Almanac Football: Vale Graham Arthur – Hawthorn’s first premiership captain




Far be it for me to write in praise of an Echuca footballer, something in the Rochester upbringing, but in the case of Graham Arthur there must be an exception.


‘Mort’ who passed away at the age of 84 earlier this week, was quite simply, one of the best people I came across in country football.


His VFL career with Hawthorn as the club’s first premiership captain has been well documented as well as his significant off-field career with the Hawks.


But it was time coaching Echuca and then his role at the VCFL that I want to dwell on because I believe this really draws out the character of the man.


When I was writing my chapter on the Rochester – Echuca rivalry for Footy Town, Mort was one of the first I went to given his significance at the Echuca footy club and his broad vision of the game working for the VCFL.


He was very generous with his time and his views. He was also very measured.


On the rivalry, he told me that “Rochester is a very proud club and they were always determined to beat us. The intensity at training and around the club always increased when we were due to play Rochy”.


Mort was the key driver of Echuca’s bid to follow Rochester and move to the Goulburn Valley Football League in the early 70s after Rochy left the Bendigo Football League at the end of 1971.


He told me that interest in the Echuca Football Club declined markedly – “People stopped following us…it hurt the club financially. Our nearest game was in Bendigo”


“It was a strong league, the move saved the club”, he added. And, of course, the rivalry, that begun in 1874 was resuscitated.


It was somewhat ironic that Mort pushed for Echuca to move to the GVL as he grew up in Bendigo and went to school at Marist Brothers College where he earnt his nickname based on the poem, ‘Morte d’Arthur’ by Tennyson.


Like so many of his school mates he played for Sandhurst under ex Hawthorn captain Kevin Curran who was influential in Mort going to play for Hawthorn along with 1961 premiership team-mates Brendan Edwards and Des Dickson.


As coach of Echuca, Mort engineered a classic premiership victory in 1970 over the Des Dickson-coached Sandhurst by six points in one of the Bendigo league’s greatest grand finals. The pre-season training of carrying sand-bags on the Murray river banks got Echuca up in a tight game.


After finishing up coaching the Murray Bombers, Mort, who ran a sports store in Echuca, took on the role as the VCFL District Councillor for the GV region, and then became the first full-time Field Officer based in Melbourne.


In his history of the VCFL, Behind the Goals, Paul Daffey wrote of Mort, “Arthur’s football achievements and natural warmth enabled him to do a job that few would have been able to pull off”.


Initiatives included Country Day games between VFL clubs as pre-season matches, consolidation of the country championships, centenary plaques to country clubs, and the first-ever VCFL representative team that played the ACT in Canberra in 1980.


I experienced his warmth and humour along with that hearty chuckle when staying back for a drink after a VCFL seminar at VFL Park in February 1981. I was in the company of then VCFL president Brian ‘Muncher’ Molony and Mort. We just talked footy for hours. We closed the bar and left VFL Park after dark.


We renewed acquaintance during the VCFL Investigation into the leagues in southern NSW when I was the vice-president of the Central Riverina League.


While we engaged in ‘territorial disputes’ there was never any animosity.


Paul Daffey believes that the constant round of investigations finally wore Mort down as they were too often acrimonious and led to bitterness between the VCFL officials and both league and club officials during a period of rapid change to the structure of country football in Victoria and southern NSW.


One of the most notorious confrontations was at the announcement of the amalgamation of the Bendigo and Golden City Football Leagues at the Red Cross Centre in View Street near the QEO. More than 100 protestors had gathered outside before the meeting, as Paul Daffey noted in his VCFL book, the protestors jeered the VCFL officials and cheered the Golden City officials.


Mort was jostled by some of the protestors as he made his way back to his car parked just outside the Rifle Brigade Hotel. Meanwhile, VCFL president Allan Dunstan from Donald went out the side entrance.


In late 1984 Mort resigned from his position with the VCFL to return to work in promotions at the Hawthorn Football Club. Daffey wrote:


‘Arthur’s warmth and energy had been crucial in forming a bridge between the VCFL and its affiliates during the previous five seasons, but he was tired of the travel to distant corners of Victoria and he was ready to return to the club where he had played’ (p.250).


Mort was made a life member of the VCFL and attended the final AGM in March 2016.


He is still very highly regarded in Echuca where ‘his influence was felt beyond the football ground and he was a mentor to many people in Echuca during his time in the town and for many years beyond’ according to the tribute on the EFNC Facebook site.


Vale Mort.


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  1. Yes, sad times for country footy not to mention the Hawthorn F.C., Roseville Rocket.

    Graham’s Dad, Alan ‘Snodger’ Arthur, was also a famous Bendigo footballer.

    I thought the nickname meant a person with a big beak (or nose), but it doesn’t.

    It’s actually early 20th century slang for a person who’s exceptionally good and decent.

    Des Dickson is still going along reasonably OK and we crossed paths — pre-Covid 19, of course — at Johnny Forbes’ regular Friday night sports dinners at the Kangaroo Flat club.

  2. Roseville Rocket says

    Thanks for your comment Ernest.

    Seems like Mort followed closely in Snodger’s footsteps.
    Which club did he play with?
    Guessing the Cardinals?

  3. Mort’s father was, like him, a Sandhurst product.

    But Snodger ended up as Golden Square’s first coach. They started in the Bendigo F.L. in 1935.

    Speaking of old Hurst players Delicate Des Dickson is recovering at home. Not as fit as when I last saw him.

    Apparently presented at Bendigo’s Intensive Care and was told as they wheeled him in his heart had 2 hours left to run.

    So very appropriate that he went in when he did.

  4. My first year in Melbourne was 1968, the year Peter Hudson first kicked the ton. The following year Peter Knights and Leigh Matthews made their debut. All I then knew of Graham Arthur was from that Scanlan’s card, which was part of the 68 set, The cards were being printed as he announced his retirement, and in swap card currency it turned out his card was worth any three others.

    His record suggests strongly that Graham Arthur was the best Hawthorn footballer I (and others of my vintage) never saw play.

  5. Roseville Rocket says

    Thanks Earnest for information on Snodger Arthur, who apparently also played for Essendon in the VFL.

    Delicate Des went the other way, from Square to Sandhurst.
    Good to hear he is recovering from the heart op.
    Daff hosted a footy lunch featuring Des at the Rifle Brigade (I think?), a few years back.
    A fearsome figure when coaching Sandhurst but Rochy found a way to beat them!

  6. Roseville Rocket says

    Thanks for your comment Rick.

    Apparently Mort was contemplating going to St Kilda after the abrupt end to his coaching tenure at the Hawks after the 1965 season through his close association with Allan Jeans.,,
    would have played in another premiership team in 1966!

    What would have been Mort’s currency in footy card terms in a Sainters jumper?

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