I live in the western suburbs of Sydney and I am a board director of the oldest soccer football association in Australia – the Granville & Districts Soccer Football Association. I have been doing research into the birth of soccer football in Granville, and indeed Australia, dating back to 1882 when nineteen Scottish lads – blacksmiths and iron workers – were contracted to come to Australia as skilled labour to work in a new engineering factory – Hudson Brothers.
Noel has found information in Australia re the name of the agent Hudson Brothers used to find skilled iron workers – a Mr. W. P. Alexander, a Scottish mechanical engineer, who ran a consulting business in London. Evidently he had a connection with the Glasgow and Kilmarnock area in the 1880’s and the story goes that this agent promised Scottish workers a ‘new life’ down under.
The exact date of the main photograph is not yet known but is believed to be in the early 1900’s, and thought to be a reunion of the “old timers” including the Scottish lads of the first teams and the Granville Football Club Committee members from the 1880’s. There have been suggestions about some of the names –John Nobbs, a local MP and soccer enthusiast is centre with folded arms, Fred Barlow local businessman and supporter to his right and Philip Williams businessman and schoolboy football coach/referee to his left. It is believed our long, rich and proud history started with this very first kick, when eighteen year old William Baillie the youngest and liveliest of those nineteen 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 scarce 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.
It is worth noting that there was a real international spirit attached to the first exciting final, however 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 obviously taken from the River Clyde, Glasgow.
These same nineteen 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 Moore Park with many players 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.
The soccer field was located at the southern end (left hand side) but was later built on to accommodate the Battery Factory building.
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 nineteen, 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.
From their internet pages’ website we learn that 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 founded two 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. 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 thirty 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, the nineteen Scots, 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 two hundred and fifty other ladies and gentlemen on a special train that departed Redfern for the purpose of witnessing the ceremony of laying the Foundation Stone, planting commemoration trees and inspecting their new work premises which were rapidly being completed.
It is worth noting William Baillie, who appears twelfth name down, aged seventeen on the Austral passenger list, played fullback in three 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 inter colonial matches against the other state colonies. William Baillie would also captain the NSW team in 1886 and 1887.
Noel Dona, author of this article, is appealing for any evidence in Glasgow or Kilmarnock of a newspaper article or advertisement by an agent advertising for iron workers to come out to Australia. He wonders if any of the Family History Society recalls seeing such an advert or has any suggestions as to how he can further his search? If you can help, please contact Noel at firstname.lastname@example.org
Since this article appeared in ‘Gallus’, there has been a surprise development – the discovery of Australia’s oldest known soccer football trophy in existence – the little known Atkinson Price Challenge Cup from 1887. Read the story of this beautiful and very old piece of silverware here.