When Len Cuff transferred in his employment to Sydney in 1984 the former Tasmanian Amateur rep just went straight down to Sydney Uni where he found out he didn’t have to learn a new club song. The Sydney Uni victory song, “1-2-3 the uni boys are we”, “4-5-6 we got ‘em in a fix”, “7-8-9 we’ll do ‘em every time” was the same as sung at Tasmanian Uni.

If Len had moved to Brisbane or Perth he would also not have had to learn a new team song. Just why a number of university clubs have this song is not known. It is not a common footy song, in fact, I know of no clubs other than uni teams that sing this song.  Given the references to drinking rather than winning games of football, I suspect it was borne out of intervarsity (I.V.) carnivals.

Cuff, a premiership captain and club hero at Tas Uni didn’t consider joining a major league club in Sydney ; he went to a uni club because he wanted to continue enjoying the same social experience as he had in Hobart.

As it turns out his first night training on No 1 Oval at Sydney was also my first night at the club. I joined Sydney Uni from the Bushpigs, the Charles Sturt University Wagga campus footy team. On my first lap I ran around with Len; I had recognised him instantly from the 1976 Intervarsity in Sydney when I’d been playing for the University of New England.

“Cuffie” had been selected as All-Australian captain at that carnival but more significantly had won the highly sought after Les Radford medal awarded by hosts UNSW for the first witnessed “root” at the I.V. My mate, Ab, from Wagga was runner-up three times before he finally won the award!

Uni footy teams are notorious for their strong emphasis on social activities based on consumption of vast amounts of alcohol. Nonetheless, uni footy clubs have made a significant contribution to the game.

I often thought about what makes a uni footy club different to other suburban and country clubs, even amateur clubs which have a very similar ethos. I think it’s because there is no hierarchy at a uni footy club; everybody’s the same – that’s usually because the club is usually run by the players. Parental involvement is minimal, and the old players involved have been through that system.

The other factor is that for the most part uni footy clubs are comprised mostly of students and graduates so there is an enormous commonality that leads to understanding and respect. Also, they tend to be amateur with only the coach and an assistant being paid – usually much less than those at community clubs – so there is usually no petty jealousy

The oldest university football club in Australia is Melbourne University which was one of the first ever clubs – it dates back to 1859. And, of course, it famously played in the VFL from 1908 until 1914.

However, it is a club with two committees – one to run University Blacks, and one to operate University Blues. The Blues  are currently in the A grade competition of the Victorian Amateur Football Association (VAFA) and the Blacks in B section;, however, the Blacks have been the most successful winning 13 A section premierships while the Blues have won three A section titles.

The second oldest is actually the Sydney University Australian National Football Club (SUANFC) which was established in 1887, however, it has not been in continuous operation since that date. In fact, it struggled for success until the 1970s when a Second Division was formed in which it was much more competitive.

Sydney Uni currently plays in the Premier League along with its arch rival, UNSW, which merged with East Sydney in 1999. The merged club has already won two premierships and in a major statement adopted the university colours in 2007 but retained East’s’ nickname, the Bulldogs.

Adelaide University Football Club has been a powerhouse in the South Australian Amateur Football League since its formation in 1906. The Blacks have won 23 A1 premierships and in a golden period in the 1960s figured in every grand final of which they won six – a stunning record.

UWAFC can  also trace their foundation back to the early part of the twentieth century – 1911. The club has won over 70 premierships including 15 A grade premierships and 25 A Colts titles.

Formed in 1902, the University of Tasmania Football Club after initially playing in various Hobart metropolitan competitions has been a stalwart of the old scholars’ competition since it was formed in 1947.

At the other sandstone university, the Queensland Uni Aussie Rules club was formed in 1956.  The club’s nickname, the Red Lions, was named after the inn at Glencoe near Glen Innes in northern NSW where the Queenslanders stopped to and from their annual pre-season trip to play UNE in Armidale.

The early 1960s spawned the creation of the ANU (1961), Monash, UNSW, and University of New England  football clubs (all formed in 1962). ANU was able to join the ACT AFL competition, while UNE had to form its own competition. UNSW, initially joined with Sydney Uni to play under their own name in the reserves competition, and then in their own right from 1969 until 1999. Monash joined the VAFA .

