One Hundred Years Ago: Grand Final, 23rd September, 1911

 

Essendon had been the outstanding team of the year. They’d had the better of Collingwood in both previous encounters this season, including an historic 85 point thrashing of the Magpies in round 4. They were firm favourites to wrap the flag up in this game. But Collingwood coach George Angus had reason to suspect things might be falling into place for his side on the morning of the 1911 Grand Final.

Patchy for much of the season, Collingwood had shown its best form in defeating the fancied South Melbourne in the 1st Semi Final. They also seemed favoured by the weather. It had rained for much of the week and continued to shower throughout match day. This was thought not to suit the faster Essendon team.

Most crucially, Essendon announced at the eleventh hour that their champion follower Alan Belcher hadn’t sufficiently recovered from injury to start. The interplay between Essendon’s following division of Belcher, Fred Baring and Ernie Cameron had been a key strength of the team  Jack Worrall had revitalised. Though Belcher was only 179cm tall, he played well above his height. Baring, at 185cm, would be spotting height and reach to Magpie ruckman Les Hughes. Hughes not only stood 188cm tall, his nickname of “Flapper’ was a tribute to the telescopic length of his arms.

As Collingwood hopes rose, events of the 24 hours preceding the game provided further evidence that football was still dogged by violence and suspicions over the influence of gambling.

A VFL delegates meeting on the Friday night resolved to organise extra police protection for players and umpires. This followed assaults on two Essendon players as they left the ground at the conclusion of their semi final. One of the players had been angrily kicked by a woman spectator. What C.J. Dennis dubbed ‘The Call of Stoush’ was alive and well.

Essendon had entertained hopes important forward Jim ‘Bull’ Martin might be available. Martin had been suspended for the duration of the season following an incident with Fitzroy’s George Holden. Martin had subsequently been found guilty and fined by the law courts, but demeed innocent on appeal. After this success, Essendon had approached the VFL looking to have the suspension overturned. The League refused to back down.

On Saturday morning, there was a flurry of activity at the North Melbourne ground, where Brunswick and Essendon Town were meeting in the VFA Grand Final. A Brunswick player had notified his club president that he and two other players had been offered £60 to ‘play square’ or ‘stiff’. The player denied any intention of throwing the game. The Brunswick committee hastily met at the ground, resolving not to inform the rest of the team, and trusting the players concerned.

The day  remained wet as 43,905 fans assembled at the MCG. Follower reported that ‘the blocks were slippery and wet after the rain and during the afternoon no fewer than five horses fell in their shafts, blocking traffic on the corner of Swanston and Flinders Streets’.

Apart from Belcher, Les White was also out injured for the Same Old. Dick Lee had declared himself fit despite injuring his knee in the Semi Final. The teams were as follows:

 

Essendon Goals

FF Kirby Smith (C) Walker
FB Thomas Rowell Rowe
HF Shea Armstrong Ogden
HB Green Sharp McIvor
C Chalmers Sewart O’Shea
C Sadler McHale Gibb
HB Monteith Busbridge Bowe
HF Anderson Minogue Wilson
FB Hazel Griffith Hanley
FF Gilchrist Lee (C) Vernon
FOLL: Baring McLeod Cameron
Hughes Ryan Baxter

Collingwood Goals

 

A heavy shower drenched the ground right on game time, making conditions extremely slippery. As the outer crowd fought over umbrellas, Jack Worrall had remained ever the stickler for detail. He’d instructed his men to wear long-sleeve guernseys. Most of the Collingwood side were sleeveless.

Essendon certainly handled the ball better early. Contrary to speculation, their small men seemed to relish the wet more than their opponents. Essendon dominated the early running without kicking goals. Ted Rowell saved a Ted Kirby shot right in the teeth of goal. Essendon’s score advanced by points. Finally, George McLeod (Belcher’s replacement) punted ‘from a scramble within range’ and scored the first goal.

Dick Lee was obviously restricted by his injury. He seemed to aggravate it in a crush and was now considerably hobbled. The risk of playing an injured man seemed about to backfire. To make matters worse, Dan Minogue now emerged from a pack clutching one arm. It transpired he’d re-broken his collarbone. He would have to battle on.

With two men virtually down, Collingwood hung in while Essendon swarmed. Rowell marked another Kirby shot on the line. Jim Sharp intercepted a couple more attacks. Finally, Baring punted Essendon’s second.

