Article Thirty Years On - The Tale of the Swans Relocation

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The_Wookie

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This year will be the 30th anniversary of the Swans meltdown at Lake Oval. For those too young to remember, and the ignorant. Heres how it went down:

Founded in 1874, the Bloods would go on to win 5 premierships in the VFA and 3 VFL premierships before the events of the early 80s bundled the team off to Sydney.


South Melbournes troubles essentially began after the second world war, where they were rarely successful, and eventually became something of a financial lost cause. Successive administrations struggled to keep the books balanced throughout the 1960s and 1970s, and shrinking crowds and awful membership figures brought the club to its knees.

At the end of the 1970s South were effectively broke, and in considerable turmoil both on and off the field when the VFL almost forcibly made the foundation club move to Sydney.
The VFL had been promoting the game in Sydney since 1979 with the odd game played at the SCG well in advance of the later move by the Swans to Sydney in 1981. Around this time, its known that Fitzroy were looking at a move to Sydney, but were saved by a fundraising campaign in 1980.

In 1981, news broke that South Melbourne were considering a partial move to Sydney for 11 games a season. South proposed that they would play all their home games in Sydney, and all their away games at VFL Park. South further proposed that all matches would be night matches and effectively gave South Melbourne 22 home matches. The Sydney move was put forward as a means to preserve the clubs identity. A letter was reportedly sent to all members advising of the benefits of the move, including increased sponsorship and exposure. The members were advised that failure to approve the deal meant possible liquidation. At this stage media reports that the players and staff were unanimously behind the move.

When told of the proposals, VFL presidents were supportive of the move to Sydney, but not overly receptive to losing a home game a season to play at VFL Park, while no one wanted to play under lights for premiership points at that time in the leagues history.

South Melbournes financial troubles at this time were reported at a loss of $180,000 in 1980, but it was believed that by moving home games to Sydney could turn that around to a $90,000 profit by 1982. Jack Marks, South Melbourne president was quoted as saying that South had been losing $150,000 a year since 1975, and the VFL was understood to have frozen Souths share of the ground improvement fund.

The above notwithstanding, a Keep South at South group was formed on July 5th with the express intention of opposing the move. Calls for the board to resign and for the VFL to reject the proposals were apparently for naught when the VFL approved the shifting of 11 home games to Sydney at the end of July.

Through August the Keep South at South group took the Board to court to prevent the move, eventually getting the signatures needed to force the general meeting held on September 22. Media reports at the time apparently suggest that several hundred people purchased memberships in an attempt to influence the meeting - what made this more interesting is that they were all based in Sydney. At this time a number of companies purchased a large number of memberships including a brewery, Visy packaging, a catering company and New System Fasteners (owned by Reg Myers, also president of the committee for the advancing of Australian Rules in Sydney). Keep South at South were faced with considerable opposition, they took legal action to prevent the more than 700 new applicants (bear in mind the total South membership was just over 1000 at the time) from joining, but this ultimately failed.

The General Meeting on the 22nd of September ended with 80% of the vote being in favour of Keep South at South in spite of the wishes of the Board and the VFL. This would have consequences that the Keep South group probably did not take into account. Just two days later, the club was in crisis with the players at odds with the new board. On September 29th, the Players attended a meeting with the Keep South board before walking out and not returning, however by October 2nd the players and board were reportedly in negotiation with the KSAS committee convinced there would be a peace deal. By October 6 however the players werent going to training, evidently so as not to be seen supporting the board.

The situation worsened on October 14 when the VFL refused to back down from its earlier vote, compelling South to play in Sydney in 1982. The decision sadly disappointed the KSAS board, while the players were quite happy with it. The board refused to back down, and by November 7th much of the playing list was on strike with players owed money and several terminating contracts with the club.

Desperate to sort out its financial problems, the South board appealed to the VFL for relief and requested $400,000 to be loaned from the ground improvement fund. The VFL agreed on November 18th, making South the first club to be bailed out by the league. One of the conditions of the loan was that the club had to commit to Sydney for the following two years.
On December 9th, it was reported that meetings took place where the VFL presidents favoured the league taking over the running of South. VFL chiefs attended a meeting with KSAS and the players on December 9th to no avail. Players walked out of a meeting with the board on December 10 when the board refused to resign. The next day the Board resigned, and Bill Collins was appointed president. The crisis began to settle and was soon report as being relatively smooth sailing.

