Almanac Footy History – Henry Young: Champion Geelong footballer 1890-1910


GEELONG, 1890 – 1910



Artwork by DJ Williams

Geelong champion, Henry Young, depicted in front of the Corio Oval pavilion

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

Limited edition of 175

Prints available in both A2 – 60cm x 45cm ($125) and A1 – 90cm x 60cm ($180)

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Henry Young made his first appearance in the blue and white hoops in the 1890 season, and before long, had become one of the club’s most important players. He was a wonderful over-head mark and adept with both hand and foot. Young’s superior fitness enabled him to follow the ball unchanged for four quarters. He could outlast any direct opponent and seldom was he ever beaten in his position. Young was strong in the contest, and liked nothing more than to clear a path for his smaller teammates to run through. Despite often being the target of opposition roughhouse tactics, he always managed to maintain his composure and play the game in a tough, but fair manner.


Young was an accomplished all-round sportsman who excelled at a wide range of different sports. He was noted for his skill with an oar and was an accomplished cyclist. He also competed in swimming and athletic events. As an amateur boxer he once sparred with world champion, Bob Fitzsimmons, and from all accounts he held his own against the champ.


Young’s influence on the game grew steadily as the years progressed. An amendment to the rules enforced by the League mid-way through the 1896 season permitted a player to make a play at the ball directly from a boundary throw in, rather than wait for it to first hit the ground as had been the custom. The rule change suited Young’s athletic style of play perfectly and it served to elevate his game to even greater heights. He was the first tall follower to successfully adapt to the rule change and grew quickly into the pre-eminent tap ruckman in the competition.


1897 will, of course, always be remembered as one of the most important years in the history of the game. Eight clubs had broken away from the VFA competition to create a new league, the VFL, and Geelong played a major part in its formation. When the team stepped onto the Corio ground for the historic encounter with Essendon in round one, Young was a notable absentee. He missed the first two games of the season and watched on as his team was badly beaten in both encounters. The loss to Melbourne in round two was particularly hard to take. The Geelong players offered very little for the supporter who had travelled that day to cheer about and walked off the Melbourne Cricket Ground with the scoreboard displaying a deficit of 45 points.


Young made his welcome return in round three and travelled with the team to Victoria Park to take on the reining VFA premiers. The Geelong players had much to prove and fought valiantly from the outset. Their efforts to make amends for the previous Saturday were such that it saw them in front of Collingwood when the teams changed ends at the first bell. The home team responded strongly to the agonising pleas of their ardent supporters and lifted their effort in the second term. While Geelong continued to put on a fine display around the ruck, the Magpies were too strong in the back-half and managed to restrict Geelong’s scoring to just 2 behinds. Collingwood outscored the valiant visitors by 2 goals in the term and went to the long break with a 4 point lead.


The second half was played at a hectic pace and it enthralled the Victoria Park crowd. Both teams gained high praise for the manner in which the game was played. Geelong battled manfully and won the respect of all those at the ground, but despite their second half efforts, they were unable to bridge the gap on the home team and when the bell sounded to end the game Geelong was still four points in arrears. While the final result was not ideal, most observers felt that the improved performance by the Geelong players was an indication that the club had turned the corner and would be difficult to beat for the remainder of the season.


Those who had forecast success for the club found quick justification for their opinions when, on the following Saturday, the team made light work of Fitzroy and set out on a winning streak that would stretch to eleven consecutive matches. At the end of the home and away rounds, Geelong had clinched top spot on the ladder and was tipped by most to win the round robin finals series and take home the first VFL premiership. When the club persuaded the VFL to hold the first final against Essendon at the Corio Oval, rather than the MCG, it seemed that Geelong had been blessed by the football gods.


The home ground advantage was having the desired effect in what was a low scoring contest that had produced only three goals from the two teams in three quarters of football. Geelong clearly had the upper hand and went to the final break with a lead of twelve points. The final term began in favour of the home team. While Essendon had shown great determination around the ruck, Geelong was surer of foot and had little difficulty in moving the ball freely around the ground. Their fine team play allowed them to post the first goal of the term on the board and the predominantly local crowd of more than 5000 expressed their joy enthusiastically. Essendon was staring in the face of almost certain defeat and had much to do if it was going to have any say in the final result. The match appeared to be all sewn up in favour of the home team and few people at the ground gave Essendon any chance of victory. As the match wore on the result grew even more certain.


Few were prepared for what happened in the closing stages of the final term. Essendon suddenly turned its performance completely around and left the Geelong players looking flat footed – it had a startling effect on the once jovial crowd. The visitors began to dominate all aspects of the game and as they piled on one goal after another the Geelong people appeared to go into shock. Essendon had scored three goals in quick succession to level the scores with only minutes left remaining in the contest.


Geelong then lifted, and solid play by both teams in the middle of the ground made it a contest, and provided no advantage to either team. It appeared that the match was certain to end in a draw. The crowd held their collective breaths as the clock continued to slowly count down to the final bell.


A mistake by Geelong in the ruck then handed the ball to the Essendon followers who proceeded to run deep into their forward half. A melee ensued around the goal mouth and the agonised cries of the crowd grew deafening. Suddenly, an anonymous kicker from inside the crush sent the ball floating towards goal and the Geelong people could only watch on as it split the posts to score the goal that would seal the match in favour of the red and black.


