Almanac (Footy) History: Jack Cooper – Courageous Fitzroy footballer and Anzac soldier









It is recorded in several texts  that  the details  of the death of Fitzroy’s former captain Jack Cooper at Menin Road Ridge on the 20th September 1917,  are uncertain;  and,  like so many other soldiers,  who died at the Battle of Passchendaele,  his body was never recovered from the frontline.


Jack’s death is a heart-rending story; and the fact that no one knows where he fell in combat is a profound tragedy. However, Jack’s story is one among many tragic cases.  It is believed that of the 62,000 Australian soldiers who perished in the Great War, 23,000 bodies were never recovered for burial.


This article has been written for Footy Almanac’s ANZAC Day tributes in the hope of reviving memories of Jack Cooper – a respected captain of Fitzroy and a heroic soldier.





John Thomas (aka Jack) Cooper was born in 1889. He was the son of Fred and Florence Cooper of Fitzroy.  All reference books, used in this research, seem to ‘come up short’ on details regarding Jack’s family and his early years.


It is known that that he attended the Alfred Crescent State School No: 1490 in North Fitzroy.  Mr Tom Austin, a prominent figure in athletics, was the Headmaster during Jack’s school years. From what can be gleaned from various newspapers, Alfred Crescent was a school that embraced the importance of sport and encouraged students to participate whenever possible.


State School 1490 produced several outstanding names in cricket and football. The most famous being Bill Ponsford who played Test cricket for Australia and scored over 2000 runs at an average 48.22 runs per innings.


The other well-known sportsman who played for Fitzroy and Carlton was John Downs and it seems fairly certain that John’s brother Lyle, who also played with Blues, was also a pupil at Alfred Crescent.


Note: Younger readers may not be aware that Lyle Downs died from a heart attack after training at Princes Park in July 1927.


The school also took pride in the fact that Percy Ridd later played for Subiaco in the WAFL and that it has connections with the noted Chapman (football) and Landsdown (cricket and baseball) families. Jack Cooper enjoyed cricket and football and it appears as though he was at the right school to obtain opportunities to ‘hone his skills’ and enjoy the thrills and spills of competitive football.



State School 1490 Alfred Crescent Fitzroy North.





The origins of the Fitzroy Football Club can be traced back to 1883 when it affiliated with the VFA. Fitzroy FC was an integral part of the community and the locals enjoyed the suburban rivalry and matches were well-attended.



1895 – Fitzroy Football Club. Source: ‘The Australasian’ August 17th 1895. Page 27



Winning VFL flags in 1899, 1904 and 1905 was a source of immense pride within the community and perhaps led to Fitzroy being one of the eight clubs (Carlton, Collingwood, Essendon, Fitzroy Geelong, Melbourne South Melbourne and St Kilda) that formed the VFL in 1897.


Times were hard when Jack Cooper was a child. Some of the photographs, of street life in Fitzroy and the nearby suburbs reveal the destitution of so many families during that epoch. While the impact of the economic depression of the 1890s is marginalized in some history books, it created widespread hardship, torment and suffering.


The city of Melbourne was greatly impacted by the downturn; and thousands of families lived by hand-to mouth and many children went to bed with ‘empty stomachs ’…


“During the 1880s Fitzroy (south) became increasingly working class. Mansions became boarding houses, and the single men in them attracted prostitution as a local industry. Other local industries included sly-grogging, cocaine dealing and internecine activities between pushes of under-employed larrikins. Coinciding with the descent into unlawful activity the Churches increased their charitable activities, focusing on ragged children, facilities for single women and the relief of distress. Much of the philanthropic initiatives, though, came from organisations outside Fitzroy.” Source: Victorian Places website.



Caption: This kind of housing once dominated inner-city suburbs like Fitzroy, Collingwood and Richmond. Source: ‘Herald Sun’ Image Library.



Sport and games were a welcome break from the daily grind of life in the inner suburbs and it is not unfair to suggest that playing VFL football would have been the dream of many youngsters.


VFL football was a chance to rise above the grim austerity of the 1890s and no doubt,  Jack Cooper would have been excited about the opportunity to play for Fitzroy. His arrival at Brunswick Street Oval, as a teenager, was to prove a new and exciting chapter in his life.





Jack was seventeen years of age and playing with North Fitzroy Juniors (perhaps affiliated with the local Churches League) when he came under the notice of Fitzroy FC ‘talent scouts.’  Jack must have impressed officials with his brand of football because he was listed with Fitzroy FC in April 1907.