The brief calm was shattered when John Rantall was appointed coach for 1982, prompting the immediate resignation of 4 members of the board. By December 23 however, Rantall had stepped down in favour of Quade and peace began to descend again. Club sources indicated that had he not so, the VFL competition may well have consisted of 11 teams in 1982.
In 1982, South moved their home matches to Sydney while the players continued to live in Melbourne. By 1983 however, the club name had changed to Sydney Swans and operations had moved to the Harbour City entirely.

It should be said that the 1970's were characterised by militant sportsmen, players began to demand better wages as the game began to take more and more of their time, and everyone had their eye on Packer and World Series Cricket and the benfits cricketers received as a result. Without this militancy theres little doubt that the South situation would have been as volatile.

Timeline
  • 1945 - Last South Melbourne Grand Final v Carlton "The Bloodbath"
  • 1980 - South Melbourne reports 5th consecutive 150,000 dollar loss
  • 1981 - South Melbourne requests moving home games to Sydney
  • 1981 - Last games at Lakeside Oval
  • 1982 - South Melbourne plays 11 home games in Sydney
  • 1983 - South Melbourne becomes Sydney Swans
1981 Saga Timeline
  • Jul 1, 1981 - South asks the VFL to fixture all home games in SYdney and all away games at VFL Park under lights
  • Jul 2, 1981 - newspapers break the story of the proposed move
  • Jul 5, 1981 - The Keep South at South group meets at Lakeside Oval
  • Jul 29, 1981 - VFL approves moving 11 home games to Sydney in 1982
  • Sep 10, 1981 - Media reports 720 new membership applications, mainly Sydney based corporates
  • Sep 22, 1981 - Extraordinary meeting of South Melbourne members, KSAS committee wins 80% of vote
  • Sep 24, 1981 - first reports of rift between players and the board
  • Sep 28, 1981 - South Melbourne players walk out of a meeting with KSAS committee
  • Oct 2, 1981 - South players and board in talks
  • Oct 6, 1981 - Players refuse to go to training
  • Oct 14, 1981 - The VFL refuses to rescind the decision to play South in Sydney in 1982
  • Oct 16, 1981 - Players reaffirm commitment to play in Sydney
  • Nov 7, 1981 - 17 players on strike
  • Nov 18, 1981 - The VFL agrees to loan South $400,000 from the Ground Improvement Fund
  • Dec 3, 1981 - Barry Round quits South Melbourne
  • Dec 9, 1981 - VFL presidents indicate support for the VFL to take over South
  • Dec 10, 1981 - Players walk out of meeting when the board refuses to resign
  • Dec 11, 1981 - South Board resigns, Bill Collins appointed president
  • Dec 21, 1981 - John Rantall appointed coach, 4 board members resign
  • Dec 23, 1981 - Rantall Quits, Quade appointed coach
References:
This was written by me for http://footybusinness.wordpress.com
 

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This year will be the 30th anniversary of the Swans meltdown at Lake Oval. For those too young to remember, and the ignorant. Heres how it went down:

Founded in 1874, the Bloods would go on to win 5 premierships in the VFA and 3 VFL premierships before the events of the early 80s bundled the team off to Sydney.


South Melbournes troubles essentially began after the second world war, where they were rarely successful, and eventually became something of a financial lost cause. Successive administrations struggled to keep the books balanced throughout the 1960s and 1970s, and shrinking crowds and awful membership figures brought the club to its knees.

At the end of the 1970s South were effectively broke, and in considerable turmoil both on and off the field when the VFL almost forcibly made the foundation club move to Sydney.
The VFL had been promoting the game in Sydney since 1979 with the odd game played at the SCG well in advance of the later move by the Swans to Sydney in 1981. Around this time, its known that Fitzroy were looking at a move to Sydney, but were saved by a fundraising campaign in 1980.

In 1981, news broke that South Melbourne were considering a partial move to Sydney for 11 games a season. South proposed that they would play all their home games in Sydney, and all their away games at VFL Park. South further proposed that all matches would be night matches and effectively gave South Melbourne 22 home matches. The Sydney move was put forward as a means to preserve the clubs identity. A letter was reportedly sent to all members advising of the benefits of the move, including increased sponsorship and exposure. The members were advised that failure to approve the deal meant possible liquidation. At this stage media reports that the players and staff were unanimously behind the move.

