In 2017, there are 128 teams entered in the opening round of Football’s Chatham Cup. Undoubtedly the premier club sporting competition in New Zealand, the passion and enthusiasm for the Chatham Cup today is far cry from 1937 when the New Zealand Football Association suspended play due to a lack of entries.
At their 1938 annual meeting, delegates of the Auckland Football Association were reported to believe abolishment of the Chatham Cup was the way forward. Around the same time, the chair of New Zealand’s FA placed the blame for the lack of entries at the feet of the Canterbury Association who had forced the final to be played alternately between the North and South Islands – 1937 having meant to be the southerners’ first turn. Canterbury’s representative responded by saying no team from their province would ever enter if the final was only to be played in Wellington.
In 1938, the Chatham Cup was contested by 26 teams with the final at Wellington’s Basin Reserve. Three Canterbury teams entered.
Among the ten Wellington-based teams in 1938’s Chatham Cup were Waterside. Established in 1921, the Waterside club were a dominant force in New Zealand football through the late 30s and 40s, largely due to the number of football-mad British workers at the Port of Wellington where the club formed.
In 1938, after advancing through regional play, Waterside won through to the final where they would face Mosgiel. Taking the field for the Watersiders was their 31-year-old goalkeeper, Sydney Ward.
Ward kept a clean sheet as Waterside won 4-0, giving him the unique honour of being able to lift both the Chatham Cup and cricket’s Plunket Shield. Were it not for bad luck, he may have also added the Ranfurly Shield to that resume.
As a boy growing up in Miramar, I used to help on the big scoreboard on the western side of Kilbirnie Green. Occasionally, we would be invited into the upstairs pavilion for a soft drink and a biscuit. I remember among the framed photographs on the wall were nine excellent Kilbirnie senior championship-winning sides of the 1930s and 40s. Syd Ward was in each of these teams. . . – Don Neely, eulogy for Sydney Ward, 2010
Born in his namesake city of Sydney, Australia in 1907, Sydney William Ward was not yet 10 years-old when his family packed up and moved to Wellington. While little has been recorded of his parents or Australian-born siblings, Syd and younger brother Nelson – born after their move, would gradually make names for themselves on the sporting field.
Syd proved himself to be a natural cricketer, playing for Kilbirnie from 1927 and captaining them to a club championship in 1936-37. Through a long career with Wellington’s eastern suburbs’ side, Syd played more than 100 games, scoring nearly 4000 runs with six centuries. He was the leading batsman for Kilbirnie at least four times, topping the charts in 1929-30 (323 runs at 40.38), 1933-34 (408 runs at 40.80), 1935-36 (456 at 38.00), and 1937-38 (642 runs at 71.33).
The 1937-38 season was a particularly good one for batsmen in Wellington club cricket, with 17 players registering more than 400 runs and twenty centuries being scored. Syd’s average of 71.33 was the best across the city that season as he was the only batsman to keep his average above 50. Although there were many talented batsmen in Wellington at the time, Syd’s talents meant he was destined for higher honours.
In January 1930, with several Wellington players called up for New Zealand’s introduction to Test cricket, Syd was selected to travel to Dunedin to make his First-Class debut. Although he would make 9 and 0 in his turns at bat, Syd had a moment to savour when he claimed the match-winning catch. Although he wouldn’t play again that season, Wellington were unbeaten making Sydney Ward a Plunket Shield-winner in his first season at the top level.
In a period where he lived in Poverty Bay during the 1932-33 season, Syd added another national sporting contest to his resume – representing the province in their Hawke Cup challenge against holders South Auckland. Although Syd hit 74 to lead the Bay to a 30-run first innings’ lead, South Auckland dominated the second half of the match to win by 127 runs.
Back in the capital, Syd secured a place in the Wellington side for their entire 1934-35 Plunket Shield season, hitting his career best of 61 against an Auckland side featuring Jack Cowie (who eventually bowled Syd). A report on the Canterbury match in the Evening Post emphasised Syd’s ability in the field.
