The ‘Dirty Reds’ nickname found a home at Drummoyne, but it was the Glebe ‘Dirty Reds’ rugby union club who first made the name famous.
Between 1900 and the start of WW1 the ‘Dirty Reds’ took out the Sydney first grade premiership title a remarkable seven times out of the 15 seasons played.
Drummoyne’s origins lay in it being a merger of Balmain and Glebe, with the club’s history page reading:
In 1889, a Rugby club was founded in neighbouring Glebe, soon to become famous as “The Dirty Reds”, from their scarlet jerseys and vigorous style of play. These pioneering clubs of Balmain and Glebe formed the very foundations of what we now know as modern day “Dirty Reds”, the DDRFC, an unbroken continuum of Rugby Union in the District. This is the foundation of Drummoyne Rugby history.
Contrary to the above, the first Glebe club was not founded in 1889, it didn’t wear scarlet jerseys, and was not the source of the ‘Dirty Reds’.
The suburb of Drummoyne did not begin to grow as the seat of the merged Glebe-Balmain club (founded 1916) until the mid 1920s. In 1931 the team began playing from Drummoyne Oval, changed the club’s name to Drummoyne, and adopted scarlet coloured jersey (in place of maroon).
Through the 1920s Glebe-Balmain had won four Sydney club premierships wearing Glebe’s maroon jersey and Balmain’s black and gold socks. For the 1930-31 seasons the jersey was maroon with a black and gold double-V chevron.
Significantly, The Sydney Morning Herald of 12 March 1925 recorded “the tenth annual meeting of the Glebe-Balmain”, which suggests the club (i.e. what is today Drummoyne) saw its founding year as 1916, not 1900 when Glebe and Balmain were formed by the ‘district scheme’, and not a continuation of any of the earlier Glebe and Balmain clubs of the 19th century.
The Drummoyne club of today relies on Balmain for its link back to 1874 and the founding of the NSWRU’s first competition, and on Glebe for the ‘Dirty Reds’ moniker. [Read more on the first Balmain clubs, the Glebe-Balmain merger and founding of Drummoyne here]
The Glebe and Balmain clubs which formed Drummoyne were founded in 1900 as districts under the NSWRU’s new scheme to divide Sydney’s Rugby players on a geographic basis following (for the most part) state electoral boundaries. Apart from Sydney University, all the existing clubs of the 1899 season were made defunct.
The fact is while both Balmain and Glebe were strongholds of Rugby, turning out many junior teams, neither suburb had appeared in the Sydney first grade premiership since the mid 1890s.
The first Glebe-based club to gain any prominence was ‘Toxteth’, who were founded in 1875-76. Toxteth, who wore navy/dark blue jerseys emblazoned with a red Maltese cross, reached full first grade status in 1879.
Aided by a number of prominent Toxteth players, the first Glebe Rugby Club was formed in 1880.
This division of the suburb’s playing stocks though meant that neither Glebe, ‘Glebe Toxeth’, and the later founded ‘Glebe Rosedale’, reached any great heights in the 1880s.
In 1900 when the new Glebe district club was created The Sydney Mail reported “The colours of the club are maroon jersey and stockings, white knickers, the recognised colours of the Glebe district in all branches of sport”, and The Referee tells us that “The Glebe sporting color is maroon; it has become practically universal, in the district. The football club is the latest to adopt it in lieu of the old blue, black, and yellow” [the latter being a reference to the Glebe team that played in the 1894 first grade Rugby competition].
While the maroon came from the district’s established sporting colour, the ‘Dirty Reds’ name did not arise in any sport until it was adopted by supporters of the Rugby club at home games at Wentworth Park.
The ‘Dirty Reds’ began appearing in newspaper references to the ‘men in maroon’ of the Glebe team during its first seasons. The Sydney Sportsman said in early 1902 that “The men from the Glebe, the dirty reds as they are called in the football field”.
Though the impact of the arrival of rugby league and then World War One would see the Glebe-Balmain merger (1916), and its name be lost from Rugby in Sydney following the club’s adoption of Drummoyne (1932), the ‘Dirty Reds’ were from the outset of the district scheme a Rugby powerhouse.
In 1900 Glebe won the premiership in all three grades. The Sydney Mail reporting on the emphatic success:
The Glebe club ran away with all three competitions, the first grade beating the nearest club by six competition points, the second by eight points, and the third by the same margin. In each grade the club scored the record for the highest total of match points for and the lowest against … neither the second nor the third lost a match during the season…
While the existence of the Glebe ‘Dirty Reds’ rugby league club is more well-known today than the Rugby club from which it descended, the comparison in success between the clubs is striking.
The league ‘Dirty Reds’ never won a premiership during their 1908-29 existence, whereas over the 15 seasons it played (1900-14) Rugby’s ‘Dirty Reds’ took the first grade crown seven times (1900, 1901 [tie], 1906, 1907, 1909, 1912 & 1914).
During 1900-14 an impressive array of players also won selection to Australian (Wallabies) Test teams while playing for Glebe, including Bill Hardcastle (1903), Alec Burdon (1903-04), Jimmy Clarken (1905 & ’10), Tom Griffin (1907-12), Chris McKivat (1907-09), Fred Wood (1907-14), John Hickey (1908-09), Syd Middleton (1909-10) & Bob Stuart (1910). Griffin, McKivat, Wood, Hickey and Middleton were all members of the 1908-09 Wallabies tour to Great Britain and North America.
© Sean Fagan