*First Published 17/01/2020
As we celebrate our 112th birthday today, we take a look back on the day it all began. The story of how this Grand Old Club came to be.
The dream becomes real
It was a late October day in 1907 where Arthur “Ash” Hennessy, a player for the South Sydney Rugby Union Club, held a gathering at his home in Surry Hills. He invited a number of players and officials to discuss the formation of a club to play Rugby League, known then as Northern Union.
Things may have seemed dire for Hennessy’s dream of establishing what would turn out to be one of the most famous sporting clubs in Australia, as only three people ended up attending.
Those three, however, would become the founding members of the South Sydney District Rugby League Football Club: Billy Cann, Samuel George Ball and J.J. “Johnny” McGrath. A fourth member, Edward “Son” Fry was not in attendance due to a prior engagement.
While the season is known for the cold, torrid weather at times, it would be sweltering heat on the day South Sydney were born, on the January 17 1908.
The four men; Cann, Ball, McGrath and Hennessy, were joined by famous cricketer Victor Trumper, entrepreneur J.J Giltinan and politician Henry Clement Hoyle, who would also be the club’s first president.
One of the documents held by the NSW Rugby League is the receipt signed by Giltinan that lists Souths as the number 2 affiliated club with the NSWRL, although there is debate whether or not Souths or Newtown were the second to be signed up.
In a 1931 interview, Ball said of the night:
“The attendance was excellent, quite a number of those present, no doubt, being attracted to the meeting out of curiosity, as much had been written in the press concerning the new code and the likelihood of disqualification from the Rugby Union of anyone who had the temerity to join up with the New Movement.”
Building an empire
Shortly after that fateful meeting, the South Sydney district was filled with fliers, which read: “SOUTH SYDNEY – all footballers in this district should join this club for these reasons; play for yourself and your club’s advantage or play for the Union to their advantage, and no return to yourself. Savee?”
By March, training sessions had begun at Moore Park, and on March 21 1908, a possibles vs probables match at Sir Joseph Banks Ground in Botany was held, with the former defeating the latter. A month later on Easter Monday the first round of competition was played at Birchgrove Oval with Souths defeating Norths 11-7.
Souths were up and running.
110 years of the Grand Old Club
The same year we would go on to win the 1908 North South Wales Rugby League Premiership, the first of our record-setting 21 titles.
The current SG Ball competition would be named after George Ball, and similarly the J.J Giltinan Shield, presented to the winners of the Minor Premiership and previously the Premiership trophy, would be named in honour of Giltinan.