Source: ‘The Herald’ April 26th 1907. Page: 4



As can be seen in the above extract, Jack Cooper, Harold McLennan and Wells (perhaps Charlie but difficult to verify) from North Fitzroy Juniors were part of eleven recruits that signed with Fitzroy that season. It was a fruitful ‘batch’ of ‘rookies’ as  Alf Appleton (Ballarat), Herbert Byrne (Xavier College), Bill Blacklock  (Ivanhoe), Jack Dawson ( West Melbourne) , Duncan ( probably Val)  and Charles Owens (Clifton Hill Wesleys) all went on to play at least one game in VFL ranks.


A pre-season practice match between Fitzroy and the Metropolitan Junior FA was played at the Brunswick Street Oval in April; and although Jack Cooper was not selected in the line-up, six of the above recruits were chosen. It is interesting that Jack Dawson was named in a key defensive position; and Charles Owens was the first rover in that trial match. Harold McLennan started in the following division (as it was then called).



Source: ‘The Herald’ April 22nd 1907. Page 6



Harold McLennan, who was recruited to Fitzroy in the same season as Jack Cooper, is seen above setting the ball for a place kick.  It is said that he was recruited to Fitzroy by the legendary Gerald Brosnan. Harold went onto play 135 games and he captained the club in 1911. Source: Boyles Football Photos.





When Jack Cooper arrived at Fitzroy in 1907 he would have met two club officials, Don Chandler and Mick Green. Don and Mick played such enduring roles in maintaining and strengthening the club.


On-field success is usually a direct result of off-field endeavour, unity and stability and Fitzroy FC was most blessed in having two such loyal and dedicated administrators in Don and Mick. Don Chandler was president of Fitzroy from 1911 until 1930 and, in that time, the club reached the VFL Final Four on eight occasions, participated in five Grand Finals and won three VFL pennants (1913-1916-1922). Don was made a Life Member of Fitzroy in 1920.


Note: Jack Cooper worked as storeman in Chandler’s Hardware Warehouse at 276-294 Brunswick Street Fitzroy.





Sources: ‘Sporting Globe’ April 7th 1935 & ‘The Australian’ (Perth) August 11th 1932.



Mick Green was a tireless and selfless secretary who served Fitzroy FC in that capacity from 1906 until 1928 and then again for a three year term in 1937-38-39. In those days, football club secretaries were such vital ‘links in the chain’ and much of their work was done with pen and ink (perhaps a typewriter), a telephone and endless face-to-face to meetings with players, league and club officials, the committee and, of course, the members.


While Mick Green may have received an honorarium (i.e. a small stipend) for his long and exacting hours, much of work would have been unpaid. Mick Green received his Life Membership of FFC in 1922.





Jack Cooper made his VFL debut for Fitzroy against Collingwood in Round 1 1907 at Victoria Park. Jack was picked in defence as was Fitzroy’s other new recruit Jack Dawson. There are two things that may be read into Jack Cooper’s selection for the 1907 ‘season opener’.


  1. He was just 18 years and 65 days of age which implies that he must have been mature to take his place in such a strong team.
  2. He must have trained impressively in the lead-up to that game.


Note: Jack Dawson, from West Melbourne (see above), may have played on a VFL permit that day as ‘The Argus’ listed his name under a heading: PERMITS.  


While Jack Cooper was the youngest Fitzroy player that day, Collingwood’s emerging young star Dick Lee was 26 days younger than Jack. The other teenager playing that for Fitzroy day was Harold McLennan.





Jack Cooper (above) and Dick Lee (below) were the two youngest players in the match at Collingwood in Round 1 1907.  Dick Lee went on to   play 230 games and boot 707 goals for Collingwood. Jack Cooper took a different turn on life’s winding road. Sources:  Boyles Football Photos website.


An interesting aspect about the records of that game is that neither team named official coaches. It is believed that the senior players (e. g. at Fitzroy, Ernie Jenkins) took charge. Fitzroy’s first official coach, Geoff Moriarty, was not appointed until 1911.


Collingwood’s records also reveal that no ‘official’ coach was named for that game. However, there was a potential coach named Jock McHale ‘waiting in the wings’ or rather the centre. Jock who was the Magpies pivot that day did not begin his epic coaching career (713 games) at Victoria Park until 1912.



Part of the huge crowd that packed Victoria Park to watch the exciting match between Collingwood and Fitzroy on the 27th April 1907.  What an experience for young Jack Cooper who made his VFL debut that day.  Source: ‘Punch’ May 2nd 1907 Page 13



From the available photographs Victoria Park appeared packed and thousands had passed through the turnstiles to witness the ‘neighbourhood derby’.


