Almanac Art: South Melbourne v Carlton and the 1909 VFL Season

South Melbourne v Carlton: The 1909 VFL season

Artwork by DJ Williams

A scene from the 1909 VFL Grand Final between South Melbourne & Carlton at the MCG

Original artwork reproduced with pigment inks on 300gsm cotton rag archival paper

Limited edition of 175

Image measures approx. 60cm x 40cm

Available at


Carlton went into the 1909 season having won the past three VFL premierships. With six consecutive grand final appearances behind them, it was going to take a special effort to stop the experienced Blues from adding to their impressive record.


South Melbourne, on the other hand, had just missed out on a place in the 1908 finals after finishing the season in fifth place. It was the fourth time that the Southerners had finished in the unenviable fifth position in the past five seasons. The 1908 result was a huge disappointment for the South Melbourne club after having finished runner-up to Carlton in the previous year’s grand final. With the appointment of captain, Charlie Ricketts, as the club’s first full time coach, expectations of success for the season ahead were high at South Melbourne.



While Carlton’s recent record was the envy of all the other clubs in the competition, rumours of player unrest prior to the season opener shrouded the club in uncertainty; if true, it threatened to bring the club back to the field. When the Blues lost to University in round one, it appeared that those who had forecast the club’s looming demise were well-founded in their assertions. After a loss to Geelong in round four, Carlton was left reeling at 1 win from 4 outings. The lowly position of the club would not be tolerated and it led to the resignation of legendary coach, Jack Worrall – Captain, Fred Elliot, was asked to take over the coaching duties for the remainder of the season.


South Melbourne, under the guidance of captain coach, Charlie Ricketts, started the season brilliantly winning nine of its first ten games – a comfortable 17 point victory over the Blues in round two at the Lake Oval was amongst the victories. The only loss that the Southerners endured was against a determined Richmond at the Punt Road Oval in round six by 20 points.


When Carlton and South Melbourne met at Prince’s Park in round 11 for their second encounter of the season, South was sitting clear on top of the ladder and looked every bit a premiership contender. The fence enclosing the Prince’s park ground was at bursting point as it strained to accommodate the 40,000 strong crowd in attendance. People had come from far and wide to see what many observers felt would be the defining match of the season. The crowd was treated to a spirited contest in the first term, but it was those in support of the visitors who were best served as their team gained the upper-hand with three goals to Carlton’s nil. When the bell was sounded to signal the close of the first half, South Melbourne had a decided advantage. Although Carlton had shown improvement throughout the second term, it had failed to score a major and had posted just 11 behinds on the board. South had clearly proven itself to be the better team in the first half and with four goals to their credit the Southerners held what looked to be a comfortable lead of 17 points at the long break.


Few at the ground that day anticipated the extraordinary quarter of football that followed the interval. The foundations of the newly finished Prince’s park grandstand were put to the test when the home team piled on 9 goals in twenty minutes and the stand’s patrons stomped their feet with enthusiastic appreciation for every piece of play. The performance was so complete that Carlton had turned its half time deficit of 17 points into a commanding 38 point lead by the three quarter time break. In the final term, South managed to keep the home team from adding to its goal tally and made some inroads into the deficit, but Carlton’s nine goal blitz in the third term had inflicted enough damage on the visitors for the Blues to finish the afternoon in front by 22 points.



Carlton people now felt that their team had cast off the troubles that had plagued their performances in the early rounds and believed that it was now on track for the run home to the finals. The new found confidence of the club’s supporters was cruelly tested on the following Saturday when a trip to Victoria Park resulted in a painful 1 point loss. It was, however, to be the club’s final defeat of the home and away rounds.


South Melbourne bounced back quickly after the Carlton loss with a convincing 23 point victory over Melbourne. The confidence that the club had built through its performances in the first half of the season was then put to the test when it suffered consecutive defeats to Fitzroy and Collingwood. Despite the apparent loss in form, the Southerners were able to maintain their hold on top spot after the first fifteen rounds, while Carlton had closed the gap and was now trailing by percentage only. Both teams went on to win their three remaining matches and retained their positions at the head of the table at season’s end.


Carlton opened its finals campaign in week one with a clash against fourth placed Essendon. The two teams had played each other on the previous Saturday in the final round of the home and away season and the Blues ran out victors by 15 points. A crowd in excess of 40,000 turned out to the MCG to witness the clash. It was a highly anticipated final that pitted together the two combatants from the previous season’s grand final.


