Aussie rules is a well-established sport in New South Wales, but has significantly been rivaled by rugby league and rugby union in terms of popularity and participation. For example, the National Rugby League currently fields nine teams in the Sydney metropolitan area, as opposed to the AFL, which only fields two teams in the Sydney region. Therefore, getting footy to be popular in New South Wales has mostly been an uphill battle.
The Riverina region of New South Wales – located along the Murray River and separating the state from Victoria – has been a notable exception. Footy has always been a big sport in this rural area, given the proximity to Victoria. The sport of Aussie rules is also developing a slow-but-steady following on the north and south shores of the state, away from Sydney.
The first recorded game of Aussie rules in the state was in Sydney in 1877; however, this was 14 years after rugby was introduced to the area. Some small footy clubs tried reaching out to local rugby clubs to play Aussie rules, claiming that it was a more exciting and fast-paced game, but were repeatedly turned down. The rugby authorities also rejected appeals to play Victoria-based footy clubs in alternate years under a different set of rules. In response, the New South Wales Football Association was formed in 1880, but immediately lacked the funding and the quality players to be competitive, and the competition didn’t really begin until nine years later. The league went bankrupt in 1893.
The New South Wales Football League was founded in February 1903 in Sydney. The Victorian Football League (VFL) began promoting the sport in Sydney and started hosting neutral-site matches at footy ovals in the city, as well as getting the word out and establishing the sport in local schools.
Although footy was growing in popularity, the rugby powers-that-be were none too keen, and repeatedly squashed efforts to build a passionate Aussie rules community in Sydney. Sometimes, they even went to great lengths to deny the use of training grounds to Aussie rules players, or attempt to poach footballers away and invite them to play rugby league exclusively.
In 1933, the Australian National Football Carnival was held at the Sydney Cricket Ground. This was a critical turning point in boosting enthusiasm and interest for Aussie rules as a competitive enterprise, and some of the animosity between the footy and rugby codes died down. At one point, the New South Wales Rugby League even suggested combining footy and rugby league into one sport called “universal football,” but it was widely dismissed at the time and the plans never came to fruition.
In 1982, the landscape changed. The struggling South Melbourne Football Club, from the VFL, re-located north and became the Sydney Swans. The Swans struggled to capture a major audience at first and nearly went bankrupt in 1985, but began becoming much more competitive in the early-to-mid 90s, after the VFL was renamed the AFL and became a nationally-focused league. However, notable footballers did not start coming from New South Wales until the end of the 80s.
Since 1996, the Swans have made the AFL Finals almost every year, including a premiership in 2005. The success of the Swans has brought renewed attention to footy, and the Sydney public is much more open to the sport these days. In 2012, a new club was established in the western suburbs, called the Greater Western Sydney Giants. The two teams play each other annually in the Sydney Derby.
Currently, most New South Welshmen still prefer rugby league, but Aussie rules is one of the fastest-growing sports in the state, and over 95,000 people play footy in NSW. The game has also received a significant boost from the AFL, who have invested in grassroots development and community events to raise participation rates.
Australian Football League
- Greater Western Sydney Giants
- Sydney Swans
North East Australian Football League
- Sydney Swans (reserves)
- Sydney University Students
- Western Sydney University Giants (reserves)
Sydney Australian Football League
- Balmain Dockers
- Campbelltown Blues
- East Coast Eagles
- Illawarra Lions
- Manly-Warringah Wolves
- North Shore Bombers
- Pennant Hills Demons
- St George Dragons
- Sydney Hills Eagles
- UNSW-Eastern Suburbs Bulldogs
- UTS Bats
- Western Suburbs Magpies
- Wollongong Lions
- Black Diamond Australian Football League
- Broken Hill Football League
- Central Murray Football League
- Central West Australian Football League
- Farrer Football League
- Golden Rivers Football League
- Hume Football League
- Millewa Football League
- Murray Football League
- Newcastle Australian Football League
- North Coast Australian Football League
- Northern Riverina Football League
- Ovens & Murray Football League
- Picola & District Football League
- Riverina Football League
- Sapphire Coast Australian Football League
- South Coast Australian Football League
- Summerland Australian Football League
- Sunraysia Football League
- Tamworth Football League
- Upper Murray Football League
- Albury Sports Ground (Albury, capacity 8,000)
- ANZ Stadium (Sydney, capacity 83,500)
- Blacktown Oval (Sydney, capacity 10,000)
- Bruce Purser Reserve (Kellyville)
- Coffs Harbour International Stadium (Coffs Harbour, capacity 10,000)
- Drummoyne Oval (Sydney, capacity 6,000)
- Exies Oval (Griffith, capacity 7,500)
- Lavington Sports Ground (Albury, capacity 20,000)
- Margaret Donoghoe Oval (Karabar)
- Newcastle Sports Ground (Newcastle, capacity 20,000)
- North Dalton Park (Towradgi)
- North Sydney Oval (Sydney, capacity 20,000)
- Robertson Oval (Wagga Wagga, capacity 12,000)
- Spotless Stadium (Sydney, capacity 24,000)
- Sydney Cricket Ground (Sydney, capacity 48,000)
- Tom Wills Oval (Sydney, capacity 3,000)
- Tramway Oval (Sydney)
- University of Sydney Oval (Camperdown)