knowledge of that market, having lived there for 8 years a few years ago, in regard to our Code being no 4 in the pecking order for every thing sports related. Its a tough gig up there.
          However translating School teams into Club competitions is not easy, and that is the challenge.
          Regionally in NSW there are Womens teams popping up everywhere and in 2017 there was 79% increase in Female Club members, likely off a low base.