Almanac (Footy) Art and History: 1904 VFL Grand Final: Fitzroy v Carlton



This scene from the 1904 Grand Final is dominated by the imposing figure of umpire Ivo Crapp. The players to either side of him about to contest the ball are Carlton rover Archie Snell and Fitzroy half back flanker Ern Jenkins. Blues captain, Joe McShane, is trailing the Fitzroy man to the contest, while future Carlton premiership captain, Fred ‘Pompey’ Elliot, can be seen in the background alongside Fitzroy’s Bill Walker.




When Fitzroy defeated Carlton by 94 points in the opening round of the 1904 VFL season, few observers of the game could hardly have imagined that by year’s end the two teams would be playing off against each other in the season decider.


Jack Worrall was in his third year as coach of Carlton and was under increasing pressure from certain quarters within the club who held concerns regarding the vigorous level of training he was putting his charges through. Much of the concern came directly from the players with a number of them threatening to leave and play elsewhere. It seemed that a revolt was in the making at Carlton before the season had barely got underway.



Jack Worrall



Worrall, however, would not be swayed in his actions. He knew what was required of his team for them to succeed and felt that his methods had been well proven after taking the club to the finals for the very first time in the season just passed. The Blues, in fact, were unfortunate not to make the Grand Final falling just four points short of beating eventual premiers, Collingwood, in what was a thrilling semi-final at the Fitzroy Cricket Ground. It was Carlton’s best result since the 1891 season when the club finished second on the ladder behind Essendon.


There were no such concerns at Fitzroy. The Maroons were an experienced outfit and revelled under the captaincy of journeyman, Gerald Brosnan. Fitzroy had a history of great leaders; from Brosnan’s predecessor, Alec Sloan, way back to the early years of the club when the man himself, Jack Worrall, led the club for many years with great distinction.



Alec Sloan



At the close of the 1904 home and away season, only two games separated the top five teams. It was a year that consisted of 17 rounds. Firstly, all teams played each other twice (14 games) to determine their position on the ladder. The teams were then divided into two sections: those that finished in positions 1, 3, 5, and 7 were placed in section A; the remaining four teams made up section B. The teams then played each other once in their section – a total of three games – and the points earned were added to the home and away results to determine the final standings.


After all 17 rounds had been played; Fitzroy was left clear on top of the ladder with 12 wins and 5 losses. It seems that all the hard work had paid off for the Navy Blues as they finished the season in second place with 10 wins 6 losses and 1 a draw. Collingwood, Essendon and South Melbourne were just half a game further back with the Southerners narrowly missing out on a place in the finals after a disappointing effort in the sectional rounds saw their percentage decimated. Melbourne finished the year in sixth place, with a big gap then to Geelong in seventh. Sadly, for St.Kilda supporters, it was another disappointing season for their club. The Saints picked up their seventh wooden spoon in eight years of VFL competition – a major letdown after such a promising year in 1903 when they finished fifth.




The 1904 first semi-final was Carlton’s second only appearance in a VFL final. Their opponent on this day was competition heavyweight, Essendon. The red and black had missed the finals for the first time in 1903 as they learned to live without the services of such club legends as, Charles Forbes, George Stuckey and the great Albert Thurgood.





The final was played at Victoria Park in front of a crowd of just over 16,000. Legendary umpire and former Carlton player, Ivo Crapp, was the man in charge for the afternoon. When the bell rang, both teams began the match tentatively without any of the urgency that normally accompanies such a cut throat final. While it may have appeared that the players were trying to find their way throughout the opening term, the gloves certainly came off in the second. The heat was turned way up and the crowd made no effort to hide their delight. After being held scoreless in the opening term, Carlton piled on four goals to go one point clear of Essendon at the main break.