ANU won the ACT reserve grade competition in 1962 and was promoted to the seniors the following season, which it played in until 1979. It mostly struggled to compete with the established Canberra clubs although the club did have a run of making the finals in the early-to-mid ‘seventies. The Griffins have subsequently enjoyed great success in the second tier competition and have won nine flags.

The Monash University Football Club was formed in 1962 – a year after the establishment of the university campus at Clayton – and entered the VAFA and became known as the “Monash Blues”.  In 1964 the club fielded another team that was called the “Whites” that became a member of the newly created F section. However, after the 1965 season this division went into a hiatus and so did the Whites.

When Monash earnt promotion to A section in 1969 the club decided to strengthen its ranks and the Whites were reformed for the 1971 season. While they played under the umbrella of the Monash University Football Club, the Blues and Whites assumed separate entities based on their rivals at Melbourne University.

There was an acrimonious split at the end of the 1979 season for reasons that are not clear and the club decided to dump the Whites.  Those responsible for running the Whites fought successfully to retain a team in the amateur competition and so the Monash Whites Football Club was officially formed. The Whites enjoyed their football in the lower grades but eventually decided to merge with the Blues after the 2000 season.

The University of New England in Armidale actually did not field a club in its own name; it actually ran the competition because when it was formed the nearest football club was 300 kilometres away in Newcastle. The teams in the UNE competition were from the residential colleges that house the overwhelming number of students that attend the university.

Later on town teams from Armidale, Tamworth, Gunnedah, Uralla and Coffs Harbour joined the uni comp. Now the New England Nomads play in the Tamworth AFL competition as a stand-alone club.

The expansion of the higher education sector in the late 60s and early 70s witnessed the formation of uni footy clubs all over the country at universities and colleges of advanced education including Flinders, Latrobe, Wollongong, Newcastle, Canberra, Riverina , Macquarie, Warrnambool , Darling Downs, and the Western Australian Institute of Technology (now known as Curtin).  Unfortunately, Canberra and Newcastle are not still playing.

In recent years university football clubs have been formed at Griffith , Charles Darwin University (formerly the University of the Northern Territory), and the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS).

Bushpigs, Wombats, Griffins, Bats, Red Lions, Nomads, Cougars – the newer uni clubs have adopted some colorful and innovative nicknames, while the more established clubs have retained their original names such as Blues and Blacks. However, nearly every university footy club just calls itself, “uni”.

My personal favourite is the Tas Uni Rampant Rainbows – who wear a panel jumper a la St Kilda in the colours of red, yellow and black.

A more recent trend is for an association between town and gown such as the Mowbray-Uni club in Launceston, Griffith-Moorooka in Brisbane, CQU-Rockhampton Panthers, and of course,  UNSW- Eastern Suburbs.

Also there is some tie-ups between old schoolboy clubs and universities like Curtin Wesley in Perth and University High and Victoria University in Melbourne.

After a few seasons at Sydney Uni Len Cuff transferred to Macquarie Uni after he purchased a house out in that area; he continued to play in their Super Rules team – he secured another All Australian guernsey when he was selected in the All Australian Masters team in 1995.

Now back in Tassie working in the tourism industry, “Cuffie” played a pivotal role in the deal that got Hawthorn to play AFL matches in Launceston.

Oh, he eventually learnt to “join in the chorus” at Mac Uni.


  1. Len Cuff’s younger brother Gordon was a much better than him. Gordon was a vibrant yappy little on baller who played in a Scottsdale premiership in the old NTFA in northern Tasmania.

    He was very hard to catch if I remember correctly.

    Another icon from the Tas Uni era around the Len Cuff time was Martin Flanigan. Not sure how well he played but he was a hoot around the ground and after the game.I think the late Herbert John Kable (QC) used to refer to him as ‘Flaps’. He was kind enough to pass me the jug to scull when Old Scotch Seconds had lost a state final in Hobart but were invited along to the Uni clubrooms to celebrate their State premiership win. They were very strong then.