It is only 2.6 kilometres from the Brunswick Street Oval to Victoria Park but when the ‘two tribes’ met in those days, it was something akin to an alien invasion. Suburban pride was at stake and with any victory came ‘bragging rights.’ Despite the low scores, it must have been an enthralling contest. ‘The Argus’ reporter who went by the nom-de-plume of ‘Observer’ wrote the following …


 “About ten thousand people looked on when those two keen rivals, Fitzroy and Collingwood, met at Victoria Park on Saturday to renew their struggle for football fame. The battle was bitter, as it always is between these teams, yet the best point about it was that in a game often desperate, and where the players threw themselves into it with fierce energy, there was not a single act which could be called spiteful…” Source: ‘The Argus’ (See above)


In brief, the Maroons bounced out  the blocks  and set up an early  lead but Collingwood hit back with forceful intent. The  scores were ‘all tied up’ as the teams  went  to the sheds for the  ‘big break.’ The second half was tight, tough and tense football and in an exciting last quarter the Magpies prevailed, mainly through the agency of Frank Wilcher and veteran captain Arthur Leach.  ‘Observer’ reported that the players of both teams were exhausted and the crowd was trembling with excitement as the clock ticked down in those desperate closing minutes. The final scores were:


Collingwood:       1.1     2. 6      5.9.    6.11 (47)

Fitzroy:                 2.4     2.6       3.8     5. 9   (39)


Collingwood’s goal kickers:  Cheffers 2 Angus Drohan Stancliffe Lee

Fitzroy’s goal kickers:  Owen 2 Barclay 1 Barker 1 Sharp1


The Collingwood players who came under notice included Arthur Leach (who was playing his 157th game that day at the age of 31 years), Frank Wilcher, Percy Gibb, Dick Lee, Jock McHale, Alex Holland, George Green, Charlie Pannam and Bob Nash. The Maroons were best served by Jim Sharpe, Herbert Milne, Barclay Bailes, Frank Abbott, Alf Bartlett and Charlie Naismith.



An action scene from the clash between Collingwood and Fitzroy in Round 1 in 1907 Source: ‘Punch’ May 2nd 1907 Page 13



As for Jack Cooper he received a positive mention regarding his ‘dash’  and he, Harold McLellan and Charlie Owen were seen as accomplished recruits for Fitzroy. Jack had made an impression and his league career was underway.


The following week he took his place in team for the game against South Melbourne at the Brunswick Street Oval. Can you imagine Jack’s feeling of pride as he packed his bag for that match? What an occasion for his family, friends and the teachers and students of Alfred Crescent.


Jack played eleven games (out of a possible 14 games) that season and Fitzroy won only seven games and finished fifth on the VFL ladder. Jim Sharpe won the club’s goal kicking with 24 goals; and midfielder Barclay Bailes (ex-Perth) won the Best & Fairest award. Carlton defeated South Melbourne to claim the VFL premiership that season.







Three key players for  Fitzroy in 1907. From the top:  Barclay Bailes, Jim Sharp and the skipper  that season,  Ern Jenkins. Jim Sharp was President of Collingwood Football Club from 1913 until 1923.  Ern Jenkins played in three Fitzroy premierships, coached Richmond Football Club in 1913 and later became a VFL goal umpire.  Sources : Australian Football and Wikipedia websites; and the original sources of the photographs were not given.





1908 was a year of major change for the VFL with the entry of two new clubs, University and Richmond, into the competition. With ten teams, the VFL judiciously decided upon an eighteen game season (i.e. with nine home games and nine away games for each club).


A ten team competition is arguably the perfect fixture for the VFL. It is not only fair for all teams but is fully embraced by supporter base of the game. Currently, the AFL is ‘grappling’ to find a workable solution to its lopsided structure and the current AFL fixture is unjust and needs revision. In the not too distant future there will be nineteen teams and even greater controversy.


In 1908, Fitzroy failed to make inroads; and despite a sparkling display against Melbourne in Round 18, won only seven games and finished in the lower half of the table.


Jack Cooper consolidated his place as an emerging player at Fitzroy and, although he was usually described as a defender,  in the clash against Richmond in Round 3,  it seems he went forward and kicked three of the team’s eleven goals. It was a valuable contribution to the team’s 25 point victory.



A wide angle shot from the Richmond-Fitzroy clash in May 1908. Jack Cooper kicked three goals in that game.  Source: ‘The Australasian’ May 23rd 1908. Page:  28.



