One Hundred Years Ago: 1st Semi Final, 9th September, 1911


The area just south of the Yarra was one of Melbourne’s most populous from the 1840’s. In the gold rush days  it was known as Canvas Town, after the huge tent city that was temporary home to thousands on their way inland to seek fortune. Then it was called Emerald Hill in honour of the Irish settler influence. It only became the city of South Melbourne in 1883.

Prior to that date a football club named South Melbourne existed, though it began life in 1874 as Cecil. Shortly afterwards Cecil renamed itself South Melbourne, and when that club merged with Albert Park in 1880 the club adopted Albert Park’s red and white strip to become the South Melbourne we remember today.

South took up residence at the Lake Oval in 1881 and celebrated by defeating VFA powerhouse Geelong to claim the flag that season. South remained a VFA power until becoming one of the original VFL clubs. Their first VFL flag came in 1909 when they prevented Jack Worrall’s Carlton from winning their 4th successive flag by a margin of 2 points.

Captain-coach of that premiership side was brilliant rover Charlie Ricketts. Ricketts fell seriously ill before the following season and had to cede leadership to Bill ‘Sonna’ Thomas, who’d starred at centre half back in the 1909 grand final. Ricketts missed virtually the whole of the 1910 season, which saw South lose in the finals to Collingwood.  He’d only played a handful of games to date in 1911. He had, however, played in the final round of the regular season and was named for this semi final.

Bill Thomas led a side that had challenged a powerful Essendon team for top spot until losing its last two matches. With Jack Scobie and Tom Grimshaw he made up a mighty half back line that had been vital to the team’s success.

Ahead of this line was a following group Observer considered a ‘rare bunch’. Vic Belcher only stood 5’ 10” in the old parlance, but he’d been a dominant ruckman with the ability to kick a goal. Fred Carpenter had roved superbly and also proved a brilliant goal-sneak with 23 goals when resting forward.

Then there was Bruce Sloss, alternating as what we’d now call ruck rover. Sloss has already been mentioned frequently in these dispatches. So brilliant had his play been this season that at its  conclusion he would be voted The Argus Champion of the Colony by readers.

Up front stood Len ‘Mother’ Mortimer, who’s 44 goals constituted 28% of the team’s season tally. Like many star forwards of this era, Mortimer (178cm) was small by modern standards. But he was a deadly shot for goal with place-kick or punt. He’d dominated South’s goal kicking since his 1906 debut.

The team South Melbourne opposed this day had a powerful pedigree. Not only were Collingwood reigning premiers, the club had never missed the finals since the VFL had begun. But the Magpies had endured an unusually patchy season, suffering the indignity of 4 defeats at their Victoria Park fortress. Star goal kicker Dick Lee had battled injury and suspension, forcing the team to rely more on rover Tom Baxter’s scoring, supported by a spread of others. Today they would be missing captain-coach George Angus’ presence as player. The injured Angus had played his last game. Lee would stand in as skipper.

The teams lined up as follows for this elimination semi final:


South Melbourne goals

FF Ricketts Mortimer Casey
FB Thomas Rowell Rowan
HF Sloss Hiskens Deas
HB Green Sharp McIvor
C Caldwell Bower Prince
C Saddler McHale Gibb
HB Scobie Thomas Grimshaw
HF Anderson Lee Vernon
FB Walsh Cameron Pentland
FF Gilchrist Minogue Wilson
Foll: Belcher Milne Carpenter
Hughes Ryan Baxter

Collingwood goals


A slight wind was blowing from the south as 43, 575 fans congregated to watch the contest. The expectant crowd was noisy. Collingwood fans had never been renowned for bashfulness, nor were South’s supporters considered a meek bunch. The term ‘barrackers’ is said to have originated from the cheers (and otherwise) of those who came from nearby St Kilda Rd army barracks to support the Lake team.

Vice President of the VFL Charles Brownlow addressed both teams before play commenced, urging them to ‘play football and nothing else’. He likely had the events of the previous year’s grand final in mind.

Umpire Jack Elder bounced the ball on turf described as ‘soft but not slippery’ to begin proceedings. Collingwood had the slight favour of the breeze, but it was South who scored first when Belcher snapped the opening goal. Collingwood quickly replied through George Anderson, who was on the end of ‘one of their old time breezy dashes’.

Thereafter the quarter was one of ‘charge and counter-charge’ with little scoring. Paddy Gilchrist missed a couple of chances for the Pies, failing to take advantage of the efforts of little Percy Wilson, who was ‘playing like a tiger’. South was getting drive from the wing, where Joe Prince’s ‘cleverness was always too much for Saddler’s pace’. Lee marked within range but inexplicably tried to pass off, squandering the chance.

At ¼ time it was 1.4 to 1.2.

Upon resumption Carpenter looked to have goaled for South only to see Ted Rowell turn it away at the last moment. Rowell was well on top of Mortimer but had to watch as Ricketts bobbed up to kick Souths’ 2nd. Lee immediately found ruckman ‘Flapper’ Hughes who ‘marked in the thick of a crush’. He wobbled it through.

Then a moment of farce. A rolling ball eluded two Collingwood defenders, but Dick Casey ran into the open goal and missed. Then Carpenter hit the post. Milne took two ‘beautiful marks’ but missed both shots. South were doing most of the attacking but had little to show for it.

Collingwood now ‘brightened up, always playing on’. Ryan and Baxter missed, but Lee found Ryan and they finally had their 3rd goal. That goal was the difference at ½ time, 3.7 to 2.7.

Early in the 3rd term Gilchrist marked near the point post. He ‘kicked around the corner’ to extend Collingwood’s lead. Belcher again got forward to respond with a South goal. Carpenter was ‘playing well but shooting badly’. He missed again.