When told of the proposals, VFL presidents were supportive of the move to Sydney, but not overly receptive to losing a home game a season to play at VFL Park, while no one wanted to play under lights for premiership points at that time in the leagues history.

South Melbournes financial troubles at this time were reported at a loss of $180,000 in 1980, but it was believed that by moving home games to Sydney could turn that around to a $90,000 profit by 1982. Jack Marks, South Melbourne president was quoted as saying that South had been losing $150,000 a year since 1975, and the VFL was understood to have frozen Souths share of the ground improvement fund.

The above notwithstanding, a Keep South at South group was formed on July 5th with the express intention of opposing the move. Calls for the board to resign and for the VFL to reject the proposals were apparently for naught when the VFL approved the shifting of 11 home games to Sydney at the end of July.

Through August the Keep South at South group took the Board to court to prevent the move, eventually getting the signatures needed to force the general meeting held on September 22. Media reports at the time apparently suggest that several hundred people purchased memberships in an attempt to influence the meeting - what made this more interesting is that they were all based in Sydney. At this time a number of companies purchased a large number of memberships including a brewery, Visy packaging, a catering company and New System Fasteners (owned by Reg Myers, also president of the committee for the advancing of Australian Rules in Sydney). Keep South at South were faced with considerable opposition, they took legal action to prevent the more than 700 new applicants (bear in mind the total South membership was just over 1000 at the time) from joining, but this ultimately failed.

The General Meeting on the 22nd of September ended with 80% of the vote being in favour of Keep South at South in spite of the wishes of the Board and the VFL. This would have consequences that the Keep South group probably did not take into account. Just two days later, the club was in crisis with the players at odds with the new board. On September 29th, the Players attended a meeting with the Keep South board before walking out and not returning, however by October 2nd the players and board were reportedly in negotiation with the KSAS committee convinced there would be a peace deal. By October 6 however the players werent going to training, evidently so as not to be seen supporting the board.

The situation worsened on October 14 when the VFL refused to back down from its earlier vote, compelling South to play in Sydney in 1982. The decision sadly disappointed the KSAS board, while the players were quite happy with it. The board refused to back down, and by November 7th much of the playing list was on strike with players owed money and several terminating contracts with the club.

Desperate to sort out its financial problems, the South board appealed to the VFL for relief and requested $400,000 to be loaned from the ground improvement fund. The VFL agreed on November 18th, making South the first club to be bailed out by the league. One of the conditions of the loan was that the club had to commit to Sydney for the following two years.
On December 9th, it was reported that meetings took place where the VFL presidents favoured the league taking over the running of South. VFL chiefs attended a meeting with KSAS and the players on December 9th to no avail. Players walked out of a meeting with the board on December 10 when the board refused to resign. The next day the Board resigned, and Bill Collins was appointed president. The crisis began to settle and was soon report as being relatively smooth sailing.

The brief calm was shattered when John Rantall was appointed coach for 1982, prompting the immediate resignation of 4 members of the board. By December 23 however, Rantall had stepped down in favour of Quade and peace began to descend again. Club sources indicated that had he not so, the VFL competition may well have consisted of 11 teams in 1982.
In 1982, South moved their home matches to Sydney while the players continued to live in Melbourne. By 1983 however, the club name had changed to Sydney Swans and operations had moved to the Harbour City entirely.

It should be said that the 1970's were characterised by militant sportsmen, players began to demand better wages as the game began to take more and more of their time, and everyone had their eye on Packer and World Series Cricket and the benfits cricketers received as a result. Without this militancy theres little doubt that the South situation would have been as volatile.

