One hundred Years Ago: Round 3, 13th May, 1911

A perfect autumn day greeted footballers and barrackers alike as they travelled to their appointed grounds for the third round of the 1911 season. Increasingly, Melbournians benefited from the Saturday half-holiday, freeing them to pursue the leisure of their choice. More and more were choosing football.

It’s doubtful the sunshine made the streets and gutters of the Collingwood Flat look any less inhospitable to the Public School gentlemen of Geelong, as they journeyed to Victoria Park. The Pivotonians had made 14 previous trips to the Magpie lair in the VFL era. Only twice had they returned victorious, the last of those occasions now a decade distant.

Their current form didn’t promise a change in fortune. A shock loss to lowly St Kilda, followed by a draw at their Corio home against Melbourne, was all they had to show for their season thus far. Reigning premiers Collingwood were sitting pretty with two wins, although their star forward Dick Lee hadn’t recovered from the ‘contusion’ he received in the previous round.

This situation rather encapsulated the relative positions of the two clubs at the time. Geelong, the country town with the famously dominant football team of the 1880’s, had struggled to reproduce that success in the VFL era. Collingwood, the relative new comer, already had three flags to boast of, which they didn’t hesitate to do.

Some Geelong seasons had held promise unfulfilled, as the varying finals formats of the early VFL years always seemed to conspire against Geelong’s interests. Those folk of the Pivot inclined to distrust the motives of the Melbourne establishment smelled a rat: the cultural differences of both towns often seemed greater than the 75 miles which separated them. Some thought participation in the VFL was a waste of good Geelong money. That their own local league would be preferable.

Rivalry with Melbourne was hardly eased as Geelong the town waited until 1910 to be accorded the status of a city: 40 years after Ballarat, 30 after Bendigo.

Latterly, Geelong the team had plumbed the depths; 1908 and 1909 had produced just two wins apiece. The club had offered £1 per week to appoint a coach for the 1909 season, but failed to settle on a suitable candidate. When legendary follower Henry ‘Tracker’ Young stepped down from the captaincy at the end of 1909, Geelong appointed a great player of the golden 1880’s, Dave Hickinbotham, as coach. Hickinbotham prepared the team off the field, but ‘he made it a rule never to interfere with the captain in his handling of the team upon the field’, deferring to captain Bill Eason as per the convention of his playing days.

1910 had shown promise, with 10 wins and a draw just failing to secure a finals berth. But a great test lay ahead this day.

If there was one factor promising improvement, it was the availability of Joe Slater for the first time that season. At  179cm (5’ 10”) and a muscular 86 kilos, Slater was a champion runner with the endurance to go all day. A superb mark, he did enough in 108 games to merit a place on the half back flank of Geelong’s team of the century, before heading off to war, where he died on the battlefields of France, aged just 28.

Slater kicked the opening goal against Collingwood, and Geelong displayed the ‘open style’ for which they were known to kick 6 goals in the first quarter, establishing a handy lead. Minus Lee, the Magpies struggled up forward. Only the ever-reliable presence of Jock McHale, acutely reading the play as always in the centre, kept Collingwood in it.

James Francis “Jock” McHale is legendary for his dynastic period as a coach, but as a player he displayed equal durability and toughness in maintaining an unbroken string of games from 1906 until 1917 – 191 in total – a record not surpassed until the Second World War. The shrewdness he later revealed as a coach was present from an early age in his play.

Slater badly injured his ankle just on half time, and Geelong lost momentum in the third quarter, but Collingwood’s inaccuracy saw them trail by 21 at ¾ time.

They were always likely to come home hard. Under their famous physical trainer Wal Lee (father of Dick), one of the things the Magpies were renowned for was their fitness. Inevitably, they surged in the final term.

With the parochial crowd roaring, it seemed destined that the Magpies would get up. Wingman Percy Gibb  was ‘rarely been seen to such advantage in marking, and maintained his skill and pace’, whilst Jackson and Baxter assisted McHale in providing supply to the forwards. When Paddy Gilchrist kicked his 3rd goal, Collingwood was within 3 points.