The opening two quarters produced an even tussle throughout and offered the crowd no clear indication of what the result might be at the close of play. The Blues did, however, have the upper hand and went to the long break holding a healthy 15 point lead.


Carlton came out strongly after the interval and played all over Essendon. The Blues piled on five goals to one to leave little doubt as to who was the better team on the day. Essendon rover Ernie Cameron was a casualty of the hotly contested third term and left the ground with what would later be revealed was a broken jaw. Carlton eased its pressure on the opposition in the final term and coasted home to a comfortable 36 point victory.


Final scores: Carlton, 14.8 (92) to Essendon, 9.2 (56)


Frank Cain kicked 3 goals for the winners, while Lang, Johnson and Gotz were amongst the club’s best. Pat Shea kicked 3 for Essendon.


South Melbourne and Collingwood turned out on the following Saturday for the second semi final. South started brightly kicking three unanswered goals in the opening quarter and restricted the Magpies to just one behind. When play resumed, the tables were turned on the minor premiers. South failed to add to its score in the second term and trailed Collingwood at the half time break by two points.


It is unclear exactly what coach, Charlie Ricketts, said to his men during the long break, but they surely seemed inspired by his words. The lakeside club piled on four goals in the opening five minutes of the third term of which three were directly attributed to the fine play and accurate kicking of Len Mortimer. There was little that Collingwood could do in the final term to rein in the red and white. The Magpies made little impact on the deficit and South Melbourne ran out comfortable winners with a margin of 21 points.


Final scores: South Melbourne, 10.8 (68) to Collingwood, 6.11 (47)


Albert Franks and Jim Cameron kicked 2 goals apiece for South Melbourne to go with the 3 kicked by Mortimer, while Dick Lee kicked 3 for the Magpies.



The Final

Carlton and South Melbourne met at the MCG on September 25 in front of a crowd just shy of 45,000. If South was victorious they would be crowned premiers for the 1909 season – their first in the VFL competition. As minor premiers, South Melbourne had the right of challenge and would be compelled to use it if they were to suffer defeat in the final. For the Blues to take out the 1909 premiership and take home a fourth consecutive flag, they needed to win the encounter and then repeat the performance on the following Saturday.



South Melbourne started the match brightly. Their pace around the ground appeared to unsettle the Blues who trailed their opponents to a vast majority of contests throughout the term. When the bell rang, South had posted six scoring shots on the board to just two by Carlton and went to the change of ends leading by nine points. The Carlton players appeared to wake from their slumber in the early part of the second term and threw everything at the unsuspecting Southerners. The match turned exceedingly rough, and the Blues won both the test of strength and skill to take a well earned lead of seven points to the long break.


In the third term, both teams displayed the brand of football that had taken them to the top of the table and provided the large crowd in attendance with much to cheer about. It was an even contest throughout and when the quarter closed the teams had added two goals apiece to their tallies. The stakes were high for Carlton and the players were not about to relinquish their crown without a fight. Their play in the final term could not be faulted and they denied the opposition of any chance to determine the final result. Carlton eased its way to the final bell to defeat South Melbourne by 22 points.


Final Scores: Carlton, 10.9 (69) to South Melbourne, 7.5 (47)


Lang, Baquie and Johnson were Carlton’s best players on the day, while Thomas, Bower and Franks did the most work for South Melbourne. The leading goal kickers for the match were Caine, who kicked 4 for the winners, while Gough kicked 3 for the red and white.



The Grand Final

Talk around town in the lead up to the Grand Final centred on the need for the South players to play the ball rather than go the man. If the club was to have any chance of adding to its five VFA premierships, it would need to devise a plan to counter the might of the finals hardened blues; most felt that South Melbourne would be served best by utilising the pace of its fleeter footed players.


From the first bounce it was evident that South had taken on board the advice that had been offered freely by a host of well-wishers. The players took every opportunity to send the ball out wide into the open spaces to avoid being bogged down in the heat of the crush. The play was fast and free flowing – it was a far different spectacle to the one which had played out on the previous Saturday. While the level of skill on show was of the highest standards, both teams were inaccurate in front of the posts and neither managed to score a major in the opening term. The normally reliable champion South Melbourne forward, Len Mortimer, was the main culprit for the red and white missing three chances in quick succession. He was not alone; it appeared that the importance of the occasion was having an effect on all the players and the teams went to the first break on five points apiece.