Two goals each in the third term and a further behind to Carlton saw their lead grow to two points. The fourth quarter was a dour struggle played in fading light. Despite the best efforts of the players and increasing encouragement from the crowd, neither team could add a major to their three quarter time score. The margin now was just a three point lead to Carlton. Then, in the dying minutes of the match, Essendon’s Jack McKenzie was given a chance to kick his third goal for the afternoon and put his team in front. All eyes were on the champion goal kicker as he stepped up to take his kick. A moment of silence had fallen on the ground. The kick looked good off the boot and sailed high through the air. All eyes were on the goal umpire and when he signalled a behind the Blues supporters all went up as one. Carlton maintained its narrow lead until the close of play and the sound of the bell saw supporters celebrating wildly again as their team had won its first ever finals and booked a place in the following week’s Grand Final.


The final score was Carlton, 6.7 (43) to Essendon, 6.4 (40)


Snell and Topping were the main goal kickers for Carlton with two each; while Barker did all that he could for Essendon with three majors.





Closer to town at the MCG, the writing of another chapter in the celebrated rivalry between Fitzroy and Collingwood was underway. A rowdy crowd in excess of 25,000 added their own particular neighbourly mistrust of each other to the importance of the day. While Collingwood was not without a chance of making it to a fourth successive Grand Final, it was Fitzroy who went into the match as overwhelming favourites.





The opening term was a grand spectacle for all at the ground. The Collingwood players were clearly up for the challenge, but Fitzroy had done just enough by the bell to edge ahead and take a lead of eight points to the break. When play resumed, Maroons on-ballers, Milne and Walker, flexed their muscles in the heart of the packs, while McSpeerin and Johnson ran riot on the outside. The ladder leaders looked to be in complete control of the contest and went to the half time interval holding a comfortable 18 point lead.


After the break, Fitzroy found itself up against a stubborn Magpies outfit that had little intention of relinquishing their premiership title without a fight. Supporters of the black and white were now more vocal than ever as they willed their team to victory; not even when two shots at goal in quick succession hit the post to add only minor scores could they be deterred from their fervent support. Despite Collingwood’s dominance, the pies only managed to eat into Fitzroy’s lead by a solitary point and went to the final break still 17 points in arrears.





Nonetheless, there was a real buzz in the air as the players took up their positions for the final term. The crowd, it turned out, were not let down in their expectations that something special was awaiting them. The ball moved freely around the ground as players from both teams worked hard to find an avenue to goal. Needing, perhaps, just one more goal for victory, the Maroons were unable to find a way through Collingwood’s rock solid defence. The urgency of the men in black and white was on clear display and it helped them eventually break through Fitzroy’s defensive cordon on two separate occasions for maximum results. The Pies had now moved to within a kick of the lead and just as the crowd began to sense the makings of an upset, Maroons champion, Percy Trotter, swooped on the ball in the Fitzroy forward half and snapped truly to kick his third goal of the afternoon. Trotter’s kick had put his team in front by 11 points and the Collingwood supporters were noticeably deflated – the players, likewise. The Magpies were unable to respond in the late stages of the match and the Roys held comfortably onto their lead until the final bell.





At the close of play the scores were Fitzroy, 9.7 (61) to Collingwood 7.8 (50).


Brosnan, and the competition’s leading goalkicker, Percy Trotter, kicked three each for the winners, while Lockwood and Pannam were the main goalkickers for Collingwood with 2 apiece.







The scene was set for the 1904 VFL Grand Final at the MCG between Fitzroy and Carlton.


Fitzroy’s record in the VFL competition was second to none; after finishing sixth in the inaugural VFL season in 1897, the Maroons had finished no lower than third on the ladder – claiming two premierships along the way from four Grand Final appearances. Carlton, on the other hand, had been waiting a long time to add to the premiership the club won way back in 1887.


Supporters of both clubs were understandably out in good numbers for the season decider and were seen mingling amongst each other as they made their way to the ground from the city’s north. A crowd of more than 32,000 filed through the MCG gates and took up their positions around the ground. To the delight of most, Umpire Ivo Crapp was again the man in charge after having missed the previous year’s Grand Final for the first ever time.


