Sunday, April 5, 2009

From Buccaneers to Bulldogs - more than a century of football at Pambula...

After more than a century of play, and many changes and developments, football in Pambula is still going strong.

The game, in its many guises had, of course, been around for hundreds of years before this. Many ancient civilisations including the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans had indulged in similar games. The modern game of Rugby originated in England in 1823 when at a soccer match at Rugby School a player, bored with the progress, picked up the ball and ran with it. From this resulted Rugby Union. Rugby League was actually the outcome of the money question, and began in England's industrial north in the early 1890s.

Pambula's football beginnings lay in a small item in the Pambula Voice on July 17, 1896. It reported "Several local football enthusiasts are anxious to see a club formed in Pambula and desire us to request all those who would be willing to join a local football club to kindly hand their names to Mr C. W. H. Coulter on or before Wednesday next. Should sufficient encouragement be forthcoming, a meeting will then be called at once to arrange preliminaries, so that the Club can get to work with as little delay as possible."

Obviously sufficient encouragement was forthcoming because just a week later a meeting was called for July 25, 1896. Held in the local School of Arts, local solicitor Mr Hungerford took the chair and the meeting unanimously decided to start a club under Rugby rules. With membership at 2 shillings, 6 pence annually, most of those present joined immediately. The first committee included Mr C. A. Baddeley (President), Dr Stoney and Mr J. H. Martin (Vice Presidents), Mr C. W. H. Coulter (secretary and treasurer) and Messrs Hungerford, Coulter, P. Wood, J. Behl, H. Dowling and Ashby.

The secretary was instructed to obtain timber for goal posts, and one or two footballs as well as ascertain the colours used by other clubs in the district so Pambula could choose something different. The first club practice took place on the Pambula Recreation Reserve (the old race course site) on Saturday 1 August at 2 p.m. and the club adopted the colours of navy blue and white.

The only other football clubs in the area then were Bega, Bombala, Candelo and Yowaka. Formed just a week before the Pambula club, it was against Yowaka that Pambula played their first official match on September 15, 1896. With Mr R. Ashworth as umpire and about 200 spectators present, the home team defeated Yowaka 11 points to nil. The return match played on September 19, 1896 again resulted in a win for Pambula, although this time with the closer margin of three points to nil.

The formation of the club was not popular with the entire township, as the following, rather over-the-top article by "Telescope" in the Pambula Voice, September 11, 1896, shows: "The football fever seems to have been sprung upon us in a severe form at the eleventh hour of the season. In some respects this is very fortunate. The number of deaths and other calamities is not likely to be so large as it might otherwise have been; though possibly the players, not having sufficient time left this season to mutilate one another beyond recognition, will make a very early start next year, and thus atone for the opportunity lost this time. Football is said to afford splendid chances for disposing of old feuds and the cultivation of friendships. New chums at the game can't understand the necessity for so much hugging and other tokens of affection; it might be right enough where ladies play, but it quite unnerves an amateur to see half-a-dozen or more men all eagerly endeavouring to embrace him simultaneously. I am told the Pambula club has been very particular in the choice of its officers, having a demagogue for its umpire, a solicitor as its captain, a doctor and a magistrate as vice presidents, and to appropriately crown all - a coroner for its president! Surely it must be an oversight that precluded the election of an undertaker as secretary and a monumental mason as treasurer."

Because of the distance between official teams, scratch matches were not uncommon in the early days. These included games between Pambula and South Pambula, Pambula first and second fifteen's, married versus single matches, and between teams raised by players from within the Pambula club.

Pambula Football Club, 1899.
It is interesting to note the conditions some of these games were played under. The Pambula Voice reported in September 1896 "...Stafford invariably played well on to the ball until he lost a boot in the mud..." With the Bega football field located on a hillside, games were an interesting prospect, as a report of a match in July 1898 shows: "...the home team thus securing a decided advantage, having a fair wind at their back and down hill play." Even the footballs themselves were the cause of problems as in a match in 1915 between a combined team of Pipeclay Creek, Greigs Flat and Nethercote against Pambula. The combined team were leading 7 to 0, but a draw was declared due to the football bursting part way through the game!

Although matches now often take place on Sundays, this was not the case earlier in the game's history. In fact, Sunday being the day of rest, it was unacceptable to play football or any other such organised sport on this day. This became an issue in 1903, when the Pambula Voice stated "Complaints have been made about football being played on the Recreation Reserve on Sundays. We understand the Trustees a few years ago gave instructions to the Secretary of the club to put a stop to the practice. This was done but of late the play has again been resumed. We are informed that the Trustees have again given instructions that playing on Sunday must cease in future and if this notice is disregarded the police will be called on to stop it."

Initially, matches were carried on in a fairly disorganised manner, with various clubs arranging their own games. The first organised competition was born in May 1904 when delegates from Bega, Bemboka, Candelo and Numbugga clubs met to establish the Candelo Football Union. Later that month at a meeting of the Pambula club it was decided that they too would make application to affiliate with the Candelo Union. In June 1904 they were admitted and matches were then arranged on a more regular basis.

