J. F. Burley, son of the maker df the football,
with the roughing template in position on a full
back of leather/marks out a section of a cover and
the next stage is then
the stretching process evolved by- J. L Burley. A section has the stretch, taken from the leather which
is also set out in its correct for- mation and, after grading, a batch
is sent to
. post-war reconstruction scheme trainee C. M. Landwehr, who flattens each section with a wooden "slicker" (after
matching) and fhen cuts them by the ex- pedient of a finishing template after which
ws^mk&m* JJ ) 1/ .
FORTY years ago, three
young men were walking along a city street. Two of them were discussing a subject in which both were keenly interested football. The third was indifferent. "Pity they can't make a football to keep its shape," said one. "Yes," agreed the other. "l was at a match on Saturday and the ball looked more round than oval at the end of the play."' Now the third member of the trio was interested. "I could make the ball, that's needed,*' came his surpris- ing interjection. The pair looked at their companion. But he wasn't jest» ing-so they laughed at him. That hurt. When the conversation turned to other topics the memory of jeers remained. From this simple begin- ning, of a young man determined to make an apparent vaunt in a reality, resulted an idea which later revolu- tionised play on football fields not only in this State, but throughout Australia. For the third young man was J. L. Burley.
J. L. BURLEY learnt the leather goods trade
in Ballarat (Victoria) and, when he had completed his apprenticeship, journeyed west- wards to work with a local trading company. Later, he travelled the world earning s living in various places as a carpenter. Travel-weary, he returned to Western Australia in 1906-a time when positions in the city were becoming increasingly difficult to secure. Jobless and remembering his early training at the Ballarat leather goods factory, he stumbled on the iäea of making a football to keep its shape. With youthful enthusiasm he contacted the secre- tary of the W.A. Football Association (it was not until 1908 that the association became known as the league) and was told to produce a football but, as the Gilbert was the official ball, it was not definite that his production . would be given a trial. Undeterred, and having
nothing else to do, he made his specimen ball, and, on . June 14, 1906, following the, offer of East Fremantle association delegates to try out the ball at its next match, the "improved design" made at its first appearance in the game between East Fremantle and West Perth at Fremantle Oval. A barrage of depreciatory criticism was fired at the new ball and its producer in the Press of the day, following the game. So, in order to escape the unwanted publicity, young Burley decided "to let Iiis idea
"die a natural death."
"STILL KEPT ITS SHAPE"
A FORTNIGHT later he attended a match at
Fremantle Oval between the port teams. When the players were returning to the dressing rooms at half-time, Burley was surprised to see T. C. (Tommy) Wilson, then captain'of East Fremantle, making his way towards him. "That ball you made is amazing," said Wilson. "We have been using it at practice and a local water-polo team has been playing with it in the Fremantle baths. It must have been in the water for over eight hours and the con- founded thing still keeps its shape. The only fault is that it isn't as big as a standard ball. Make us a standard size ball, and we'll ust it." "I will," said Burley. And the rest is ancient history. The e: -carpenter has been making footballs ever since Since 1921, the Burley o duction has been the only ball used by the
W.A. National Football League and has ap-. peared in every carnival- and interstate match . played, in Western Australia. And, with the Sherrin, it is the official ball of the Australian National Football Council.
A few years after the debut of the ball at Fremantle Oval, Messrs. Jack Orr (brother of the present league secretary, W. R. Orr), J. L Burley and the late Ivo ("The Prince of Um- pires") Crapp formed themselves into an unoffi- cial committee to improve the ball further At the time the football. used was the same shape as the Victorian ball, which was similar to the pointed English rugby football. This was unsuitable for West Australian footballers, the majority of whom favoured ground-play.
. Mrs. E. Reilly machines thc mouth-pieces on to a cover section. Prior to this stage, the mouth-pieces have been: marked out, machined and the holes for the lace punched. After ihe «meuth-pieces have been affixed the covers are sent to
After a season of countless experiments the new shaped ball was evolved which, initially, was opposed by Victorian players and officials, but was later accepted as most appropriate for the Australian rules games.