The second quarter produced more of the same exciting football that had thrilled the crowd of more than 36,000 in the opening term. The spirit that the game was played in was of an agreeable contrast to so many that had been played throughout the year. Despite the fair play on show, the determination to win the football resulted in a number of players going down with serious injuries. Carlton’s volatile, Jack Baquie, suffered a debilitating leg injury. Though he was expected to be of little use for the remainder of the afternoon, he made his way to a position deep in the forward line with the hope that he may still be able to make a contribution to his team.


Both teams had straightened up in front of the posts in the second term. The Blues were first to display the improved accuracy with a fine kick by George Topping that saw the ball just clear the reach of the South Melbourne defenders manning the goal line. With Topping’s goal, sympathies in the crowd appeared to swing in favour of the Southerners. It was widely acknowledged that they had played the best football in the early part of the match, but had been devoid of any luck.


South maintained its strategy of taking a wide path to goal and took every opportunity to run the ball along the Richmond side wing. It was rushed forward again and a scrimmage formed close to goal. After some heated play in the crush, the ball was suddenly kicked clear of the pack by rugged South ruckman, Albert Franks. The ball appeared to float in the air as it left his boot, but did enough to reach the target and post South Melbourne’s first goal on the board. The excitement in the crowd was clearly visible and it increased noticeably when the ball was rushed forward soon after it was bounced in the middle. Charlie Ricketts won possession deep in the South Melbourne forward half and kicked truly to add a second goal to his team’s tally.


The Southerners appeared to be playing the better football and edged their way forward again. The Carlton defenders, however, were not about to concede any further goals and worked hard to win the football before sending it clear of the back half. There was nothing that could deny the Blues from making their own assault on goal. The ball was rushed unimpeded to the opposite end of the ground and into the path of noted Carlton forward, Frank Caine. It seemed certain that the scores would be levelled when Caine took possession, but the inaccuracy that had been evident throughout the early stages of the afternoon’s play was once again on show. When Caine unexpectedly missed his chance from only a few yards out, an audible groan sounded out around the ground as those in support of the Blues expressed their despair at Caine’s untimely error.


It seemed that the South Melbourne players would be rewarded for their first half heroics and take a well earned lead into the main break. The Blues, however, were not yet done and one last effort was made to close the narrow deficit. Fortune favoured the Carlton players as they pushed forward to provide Topping with an opportunity to add to his earlier goal. The little Carlton forward set the ball for a place kick and lined up from 50 yards out. Topping launched into his kick. As the ball left his boot and sailed towards goal, the bell was rung to signal the end of the term. The ball continued on its path and the crowd held their collective breaths. To the dismay of those in support of the red and white, the ball split the uprights to send the teams to the main break on level terms.


South Melbourne had outplayed the Blues for much of the first half, and it was strongly felt that they had, at times, suffered the greatest misfortune in the contest. The question bandied around by those in the crowd as the teams were addressed in the change rooms during the long break was whether the Southerners could maintain the pace and style of play that had served them so well in the first half.


The third quarter promised much for the eager crowd and early indications were that they would not be disappointed. It was a free flowing contest which saw the ball travel the length of the ground in each direction with both speed and skill. It took until mid way through the term for the first goal of the half to be posted on the board. It was the South Melbourne forwards who eventually gained the break through. It came about after a series of passes saw the ball shared around in the forward half before a final kick by Mortimer – who had finally found his range – added a third goal to the South Melbourne tally.


Though there was plenty of time still remaining in the match, rain began to fall and South looked to be in a winning position. Despite the conditions, the Southerners moved the ball around with deft precision appearing almost unbeatable. As the Carlton supporters had no doubt expected, it was simply a matter of time before their team countered the play of their Southern rivals. The experienced Carlton players were not yet ready to relinquish their position as the competition’s premier team and made a determined push forward with the ball. Baquie, resting deep in the forward half managed to win possession. Almost lame from the injury he sustained in the first term, he dribbled the ball off his boot towards the goal. His kick had just enough on it for the ball to cross the line before any of the South Melbourne defenders could make their way back to defend the goal front.


When play resumed in the middle, Belcher won the ball for South and sent it out wide to where a number of his teammates had gathered. They were able to easily win possession and continue along the well worn path to goal. Grand play by the Southerners provided Mortimer with a chance, but his shot hit the post for only a minor score. The ball was kicked back into play where South Melbourne defender, Tom Grimshaw, intercepted with a telling mark. Now with his own opportunity to stretch the lead, Grimshaw set the ball up for a place kick. Though not a noted goal-scorer, his kick looked good as the ball left his boot, but it slammed hard into the goal post just as Mortimer had done just moments earlier. The one thing clearly not working in favour of the Southerners was their luck in front of goal.