The first Union match for the local team was played at Pambula, against Numbugga, at which Pambula won 9 points to 6. To overcome the cost of travelling away for games, a small admission fee began to be charged for all local matches.

In the early years, self arranged challenge cup competition matches formed the greatest portion of matches, these including the President's Cup, Rosenthall Shield, Pilsner Cup, Crimmins Cup, Tooth's KB Lager Cup, Fraser Cup, KB Dan Grant Cup, Maslin Shield, Torpey Gold Cup, Trick Grant Cup, Watford Cup and the Cathcart Cup. Each of these were provided by local businesses to their home team and other teams then challenged them for the prestige of taking them home.

Pambula Football Club, C. 1920s.
The provision of an accident fund for Pambula players was first raised at the annual meeting in March 1907, when it was unanimously decided to establish a fund. On April 5, 1907, the Pambula Voice stated "The question of an accident fund came up for discussion at the meeting of the club on Wednesday night last week. It has been a matter of wonder that such a project has not long ago been put forward by members of the South Coast Football Clubs, such a fund being of great importance to the indigent player who has had the bad luck to have his arm or leg broken, his ankle sprained, a dislocation of the shoulder, or any hurt that may temporarily disable him or prevent him earning his daily bread. It has often been the case that a young fellow would partake in the manly game of football if he knew where the necessary funds were coming from to pay the doctors expenses etc. if he were unfortunate enough (as is often the case) to sustain a severe injury, and it must be admitted that footballers are not usually moneyed men... It was unanimously decided that such a fund would be an acquisition to the club and we hope that those of the public who enjoy witnessing the game will respond by doing their best for the footballer who is unfortunate enough to need the assistance of the fund."

It was just two months later that the fund was required, when a player was hurt during a match, and the Pambula club decided to establish a subscription list to assist him until he was able to go back to work.

Pambula continued playing with the Candelo Union until 1908, when the Southern Union was officially formed. This had been first proposed in March 1907, when, at the club's annual meeting a letter was tabled from Mr C. J. Brown, honorary secretary of the Eden Football Club, asking Pambula to co-operate with Eden, Burragate, Towamba and Wyndham in forming a southern football union. Although it was moved that Pambula co-operate with the other teams in forming this union, after considerable discussion it was eventually unanimously decided that Pambula remain with the Candelo Rugby Football Union. However, in March the following year at meeting of Pambula, Pipeclay Creek and Merimbula footballers, it was decided to establish a Southern Union with members from the three teams present, and Eden and Wyndham, to come under the ruling of the NSW Rugby Union. Two delegates from each of the three clubs present were appointed, and Mr Bert Berry, elected secretary, was instructed to write and ask the other clubs concerned to each send two representatives to a meeting on April 4, 1908, to draw up fixtures and complete final arrangements for the union.

At this second meeting, held at Pambula's Club Hotel, it was definitely decided to form the Southern Border Football Union, with boundaries extending from the Candelo Union's southern boundary to the Victorian border. The Pambula club seceded from the Candelo Union as a result, and so became the headquarters for the new union. It was stated at the meeting that "The new body intend standing loyally by the mother union in the present fight against professionalism."

In late April a letter was received from the secretary of the Rugby Football Union, requesting that the new Southern Border Football Union become a sub-branch of the Candelo Union.

Pambula Football Club, believed to be C. 1930s.

The war years of 1914 - 1918 and 1939 - 1945 had a real impact on local football. In 1915, the Lochiel football club folded up due to lack of players, and in April that year, the club decided to sell their guernseys and hose, the proceeds being handed over to the Lochiel Hall. At this time, the Pambula club also began to charge an admission to the games in order to raise funds for various patriotic war funds. During these years, scratch matches seem to have become more common, as the availability of players were reduced, and organised teams were less numerous. Official teams did exist though, including Pambula, Merimbula, Nethercote, Burragate, Rocky Hall, Wyndham and Eden. The second world war proved more difficult for the Pambula club, with the Pambula Voice reporting on June 13, 1940 "Owing to the loss of seven players, the Pambula club has definitely withdrawn from the district competition. The club had difficulty fielding a team in the first place and now that five players have enlisted, one has left the district and another is suffering from a face injury received in a recent match, it is impossible to carry on."

Initially, local football clubs followed the Rugby Union code, but around the mid - 1920s, there began a gradual change over to League, although for a few years, the two codes carried along together, players participating in both. Then, on 20 July, 1925, delegates of local clubs playing league met to form a body to govern the game, those present including Walter Godfrey (Pambula), George Kelly and H. Dowling (Bega Federals), Clare Abbott (Bega Waratahs), Mr Tarrant (Wyndham), F. Collins (Candelo) and Mr Phillips (Eden). The role and responsibility of this committee was to become, in later years, the same as the Group 16 Rugby Football League committee. The Group 16 Rugby Football League itself was established in the early 1930s.