Dick Lee was limping up forward. His opponents took him for granted and gave him latitude. A flukey kick found him unopposed. He kicked a late goal against the flow. The dominant Essendon only led by 9 points at ¼ time.

The second term saw play ‘open out’ as the weather improved. Though it was ‘dash for dash’, neither side could make it count on the scoreboard. Collingwood gave up their customary short-passing style and began kicking long, but to little effect. Smith, Shea and Sewart all missed shots from close range for the Same Old. The Magpie defence panicked and pushed Kirby in the back. He kicked Essendon’s third. Collingwood’s only real attack in a long while came when Tom Baxter followed his own kick down and missed narrowly with a snap.

Though they had squandered many chances, Essendon seemed comfortable with a 16 point lead at ½ time.

That VFL delegates meeting the previous evening had resolved that teams should take no more than 15 minutes for the half time beak. Collingwood reappeared to schedule, now all wearing long sleeves. But there was no Essendon. Umpire Elder whistled the players out. Still no show. Finally he went into the Essendon rooms. Worrall, the perfectionist,  had instructed his players to put longer stops in their boots. This required much makeshift reshodding. Slowly Essendon straggled out. It was 26 minutes before they were at full complement.

Collingwood regarded the delay as a discourtesy and were incensed. They attacked with fury. Angus had shifted Rowell forward and Lee back. It had an immediate effect. Rowell hit the post, then Sharp found him again. He placed the ball on the ground and kicked true. Only 10 points the difference. It was Essendon’s turn to defend grimly.

Again the injured man was taken for granted. A kick found Minogue in space. With his one useable hand he gathered and sent a low, skidding shot through the big sticks. Collingwood attacked until the bell. It was 3 points Essendon’s way at ¾ time.

It looked as if Essendon might need that right of challenge for the following week. The Magpies were certainly chirpy. A Collingwood delegate was heard to enquire of his Essendon counterpart if Belcher would be fit next week.

Hughes was now controlling the taps for Collingwood, regularly feeding small men Dick Vernon and Percy Wilson. Baring was losing the taps, but fighting valiantly around the ground.

Early in the final term, Baxter ‘rolled the ball in front of him until within range’. He drew a free. He missed with a ‘shockingly bad kick’. Then McHale found Baxter again. He missed with a snap. With the margin now but a point, Baxter had another chance. His kick was on target but too low and defenders intercepted. Rowell shot for goal but Billy Griffith saved Essendon on the line.

Now Baxter marked again within range. He placed the ball down with apparent deliberation. Observer thought he ‘always takes risks in placing the ball close to the mark’. Baxter kicked the heavy ball into the man on the mark.

With players hurling themselves at the fray, Essendon kicked forward for Bill Walker to take a tough grab in a pack. From near 50 yards out, with a heavy ball, he managed Essendon’s first goal since the second term. The Same Old seemed inspired. Sewart received a free from another attack but missed everything. The Collingwood rebound was cut off by Lou Armstrong in the centre. He kicked long over two Collingwood defenders into the path of Paddy Shea, running down from the wing. Shea charged toward goal. ‘Just for an instant it seemed he would carry the ball a couple of yards too far’. He didn’t. Essendon now led by 13 points.

Almost immediately the cheers of their supporters were quieted. Baxter managed a ‘finely angled’ shot on target. There was 5 minutes left.

Minogue somehow gathered the ball again. His shot scrambled a point. There was a straight kick in it.

All 36 players were now in Collingwood’s forward line. A couple of minutes remained. Baxter was ‘roughly manhandled’ in sight of the umpire. He was ‘a bit to one side, but in easy distance’. He placed the ball again. An excited onlooker cried ‘any money you can get!’ Baxter’s kick thumped into the chest of the player tending the mark.

In the final minute Ernie Cameron gathered for Essendon and took off ‘with a sudden dash across the goal front, carrying the ball right out to the wing’. There was no time for it to come back. Essendon had won the flag.

Some reports have Baxter ‘slinking’ from the ground, ‘ignored by team mates and hooted by supporters’. Questions were immediately being asked. Suspicions aroused. His actions in this game remain a point of controversy even today.

Tom Baxter had always seemed a worthy heir to Dick Condon as Collingwood’s enfant terrible in talent and temperament. He was a superb ball handler and deadly left foot kick. Usually. Legend has him winning wagers by kicking a ball from 20 yards through sticks a foot apart.

