Almanac Art: Collingwood FC 1902 VFL Grand Final, MCG by DJ Williams



Artwork by DJ Williams


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The artist can be contacted directly by email [email protected]

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The central figure in this picture is Collingwood captain, Lawrence “Lardie” Tulloch. He is standing confidently amongst his men at the MCG during the ¾ time break of the 1902 VFL Grand Final against Essendon. Tulloch is flanked by legendary trainer, Wal Lee, who is busy tending to any last minute adjustments required by the players to get them through to the final bell.


It is September 20, 1902 and the Grand Final is being played on the hallowed MCG turf for the very first time. A crowd of more than 37000 people have piled into the ground to witness what promised to be an exciting encounter between the season’s two top teams.


The honours for their head to head battles throughout the year were shared with each club winning their match away from home. Collingwood finished the home and away season on top of the ladder with 15 wins and two losses. Essendon was two wins further back in second place and Fitzroy came in third with 10 victories. Melbourne made up the final four with nine wins to its credit.


The first week of finals saw the Magpies go down by 16 points in a shock first semi-final loss to an impressive Fitzroy outfit. Collingwood, however, were afforded a second chance at the premiership as a result of finishing the home and away season on top of the ladder. They would need to await the winner of the following week’s final between Fitzroy and the winner of the second semi-final between Essendon and Melbourne being played across town at the Carlton Cricket Ground. The Redlegs were on top of their more fancied opposition for much of the match and held a narrow 7 point lead at the final change. Determined play by Essendon in the final quarter saw the Red and Black break away with 4 goals to Melbourne’s one to run out winners by 10 points.


There was a crowd in access of 26000 at the MCG on September 13 to watch the final between Essendon and Fitzroy. Those in attendance were treated to an epic battle and watched on excitedly as the two teams fought hard for the victory. In the end, it was Essendon who was able to outlast the stubborn Maroons and win the match by 11 points.


The reining premiers had booked themselves a place in the 1902 Grand Final and the scene was set for a replay of the previous year’s season decider. That game was played at the South Melbourne Cricket Ground and Essendon ran out convincing winners by a margin of 27 points. The 1901 flag was Essendon’s second in the VFL competition and sixth premiership overall.


In 1902 the Magpies were chasing their first VFL premiership. They were hoping to accompany the pennant hanging prominently in the Victoria Park rooms that was won in the 1896 VFA competition by beating South Melbourne.


The Collingwood team had a far different look than the one that had taken the field in 1901. The seasoned campaigners in the line up had been bolstered by seven eager first year players. The club had also adopted a new style of play that saw a proficient use of the stab-kick and players were encouraged to move the ball on quickly. One thing that hadn’t changed was the man in charge of proceedings. Umpire, Ivo Crapp, was officiating in his fifth consecutive VFL Grand Final.


Though Collingwood had dominated play for much of the first three quarters, the lead at the final break was just 10 points and the vast majority of those in support of the Black and White did not share the apparent confidence shown by their team’s captain during the interval. Collingwood’s fast play had Essendon players on the back foot for much of the afternoon. Though the new game style had failed to produce a win against Fitzroy two weeks earlier, the Pies complemented the swift ball movement with a more robust defence. The Collingwood players raised their intensity in the back half and defended grimly throughout. With help further afield by Pannam and Allen on the wings, the Magpies were able to quell the influence of Essendon’s normally dominant forward line. Fred Leach, at centre half back, was given the unenviable task of minding the great Albert Thurgood and allowed the champion goal kicker to score just one major during the first three terms.


Any fears that Collingwood fans may have held during the break were promptly cast aside when Lockwood goaled soon after the resumption of play. Ted Rowell added another major to Collingwood’s tally soon after and there seemed little doubt left to what the final result might be. The Magpies continued to outplay the reining premiers for the remainder of the final term. When the bell rang to signal the end of play, Collingwood had added 4 goals and 4 behinds for the term and restricted Essendon to just two behinds.



The final score was Collingwood 9.6 (60) to Essendon 3.9 (27).


Apart from Leach in defence and the multiple goal kickers, Rowell and Lockwood, who finished the match with three goals apiece, a number of other Collingwood players need to be mentioned for their parts in helping secure the club’s first VFL premiership. The ruck combination of Hailwood, Tulloch and Condon were dominant in the close in play. Pannam and Allen were brilliant out wide on the wings, while Rush and Fell offered sound support to Leach in the back half.


14 of the 18 Magpies that lined up in the 1902 Grand Final would be there again in the following year’s season decider – Tulloch would once again lead the team into battle. A win against the old foe, Fitzroy, by two points made it back to back premierships for the Black and White.




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About DJ Williams

Football history artist living in Torquay


  1. John Butler says

    Some great names in this pic, DJW.

    Collingwood’s Tasmanian trip in the 1902 season break, Condon’s experimenting with the stab kick, and the Pies’ subsequent flag is one of the great stories of the early VFL.

    And I say that even as a confirmed Bluebagger..

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