The UNSW-ES Bulldogs Australian Football Club was formed following the 1999/2000 merger of the
University of New South Wales and the East Sydney Football Club.
East Sydney Football Club
The East Sydney Football Club was established in 1880 when a group of enthusiastic locals met in Cascade Street, Paddington to organise a match to be played in the New Year. In April 1880, a match was played at Moore Park between East Sydney, in their dark blue with gold sash, and Sydney, in dark blue. With that, organised football began in Sydney in which five clubs – East Sydney, Newtown, Sydney, South Sydney and Sydney University – competed against each other.
In 1903, the foundation of the Sydney Football League was created, consisting of teams from East Sydney, Sydney, Newtown, Redfern, YMCA and Balmain. Integral to this foundation was Jim Phelan, whose memory is honoured in the AFL today through the ‘Phelan Medal’, which is awarded annually to the Best & Fairest player in the Men’s Premier Division of the AFL Sydney competition.
1926 saw another merger between two of the most successful clubs in Sydney; East Sydney and Paddington (whose actual date of existence is uncertain).
Given each side’s mutual success, the amalgamation at first seemed strange, but the reasons supporting the move must have been very persuasive at the time. In any case, it is difficult to criticise this venture, as for more than half a century, the newly merged organisation known as the Eastern Suburbs (up until 1968, after which it reverted back to East Sydney), was arguably the most consistently successful club in Sydney football.
The Eastern Suburbs’ most auspicious era came in the 1950s, when they claimed seven back-to-back premierships between 1953 and 1959, establishing the still-standing record for the most successive flags in any senior state football league. The club was also strong during the first half of the 1980s, with five successive flags between 1980 and 1984, and produced an average winning score of 73 points. The tally of 30.24 (204) against North Shore in the 1980 grand final became a league record for a premiership deciding match. After winning the 1984 flag, East Sydney went on to contest each subsequent finals series during the 1980s, but without enjoying further premiership success.
The East Sydney Football Club remained as one of the first and most successful football clubs established in Australia with the following impressive statistics:
Pre-1925 East’s won nine First Grade premierships, including the first SFL flag in 1903. This was followed with premiership success in 1926, 1927, 1941, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1971, 1973, 1976, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 2002, 2003, 2012, 2018, 2019 and finally, back-to-back flags in 2022 & 2023.
UNSW Australian National Football Club
The University of New South Wales Australian National Football Club was formed on the 22nd of March 1962. The club intended on sending a team to Adelaide for inter-varsity that year, however were unable to as only 18 players were available instead of the required 22. As such, 1963 was the club’s first year of active participation. At the inter-varsity held in Sydney, the club finished fifth overall and Denis Aitken and Ian Sharpe were selected to play in an All-Australian Universities’ side against NSW.
In 1964, UNSW’s players competed in regular competition for the first time in a combined Universities’ side with Sydney University. The club also fielded a team at inter-varsity in Perth.
From 1965, it was decided that the combined Universities’ side would separate. UNSW commenced regular competition for the first time as the University of New South Wales with a team in reserve grade only. 1966 was the club’s first premiership year. The team was promoted to first grade in 1969 after four consecutive grand final appearances from 1965-68, which included two premierships. In 1970, the leagues were restructured and the club fielded two sides in the second division competition. The leagues in Sydney have changed many times since then, expanding to three small divisions in 1971 and consolidating to two large divisions in 1994. Since 1970, the club has always competed in second division with at least two grades.
After the season of 1987, the club officially folded. A meeting of the committee was held and the proposal was put to the vote, carried with two dissenters. The vote was later determined to be unconstitutional, however, the two dissenters left the meeting and agreed to take on the organisation of the club and field two teams in 1998.
In 1999, the University of New South Wales merged with the Eastern Suburbs (which had by then again changed its name from East Sydney in the 1990s) and the rest, as they say, is History.