Timeline
  • 1945 - Last South Melbourne Grand Final v Carlton "The Bloodbath"
  • 1980 - South Melbourne reports 5th consecutive 150,000 dollar loss
  • 1981 - South Melbourne requests moving home games to Sydney
  • 1981 - Last games at Lakeside Oval
  • 1982 - South Melbourne plays 11 home games in Sydney
  • 1983 - South Melbourne becomes Sydney Swans
1981 Saga Timeline

  • Jul 1, 1981 - South asks the VFL to fixture all home games in SYdney and all away games at VFL Park under lights
  • Jul 2, 1981 - newspapers break the story of the proposed move
  • Jul 5, 1981 - The Keep South at South group meets at Lakeside Oval
  • Jul 29, 1981 - VFL approves moving 11 home games to Sydney in 1982
  • Sep 10, 1981 - Media reports 720 new membership applications, mainly Sydney based corporates
  • Sep 22, 1981 - Extraordinary meeting of South Melbourne members, KSAS committee wins 80% of vote
  • Sep 24, 1981 - first reports of rift between players and the board
  • Sep 28, 1981 - South Melbourne players walk out of a meeting with KSAS committee
  • Oct 2, 1981 - South players and board in talks
  • Oct 6, 1981 - Players refuse to go to training
  • Oct 14, 1981 - The VFL refuses to rescind the decision to play South in Sydney in 1982
  • Oct 16, 1981 - Players reaffirm commitment to play in Sydney
  • Nov 7, 1981 - 17 players on strike
  • Nov 18, 1981 - The VFL agrees to loan South $400,000 from the Ground Improvement Fund
  • Dec 3, 1981 - Barry Round quits South Melbourne
  • Dec 9, 1981 - VFL presidents indicate support for the VFL to take over South
  • Dec 10, 1981 - Players walk out of meeting when the board refuses to resign
  • Dec 11, 1981 - South Board resigns, Bill Collins appointed president
  • Dec 21, 1981 - John Rantall appointed coach, 4 board members resign
  • Dec 23, 1981 - Rantall Quits, Quade appointed coach
References:

This was written by me for http://footybusinness.wordpress.com

in a way it is unfortunate that the first Sydney team was a relocation from melbourne. Only perpetuates the myth that football is a Victorian only sport.
 

The_Reaper

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My old man was born in South Melbourne and was a big swans supporter. The relocation and himself moving to Perth really killed off any interest he had in the league.
 

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Kwality

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2005 Grand Final, my Eagles lost but the absolute joy of the Swans fans around me will stay with me forever ... made so much easier by the karma of 2006, the photo of Leo Barry, you cant win them all!
 

Todman

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I like the story of how Bill Collins had arranged for a $500,000 loan from the bank and sent the officeboy to collect it on his motorcycle. On the way back to the club the cheque was lost, so they had to cancel that cheque and get the bank to issue another one.
 

sverik25

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My Mum was a South supporter but she stopped following them when they moved to Sydney. It's a shame that the competition couldn't support them any more. The same with Fitzroy... I wonder if a merger between South and some other club might have been possible?
 

Supermercado

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Noticed in a 1985 article about the Edelsten takeover (and subsequent debacles) that even that year there were still eight players who would train during the week at the Lake Oval instead of moving to Sydney. Apparently on the night in question there was one person watching training.
 

giggler99

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What happen to South back in the late 40's that subsequently made them so poor for the next 30 years that they had to move or die?
 

Silent Alarm

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I like how this write-up, from a Blues fan, failed to mention their proposed 'merger' with South Melbourne. Wasn't it that the club would continue to play at Optus Oval, be called the Carlton Blues, but play 11 'away' games up at the SCG and have an SMFC monogram on their shorts as the signal of the combined entity?
 

The_Wookie

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I like how this write-up, from a Blues fan, failed to mention their proposed 'merger' with South Melbourne. Wasn't it that the club would continue to play at Optus Oval, be called the Carlton Blues, but play 11 'away' games up at the SCG and have an SMFC monogram on their shorts as the signal of the combined entity?
Do you have a reference for this? This article specifically was written to cover the events immediately leading up to the relocation, with only the briefest look at surrounding events. that said, I couldnt find a reference for any such merger proposal after a quick look through the internet.
 

Sydney Bloods

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very good write up Wookie, it doesn't dwell much on the surrounding event's but given a lot of the saga was not covered in the newspapers it is understandable.
 

Bunk Moreland

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I like how this write-up, from a Blues fan, failed to mention their proposed 'merger' with South Melbourne. Wasn't it that the club would continue to play at Optus Oval, be called the Carlton Blues, but play 11 'away' games up at the SCG and have an SMFC monogram on their shorts as the signal of the combined entity?
Haha, I remember when Gold Coast was being floated, Eddie graciously offered Collingwood to play 6 games (away games of course) at Carrara to fill the gap when North decided not to move.

