2008 : Erik Nielsen




George Smith, the Northern Union and the consolidation of amateur traditions. 


This research addressed the ramifications of the rugby league split on amateur sports other than football, with a particular focus on track and field athletics. Football players often engaged in other sporting pastimes, such as ‘Original’ All Black and ‘All Gold’ George Smith, an outstanding all round athlete who won the Amateur Athletic Association (English) 440 yard hurdle championship in 1902. It is clear that the defection of Smith and his cohorts had ramifications that transcended football and influenced other sports. After a survey of the surprisingly accommodating reaction to his defection by amateur officials linked to Smith, the research addressed the enduring legacy of the rugby split on the relationship between the New South Wales Amateur Athletic Association (NSWAAA) and the New South Wales Amateur Sporting Federation (NSWASF). The issue of whether a rugby league player was automatically a professional, whether or not he accepted payment, resulted in conflict between the two bodies from 1909 until 1914. The research investigated the cases of H. R. Miller and S. H. Sparrow. Both Miller, a long-standing rugby league official, and Sparrow, an athlete from the Newtown Harriers club, challenged their suspensions by the NSWASF and received strong support from sections of the amateur athletic community.

These cases offer an illustration of the way that a certain sector of the rugby league sought
a continuation of their amateur career, and the aspects of amateurism that allowed such a position.


Associate Lecturer, School of Humanities, University of New South Wales  Sydney.


A doctoral candidate at Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia
studying the history of women in the game and her doctorate focuses on an exhibition match played in 1921 between the Metropolitan Blues and the Sydney Reds at Sydney Showground.: My research expanded from a study of one individual to a study of other individuals that felt the wrath of the NSW Rugby Union and other amateur bodies in the early years of rugby league.

The Tom Brock Scholarship award contributed to a presentation to the Centenary of Rugby League conference and submission to the accompanying publication entitled ‘“Oh Error, Ill-conceived.” The Amateur Sports Federation of New South Wales, Rugby League and Amateur Athletics.’

The Award also materially aided my PhD Thesis completed at the University of New South Wales, which I hope  will be published shortly.

Digitised Copy of paper resulting from the scholarship: as2502neilsen_EXTRACT.pdf

Erik Nielsen, ‘”Oh Error , Ill-Conceived”: The Amateur Sports Federation of New South Wales Rugby League and Amateur Athletics’,  Centenary Reflections: 100 Years of Rugby League in Australia. edited by Andrew Moore and Andy Carr (ASSH Studies no. 25, 2008), pp. 9–23.

Conference Presentation: ErikNeilsenpaper.doc

PowerPoint presentation: Oh ErrorppNielsen.ppt

Tom Brock Scholar Erik Nielson