    Tas Uni was well sreved round that time by the two Collett boys; Peter and Bob. Last time I noticed Bob’s son Max was playnig with UNSW / Eastern Suburbs.


  2. Richard Jones says

    ROCKET: I played 2 seasons with Sydney Uni. in the metro. Sydney competition in the 60s. A Spit Junction flatmate and I both joined the club with our skipper the redobtable Peter Malouf.
    That was in 1962-63. We two from the Middle Harbour area were NOT Sydney Uni students, but rather attendees of the Aust. School Of Pacific Administration which trained people for service in Papua New Guinea and the Northern Territory.

    As Sydney Uni Aussie Rules players, we wore a pale blue guernsey with a gold yoke. I think I’ve still got one somewhere.
    It has shrunk terribly. Last time I tried it on it wouldn’t fit over the chest area!!

    And I remember playing East Sydney very well. A large Bulldog over whom I had taken a mark close to the goal square wasn’t happy I had bounced the ball off his scone on the way back to take the kick. He hung a beautiful right hook right on my chops.

    Infuriated, I placed the ball on the deck and took off after this lumbering fellow. Malouf was beside himself.

    “Don’t worry about him. Pick up the pill and kick the *#^&#* goal,” he screamed. I think I managed that but was left with a front fang bent backwards at an alarming angle.

    Fortunately our landlord in our Spit Junction digs, not far from a couple of well-patronised watering holes, was a dentist. He came into his surgery which adjoined our quarters late on that Saturday night and straightened the fang.

    We played at the Trumper Oval on Old South Head Road (I think) with Sydney Naval one of our toughest opponents. They wore Melbourne Demons’ colours. Parramatta wore blue and gold (maybe in hoops, I forget), Balmain turned out in Collingwood colours while Newtown wore red and white.

    North Shore sported an Essendon strip, and still does, I hear; Wests wore black with a white V. I think Johnny Northey was playing coach at Wests at some stage or other.

    The most amazing thing was that many decades before the Sydney Swans moved to the Harbour City there were born and bred Aussie Rules players, supporters and officials in Sydney.
    Jack Armstrong, a lifelong Balmain man, later took up umpiring I heard when his playing and coaching career was over.

    We won a few games in both 1962 and 1963 but didn’t make the finals either year. Our best player by quite some margin was centreman Bobby Jordan. He made the rep side I recall. Best I could do was get a gig for the Probables v the Possibles at a selection match one time.

  3. Rocket Rod Gillett says

    Good on ya Phantom,

    Apparently Tim Lane used to also go around for U Tas in Lenny Cuff’s days in the red, yellow and black.

    The coach was Brian “Cocky” Eade – father of Rodney, and a wonderful man – one of the best blokes you could ever meet.
    He took me under his wing at the old NFL meetings when he was the General Manager of the TFL.

    Young Max Collett goes very well for UNSW- Eastern Suburbs – think he might actually be a student at UNSW

  4. Dave Nadel says

    My favorite “educational” footy club was the Warrnambool Institute Sharks who are now the Deakin University Sharks. When I went to work at Warrnambool Institute in the 80s the Sharks were mostly cellar dwellers, not least because they were an amateur club in a competition (the Warrnambool District League) which was not amateur. Any Warrnambool student who looked as if he might have footy skills was offered a few bucks under the counter to play for other District League Clubs. As a result the Sharks were composed of players who were playing footy for social reasons rather than a burning ambition to dominate the competition.

    One of the academics who was a Sharks official explained to me that any District Club that finished below the Sharks on the ladder disbanded next season. Sure enough, during the seven years that I lived in Warrnambool two clubs finished below the Sharks. Tower Hill in 1983, which disbanded before the 1984 season and Bushfield, later in the decade, which amalgamated with Grasmere to form Northern Districts.

    But if the Sharks were crap on the field they were stars off the field. They had their own dance – The Shark Shuffle – and a whole swag of social traditions. Their fundraisers were attended by footballers from other clubs. There were Hampden League clubs who wanted to organise joint fundraisers with Sharks.