11 home games at the G, 5 away games at the G, 6 away games on the GC. Yeah thanks Eddie
 

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Doss

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Do you have a reference for this? This article specifically was written to cover the events immediately leading up to the relocation, with only the briefest look at surrounding events. that said, I couldnt find a reference for any such merger proposal after a quick look through the internet.
My mother is a South/Swans fan and has a book by Jim Main about the history of the Swans. Can't remember the name of it, it was written in late 1996 or early 1997.

It definitely mentioned a proposal that Carlton supposedly put forward in October 1992- a proposal to that effect. Sydney were in dire financial trouble at the time. Away games to be at the SCG from 1993, Sydney effectively to be killed off and home games to be kept predominantly at Princes Park (with a few at MCG and Waverley still, obviously). Was, from memory, the brainchild of Elliot.

I believe it was Collingwood that objected most strongly to it at the AFL commission meeting on the matter. Then Essendon's delegate at that meeting, once Elliot's proposal proposal was rejected, proposed that Sydney's licence fee cost (which was what was landing them in financial hot water) be redistributed among the other clubs, if Sydney would agree to an AFL administrator being sent there to run the club.

More or less. I think. That's just off the top of my head so some details could be incorrect.
 

Heardy_101

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What happen to South back in the late 40's that subsequently made them so poor for the next 30 years that they had to move or die?
I may be wrong here, but from other stories I have heard, like Fitzroy there were in the wrong area or wrong part of town to use that analogy. Probably a dilution of talent at the time, but that doesn't explain their financial situation either.
 

The_Wookie

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My mother is a South/Swans fan and has a book by Jim Main about the history of the Swans. Can't remember the name of it, it was written in late 1996 or early 1997.

It definitely mentioned a proposal that Carlton supposedly put forward in October 1992- a proposal to that effect. Sydney were in dire financial trouble at the time. Away games to be at the SCG from 1993, Sydney effectively to be killed off and home games to be kept predominantly at Princes Park (with a few at MCG and Waverley still, obviously). Was, from memory, the brainchild of Elliot.

I believe it was Collingwood that objected most strongly to it at the AFL commission meeting on the matter. Then Essendon's delegate at that meeting, once Elliot's proposal proposal was rejected, proposed that Sydney's licence fee cost (which was what was landing theruem in financial hot water) be redistributed among the other clubs, if Sydney would agree to an AFL administrator being sent there to run the club.

More or less. I think. That's just off the top of my head so some details could be incorrect.
Thata may all be true, but my point remains that its not relevant to the events of the relocation in 1981
 

JA27

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for those to young to remember, or ignorant, of carlton's many merger/takeover attempts they may like to read garry linnell's "football ltd: the inside story of the afl".

great write up on the late south early sydney years.
 

pazza

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South's start of the fall from grace was the fighting it had with Footscray over the Western Suburbs zone it originally had. Theoretically, had the zone been retained and/or better used, Whitten would have been a Swan alongside Skilton and his Whitten's great mate Bill Faul. It got Fred Goldsmith from Spotswood as an example.

Lakeside Oval was always too small. As soon as 16000 were in the ground it was a sellout. It probably didn't tap into the local business community successfully either.
 

Wallaby

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Was it really as early as 1983 that they started officially using the Sydney name? I thought they remained South for about 3 seasons after moving.
 

The King!

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Enjoyable to read anything on the clubs history. Being born in 83 i missed all of this going down so rely on resources such as this and a few books, they tend to skew towards the authors side at times. When i talk to older swans fans its more that the vfl held ground money every club got and would of saved us but i think thats more a ksas conspiracy myself.

There were some pretty silly decisions made by the club prior on and off the field, it seems to have been poorly run, im just glad it still exists.
 

The King!

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Did I read that sunday footy was discouraged by VFL at the time, and it was handy that sydney swans could play sundays and be televised live back into victoria.

tV again

Wasnt the vfa on a sunday and starting to rise and they werent allowed to go head to head but this gave them a way ? In the mid 80s at least, happy to be corrected
 

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