1896: Organised Football Arrives in Western Australia

“An enthusiastic meeting of gentlemen devoted to the British Association game of football was held at the United Service Hotel last evening” proclaimed the ‘Western Mail’ newspaper of the mid-1896 gathering that heralded the start of organised football in Perth.

Across the opening weeks of May brothers Frederick and Archibald Burt – ancestors of Hall of Fame Patron Julian Burt – wrote a series of letters to the ‘the West Australian’ newspaper calling for the formation of association football clubs in the colony.

“It is a great annoyance when an Englishman comes to Perth or vice versa to have to learn new rules in order to get a game of football” read the first of these letters, scribed by ‘An Old Reptonian’ (aka Frederick Burt) and published on 4th May.

The groundswell of support the Burt’s letters garnered was too great for Arthur Hardwick to ignore. And on the evening of Wednesday 13th May, 1896, Hardwick convened a meeting at the United Service Hotel, a popular ‘sporting hostelry’ in St George’s Terrace.

United Service Hotel
Western Australia’s first football Association was formed at the United Service Hotel in central Perth.

With some forty individuals all eager to establish and play the game in attendance, Harry Brown was voted to chair the meeting with Edward Pope agreeing to act as secretary.

A proposal was put forward by L.T. Bruce for “a British Football Association be formed”. Seconded by J.T. Stanton, this was carried with overwhelming popularity.

Mr Bryan then proposed “That a club be formed forthwith, to be called the Perth English Association Football Club.'” Seconded by Hardwick, this too was carried unanimously.

John Davies, reportedly a former Wales international, was elected president of the newly formed Association. A working group was assembled of J.Gibbs, Frederick Burt, Thomas Hardwick, Mr Stanton, Mr Stone and Brown to bring structure to the Association.

“The proceedings were of such an enthusiastic character as to encourage the hope that the present movement in the interests of the most popular game of football in the old country will be attended with most successful results,” reported the ‘Western Mail’.

At a second meeting seven days later, the Association Committee of Harry Brown (chairman), John Davies (president), Henry Saunders, Thomas Hardwick, J.L. Jones (vice-presidents) and Edward Pope (secretary) was officially elected.

It was agreed that the entrance fee to the association be set at one guinea (one pound and one shilling). At the same meeting Pope formed the Civil Service club, H. Sedergreen created Crusaders while Mr Boase, Mr Maxwell and Stanton founded Fremantle Wanderers.

The Western Australian British Football Association kicked off its first league season on Saturday 30th May. At Towton’s Paddock (opposite modern day Perth Oval) Perth defeated Civil Service 2-0 thanks to a double by 16-year old Reginald Burt.

That same day at Weld Square Fremantle Wanderers thumped Crusaders 7-0. “There was a comparatively large crowd of people watching the game, which has already won for itself much favour and which its devotees claim has come to stay,” reported ‘the West Australian’ on Tuesday 2nd June.

The most popular games of the inaugural season were those between Perth and Fremantle Wanderers with the final league fixture, played on Saturday 29th August at the Old Recreation Ground (aka Wellington Square), drawing a crowd of close to 500 spectators.

1897 Fremantle Wanderers Edit 1
Fremantle Wanderers, 1896 Western Australian British Football Association league champions

Fremantle Wanderers were Western Australia’s first league champions with 17 points, one more than runners-up Civil Service. Perth, who changed their name mid-season to Perth City, placed third on 10 points with Crusaders last after scoring just a single point from twelve games.

The first season was played at Towton’s Paddock and the adjacent Desprez’ Paddock, Weld Square, the Old Recreation Ground, the Halfway House ground in Cottesloe (the modern day Albion Hotel), Russell Square and the WACA Ground.

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