He was flamboyant off the field as well.  Tom liked a bet. He boxed for money. He owned a racehorse named King Tom. He was said to have married an actress. He was associated with John Wren, though this was hardly unique amongst Magpies of the day.

Baxter was known as one who ‘played for pay’ even before payments were sanctioned. He’d been banned for life by the Bendigo League in 1908 for playing without a permit in a final up there after Collingwood’s season had finished. The VFL had declined to take action about that for ‘lack of evidence’. His occasional habit of kicking with the right foot was regarded as ‘not fair dinkum’. Collingwood skipper of 1908-9, Bob Nash, was alleged to have ‘jobbed’ Baxter once for ‘not playing straight’.

Many Collingwood old-timers were convinced Baxter had ‘played stiff’.

Others disagreed. Decades later, Ted Rowell offered sympathy, perhaps because Rowell himself had been subject to such allegations. He thought Baxter ‘the most disappointed player on the day’. That some considered he hadn’t offered his best ‘added bitterness to his cup of sorrow’.

Certainly extra goal kicking responsibility had been thrust on Baxter with the injuries to Lee and Minogue. Perhaps he had tried too hard? Perhaps the obvious displeasure of some team mates was due to Baxter forgetting the team plan in a crisis? Maybe he’d got carried away with the moment? Tried too much with a wet, heavy ball?

Collingwood held an inquiry in the aftermath. Rowell claimed it was at Baxter’s request. Officially Baxter was exonerated. He was declared ‘a skilful rover’. But the fact remains that the man who was only playing this season because of a previous ‘Collingwood subterfuge’ had now played his last game in black and white.

The Magpies’ leading goal scorer of the season was cleared to St Kilda. This arouses more suspicion. If you wanted to offload a talented player, St Kilda would have seemed a low risk option. Officially, the transfer was a mutual decision of player and club.

Baxter played 11 games for St Kilda in 1912, rounding out his career tally at 100. He had played his last VFL game at age 28. The doubts lingered.

When it came to gambling in Melbourne during this time, attention usually turned to John Wren. But Collingwood was an abiding passion of Wren’s. It seems improbable he would bet against them.

The truth was that hundreds of other possible corrupting influences existed. Melbourne was rife with illegal betting options. Some elements of the police force strived to put them out of business. Other elements conspired with the gamblers.

It seems fitting that on this same day, a meeting of the Bent Memorial Committee resolved to spend £500 on a memorial to the recently deceased premier. The same Tommy Bent who, when Minister for Railways, rarely failed to profit from buying land in any area about to get a rail line. The same man who borrowed vastly and repaid little, yet always found someone prepared to lend more. A man well at home in a State Parliament full of secret bankrupts.  Of that there is no longer doubt.

For such was Melbourne, and its football, one hundred years ago.

 

Addendum

 With World War 1 not far distant, you might expect that some of the key dramatis personae  of 1911 trod disparate future paths. You would be right.

John ‘Jack’ Worrall: This was Worrall’s fourth flag in four completed seasons of coaching. The following year he and Essendon made it five in a row. No other coach has achieved this feat in VFL/AFL football.

James Francis ‘Jock’ McHale: McHale became captain-coach of Collingwood when George Angus left to coach Williamstown before the 1912 season. Ironically, considering what followed, that year he coached the first Collingwood VFL team to miss the finals.

Walter Henry ‘Dick’ Lee: By playing with an injured knee in the 1911 finals, Lee had put his career in jeopardy. He only managed one game in 1912 and retired in frustration. A doctor persuaded him he had a cure. After the first known successful knee cartilage operation in Australia, Lee went on to play until 1922 – 230 games and 707 goals in all.

Fred ‘Pompey’ Elliot: The man who replaced Worrall as Carlton coach has been a great player and leader. He was the first man to play 200 VFL games and played in two premierships, but never coached one. After a seemingly active retirement, Elliot enlisted in the army in 1916. Something went terribly wrong. He began to drink heavily. He started hearing voices in his head. Hallucinations grew worse. He tried to cut his own throat on May Day. He was saved, but spent decades in the Kew Asylum.

Bruce Moses Farquhar Sloss: The ‘James Hird of his era’, and Argus ‘Champion of the Colony’ for 1911. Sloss went on to be a clear best on ground performer in the 1914 Grand Final. Despite his efforts, South lost to Carlton. It was the last VFL game Sloss played. He was killed on the battlefields of France, aged 28. One of many footballers who never made it home.