    I still look up the District League results in the Sunday Age. The Sharks still seem to be crap on the field. I don’t know anyone connected with the Footy Club anymore after 20 years, but I’ll bet the Sharks are still the best social club in South West Victorian footy.

  5. Tony Robb says

    Hi Rod,
    As you well know GR played with ANU in his final year at uni which would have been around 72-73 I think. He and several other students who had played with other clubs in the Canberra decided to all turn out for ANU in thewir final year. They made the final for the 1st time in Div 1 and ruffled a few feather whilst doing.
    I think I mentioned to you previously but I coached the CCAE Wombats in 81′ as they couldnt finf antone else and I was out injured. The boys took a vaery econamical appraoch to their footie with limited training and considerable drinking and smoking of illicit substances. The sight of the team combie arriving in abillow of smoke pre game was very funny and the emission werent due to an exaust problem. The annual away trip to play the Batemans Bay Hawks was also a highlight with player numbers undecided until just before the bounce due to the previous nights indulgences and indiscretions. Failure to turn up was only sactioned if you had ben arrested or pulled a bird at the Bayview Pub.

    I again coached the Wombats in 84′ dragging GR out of retirement, an influx of good kids from Leeton etc and went on the win the GF with a win over ANU in the then Monaro League. The lads celebrated for a month eventually being banned from every venue on the campas


  6. The Melb Uni teams used to sing the “1-2-3 the uni boys are we” song, but during the 70s the Blacks adopted another song which was seen by the Blues as derogatory to them (never!). Relationships between the 2 teams were never the same, but not just because of the song (you can read Paul Daffey’s account in his section in the history of the Melb Uni Football Club, Black and Blue – available at http://www.melbunifootball.com/info.htm). These days, the Blues use North Melb’s song (terrible!).

    Interestingly I have heard the song used by a couple of uni hockey clubs, so it could have had its origins within the uni sports associations as a ‘university sport’ song.

    A number of university sports teams have ribald song books, and perhaps its not a surprise many of the songs are shared. I’ve heard Rugby teams in Sydney using songs that I’ve heard used by Aussie Rules teams in Victoria. Would be an interesting music history research topic for a music student, although the eventual research paper would have to be R rated!

  7. Tas uni called themselves the ‘rainbows’ at that time. Red, yellow and black.

    They used to refer to one of their arch rivals, Hutchins Old Boys, as the ‘beans’ derived from jelly beans because their colours were magenta and black.

    Bob Collett told me that their coach, possibly Brian Eade, was giving a pre match address in an important game against them and to emphasise a point threw a packet of jelly beans on the floor and stomped on them.

    Apparently Rocket Eade was a little nointer that used to be into everything and would be very competitive on the track with the seniors.

    Rocket may have to kick a cat or pluck a magpie?

  8. great read, learned a lot about the amount of uni teams around I didn’t know about and the history behind them.

    I played for anu from 1997 till 2000, we had some good years and I played with some talented and interesting footballers butwe never quite won a flag in those years. I pursued my other interest in golf after that time, thy’ve gone on to be very successful over the last decade.

    Great second division club.

  9. Great tale Rod. I also remember the Reds, Uni Reds which eventually became the Fitzroy Football Club, now playing in the VAFA Premier C.

  10. Rocket Rod Gillett says

    Thanks for your comments.

    Richard – Peter Malouf has just finished up as club doctor for the Cronulla Sharks NRL club after many years, but he retains his association with the SUANFC – he is spoken of as a fine leader of uni in that period – it would have been a tough gig for the Students given that Sydney footy was notorious for its thuggishness at that time.

    But as you say Sydney has always had many home-grown blokes playing the game – think Jack Dean, Greg Harris, Ian Allen et al. Jacky Armstrong was one of the most colourful characters in the game – he originally played for South Sydney and later umpired – I first came across him when he was managing the licensed Newtown Rules Club – Sam Kekovich and the fly-ins from Melbourne had to be paid somehow.

    Dave – great to hear about the Sharks – you could use find-and-replace Sharks with Bushpigs and the story would almost be exactly the same. The Pigs also struggle but with seven affiliated netball teams they do not struggle for players – the students really want to play for the club.

