1981 – South Melbourne to Sydney

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 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

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