 

 

Venue: M.C.G. Date: Sat, 23-Sep-1911 2:50 PM Attendance: 43,905

Essendon

2.4.16

3.9.27

3.11.29

5.11.41

Collingwood

1.1.7

1.5.11

3.8.26

4.11.35

ES by 9

ES by 16

ES by 3

ES by 6

 

Goals:

Essendon – Shea, Baring, Kirby, McLeod, Walker

Collingwood – Rowell, Lee, Minogue, Baxter

Best:

Essendon – Baring, Cameron, Busbridge, Bowe, Armstrong, Kirby, Sewart, Shea

Collingwood – Rowell, Ryan, Wilson, Hughes, Vernon, Sharp, McHale

 

Sources:

Full Points Footy

The Argus

AFL Tables

MCC Library

Flying High: Michael Maplestone

Kill For Collingwood: Richard Stremski

More Than a Century of AFL Grand Finals: Jim Main

The Clubs: ed John Ross & Garrie Hutchinson

100 Years of Australian Football: ed. John Ross

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

When It Matters Most: Jim Main

The Great Australian Book of Football Stories: Garrie Hutchinson

Football’s Greatest Players: Stephanie Holt & Garrie Hutchinson

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

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.

Comments

  1. Well done, JB.

    The story of the 1911 season has been fascinating.

  2. John Butler says:

    Cheers Smokie.

    Glad you enjoyed it.

  3. Thanks JB. With your pieces and the Roosters we’ve enjoyed three fantastic parallel seasons.

    And Phantom, no suprise that Bill Walker stood up at the crucial moment, eh?

  4. Gigs,

    apparently he was reported for a reckless front on, chest high, tackle against Dan(nie) Minogue.

  5. Thanks, JB – great series

  6. John Butler says:

    Cheers guys

    Phantom, that Dan(nie) would be a handful.

  7. Andrew Fithall says:

    Thanks for all your work JB. It has been a great read all season.

    I note Essendon’s score to win the GF was 5.11.41 That was exactly their score again in the 1990 Grand Final. – also against Collingwood. Unfortunately (?), they lost that one by 48 points.

  8. John Butler says:

    AF

    And you reckon the Blues are dodgy. :)

  9. Thanks JB. Its been a wonderful series.
    I read your GF piece like an Agatha Christie page turner. How would it turn out? Who won it and whodunit? The addendum sent a shiver up the back, reflecting on how the lives of all those men turned out.
    Did you intentionally pick a year where you knew Collingwood lost narrowly? You’ve already given the game away with the 1912 result, so you’ll have to pick another year out of the hat. 1970?

  10. John Butler says:

    Thanks PB

    Didn’t pick the year with that in mind. Just lucky I guess. :)

    As for another season, I reckon I’ll handball that to someone else.

  11. JB, a truly outstanding contribution to the Almanac. Dedication. Good-research, and written in a way that kept us all enthralled.

    It would be great to turn this in to something a little more. Yuou have the framework of a good book, and/or an academic thesis.

    The eprsonal stories have been a key, and the intrigue surrounding the worldly culture of footy at that time is somethign that could be explored further.

    Congratulations on a mighty effort. And sincere thanks.

  12. John Butler says:

    Thanks for the initial idea JTH.

    I’ve learned a lot.

  13. Outstanding JB – now its time to start work on 1963.

  14. Terrific season and really sound historical method in your research and writing, JB. I really enjoyed the whole trip despite the sad ending. Congratulations.

    Looking at his roles in both the 1910 and 1911 Grand Finals Tom Baxter would be an interesting subject for further research, both for a colourful feature article and also for a fourth year honours thesis in sports history, especially since football gambling is probably more in the public eye now than at any time since the immediate pre WW1 years.

  15. Damo Balassone says:

    Great work JB. Thoroughly enjoyed the season. Re the Grand Final, this of course was the loss Collingwood “had to have” in order for Jock McHale to take over the reigns.

  16. JB, I’m just going to repeat what has been said by others and what I have said through the season. Terrific work. I was transfixed and entertained all the way to the final siren. The biggest surprise for me has been the many parallels and mirrors to contemporary times. Everything old is new I guess.

    It would be remiss of me not to highlight a favourite piece, so here it is: “Worrall, the perfectionist, had instructed his players to put longer stops in their boots. This required much makeshift reshodding. Slowly Essendon straggled out. It was 26 minutes before they were at full complement.”

