One Hundred Years Ago: 2nd Semi Final, 16th September, 1911


All available evidence suggests that Jack Worrall was a man of practical methods. A plain-speaking disciplinarian who proved a model for most successful coaches who followed. His famous recommendation to his players that ‘football and booze don’t mix’ suggests a man of temperate habits and firm resolve. The teams he coached were renowned for their effectiveness, not their flash. But even he might have succumbed to some nervous tension as his future faced his past on the occasion of the 2nd semi-final of 1911.

Essendon had been a dominant team this season, but they’d been in this same position many times in recent years. Since they’d won their second VFL flag in 1901, they’d only missed the finals twice, but had lost 5 of their last 7 semi-finals. Twice more they’d been runner up. No flags had come their way for a decade. Worrall had been pursued for the express purpose of winning a premiership.

The club Worrall had previously coached remained a formidable foe. In many respects they still bore his legacy of strong-bodied players with superior defensive organisation. ‘The Garrison’ still looked pretty intact. Despite regular controversy and upheavals, Carlton had played in the last five Grand Finals, and only narrowly failed to win four flags in a row. And they remained the one team Essendon hadn’t beaten during the season.

At least this time Essendon had the knowledge that, as top side, they had a second chance if this game was lost. Worrall would have desperately wanted a win.

Opposing coach Fred ‘Pompey’ Elliot had travelled many, often bumpy, miles with his former coach. He’d been there from the beginning as Worrall moulded the Carlton side. He was a sturdy follower in the 1906 premiership win. He’d only missed captaining the 1907 side to the flag when controversially suspended on the eve of the finals – the result of a South Melbourne tit-for-tat charge. He led Carlton when they won again in 1908.

When Worrall and the ‘tea graders’ fell into dispute over money early in 1909, Elliot wasn’t one who came out officially against the coach. But nor did he openly support him. When Worrall stepped aside it was Elliot who had led the club to successive Grand Final defeats, admittedly under duress of circumstance. At 32 years of age, facing his 209th VFL game, Elliot knew this would be his final season as a player. He would have been very keen for a last hurrah at the old coach’s expense.

Despite suffering a ‘bad cold’, Essendon captain Dave Smith had decided to play. The teams were as follows:


Essendon Goal

FB  Harris Jamieson Hughes
FF  Walker Smith Kirby
HB  Clark Payne Ford
HF  Ogden Armstrong Shea
Clancy McGregor Bruce
O’Shea Sewart Chalmers
HF  Marchbank Dick Gotz
HB  Bowe Busbridge White
FF   Wells Gardiner McDonald
RUCK  Wilson Elliot Valentine
            Belcher Baring Cameron

Carlton Goal


The crowd of 40,669 witnessed a scrappy beginning. It was as if the tension of the occasion got to both sides.

The opening bounce had seen the ball passed to Carlton spearhead Vin Gardiner. He goaled with a long place-kick. Thereafter play was riddled with errors. Dave Smith spilled a simple chest mark 5 yards from goal. Players fumbled regularly. Passes were missed, causing scrums to form. Shots on goal were astray.

Finally, Paddy Shea hauled in a fine mark to kick The Same Old’s first goal. Lou Armstrong was prominent early, but even he lacked his usual calm precision. He missed chances. Then Gardiner and Martin Gotz missed several shots between them for the Blues. Amidst a period of Carlton domination Billy Dick out-marked Bill Busbridge to kick Carlton’s 2nd. But Elliot and Jack Wells missed further chances.

On the stroke of the bell Armstrong managed to kick Essendon’s 2nd goal. It made the difference only 5 points a ¼ time, Carlton having the first advantage of a slight breeze.

At this stage Observer thought ‘the notable feature of the game was the number of times men got the ball and did not kick it’.

Smith opened the second term with another miss. Essendon started getting more of the play, but were finding Norman ‘Hackenschmidt’ Clark a ‘very solid barrier on their track to goal’. An extended maul ensued. Observer thought ‘there was a trifle more of playing the man in mistake for the ball than is desirable in a first rate game’. But it was ‘mild indeed compared to many struggles this season’.

Dick continued to out-mark Busbridge, but a pass to Gardiner only produced another miss from the spearhead. Finally, Viv Valentine ‘tore through a crush’ and passed to Gardiner again. This time he kicked straight.

Essendon could ‘never get a fair shot on Carlton’s goal’. ‘The Garrison’ rushed two attacks for behinds amidst a ‘surging scramble’. Ruckman Alan Belcher hauled down a mark. With a straight place-kick he kicked a major.

