A Century of Uniting Cultures Through Football
100 years of deep, rich and unfolding history of a community organisation steeped in, and reflective of, its community cannot be done justice in a few pages. The Hall of Fame, Life Members and Club Profile sections provide details on individuals and clubs that have contributed to, and continue, the proud and significant contribution the CDSFA has made to its local communities and the Inner West of Sydney as well as football/soccer at grassroots, state, national and international levels.
Heralding new beginnings
There is a small article in the Arrow newspaper on Friday 30 December 1921 that announces that the Canterbury District Club had managed to gain agreement of clubs in the area to join under one organisation.
The other clubs that we identified as part of this nascent moment were Canterbury Albions, Canterbury Juveniles, Campsie United and Campsie Thistle. This appears to be the first insight we gain into the local momentum which lead to the formation of the Canterbury and District Junior Soccer Football Association (CDJSFA – referred to herein as CDSFA).
At the time in 1921 there were 37,639 people living in the Canterbury Local Government Area which was the sixth most populated LGA in NSW, excluding First Nations People who at the time were counted as flora and fauna and not people.
The overwhelming majority of people were either born in Australia, the British Isles or British colonies scattered across the globe. The majority of males worked in industrial occupations as did those females who were part of the workforce. Also, there was vibrant football scene which was to be expected as there had been a long tradition of migrants from the United Kingdom establishing football/soccer clubs in the places where they went to work, we just have to think of AC Milan in Italy or Newell’s Old Boys in Argentina.
This vibrancy was not just limited to the men, as demonstrated by the formation of the Sydney Ladies Soccer Association in 1921, the 38th season of organised competitive soccer/football in Sydney.
Football in Sydney and surrounds was organised under the Metropolitan Soccer Football Association (MSFA) with the Metropolitan Junior Soccer Football Association (MJSFA) charged with running the junior competitions. Alongside these were very strong Protestant and School Boys competitions with their own associations.
Already in 1922, there were discussions taking place in the metropolitan area if there should be a move to establishing districts which would have responsibility of managing competition in their local areas.
That year the CDSFA was formally constituted with the aim of starting its own competition in the 1923 season. The St George and Granville Districts were also in place.
The CDSFA boundaries were defined as west of Campsie to Bankstown – which was between the St George and Granville areas. Teams could be included in the CDSFA from between Campsie and Hurlstone Park railway stations, however teams from this area could also choose to affiliate to the MJSFA competition.
It is interesting to note that a number of Campsie and Canterbury teams and Hurlstone Park Wanderers signed up to the CDJSFA from day one – clubs that still adorn the CDSFA competitions.
The CDSFA first season had its home ground at Goodlet Park in Canterbury and saw 13 or 15 teams in the competition spread across 3 grades and included teams such as Bankstown Juniors, Canterbury Park Juniors, Canterbury Rangers, Campsie Albions, Revesby Rovers, Campsie Athletic, Campsie Rechabites, Canterbury Juniors, Lakemba, Punchbowl, and Greenacre Park. Some of these clubs fielded teams in more than one division.
Of course, this was only made possible by the dedication of individuals who were prepared to volunteer their time to both grow football/soccer and give something to their community and the first president of the Club was Mr Nuttall with Mr Spowall as Treasurer.
Their names continue to appear through the formative years of the CDJSFA which is a common trait of the Association – people whose passion and commitment for their community and grassroots football is lifelong.
Another tradition which has continued from the Associations formation has been mayors, local councillors, and local Members of Parliament as patrons – perhaps the only change is that throughout the 20s and 30s records show that the local members of parliament also made cash donations to the CDSFA.
Change and consistency
There were, of course, teething problems and there was a disagreement with the MJSFA and which teams should be part of Canterbury and from the outset the CDJSFA found itself having to seek recourse through the state governing body.
The CDSFA was off and running and went through and steady growth in its first years with 32 teams in the competition by 1925 – a doubling in two years. This growth trajectory continued and so did the inter district and state success of CDSFA representative teams.
Already there were players from clubs within district representing NSW and Australia – another strong tradition continued at the CDSFA is how the clubs have helped nurture young players and at time have been the feeder clubs for the various iterations of State Leagues and NSL.
In 1933, Roy Crowhurst from the Metters club represented Australia. Johnny Warren was scouted by the legendary CDSFA president, Cec Barlow, to come and play for Earlwood Wanderers in 1958 the year after Johnny Watkiss. Not to mention in later years Tim Cahill and Danielle Brogan who were steeped in CDSFA clubs and went on to achieve the highest honours and careers across the globe.