    Imagine play being held up today for that long while the coach and team ‘got things right’.

    Cheers

  17. Alovesupreme says:

    Like all the other posters on the thread, I’ve been enthralled by the season’s progress. I didn’t know the last page of the saga (and deliberately avoided consulting the record books), knowing only that Carlton and South hadn’t been premiers.

    Dave Nadel is onto something. Dave, is the other element of your suggestion worth picking up (or has it already been done?) – the influence of gambling in the game.
    My guess/suspicion is that gambling has been rife throughout the history of the game. How much it may have influenced outcomes is obviously difficult to assess, but surely worth exploring.
    I can recall that VFA Sunday games were a particular focus of side bets; a possible factor was that the horse racing fraternity (in the 1960s a much larger proportion of the population than in more recent times) saw Sunday football as their day at the footy, when Sunday racing was a long way in the future.

  18. John Butler says:

    Thanks to all those who’ve commented and read. Glad you enjoyed it.

    Dips, why not ’52?

    Dave, I have endeavoured to find out more about Baxter post 1912. No luck yet. It would be interesting to know how he ended up.

    DB, imagine if Collingwood had sacked McHale after that poor first season? What would footy history look like?

    RK, Worrall was obviously ahead of his time. But incidents like that give an inkling of why he seemed to wear out his welcome with players.

    ALS, (I keep meaning to ask, is that in honour of Coltrane?) you don’t have to read much footy history to suspect an entire untold story behind the scenes.

  19. ALS I haven’t done a full literature search but my guess is that there has been a lot more written about gambling on races (principally horses but also cyclists and pro-runners) that there has been on footy gambling. Most of the allegations about players playing dead are from the period JB has been writing about i.e. the decade before World War One.

    I have always understood that the racing fraternity were strong backers of the VFA in the 60s and 70s because they could attend the footy on Sunday. Coburg in particular was supposedly supported by the racing industry.

  20. Alovesupreme says:

    Coburg’s president in Phil Cleary’s coaching time was an SP bookie (I don’t think that’s even in the alleged category, as I seem to recall he recently published a book recounting some of the tall tales of his bookie days). Mick Rees would be more of an authority than me, but I’m pretty sure that Port Melbourne had a big following among the licensed bookies, and horse trainers. I recall being at a final at Punt Road (circa 1969), and seeing/hearing a bloke walk through the standing area offering the odds and points in.

    JB, The nick is a tribute to my English soccer team, as it’s the name of one of their fanzines. I think it’s also appropriate for the AFL Blues.

  21. It just so happens that I’m in Kalgoorlie-Boulder right now. That’s a coincidence because the best player for Essendon in the 1911 GF Pat Shea spent a couple of successful seasons with Boulder City between stints and Fitzroy and Essendon. And Collingwood’s best was Ted Rowell who began his great career in Coolgardie and was an early champion in the WA Goldfields.
    By further coincidence Rowell was caught in a cronk play scandal and missed a year or so while at Collingwood.Framed I reckon. A Goldfielder betting, you’re joking.
    Go Cats. Please Cats.

  22. Don’t you mean ‘Go Hawks’?!

  23. John Butler says:

    More signs of Victorian imperial plundering Les.

    Nobody on a gold field ever bet on anything did hey?

  24. JB, thoroughly enjoyed this great series, even though it ended in another Collingwood GF defeat! I reckon there is book in this series. It would be a great addition to the literature of the game. Not a bad effort by a Blubagger. Well done mate.

  25. Really interesting read.

    One of the things that struck me is that despite 100 years passing, the crux of the game remains the same. Even the controversies are similar (gambling!).

    Nice work.

  26. John Butler says:

    Cheers Phil

    Those Pies keep doing it to you.

    But what about tonight?

  27. Peter Flynn says:

    Played JB.

    JTH summed it up very well.

  28. John Butler says:

    Liam, very different in ways, but so similar in others.

    Probably says something about human nature. And footy nature.

  29. John Butler says:

    Cheers PF

  30. JB, confident about tonight, but never certain. If footy was so predictable no one would watch it. I have a feeling it will be close, but we’ll sneak through. Hopefully, we’ll get the long awaited Coll v Carl GF in 2012.

  31. John Butler says:

    It’s getting closer Phil.

    And not before time.

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