In 1933, there was a redistribution of territory and the Group 16 Rugby League Football control appointed Pambula as headquarters of a new sub-branch group embracing Merimbula, Pambula, Wyndham, Rocky Hall, Towamba, Eden and Nullica. At this point there were five sub-groups within the Group. The inaugural sub-group meeting was held at Pambula on 4 April, 1933 and the following officials were elected: Patron, Dr Wing; President Mr W. C. Godfrey, Vice Presidents Messrs G. Tisdale and N. Robinson; Secretary Mr W. Alcock; treasurer Mr D. Cole, and two delegates from each of the clubs represented to complete the organisation.

After the formation of Group 16, the competition was divided into two zones, the northern far South Coast League and the southern Imlay League, the latter being made up of teams from Pambula, Merimbula, Eden, Tathra, Candelo, Wolumla and Bemboka. After each zone had played four team play-offs, the two zone winning sides then met to play for the group 16 Grand Final. After 1958, these two zones were combined, and the competition rounds became similar to those played today.

Believed to be the Pambula Football Club, C. 1950s / 60s.

In 1937 Pambula fielded two teams in the district competition, one being the usual Buccaneers team and the second known as the "Old Boys" team. The Old Boys started out in June 1936, when Pambula policeman Constable Bottrell, got together a team, captained by him, for a knock-out competition. In May 1937, this group met in Sid Ford's shoe shop and unanimously decided to form the "Old Boys" Football Club, made up mainly of married men whose names had been synonymous with the game a few seasons before. Despite the fact that these players were regarded as too old, they actually went on to win the premiership that year, defeating Wyndham Oaks 7 to 0.

For many years Pambula and Merimbula had separate teams in the local competition. As far as can be ascertained, Merimbula's football team was first established in 1900, they certainly having one by September that year. Their uniform by 1908 was all black with a white schnapper on the breast and by 1923, they were known as the Merimbula Swans.

Well before the Pambula and Merimbula clubs permanently combined, they united whenever they could not raise a team alone. In the 1927 season, the two clubs amalgamated and went on to win the Far South Coast Rugby League competition. They also won a knock-out competition played between four teams on the King's birthday. Their reserve grade team was defeated by Wolumla in the semi-finals. In 1928, although the two teams were again separate, Pambula football club gained a number of players from Wyndham after their club was disbanded. Actually, the Pambula club narrowly avoided being disbanded that year too, after players failed to show up for a match against Quaama.

Again in 1929 the Pambula and Merimbula clubs combined and were able to raise first and reserve grade teams that year. The name of the Pambula Buccaneers was retained, and a number of Eden footballers also offered their services. The Pambula Voice stated "...judging by the tone of the meeting, the Buccaneers will not go far from winning the competition." The Pambula and Merimbula clubs decided to continue this arrangement again in 1930, although they were apparently unable to raise a first grade team, having only a reserve grade team in the competition.

Believed to be the Pambula football team, C. 1950s / 60s?

By 1931, the two teams were again operating separately and it appears that they remained this way until about the late 1970s or early 1980s, when the two teams combined again through inability to individually raise teams. This time though, the combination was to remain permanent, and even today the club goes under the name of Merimbula - Pambula.

With regards to local football, Pambula's arch rival, Eden, had established their club by 1901, but despite the fierce competition between the two clubs it was to Pambula that Eden players turned when they were unable to establish a team, and so to was it towards Eden that Pambula players went when they were unable to get a team together. For two years from 1948, Eden's home ground was at Pambula. When Eden won the 1959 premiership, eight of the players came from Pambula - Merimbula, these being the four Radford brothers, Ray, Gordon, Alan and Ron, John Clayton, Cecil Carter, Keith Gordon, and Barry Collins. Again in 1963, Pambula players Keith Gordon, Bruce Carter, Cecil Carter and John Carter all formed part of the Eden premiership side, and during this match, the Carter brothers actually scored all of Eden's points, Cecil and Bruce scoring a try each, and John kicking four goals.

At one stage, around the late 1950s the Pambula club became known as Wolumla, as a result of an inability to raise a team on their own. The home ground remained in Pambula though.

It was not until about 1980 that Merimbula - Pambula actually became known as the Bulldogs, under the blue and white colours. Gordon Radford, long a stalwart of the Pambula football club, and involved in just about every facet of the organisation including playing, refereeing, coaching and management, recalls that prior to that the club played under the red and green colours of South Sydney. The year they changed to the Bulldogs blue and white, the team won the grand final, and have remained under those colours and that name ever since.


Over the years, both Pambula and Merimbula first grade teams have won numerous premiership, including those in 1936 (Pambula), 1937 (Pambula Old Boys), 1938 (Merimbula), 1939 (Merimbula), 1968 (Pambula) and 1980 (Merimbula - Pambula).

© Angela George.

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