The 1915 season was one of uncertainty as young men en-masse were enlisting for the Great War. As the rugby league year commenced many young Australian men were storming the beaches at Gallipoli. All teams lost members to the war effort and competition was affected in different ways. Rugby Union went into hibernation while Rugby League continued to play, albeit with shortages of players from time to time. Junior Rugby League competitions were significantly altered with a compressed format and individual leagues were allowed to introduce specific rules to accommodate play.

The Rugby League was under pressure to contribute to the war effort, and it did encourage recruitment. The League also arranged benefit matches and raised funds to support the Diggers.

Wests were to take out the wooden spoon once again in 1915 but recruited well with a number of experienced and up and coming players joining the ranks from both rugby union as well as rugby league clubs. These players would help build Wests into a competitive force in the coming years. A dispute with Ashfield Council over ground fees saw Wests move its home ground to St Lukes Park, Concord.

The chagrin caused by both of these issues – the suggestion that Wests wasn’t doing its bit for the war effort and the loss of Pratten Park and forced move to Concord were outlined by Secretary Ern McFayden in a blistering letter to the Ashfield Advertiser on June 19th, 1915.

“Sir – In perusing your columns of late I have noticed that a good deal of correspondence has passed having reference to the failure of the NSW Rugby Football League to negotiate with the Ashfield Council for a lease of Pratten Park Oval. The latest addition to the correspondence is a gentleman who signs under the non-de-plume of “Anti-Humbuggins,: and who poses as an authority on this matter. Some of his statements are inaccurate, and for that reason I am craving the privilege of your columns to state the exact position that the NSW Rugby Football League has taken in this matter.

He first of all states that it would be far better for Pratten Park to become a white elephant in the hands of the Council than in those of the Rugby League. If he were only conversant with the financial dealings between the Rugby Football League and the Council, he would find out that the amount received from the New South Wales Rugby League greatly exceeds that of any other sporting body. Everyone must recognise that at the present moment all grounds are, you might say, absolutely dependent on football for their upkeep. The terms that the League offered for Pratten Park greatly exceed those given to most suburban grounds. As an instance, I might point out that the League this year has engaged Redfern Oval, Hampden Oval, Alexandria Oval, and one or two other smaller grounds for a far less sum than last year they gave for Pratten Park. This should indicate that the League has been very generous in the past in their treatment towards the Council. Why such a plethora of clauses should have been inserted for the first year by the Council in the proposed lease with the Rugby League is beyond my comprehension.

“Humbuggins” further stated that the ridiculous £7 10s per Saturday clause was, as the minutes disclosed, unanimously resolved on by the Park’s Committee, and unanimously adopted by the 12 men constituting the Council. This is incorrect, as the records of the Council will prove – there were three dissentients. With regard to the €7 10s clause, the Council asked the League to submit a list of dates on which it would require Pratten Park, and failing the League playing on any one of those dates the League has to forfeit the sum of £7 10s. Although the League has had several years’ business dealings with the Council, on no occasion was this ever enforced before, the League strongly objecting to be hedged in on all sides with conditions which past dealings gave no justification for. The League has never held Pratten Park to the exclusion of any other sporting body. The ground has always been utilised on dates other than those when Representative matches were being played. Mr Miller, the Secretary of the League, who was present along with Mr Blue and myself, at the meeting when this matter was finally dealt with, personally agreed to deposit the sum of £50 with the Council as proof of the sincerity of the League, and their intention to carry out their agreement to the letter as in the past. Three Aldermen spoke on the acceptance of same. As events have proved, the League were justified in not being hedged down by the clause. Should they have accepted Pratten Park under the conditions laid down by the Council, at the present day they would have been a sorrier, but much wiser, body. The League laid down interstate fixtures for the season, which, owing to the present international complications, have not been able to be carried out. Everyone knows that the New Zealand tour has been definitely abandoned, owing to numerous enlistments, and alterations had to be made in the Queensland fixtures. Should the League have given the Council the dates of the proposed interstate fixtures as those on which the ground would not be required, today they would have found themselves short of grounds, inasmuch as they have been compelled to play their ordinary competition matches on dates that had been allocated for interstate fixtures. It is owing to foresight and good management of the League that they are in the proud position that they are today, and it is a matter of congratulations to all supporters of the game that the combined intelligence (?) of the majority of Aldermen of Ashfield Council has not made them deviate from their intentions. You will notice that the League is carrying out the policy that “Anti-Humbuggins” attributes to the Council, viz: “As businessmen the Council only deals in probabilities.” The wisdom in doing this has been amply demonstrated.

In conclusion, your correspondent tries to cloak the issues by attributing lack of patriotism to my club but I would like you to know that 39 players, including 10 of last year’s first grade team, have gone to the front. The treatment that we have received from the authorities of Pratten Park is a marked contrast to that which we have been lately receiving from the authorities of the Municipality of Concord

I am etc
E McFayden
Hon. Sec W.S.D. League Football Club

Secretary Ern McFayden was responsible for saving the Western Suburbs Club in its early years

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