Cromb next smacked the ball hard and fairly low to leg, where Ward was fielding deep. Ward attempted and brought off an amazing catch. He stopped the ball in its rapid flight by putting out one hand and then as the leather dropped lie fell to regain possession. The feat, a remarkable one, was loudly applauded. – Evening Post, January 3rd 1934
His Wellington career would span nine years but just ten First-Class matches as he could never quite replicate the consistency he showed in club cricket.
Like so many sportsmen of his era, Syd played and excelled at multiple sports. In rugby he learned his craft with the Selwyn Club before moving to Poneke following his Poverty Bay sojourn. Known for his speed – he earned the nickname “spring heel” – Syd started in the backs before moving to the forwards.
Ward is a fine forward, ideally built for the line-out and having energy and great pace that should make him a great forward in the loose, apart from his ability in the tight. – Evening Post, September 26th 1931
It was as a member of the pack that Syd made his debut for Wellington, facing Hawkes Bay in September 1931. With a try in a winning cause on debut, Syd could well be pleased with his first big game. However, it was the season’s final game and correspondents found little to cheer about given the capital side had started the season as Ranfurly Shield holders only to lose it to Canterbury in their second defence of the year.
In 1933, Syd returned to representative colours but, in the end, cricket would have a lasting impact on his rugby career. While preparing for a January 1934 cricket game between his Kilbirnie Club and Manawatu, Syd attempted to stop a stray ball with his shoeless foot. The result was, a very painful, broken ankle and the end of any great aspirations as a rugby player.
Ward was putting his cricket boots on when a ball was hit towards him by some players practising nearby. With only one boot on, he went to field it, but stopped it with his unprotected foot. He was in such great pain that an ambulance was called to take him to the Hospital . . . – Evening Post, January 22nd 1934
To add insult to injury, rain shortened the Kilbirnie v Manawatu match and a draw was the only possible result.
After leading the averages in club cricket during the 1937-38 season, Syd would again rise to sporting prominence that winter as his Waterside club claimed football’s Chatham Cup for the first time. As reflected by his clean-sheet as goalkeeper, the Evening Post noted that “Ward, in goal for Waterside, made not one mistake”.
In 1939, Waterside would again make the Chatham Cup final at the Basin Reserve with Christchurch’s Western the opponents. Although a closer match than the previous final, Waterside were victorious again, winning 4-2. Newspapers at the time reported on the unprecedented feat achieved by Waterside, who had already claimed the Wellington Senior Championship and the Auld Memorial Cup. Syd would, again, be singled out for his play as the Evening Post correspondent pointed out he played a “marvellously safe game”. The match was played in front of 7000 spectators and the Governor-General was on hand to present the Cup to the winners.
The dominance of Waterside continued in 1940, where a rematch against Mosgiel materialised. Although the southern club scored first, Syd and his team rallied to win 6-2 and become the first side in Chatham Cup history to win three consecutive finals. After that final the Chatham Cup went on hiatus as World War Two consumed the world and Syd Ward’s football career came to an end. Syd kept an eye on his club, however, and, long after they combined to form Karori Waterside, he would watch the team when they played in the Wairarapa.
Outside of his sporting pursuits, Syd Ward worked as a watchmaker out of his shop beneath Wellington’s historic Barrett’s Hotel. At his funeral, Syd was described by his nephew as a “bit of a larrikin” in his early years – emphasised by a run-in with the law in 1941 over a disagreement about the value of a pie. From 1939 to 1945 he was a member of the RNZAF.
With wife, Micky, he lived in Hataitai for many years before the Wairarapa eventually came calling. He would spend his last four decades at Kawaiwai near Featherston, continuing his love for sport by playing indoor bowls until he was 101.
When Syd Ward passed away on the last day of 2010, he was 103 years and 148 days old. That number gives Syd a special place in a sport obsessed with numbers: he is New Zealand’s longest-lived First-Class cricketer and the second longest-lived of all the 43,000 men to have played at that level.
It’s fair to say that his long life – which he believed had a lot to do with a diet heavy on onions, garlic, and porridge – is the reason why Syd has a special place in New Zealand’s sporting history. However, his achievements show that he should be remembered for much more than that.
It is unlikely any other person has come as close as Syd Ward to being a Plunket Shield, Chatham Cup, and Ranfurly Shield champion.