The battle hardened Maroons were making their fifth Grand Final appearance and were clear favourites going into the match. Carlton would, indeed, need a little luck on their side throughout the day if they were to have any chance of winning. Then when captain, Joe McShane, won the toss and was given the opportunity to kick first with the aid of a strong breeze, it seemed that luck might well be shining down on the Carlton club.


It may have been nerves, or perhaps, just the overwhelming strength of the opposition, but the Blues failed to make any use of their early advantage. The Fitzroy players were relentless in their attack on the ball and any opposition player who dared to stand in their way. When the first quarter ended, Fitzroy had posted three goals on the board to Carlton’s one.


For many at the ground, the result appeared a foregone conclusion, and as the players took up their positions for the start of the second term, it was only true diehard Blues supporters who gave their team any real chance of victory. To the delight of those at the ground – particularly those in support of the Blues and non-partisans – the Carlton players turned the tables on their more highly fancied opponents. Now kicking into the wind, the Blues added two majors to their score and held the Maroons goalless.


Large numbers of the crowd applauded the Carlton players with great fervour as they made their way from the ground for the half time break. It was a startling turnaround by the Blues who now held a slender lead of one point.


The Carlton players were full of confidence and came out strong after the break. The crowd was treated to a fiery contest in the third term, and though the Blues may have had the ball in their possession for the greater part, the forwards continually failed in front of the posts and could only manage to score four behinds. Fitzroy, on the other hand, had little difficulty with their limited opportunities in front of goal and by quarters end had added two goals straight to their score to take a lead of seven points to the final break.


Though neither team appeared to have been advantaged by the wind throughout the afternoon, it was difficult to see how a tiring Blues outfit could make up ground on the experienced Maroons. It turned out to be a free flowing final term, which served to suit the myriad of strong runners that make up the Fitzroy team. The Blues did not go quietly, however, and managed to add two last quarter goals to their tally. While it was not enough for the victory, the effort shown by the men in blue had pleased their coach and proud supporters. There was no disgrace in going down to the rampaging Roys who piled on four goals five to run out winners by 24 points.


The final scores were Fitzroy, 9.7 (61) to Carlton 5.7 (37)


It was Fitzroy’s third premiership in the VFL competition; the victory placed the club one flag clear of both Essendon and Collingwood. The Roys went on to make it back to back premierships in 1905 when they defeated the old foe, Collingwood, by 13 points.


Then in the following year, 1906, Carlton won its first VFL premiership when it turned the tables on the men in Maroon with a comfortable 49 point victory. It was the first of three successive premierships for the Blues; with the others being victories against South Melbourne in 1907 and Essendon the following season.



Original artwork by DJ Williams is now available for purchase from the Bluethumb online Art Gallery


Premium limited edition art prints are also available from the DJ Williams Art shop at Etsy




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About DJ Williams

Football history artist living in Torquay


  1. A tremendous description of the 1904 Grand Final, DJ, including your marvellous artwork.
    Pre-game, there was some suspicion that Fitzroy wouldn’t be going at 100% because, being the minor premier, they could invoke the “challenge rule” if they lost.
    And an extra game would’ve provided a consider boost to the players’ coffers.
    Thankfully, the “rampaging Roys” (not to be confused with Rampaging Roy Slaven) would have none of that.

  2. Most enjoyable read, thanks Darren.

  3. Good stuff Darren, the imagery adding great value to it.

    Such a long time ago; such a different game.

    Sections A & B. Do we ever envisage this sort of structure again?

    Names like Fitzroy, South Melbourne, long gone teams. Fitzroy, Collingwood; neighbourly mistrust , such a foreign concept to 2021. The idea of a team having organic links to ‘their’ community is so different to the corporate teams such as the GWS.

    Keep them coming Darren, very enjoyable reading.


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