Almanac (Fitzroy FC) History – Round 16, 1919: ‘Bloater’s’ Dozen Torments Battling Redlegs

 

 

 

In an entertaining 1927 feature about eventual dual Brownlow medallist (1926 and 1928) Ivor Warne-Smith in Table Talk magazine, F. Keith Manzie referred to a 1919 late-season Fitzroy-Melbourne clash at Brunswick Street. “The Maroons were having a pleasant little afternoon’s goalkicking practice at the ‘Redlegs’ expense (a not unusual experience for the Redlegs that season), and the at-that-time Fitzroy pride and joy Bob Merrick … had been amusing himself and his vociferous admirers by scoring goals with monotonous regularity (monotonous, that is, to the funereal-faced Fuchsia followers).”

 

The final-term move of first-year player Warne-Smith onto Merrick – also a newcomer, in just his eighth game – was a classic case of shutting the gate after the horse had bolted. Having booted four goals in each of the first two quarters and another two in the third, Merrick had ten to his name by the last change, with the Roys leading the Fuchsias by 111 points. To his credit, the dogged Warne-Smith ignored “advice” from frustrated Maroons supporters and restricted Merrick to two six-pointers, for a match haul of 12. The Age said: “The former’s (Warne-Smith) mission, though perfectly fair, met with a hostile demonstration from Fitzroy barrackers, who at once directed more than ordinary attention to the Melburnian.”

 

The Redlegs – who withdrew from the VFL between 1916 and 1918 because of World War I – were about to complete their only winless campaign, Collingwood having thrashed them by 109 points at the MCG in Round 15. Fitzroy, with new goalkicking sensation Merrick resuming after what The Herald described as “compulsory retirement for some weeks”, having injured his knee in the Round 10 clash against Carlton, was keen to do likewise. Indeed, The Australasian’s Jack Worrall outlined a phenomenon that occurs every August in football competitions throughout the country. “At this period of the season, the weakest clubs are used as chopping blocks by the leaders, who are all out for the points (percentage). In the circumstances, it is no wonder that Melbourne are experiencing a shocking time.”

 

Also, South Melbourne’s Harold Robertson had booted a then VFL-high fourteen goals against St Kilda four rounds earlier and Merrick’s teammates were keen to make him the new record-holder. The Weekly Times wrote: “Merrick signalised his reappearance for Fitzroy by scoring a dozen goals. His comrades fed him, and he devoured the spoils with (a) keen appetite.” The Argus thought the Maroons “lost many easy opportunities (in the last quarter) … by their persistence in kicking to him when he was in impossible scoring positions”.

 

Merrick – who had the unflattering nickname “Bloater” – obviously fancied the Redlegs. Earlier in the year, he scored eight of the team’s eleven goals in a 36-point win at the MCG, his Round 16 feats giving him the distinction of outscoring the hapless Fuchsias twice. Merrick’s twenty (of 32 Fitzroy goals) was the first instance of one player booting 20-plus goals against the same opponent in the one year. The “love affair” continued in 1920 when he posted bags of nine and six in twin 10-goal victories, the Roys notching 16 majors in each game. That gave Merrick 35 of 64 goals (54.69%) against Melbourne across two seasons.

 

By all accounts, Merrick was quite a character. In Australian Football Stories, Ron Barassi said he “had a habit of talking to the ball”, including saying “come to Bloater”, “get here, ball” and “on your way, you bag of wind” (when he kicked the footy). This occasionally got Merrick into trouble, with Jim Main’s Our Game: Classic Aussie Rules Stories relating how once against Richmond he cursed a ball for not going straight, only for a Tigers player to think that he was the one being abused, resulting in an all-in brawl. Other sources have suggested this incident occurred while Merrick was playing for Yellow Cabs in the Wednesday league during the early 1930s. In Brian Hansen’s The Jack Dyer Story: The Legend of Captain Blood, Dyer said: “Bloater could take a fantastic mark. He could mark like Tarzan and kick like Cheetah. He was very embarrassed about his (kicking) technique, but tried to hide his failings by blaming the ball.”

 

Merrick’s dozen set a club record (later equalled by 1926 teammate Jack Moriarty versus North Melbourne at Arden Street in 1928), as Fitzroy recorded its highest score to that point, first twenty-goal tally and greatest eventual winning margin in its 609 matches at Brunswick Street.

 

“He (Merrick) has been out of the field for some weeks owing to a leg injury, but judging by the way he swung the old bone on Saturday, there is no need for anxiety,” voiced Chatterer in the Football Record. “May he get many more sixers before old Father Time kills off this year.” Alas, Bloater could only add three goals in the Roys’ remaining two games for a season tally of 42. However, it’s significant the Maroons won eight of the 10 matches he played and only one (plus a draw) of the six he missed, finishing half a game behind fourth-placed Richmond which reached the Grand Final.

 

Despite Merrick’s scoreboard brilliance, most critics rated centreman Clarrie Sherry as best afield. The witty Chatterer wrote: “Sherry’s play in the centre for Fitzroy was sparkling, like good wine. He has been a consistent performer this season, but he has never shown better form than in his last match. Gordon Rattray never plays a bad game, and he was in his customary fine form against Melbourne, booting the oval (ball) often toward Merrick, helping him materially in his harvest of sixers.”

 

The final word goes to The Argus’s correspondent. “Although Merrick kicked twelve goals, it was obvious that he had not quite recovered from his injuries. He did not attempt to get into a crush, and his knee bandages were a great trouble to him.” The Redlegs of 101 years ago would surely have been grateful for this small mercy!

 

 

Brunswick Street, Round 16, 1919 (August 30)

 

Fitzroy 6.5 14.7 19.12 21.16 142
Melbourne 1.2 1.2 2.3 2.5 17

 

Goals: Fitzroy – B Merrick 12, S Molan 3, G Gough 2, G Rattray 2, F Keays 1, G Shaw 1. Melbourne – E Chisholm 1, G Heinz 1. Attendance: Unknown

 

Please visit www.fitzroypete.com.au to read further match descriptions from Fitzroy’s Fabulous Century: The 100 Greatest Victories, 1897-1996, published by Mr Smudge Books. Domestic buyers can purchase a copy for $30 (including postage) via PayPal or by emailing [email protected] for Mr Smudge Books’ bank account details. The book costs $50 for international buyers.

 

About Pete Carter

Author of Dreamer, Drifter, Drunk, 1919 The Royal Domination Begins and Fitzroy's Fabulous Century: The 100 Greatest Victories, 1897-1996 (see www.fitzroypete.com.au); diehard Fitzroy supporter who's never forgiven the AFL for its "clinical execution" of the RoyBoys; fanatical fan of and club historian at WAFL club East Perth, the Mighty Royals; lover of all things willow on leather (we're only talking cricket here).

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