1891 to 1909, the District Scheme

The District Scheme came about because the club system failed the rapidly growing game in Auckland - and that mainly happened because Ponsonby had grown so strong the other clubs no longer felt it was worthwhile playing against them. Since the formation of the Auckland Union in 1883 little stability had been achieved, with clubs appearing and folding on an annual basis. While it was a problem at Senior level it was a curse among the Juniors since these clubs were small enterprises, normally with about 20 members, and not aligned to any of the bigger clubs.

Matters came to a head in 1891, when Auckland, the original club, announced it could no longer carry on, leaving only three Senior teams. Such a situation was clearly unacceptable although it had been foreseen for at least a year, and a plan for a District Scheme was hastily put in place. This limited players to the club in whose area they lived, and those areas were clearly and strictly defined. New clubs had to be created to make it work, and four came into being - City, Parnell, Newton and Suburbs (not the present club, but one that covered a huge area from Helensville to Papakura).

Ponsonby only had three of its 1891 club team left when the new competition kicked off, but fielded teams in all three grades. This three-tier competition was the first indication of how well the scheme could work, and that depth built over time to make Auckland rugby exceptionally strong. Ponsonby, on the other hand, had to rebuild almost from scratch and it took some time.

That, incidentally, is where the word 'District' in our name came from.The old Ponsonby Football Club felt little association with the new one, and passions were inflamed for a time. Eventually the committee, which included several notables from the club days, got the community on-side again but in the interim the club had been forced to make a name change, and it proved more durable than the competition which gave rise to it.

The District days were, for the most part, forgettable ones in Ponsonby. A surprise title in 1897 remained just that but poor performance, low table placings and the odd default were more usual. It wasn't until 1901 when the new shed was built, and when the players' responsibilities were forcibly pointed out by the President at the 1903 AGM, that things began to change. Dave Gallaher built a superb team which eventually challenged, and then dethroned, City as the competition powerhouse. The 1909 side was so good it would still rank in any discussion of New Zealand's greatest club teams, containing as it did eight All Blacks, six who would become rugby league internationals, four New Zealand Maori reps and a clutch of 'ordinary' Auckland reps.

City and Ponsonby had exposed the inherent flaw in the District Scheme, which was there was no natural way of balancing an unbalanced competition. So, shortly before the 1910 season began, the programme was abandoned since nobody could see any way to loosen Ponsonby's grip. If they had waited a few months, they would have seen the ravages rugby league raiding and the march of the calendar were to cause, but those couldn't be relied upon. In reality the District Scheme had served its purpose, but its time was done.