    Tony – played against the Wombats a few times at inter-cols and pre-season matches for the Bushpigs.Your colours – red and yellow vertical stripes must have put a few opposition teams off! Remember playing against your brother Garry at the 74 IV in Canberra – great player!

    Mark – that’s interesting about the widespread use of the song by uni teams. If the Blacks sang it – as did UWA, Qld Uni & Syd Uni it does make it a “traditional” uni tune as it were. Only Adelaide didn’t? Planning to make the Sydney Uni v UNSW-Easts match on 31 July – hope to see you there!

    Nick – its great to see ANU going well at that level – early 70s aside they always had to battle to compete with the stronger Canberra clubs.

    Rod – apparently the Reds were passionate about red wine as well!?

  11. Rocket Rod Gillett says

    In preparing this piece I sought information from a few old mates and others involved in uni clubs – thanks to Daff, Craig Little (Deakin Warrnambool), and Phil Guest (Tas Uni). An old team mate from Sydney Uni, Keith Newton, sent me these thoughts after it had been submitted, but I think he has captured the reasons why uni clubs are so different from other clubs so I thought I’d share them with you:

    Rod – some thoughts on Uni teams from my experience

    1. Less tribal, or family oriented compared to country or suburban clubs.

    2. Players more transient — but maybe rely more on the club for social life

    3. Younger more “Player dominated” committees and often coaching staff). Less politics – more interested in getting a game then using football club to justify social position

    4. In many ways similar to Old Boys (Private School) clubs – compared to town or district clubs – but again unlike old boy clubs no great dominant leadership from the school or parents / ex players. Usually the players themselves run the club, despite it begin in a very professional competition.

    5. The talent and humor in speeches and other social events was always incredible from the players, the wit from the university supporters – often professors, lecturers or graduate students, or very senior lawyers, judges, captains of business (or the public Service) being totally different then that of the usual club president – old players, used car dealers, meat pie merchants (as in the David Williamson play The Club) etc.

    6. Best of all the Uni football clubs provided the opportunity for me and my mates to have with a terrific social life. In both ANU and Sydney University the club was the best way to get to know people at university and in the new city, and to to gain long term friendships with similar minded guys. I think I introduced directly or indirectly around 20 to 30 players to the Sydney Uni (from Nugget from Broken Hill, Little Fats and Alan Fewster from ANU, Cuffie who worked with a mate from the USA, Peter Lawrence, Greg Robertson and about a dozen other country and Melbourne guys at Accenture)

    7. Also despite playing hard, in high standard competitions mostly against professional or semi professional teams, uni clubs always recognized the reality of exams, university trips, work commitments – often not understood by town/district clubs. Maybe in some ways recognizing being Amateurs in professional competition (which must have been most frustrating for the coaches, and in my experience never recognized by non Uni club history coaches – except Warren Fingers)

    8. Finally the opportunity to experience an (or more) IV carnivals.


  12. Mark Schwerdt says

    Two words – “Bob Neil”

  13. Rocket and Juice (via Rocket),

    Your writings seem both spot on.

    A uni club benefits from having no family influence in that players can be themselves, or anyone they want to be, and there’s not the yoke of family holding them back. This must be a great thing for a 20-year-old.

    But the lack of a family atmosphere means there’s always something less solid about uni clubs.

    Advantages either way.

  14. Mark Schwerdt says
  15. Rod Cheatley says

    ANU Football Club will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2011 and I have been compiling a list of past players to make sure it goes off well. Have about 1200 names covering the period from 1961 to 2000 and have email addresses for only 120 or so. Anybody who is interested can contact me at [email protected] and I will keep you posted on events etc.

    Remember Keith Newton well, also Fats Urmoneit and Al Fewster.

    Keith has summed up the Uni clubs pretty well. ANU benefitted from Commonwealth Government Graduate recruitment to get players from other Universities. The Commonwealth froze Graduate recruitment in the mid 70’s about the time Poker machines were legalised in the ACT – ANU could not compete at the top level.

    Keith will notice that not much has changed watch this


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