Birchgrove Oval is reportedly one of the birthplaces of league, and the location where the Balmain Tigers played their first league match against Western Suburbs in 1908 The ground was also used to play Australian football until 1926. It falls within the Leichhardt city council area.
It is presently home to Balmain and District Football Club and the Balmain and District Junior Rugby League.
On June 21st, 2012 it was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald that Rugby league was set to be able to do nothing but watch as Australian football took over Birchgrove Oval.
For its part the article quotes Leichardt Council as saying that “”AFL also has historical links to Birchgrove Park, and played there from 1903 to 1926″. League figures scoffed at the idea with several quoted in the article.
On June 22nd, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the new ARL Commission would not allow a lessening of League to take place at Birchgrove, and the local soccer club – which would have had to move under the Council plan – began to martial its forces, with the club president suspicious of the AFLs playing figures for the area.
On June 26, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that local Counciller Darcy Byrne was apparently marshalling the ARL Commission to form a partnership at the oval to keep it free of the AFL.
”The Green Party Council’s plan would see local kids being booted off Birchgrove Oval to make way for senior AFL players who don’t come from the local area. The Green Council’s continuous refusal to act on the sporting fields crisis would only be made worse by this attempt install the NSW AFL at the expense of local clubs. A partnership with the Commission will respect Birchgrove Oval’s heritage, expand grassroots programs and protect local kids from being kicked out.” – Darcy Byrne
He proposed that the Council defer discussion until an audit of submitted numbers by all codes be commissioned.
The article also states that the AFL was not specifically targetting Birchgrove with NSW/ACT AFL merely wanting some ground usage for a growing sport.
On July 20th, a report was issued to Leichardt council that specifically noted that the AFL had not requested Birchgrove Oval but for the Grover Street Playing Fields.
On July 24th, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the AFL had been caught lying about its participation numbers, originally said to be 1644, but later revised down to 238 when asked for clarification. The revised figure did not include school registered Ausckick numbers. A spokesman for the AFL explained the discrepancy
”Currently there are over 774 registered (536 school and 238 club) participants who reside in the Leichhardt LGA. The 238 players who reside in the Leichhardt LGA are forced to play in clubs outside the area”
On July 25th, 2012 the Sydney Morning Herald announced that Birchgrove Oval will remain an AFL free zone. Leading up to the meeting the AFL had been accused of exaggerating the figures of participants in the area.
”After the revelations about their actual number of local players, the NSW AFL specifically requested not to be allocated to Birchgrove Oval,” Councillor Byrne
The SMH also quoted Tom Harley as saying that the AFL had never asked for the facility in the first place and that it had asked for a non specific area in response to a request from the council for expressions for interest in another area. The AFL understood that it was the Leichardt Council that determined Birchgrove best suited the AFL due to the fact that it was already an Oval.
The curious nature of the SMH covering this with almost no Telegraph coverage had some light shed on it through Crikey which revealed that a senior Fairfax (owners of the SMH) editor, Glenn Burge was heavily involved in the soccer club at hand.
- Jul 25, 2012 – Glen burge trumps Tom Harley – Crikey
- Jul 25, 2012 – AFL drop Birchgrove bid – SMH
- Jul 24, 2012 – AFL accused of exploiting figures – SMH
- Jul 20, 2012 – Leichardt Council Municipal Report – Leichardt Council
- Jun 26, 2012 – ARL Commissioned for AFL Stoush – SMH
- Jun 22, 2012 – ARLC bullish on Birchgrove – SMH
- Jun 21, 2012 – AFL raid on the cradle of League – SMH