In the formative first 20 years the CDSFA reflected its local communities and identity. There were clubs that were associated with local industries such as Australian Woollen Mills, Chown Brothers and the famous Metters club which in the 1950s became the Canterbury club.
There were also clubs which referred to their origins such as Hibernians and Dulwich Hill Scottish and others that referred to their lifestyle choices, such as the Rechabites as well as teams emanating from the local military barracks such as the 56th Battalion team.
This tradition has been an underlying value of the CDSFA, not only reflecting the communities it serves but together with its constituent clubs, proactively engaging with new and emerging communities to bring them into the local football/soccer family.
This is today reflected in teams such as Russel Lea, a club established, managed and fielding women’s only teams; MRP FC, a club born out of men's mental health charity, Mr Perfect, in 2016; Australia’s first and Sydney’s only gay and inclusive men’s soccer club, Sydney Rangers FC; and Viet Sports FC, a new club established by Sydney’s thriving Vietnamese community.
In the 1933, we saw the rise to the presidency of Cecil Barlow who went on to hold the position basically uncontested until 1963.
His rise to the position had its own intrigue given that he was appointed to the role at the Adjourned AGM of 1933 which followed a couple of weeks after the AGM where H. Spowall had been voted in as president but then stood down for Barlow due to some “issues” regarding the voting process.
Barlow was accompanied in the leadership of the Association initially by legendary administrators such as S. Piaud and then for more than 20 years by J. Payne and the indomitable W. Brackenbury who held the roles of Secretary and Treasurer from 1943 to 1967.
During this period Canterbury and Australia went through seismic social, demographic and economic events and transformations. These transformations for a community association such as the CDSFA had personal impacts and spawned new relationships.
For example, one is struck by the retiring President Mr Nuttall in 1932 making a reference to a young man who played in the CDSFA who had been murdered in Yagoona and his parents had asked if anyone in the CDSFA had a photo of him as they didn't have one.
Or in 1940, when teams registered for the under-20 competition withdrew because the players had gone off to war. And the subsequent motions of condolence for the families who had lost sons, brothers and partners who a few years earlier, were playing the beautiful game.
The post-war migration period brought another opportunity for the CDSFA family to engage newly-arrived immigrants and those who had gone off to war and their families.
There wasn’t a proliferation of club names reflecting their new-Australian players’ origins, with the exception of a few including the Blue Danube Club, Magyar and Hakoah, that joined the CDSFA in the early 1950s. The majority of the football-loving European migrants were to be found in clubs that had suburban names.
In later years, we saw the emergence of clubs with names such as the famous APIA or references to icons such as Eagles, Hercules or other national symbols. We also see a number of RSL-affiliated teams entering the competition which gathered the children and some returned veterans in all age teams.
As was the case in the 1920s, the CDSFA was a mirror into the changing nature of Sydney’s Inner West. Like most of Australia it has taken more time for the senior administration of the CDSFA to reflect the cultural diversity of its community and the inclusion of women however this now well underway.
Another trait which has been notable over the last 100 years, is the relationship with local councils. Besides councillors and mayors being patrons, there has been the ongoing management and coordination of grounds.
Back in the 1920s and throughout the years there had been challenges in terms of access to grounds and associated fees and there are numerous references to renegotiating ground hire rates with councils to reflect the economic realities being confronted by CDSFA and its member clubs.
However, the one truly constant issue has been access to grounds during the seasons and pre-seasons, given the grounds were often shared with other sports such as cricket, rugby league and rugby union.
It was - and often still is - the case that cricket clubs appeared to have access to longer lease periods on grounds where the CDSFA was arranging annual leases.
This issue became even more pressing as the CDSFA and associated clubs started arranging summer competitions such as six-a-side and the expansion of women’s and girl’s teams, youth teams and the burgeoning over-age competitions.
We have to reflect that on a number of occasions in the 1920s, motions were presented and defeated that aimed to introduce age-based competitions to the CDSFA. But by the late 1930s, aged competitions were in place.
It seems a far cry from the current situation where there are numerous divisions in each age group just for example 14 divisions in the men’s All Age competition and four divisions of the girl’s under-14 competition, not to mention the plethora of groupings of age groups under 12 years of age.