Play continued in a give and take fashion and the players were visibly tiring from their exertions. A heavy scrimmage near the centre of the ground attracted a large crowd of players from the two teams. Vigorous work in the crush saw players fall about in all directions and it ended with Carlton’s Martin Gotz receiving a serious injury that required the talented half back to be carried from the ground. South now held an advantage in numbers and Alf Gough was quick to capitalise on Carlton’s misfortune. To the rousing cheers of the South Melbourne faithful, Gough strode forward unattended and sent the ball goal-ward. He made no mistake with his running kick and scored his team’s fourth goal. The bell rang soon after to signal the end of the third quarter with South Melbourne holding a slender lead of just 7 points.


As the players broke from their three quarter time huddles the crowd was abuzz and eager for what promised to be an exciting end to the 1909 season. When the Carlton players took up their positions, the injured Gotz was amongst them and he made his way forward to line up in a pocket. With the injured Baquie taking up a position in the other pocket, Carlton would play out the final quarter with just 16 fit men.


Both teams made their intentions clear in the early stages of the term. They would continue to perform in same free flowing manner that had so enthralled the crowd throughout the first three quarters. The continuous attack and counter attack made for an absorbing contest. Despite South’s continued good showing, and the limitations forced on the Carlton team through injury, most of those who followed the red and white – neutral patrons among them – suspected that the experienced Blues would keep coming and might yet even run down the Southern club. There was little to convince the crowd otherwise as several forays forward by South Melbourne failed to produce a goal.


The Carlton followers then began to gain control of the contest. Their rushes forward became more frequent and a number of strong runs carried the ball within range of goal only to be denied by a dogged South defence. One such rush forward managed to bypass the South Melbourne backs and saw the ball kicked deep into a pocket where Harvey Kelly marked close to the boundary line. The former South Melbourne man lined up for the important kick, and with barley an opening in the goals to aim for, he sent the ball between the posts for Carlton’s fourth major of the afternoon.


The two teams were now separated by just two points. As the time on the clock continued to slowly elapse, the play swung from one end of the ground to the other and drew those in the crowd to cheer wildly for every possession. As the match wore on, Carlton looked to be playing the better football and maintained its assault on goal. The South Melbourne defenders continued to hold back the tide but appeared to be tiring under the waves of relentless pressure. With barely two minutes left remaining in the match, the Carlton players ran the ball forward along the wing for what would surely be their last chance to secure the victory. The ball was kicked within range of goal and a large number of players rushed to the ball to contest possession. Just as they arrived, the bell was rung and Carlton’s promising advance on goal was put to an end.


South Melbourne was victorious. It was the club’s first premiership in the Victorian Football League and the win put an end to Carlton’s enduring reign as the premier club in the competition. The South Melbourne supporters were delirious and they rushed onto the ground to chair their champions triumphantly on their shoulders.


Final scores: South Melbourne, 4. 14 (38) to Carlton, 4. 12 (36)



For South Melbourne, Franks, Thomas, Kerr and Belcher were arguably the team’s best players. While for Carlton, it would be difficult to go past McGregor, Jinks and Payne. Topping was the only multiple goal scorer in the match with 2 for the Blues.


Footage of this match has been made available by the National Film & Sound Archives and can be found on Youtube here:





DJ Williams is a football history artist in Torquay who became interested in the early years of the game at the age of 10 after being gifted a book of black and white photographs documenting footy.

Later, he set about combining his passions for football and art, his works cover a period of time from the 1880s up to just prior to World War One.

About DJ Williams

Football history artist living in Torquay


  1. Great art and a great story.
    Thanks for posting the 1909 video. Did you see the handball like a volleyball serve? Not much space behind the goals as well

  2. John Butler says

    DJW, lovely artwork and a story worth telling again and again. This is a fascinating period for Australian Rules football.

    If only the Blues had managed another goal. It would have spared us decades of Magpies banging on about The Machine.


  3. george smith says

    “If only the Blues had managed another goal. It would have spared us decades of Magpies banging on about The Machine.”

    We won ours, you bought yours!

  4. Great story. What I love is that the guernseys were not uniform. A couple of Carlton guys didn’t have the logo on the front, and the South players wore theirs with the diagonal stripe going either way!

  5. Warwick Nolan says

    Pretty special contribution here DJ. Superb in fact. I also noted the non-uniform uniforms. Near enough is good enough?
    Like all archival testimony – some things change, some stay the same.

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