The main obstacle in their way was Dick Grigg. Then at his peak, Grigg was ‘as fine as any in the land’. An ‘exceptional mark, fine kick and a scrupulously fair ball player in the centre’, Grigg had dropped back into defence as the crisis demanded. Repeatedly he repelled the Magpie onslaught. Largely due to his efforts, the margin of 3 points saw ‘no material alteration’. The Pivotonians hung on.

Performances such as these would see Grigg anointed Geelong club champion for 1911, as he’d been similarly been honoured in 1910. He would eventually take his place in Geelong’s team of the century on the opposite half back flank to his great team mate Joe Slater.

While Collingwood were upset on their home turf, two of their great rivals – Fitzroy and Carlton – did battle at Brunswick St Oval. A boisterous Maroon following swelled the crowd to around 16,000, and they saw their side take an early lead, 4 goals to 2. Vin Gardiner kicked both of Carlton’s goals, one from a long place-kick. In just his third game, Frank Lamont kicked 3 first term goals for Fitzroy.

The Fitzroy side of this day had only half the game experience of their opponents, reflecting the new broom which had swept through the club since the previous season. Observer noted in his game report that ‘Fitzroy have passed through a period of internal strife, but their new executive, realising the reputation of the club was in their hands, set themselves the task of building up their club with energy and tact’.

He was referring to the turmoil which had racked the club in 1910, as team and club divided over how they should respond to the growing professionalism of the game. Winning four of the first nine VFL premierships, Fitzroy had established itself as the early power in the league. However, since their last flag in 1905 they’d appeared to stall in their progress. A Reform Group of players and members had challenged the club leadership. Team captain Jim Sharp supported the current administration, his deputy Bill Walker the Reformers. With the team split, another unsatisfactory season was inevitable.

A club Annual Meeting on the 27th of March had swept the Reformers to power, unseating president of 23 years Sir Robert Best, as well as legendary club figures Con Hickey and Tom Banks, as they continued to warn until the end that ‘players could now demand whatever they want’. Local businessman D.J. Chandler was the new president. New secretary (and ex player) Geoff Moriarty also became the club’s first official coach. New captain Lal McLennan would have 23 new team mates through the course of 1911.

Two of those fresh faces, ruck and rover combination Cliff Hutton (2nd game) and Tom Reardon (1st game) starred as Fitzroy held on grimly in a tough second half against the Blues. Players from both sides were wounded and struggling to stay on the ground. Martin Gotz for Carlton and Ernie Everett of Fitzroy stood hobbled in their respective forward lines, unable to be replaced. Bruce Campbell had left the field injured, leaving Carlton a man short. He would next appear on a VFL ground in a Fitzroy guernsey, in round 10 of this same season.

Jack Wells stood out for the Blues as ‘he carried himself with an impetus that carried him through many a crush and secured him many a high mark’. The injured Gotz kicked a goal late in the final quarter to close the Blues to within 2 points, but that was the final score. Maroon captain McLennan rallied his men to get over the line.

In a comment that causes no surprise, Observer notes the crowd at Punt Rd was ‘large but not always impartial’ as Richmond played University. Winning the toss, Richmond kicked ‘down the slight slope to the railway end’ and proceeded to be wasteful in front of goal. Their ‘rushes with the ball across ground’ were ‘showy, but not always to the advantage of the side’. The Students were ‘quicker on the ball, smarter in getting it away’ early, but owed their 6 point half time lead to Tiger inaccuracy.

Thereafter, University, missing Bert Hartkopf, were unable to penetrate the Richmond half back line of Tom Heaney, George Gibson and Len Incigneri. The Tigers ‘played for position in much better style’ in the second half and, despite woeful inaccuracy, ran the game out with some comfort. Sixteen year old Mick Macguire kicked 3 for the Tigers, whilst Jack Brake, Ted Cordner and Vic Trood were best for the Students.

The Argus headlined its match report for the MCG clash between Melbourne and Essendon ‘An Uninteresting Game’, which seems justified as the Fuchsias failed to kick a goal, whilst The Same Olds hardly seemed to make best use of the perfect conditions either. ‘Mistakes were frequent, painful and free’, and proceedings seemed best summed up when Melbourne’s Harry Brereton, a renowned place-kicker, grubbed an attempt on goal. Essendon ran out 38 point winners in an affair most likely soon forgotten by the 11,554 who attended.