With the game finely poised, Collingwood ‘developed such form as we have not seen from them this season’. Lee was awarded a free kick for a ‘neck hold’. He kicked the Pies’ 5th goal. Soon Baxter received another free in front of goal for their 6th. Now ‘one of the finest dashes of the match was seen’. Ryan, Sharp and Gibbs combined to feed Lee hid 2nd goal. South were staggering. When Gilchrist kicked yet another they were almost on the deck.

Collingwood’s burst saw them 5 goals up and in command at the final break.

Dick Lee moved into defence to begin the final term. The Pies were looking to sit on their lead. In desperation South threw Jack Scobie full time on the ball. He lifted them. Rickets and Bob Deas finally found the goals for South. Their fans grew louder.

Then Lee hobbled out of a crush with an injured leg. Though he remained on the field to marshal his troops, he was now ineffective as a player. Collingwood’s plan to defend was looking decidedly shaky as the South fans roared.

At the crucial moment, veteran Pie defender Ted Rowell timed another of his runs from full back to perfection. He marked a long way out but kicked truly. South’s run was stalled. Then Tom Baxter swooped to goal twice and settle the matter.

Against expectations, Collingwood triumphed by 5 goals.

South were left to lament a game where ‘fewer men than usual reached the top of their form’. Sloss had one of his rare poor games, whilst Mortimer had been left eclipsed and goalless by Rowell. ‘Markwell’ of The Australasian thought their problems lay in a forward line that had become ‘too predictable’. Mortimer’s goal scoring had certainly declined late in the season. South Melbourne had lost their final three games of the season. It was a poorly timed slump.

Scobie had been ‘a most dashing player’, and Prince had won clearly on his wing, whilst Belcher managed 3 goals. But they weren’t enough.

Once again Collingwood had pulled themselves together when it mattered most. Their evenness of contribution and superior discipline had shown through again.

The man they had to thank most was 35 year-old Ted Rowell. Rowell had been a crucial player in the three premierships Collingwood had thus far won. A champion sprinter in his youth, he’d long been regarded as one of the fastest men in football. Beginning at Collingwood as a forward, he was accused of ‘laying down’ in a game in 1902. He bitterly denied this claim, which caused huge controversy at the time. Nevertheless, he played in the Magpies’ premiership double of 1902-3 before returning home to Kalgoorlie. Collingwood lured him back but he sat out 1905 when the VFL refused him a permit. Thereafter he’d become a champion defender. His judgement in picking the moment to run forward had been on perfect display in this game. He would play his 189th and final game for the black and white in 1915, aged 39.

The Magpies now awaited the result of the Essendon-Carlton match the following Saturday. In their fortnight off they would be hoping Dick Lee could recover from his leg injury.


Venue: M.C.G. Date: Sat, 09-Sep-1911 2:30 PM Attendance: 43,575
Collingwood 1.4.10 3.7.25 8.10.58 11.11.77
South Melbourne 1.2.8 2.7.19 3.10.28 6.11.47
CW by 2 CW by 6 CW by 30 CW by 30



Collingwood: Baxter 3, Gilchrist 2, Lee 2, Anderson, Hughes, Ryan, Rowell

South Melbourne: Belcher 3, Ricketts 2, Deas


Collingwood: Rowell, McHale, Hughes, Gibb, Sharp, Baxter, Gilchrist, Ryan, Wilson

South Melbourne: Scobie, Prince, Grimshaw, Thomas, Carpenter


The Argus

AFL Tables

Encyclopedia of AFL/VFL Footballers: Russell Holmesby & Jim Main

In The Blood: Jim Main

The Courage Book of VFL Finals 1897-1972

About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has been a Carlton member for more than 30 years.


  1. JB, when I read wonderful pieces like this I wish I had a time machine so I could go back and experience the moments. I wonder how those 1911 fans would see footy today?

  2. John Butler says:

    Thanks Phil

    Thought you might enjoy the Magpie win. :)

    A good question that one. I reckon they’d catch on pretty quickly.

    The game is waaayyyy quicker now. But most of the essential charms are the same.

  3. A ripping yarn JB.

  4. Andrew Fithall says:

    JB. I like it that Carlton were denied a fourth consecutive premiership in 1909 so when Collingwood achieved it in 1930, they were the first club to do so. With Port winning in 2004, Brisbane fell one year short. The feat wasn’t achieved again until 2013.

  5. John Butler says:

    Cheers Dips

    AF, good to see you’re not getting ahead of yourself there. :)

  6. Andrew,

    here’s the challenge.

    If Collingwood win the next three flags I will weed Victoria Park in a Collingwood top and fish net stockings with my wife’s eye brow tweezers.

    What will you do if they don’t?

    Come on be brave.

  7. Andrew Fithall says:

    I will weed my back garden in my wife’s leotard and fishnets. Oh hang on. That is a normal Sunday afternoon.

  8. John Butler says:

    Thought I noticed some strange apparel on the clothesline AF.

  9. You response does no credit to the ouitrageous challenges that Lou Richards was known to be involved in, in days of olde.

    I will take it a s a retraction of your previous comment.

    Good luck tomorrow arvo. ‘Break a leg.’

  10. Dave Nadel says:

    Great report, JB, of a great game with a great result. Andrew, you are old enough to know that Woodsmen should not count chickens before they are hatched. – We haven’t managed to win two in a row since 1936. If we win this week we can worry about this year. If we win this year we can worry about next year.

  11. John Butler says:

    Thanks Dave

    Who says I never give the Magpie supporters anything? :)

  12. Sorry Andrew but Essendon were the first to win four flags in a row 1891-1894.
    Geelong also won 7 premierships in 9 years.
    The Blues have won 23 premierships, but that’s another story. Check out Blueseum!

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