It was utter disappointment for the home crowd; their team had gone down by six points in what was their first loss in twelve weeks. Geelong went on to win its remaining two finals against Melbourne and Collingwood, but as Essendon went through the finals undefeated, they were crowned the inaugural VFL premiers. Geelong had been relegated to second place, and though it was no doubt disappointing at the time, it really must be looked on as a commendable result that bode well for the club’s future. Young had played an important part in the club’s impressive run of victories, and while he was a major contributor in the club’s finals success, the Essendon loss must surely be one that haunted the big-man for many years to follow.


After running so close in the 1897 season, Geelong was keen to take the next step in 1898 and Young was expected to play a key role in the club’s push for the premiership. Young, however, was injured in a mishap prior to the commencement of the season and would make only one appearance for the club that year. While Geelong managed to finish the home and away rounds in fourth place, a quirk in the draw gave all eight teams a chance to qualify for the finals and it saw the club miss out on one of the final four spots.


Young had not yet recovered when the 1899 season got underway and it wasn’t until round 14 when he made his return. He played the final home and away round against St.Kilda, which Geelong won comfortably by 19 goals. Young then played in the three qualifying finals games for two wins and one loss. The loss to South Melbourne by three points was enough to see the team cruelly denied of a place in the final under similar circumstances to the previous year – Fitzroy went on to win the premiership for the second year running.


Nevertheless, Young had come back better than ever and played a further ten years at the club relatively unscathed. He had taken over the reins from the great Peter Burns in 1901 and captained the club for the next nine seasons. The club finished third in 1901 to continue with its run of falling just short of claiming the grand prize.


The game, at this point in time, was rapidly changing. It was becoming increasingly difficult for many of the clubs to retain all of the best players. A large number of players throughout the League and Association clubs had begun taking up lucrative offers to play elsewhere. With Geelong unwilling to match the type of money that was being thrown around by some of the more well to do Melbourne clubs, it was forced to let a number of quality players go – Carlton would be the main beneficiary of Geelong’ departing talent. Jim Flynn made his way to Prince’s Park and he was accompanied by two of Geelong’s favourite sons, Joe and Jim McShane. It was a terrible shock to Geelong supporters. The 1902 season would be the first in twenty years in which one of the six McShane brothers was not seen stepping onto a football ground wearing the blue and white hoops.


The following years bore little real success for the club, but Young’s captaincy was never in question. He continued to set a fine example for his teammates on how the game was meant to be played and provided many highlights for the people of Geelong. Despite the team’s low standing on the ladder, the exploits of star players such as Bill Eason, Dick Grigg and Ernest Newling gave the Geelong crowd much to cheer about. They were especially endeared with Teddy Rankin, who was continually pressed with offers to play elsewhere, but remained steadfast in refusing all approaches made towards him to leave the club – Rankin would be the first Geelong player to reach 100 VFL games.


1909 was to be Young’s final year of football. He had played 20 years of football for his beloved Geelong. Seven of those years were played in the VFA competition with the other 13 years played in the VFL where he amassed a total of 164 games – 137 of them as captain.


There was a definite changing of the guard at Geelong in 1910 with Young’s departure. Most notable was the appointment of the club’s first non-playing coach, former premiership captain, Dave Hickinbotham. With Young set to take on the role of spectator, the captaincy was placed in the capable hands of Bill Eason. The 1910 season began brightly, and at the half-way mark Geelong was able to boast a record of six wins and three losses. The gloss was taken off the bright start somewhat when two of Young’s long-time teammates, Ernest Newling and Teddy Rankin, were forced into retirement after sustaining injuries a week apart from each other. Newling’s departure came after playing his 150thgame for the club in round eight, while Rankin, who had been Young’s teammate at Geelong for the past 19 seasons, finished up on the following Saturday.


The untimely departures of the two club champions led the club to seek out replacements for the injured stars. Young was urged to make his return to assist Hickinbotham in his efforts to take the club to the finals for the first time in seven years. At 37 years of age, Young once again stepped into the fray. He played three games on his return for one win, one draw and one loss. With two games left remaining in the season, it was clear that any hope that Geelong had of making the finals had slipped beyond the club’s reach, and at that point Young chose to hang his boots up for the last time.


Young was a colossus at Geelong. He had worn the big white V on seven occasions throughout his career and made his final appearance for Victoria in 1908 as team captain in the Jubilee Carnival held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground to mark the 50 year anniversary of the game.


In his retirement from football, Young maintained his fitness through his continued involvement in a wide array of sporting pursuits in the Geelong area. It was, therefore, an immense shock to the people of Geelong when news spread that their champion had suffered a heart attack at the Eastern baths and died at the scene – few people knew that Young had been undergoing special treatment over several months for heart troubles. He was just 50 years of age.


The high esteem for which Young was held by the club was no more evident than with the honour bestowed on him in 1925 when his name took pride of place alongside his good friend, Charles Brownlow, on the newly erected grandstand at the Corio Oval. In the AFL centenary year, 50 years after he captained the Victorians to victory in the Jubilee Carnival, Henry Young became one of the 136 inaugural inductees into the AFL Hall of Fame.


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About DJ Williams

Football history artist living in Torquay


  1. Pamela Sherpa says

    Wonderful, interesting article.

  2. Colin Ritchie says

    Fab read DJ, love the stern look on Henry Young’s face that you have captured so well. So many stories to tell!

  3. Thanks for the comments Colin & Pamela.
    From what I understand Colin, he was a pretty serious man -serious about his sport, at least.

  4. Dr Rocket says

    High time the clubs and players from the pre-VFL era were acknowledged and recognised.

    Footy didn’t start with the VFL in 1897…

    Henry Young deserves it.

  5. Thanks for this DJ. Always great to hear about the characters of that period.

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