The 10,000 who took in the sun at Junction Oval saw South Melbourne lead from start to finish against a St Kilda side which failed to impress. Saints fans would likely empathise all too well with the observation that ‘not once, but many times, did a St Kilda player pass the ball right into the hands of an opponent’. They would also understand those supporters who expressed ‘great dissatisfaction regarding  the umpire’s decisions in the first half’.

Attentions were diverted by an odd incident in the third term, when South’s Jack Scobie  ‘kicked fiercely to the wing’ and ‘caught the boundary umpire unawares, knocking him down’ to the crowd’s amusement.

St Kilda raised a slightly better effort in the 3rd quarter, before lapsing into ‘apparent disorganisation’ in the final term, which was ‘best described as a series of attacks by the visitors’. Harry Lever ‘shone brilliantly’ for the Saints, as ‘time after time he marked in front of a bunch of players’ to repel South attacks. Alf Gough kicked 4  for the Bloods, and Scobie, Alex Kerr and Mark Tandy – in the first of a 218 game career – were ‘conspicuous’ for the visitors from the northern end of the Lake.

Their 57 point victory saw South Melbourne second on percentage to Essendon; both clubs with two wins and a draw from the opening three rounds.

Carlton 2.0   4.4   5.5   6.7 43 Sat 13-May-1911 Venue: Princes Park
Fitzroy 4.2   4.4   6.6   6.9 45 Fitzroy won by 2 pts
Collingwood 3.4   5.9  5.14  8.17 65 Sat 13-May-1911 Venue: Victoria Park
Geelong 6.2   9.3  10.5  10.8 68 Geelong won by 3 pts
Melbourne 0.1   0.5   0.8   0.9 9 Sat 13-May-1911 Venue: M.C.G.
Essendon 2.3   3.6   5.7  6.11 47 Essendon won by 38 pts
Richmond 1.4   3.8  6.14  6.17 53 Sat 13-May-1911 Venue: Punt Rd
University 1.2   5.2   5.4   6.5 41 Richmond won by 12 pts
St Kilda 0.2   0.3   2.4   2.5 17 Sat 13-May-1911 Venue: Junction Oval
South Melbourne 1.6   5.7  6.10 10.13 73 South Melbourne won by 56 pts


Rd 3 Ladder
ES 3 10 202.4
SM 3 10 195.9
CW 3 8 124.6
GE 3 6 96.8
ME 3 6 78.9
CA 3 4 98.7
FI 3 4 90.9
UN 3 4 75.8
RI 3 4 69.7
SK 3 4 63.3



Sources:

We Are Geelong: The Story of the Geelong Football Club – Ed. John Murray

Collingwood At Victoria Park: Glenn McFarlane & Michael Roberts

Fitzroy: Jim Main

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

The Argus

AFL Tables

Full Points Footy

John Harms

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. Andrew Fithall says:

    “… as the varying finals formats of the early VFL years always seemed to conspire against Geelong’s interests. Those folk of the Pivot inclined to distrust the motives of the Melbourne establishment smelled a rat” – Is that Great Grandfather Phantom talking?

    Great work JB

  2. Phil Dimitriadis says:

    JB, some uncanny stuff happening here. Was Jimmy Bartel Dick Grigg in a past life?

    And damn those pesky ‘contusions’!

    Wondeful work mate. Really enjoying this weekly 1911 fix.

  3. John Butler says:

    Perhaps Geelong is a state of mind AF?

    Phil, I reckon Grigg sounds like he would have got on fine with Jimmy Bartel.

    The example of Joe Slater made me think of the waste of life that was looming.

  4. JB – wonderful stuff. Cats win by 3 points one hundred years apart and the Pies had a bloke called “Dick” in both teams – spooky.

  5. Damian Callinan says:

    Going out to practice my place kick at Edinburgh Gardens right now. Great work.

  6. John Butler says:

    Thanks Damian (x2)

    No Dick jokes please Dips.

    Damian 2- I had a go on the oval up the road. It would seem to be an acquired art.

    Cheers

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