Just before the ½ time bell, veteran Essendon ‘goalkeeper’ Billy Griffiths hesitated before attacking the ball. It bounced over his head, gifting Gardiner an easy goal. This saw Carlton lead by 9 points at the end of an hour’s dour struggle. 4.7 led 3.4

Worrall appears to have reassessed tactics at half time. When play resumed, Essendon showed ‘a marked preference for the Richmond boundary’. Play began to flow more smoothly. The ‘stumbles, scrambles and fumbles’ of the first half diminished. But scoring remained difficult. ‘Pocket Hercules’ Clark rebuffed another Essendon attack but Smith, who ‘for a big fellow dodges very adroitly’, recovers and hits the post.

Essendon were now ‘often within range’ but finding the Carlton backline of Clark, Billy Payne and Arthur Ford difficult to surpass. At last Belcher received a free kick and goaled. Carlton winger George Bruce found Andy McDonald for a quick replying goal. A Valentine shot was barely touched as it went through.

Carlton continued to lead by 8 points at ¾ time in a low scoring affair.

Essendon made more positional changes at the swapping of ends. Shea was moved from the goal-front to a wing, taking him ‘out of Ford’s control’. Busbridge had been beaten by Billy Dick. He was moved onto the ball.

Carlton veteran Jim Marchbank had been quiet. He commenced the final term by missing a ‘rather easy shot’. On average the Navy Blue team was two years older than their opponents. They had five players over the age of 30, compared to Essendon’s one. Essendon seemedto be ‘opening out’ the play. Carlton seemed to be slowing.

Essendon now ‘’found the road out of the centre, well over to the Richmond side’. They ‘drew steadily, surely upon tiring Carlton’. Fred Baring kicked ‘out of a crush’ for a goal. A behind from Dan Hanley evened the scores.

Followers Belcher and Ernie Cameron were sent forward as The Same Old suspected Carlton were now ‘under the whip’. They continued to attack. Busbridge gave them drive from the middle. Armstrong hit the post. He then sent the ball forward again. Shea followed the play down and gathered to kick a goal.

The ‘dark blue barriers’ now crumbled. Goals came with a rush. Two to Jack Kirby, another to Smith. In not much more than ‘a dazzling five minutes’ Essendon had ‘completely smothered’ Carlton.

Vin Gardiner kicked his 3rd goal late. It was his 47th of the season, which took him past Melbourne’s Harry Brereton as leading goal kicker. it was Carlton’s only consolation.

It is unrecorded whether Jack Worrall allowed himself the indulgence of a smile at the 21 point victory.

Alan Belcher had been Essendon’s best player, rucking tirelessly and kicking 2 important goals. But he’d injured his knee not far from the end. Lou Armstrong had continued his fine season. Though only 170cm, he’d been used regularly by Worrall as a centre half forward. It had brought Armstrong 35 goals so far, the best of an even spread of Essendon scorers.

For the defeated Blues, ‘Hacky’ Clark had been their best, making ‘very few mistakes’, as was his custom. Observer was moved to say ‘taking one game with another, he is probably the best half back of the season’. Alongside Clark, Viv Valentine could claim a share of individual honors, capping an outstanding VFL debut season. Observer thought he ‘sticks so hard you never know when he is beaten’.

Of umpire Jack Elder, Observer considered his effort  ‘not quite so successful as the first semi-final’.

While the Essendon VFL side contemplated Collingwood next week, the Essendon VFA team was having a  dramatic afternoon. Having finished clear on top of that competition, they had a titanic battle with Brunswick in the final game.

Dave McNamara had surpassed Frank ‘Silver ‘ Caine’s Association goal kicking record of 74, reaching a total of 79. Caine had only set the record the previous season for North Melbourne, having left Carlton as one of the ‘Big Four’ defectors in the wake of Worrall’s resignation.

Despite this, Essendon found themselves 3 points down when McNamara marked in a pack 40 yards out on the bell. The large crowd streamed onto the field as the bell rang. The umpire vainly sought to clear the field. McNamara declined to wait and took his kick. He missed narrowly. The goal umpire was swamped by spectators and couldn’t get to his flags to wave them. In the chaos, Essendon took this as an indication they’d won and began chairing big Dave off the ground.

Then they got the bad news. They lodged a protest, which was dismissed. So two Essendon teams would be playing for premiership glory the following Saturday.

Venue: M.C.G. Date: Sat, 16-Sep-1911 2:30 PM Attendance: 40,669











CA by 5

CA by 9

CA by 8

ES by 21


Essendon: Belcher, Shea, Smith, Kirby (2), Armstrong (1)

Carlton: Gardiner (3), Dick, McDonald, Valentine (1)



Essendon: Belcher, Armstrong, Baring, Chalmers, Bowe, Sewart, O’Shea

Carlton:  Clark, Valentine, Dick, Payne, Bruce, Clancy, McGregor


The Argus

AFL Tables

Flying High: Michael Maplestone

The Old Dark Navy Blues: Lionel Frost

The Mighty Blues- Team of the Century: Garrie Hutchinson

The Courage Book of VFL Finals- 1897-1972: Grahame Atkinson

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.

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