The CDSFA has gone from about 1,560 registered players in 1929 to over 17,330 in 2021, a rate of growth which represents about two-and-a-half times the increase in total population reported between 1923 and 2021 by Canterbury Council and Inner West Council respectively.
This disproportionate growth in CDSFA registered players through its clubs is testament to its ongoing commitment to expanding grassroots football and reaching out to be more inclusive of all the elements of the local community. Over this period, to date in the records, we have identified at least 145 different clubs that have been part of the CDSFA and this list will not doubt expand as we work through more of the old archives and newspapers of the day.
The constants have been clubs such as Hurlstone Park Wanderers and Belmore. The emergence and dissolution of clubs, as is the constancy of others, is reflective both of the changing reality within which the CDSFA operates and the capacity to adapt.
Of course, success in running competitions by the CDSFA has been underpinned by the relationships with the referees community. Although they are their own association, the Canterbury Referees Association has been another of the constants in the CDSFA history. Without the referees, the CDSFA could not operate its competitions, nor ensure the integrity of the game on the pitch.
From the outset the CDSFA has enjoyed a close working relationship with referees associations and with direct representation through a CDSFA delegate to the Referees Association and referees representatives regularly attending CDSFA committee meetings.
The CDSFA ensured that the clubs contributed to covering the costs of the referees and also that the clubs adhered to the changing rules of the game and fair play guidelines which were agreed to with the referees association. The supporting of the authority and respect for the referees had been undertaken by the CDSFA through its various iterations of what today is called the Disciplinary Committee.
If there has been any change it is has been more in the social mores of the times. It is interesting to note that offences such as physical altercations in the 1920s and 30s would often be dealt with by reprimands of the player(s) involved, whereas offensive language towards the referees could lead to suspensions.
In the 2020s we see different approaches and sanctions issued by the committee, but the support for ensuring respect for referees has not waned.
The CDSFA would not have been able to prosper as it has without the clubs that join and turn out teams across the range of competitions. As noted from the outset, it was the coming together of a number of clubs that gave birth to the formation of the CDSFA and the clubs that have come, gone and remained over the last 100 years have to a large extent defined the CDSFA.
That said, it is not always a smooth relationship as the CDSFA has had the responsibility of administering the game and implementing the changes determined by the various governing authorities and also ensuring that the clubs conformed with the regulations. While there were public instances of conflict, they were eclipsed by the issues that were eventually resolved, with both clubs and the CDSFA playing a part in strengthening the game.
The history of the CDSFA has a range of instances where it has accommodated and assisted clubs in addressing financial and administrative challenges. This was particularly the case during the years of the Great Depression and the Second World War.
Even in later years there have been instances where clubs have been given assistance and their grievances with the CDSFA dealt with a balance of professionalism and empathy.
The CDSFA had to navigate the changing state and national administrations to ensure that the clubs could continue in the district, inter-district and state competitions.
From the outset, there were the challenges of dealing with the Metropolitan Junior Soccer Football Association. Then the move to the State Commission and the subsequent withdrawal in 1940 due to the difficulty agreeing to competition arrangements, through to the later changes between the State League Associations and various changes of state and national reforms of the game at local, inter district and representative level.
Through all this the CDSFA never appears to have lost sight of ensuring that the game at the local level was its focus and ensuring that the teams and players could continue to enjoy playing.
Over the 100 years many things have been hidden from clear view or, more likely, not championed.
A great example of this was the tireless volunteering and contribution of the CDSFA officials and their supporters. In particular the efforts to ensuring the financial viability of the CDSFA and to provide trophies and medals to recognise the success of teams and individual players.
From the CDSFA’s inception, officials made personal contributions to purchase trophies and raise funds. While in the main in the official documents we see the recurring names of men there were also women, usually their wives, organising the social fund-raising events and catering.
The women, over time, established their own presence and recognition. Since the 1920s the CDSFA has held a regular annual presentation and fund-raising event.
It is impossible to do justice to these individuals and many of them are to be found in the Life Members and Hall of Fame lists and these will continue to grow as the current players and officials keep the strong tradition of service to grassroots football and their communities.
The future looks bright if the traditions of the CDSFA are continued – that is, focussing on giving everyone the opportunity to play the beautiful game no matter their life circumstances and most importantly, contributing to the development of a vibrant, diverse and united local inner western Sydney community.
 According to Mosely book
 According to an article in Sydney Sportsman (Surry Hills, NSW : 1900 - 1954), Tuesday 8 May 1923, page 2