HOW THE BALL IS MADE
gQME of the leather used in the manufacture
of the now famed Burley football is im- ported from the Eastern States-but the major- ity is secured from the hides of Wyndham cattle. When the belly is stripped from the hide the better selection of leather remains and it is this leather which is used for the ball. Bales of full backs of leather are deliv- ered to the firm from a city tanner's ware-
Initially, a full back is laid on a bench and a craftsman then takes a roughing template--a steel guide shaped in the form of a section of a football cover. Placing the template on the leather, sections are marked out and ';ut and then taken to the stretching machine. Herein lies the secret of the success of the shape keeping Burley ball. The process takes a cer- tain amount of stretch from the leather and also sets out the section in its correct forma- tion. Evolved by J. L. Burley, the machine is the work of many years of experimenting and is the only one of its kind in the world. It has not been patented because, immediately patent rights are taken out, the machine can be copied by other firms. A member of the staff, who recently worked in a leading sports goods factory in Melbourne, testifies that, thou- sands of pounds are being, spent in Victorian factories on worthless experiments to discover a means of correctly stretching footballs. Mr. Burley made his design for less ftian £30. Shrewdly, he has a better method at his dispo- sal should the principle of the present machine be discovered. But, as it would probably raise production costs, , he is content to rely on his present scheme.
Y^ITH the stretching completed, the difficult
grading process is undertaken. Grading must be thorough for there are seven grades for seven different sizes of "footballs and eaeh is determined by the quality, substance, weight and stretch of the leather. Following the grad- ing the matching of cover sections takes place. This, says Mr. Burley, is mainly a process of elimination. A batch of sections might only include two of the four necessary for the com- plete football. With the matching completed, a wooden "slicker" is then used to flatten each section and a finishing template (wider but shorter than the roughing template) placed in position for each section to be cut to correct size by a "clicker." Each section is then num- bered with the same nmneral or numerals as the other three sections pf the cover.
The mouth-piece is marked out, machined and the holes for the lace are punched. When tile name is stencilled on a section the four
. final touching expert Mrs. J. Owen, astride a stitching horse as she closes the seams and sews the sections together. This is a 7 J -minute ¡ob for each cover, which is then token to ... ,
components and the mouth-piece are given to the stitcher, who sews the complete ball with a hand-rolled hemp thread.
Finally, the completed cover is inserted with a special testing bladder made of heavy rubber and the ball sent to the testing bench. Here it is blown up much harder than would be necessary under normal playing conditions and the seams evened out by rubbing with a wooden "smasher." If the ball does not attain the requisite standard it is then graded down.
The finished article should have a lateral circumference of not less than 22|in. and not more than 23in.; a longitudinal circumference not less tran 29£in., and not more than 29£in. and should weigh not less than 16oz. nor more than 17oz. These, of course, are the league football dimensions. There are the small balls, which are also hand-sewn (down to school grade) and grades six to one which are stitched by machine but hand-finished.
The pre-war production of footballs was usu- ally about 250 a week but, with the present shortage of materials, barely 20 per cent of this figure can now be attained. The bladder position is acute. As Mr. Burley says, most clubs have had to "beg, borrow or steal" to secure bladders for the current season and no relief can be expected for some time.
It is of interest that three square feet of leather are needed for each football, of which
"PRINCE OF UMPIRES": The lote Ivo Cropp, who with Messrs. J. L. Burley and Jock Orr carried our extensive experiments
on the Australian rules football»
the testing bench wftere the^seams arc evened out with a- ''¿masher" ofter the boil has been blown up harder thon normal match condi- tions. Holding the finished article is Mr. J. L. Burley, the manufacturer. ,
there is an unavoidable wastage of about one third. From a full back of 18 square* feet of leather, the producer is fortunate to secure * four first-class footballs. And the wholesale
cost of leather is 20 per cent higher than in pre-war days.
The story of the small-town boy who made good and finally paid a large contribution to the prestige of local production is the story of a resolute mind. But, as Mr. Burley will admit, luck has played a large part in his career-^ some will call it destiny. Had he not learnt the leather goods trade; had he not interrupted the conversation of his friends and been re- buked 40 years ago; had he not been spurred on to further experiments by Tommy Wilson when his idea seamed a failure he might have turned to another sphere of life and Australian niles players might still be kicking rugby foot- balls. But, all of that did happen and rugby balls have disappeared completely from the Australian rules arena.
It all adds up to a fanciful but authentic tale which might rightly be termed tile romance of a football.