 One of the worst things ever to happen at the Brunswick Street Oval was an ugly incident in the match against South Melbourne, when field umpire Lawrence ‘Lardie’ Tulloch was hit by a stone thrown by a spectator. In the photo below, from ‘Punch’ (May 7th 1908), Umpire Tulloch can be seen buckled over and holding his head as play continued around him. Lawrence Tulloch had played 129 games for Collingwood (1897-1904) before becoming an umpire.





In more cheerful news for the Maroons, Bailes Barclay and Herbert ‘Boxer’ Milne were selected to represent Victoria at the Australasian Jubilee Football Carnival which was held in Melbourne in August that year. Bailes and Herbert were the first-ever Fitzroy players to be chosen in a VFL representative team.


The break in Jack’s playing history from Round 15 1909 until Round 10 in 1910 deserved further investigation  and it was discovered that Jack was suspended for 10 weeks for an altercation (i.e. striking ) with a Carlton player,  Frank Caine, on Saturday 14th August 1909 at the Brunswick Street Oval.



Jack Cooper is outed for 10 weeks. Source: ‘Weekly Times’ August 28th 1909. Page: 19





Jack Cooper brought up his 50th game milestone in Round 17 1910 against Melbourne at the Brunswick Street Oval. Of his 50 games, Jack had played in 20 winning teams and the club was still labouring and wrestling in trying to climb the ladder. In 1909, Fitzroy had finished sixth but by the end of 1910, the club had slipped back to eighth with just five wins and a percentage of 90.8%


In March that year, Fitzroy FC faced upheaval and discord when some 500 members met to discuss ‘changing the management of Fitzroy Football Club.’


While the tension did little to build unity, the appointment of Geoff Moriarty as the first-ever coach of FFC was a step in the right direction. Geoff was an experienced footballer who had played with Carlton and Fitzroy in VFA ranks and was an inaugural member of the Fitzroy’s VFL team in 1897.


Not a great deal of information could be unearthed about Geoff’s appointment but It seems an important overriding consideration in the his selection was that he sought no payment to take on the job as playing coach..…


“ Monagle,   Pannam and Beauchamp were amongst the applicants for the position of paid coach. But, rather than pay a non-player, Geoff Moriarty is acting in an honorary  capacity” Source: ‘Punch’ 27 April 27th 1911. Page: 34



Geoff Moriarty- Fitzroy’s first ever coach was appointed in 1911.





Looking back to more than 100 years ago, it is hard to judge such things but Geoff Moriarty seemed  to have made a positive impact at Brunswick Street in 1911 . While Fitzroy lost the first two games that season, it strung together four successive wins including a narrow victory over Carlton by two points at Princes Park in Round 3.


After six rounds, Fitzroy sat on the second rung of the VFL ladder; and following a magnificent win over Collingwood in Round 11, the Maroons were shaping as contenders for a tilt at the title.



Bruce Campbell kicked four goals for Fitzroy in its eleven point victory over Collingwood in Round: 11 at Victoria Park.  Bruce was actually cleared from Carlton during that season;  and, in nine games for his ‘new club’,  booted 25 goals  to win the goal kicking award. Source: ‘The Age’  July 3rd 1911.   Photograph: ‘Australian Football’ website.



It is no state secret… that the trick to playing finals football is grinding out the close contests and always ‘expect the unexpected.’ Unfortunately, Fitzroy went down by nine points to South Melbourne in Round 16 and consequently, in  finishing fifth on the ladder was condemned to ‘mothballs’ in September.


Jack Cooper had his best season at Brunswick Street in 1911.  He played 16 games and won the club’s Best & Fairest trophy. His hard work and consistency had paid dividends as it not an easy task for a backman to win such a prestigious club award. Jack would have been more than satisfied to gain such recognition… but little did he know that a bigger surprise awaited him in 1912.





Jack Cooper’s election to the position of captain in 1912 was not only newsworthy but the fact that the voting details were published in the press was intriguing. Furthermore, Bill Walker was elected vice-captain ahead of the 1911 skipper, Harold McLennan.


It seems that in the history of VFL football Bill Walker may be another forgotten figure. Bill played 169 games with Fitzroy (1903-1914) and won the club’s Best & Fairest trophy in 1909. Bill was captain of FFC in 1913…a most memorable year at FFC.




Sources: ‘The Herald’ April 26th 1912.  








Jimmy Freake – The champion forward of Fitzroy. Source: State Library of Victoria.



1912 also saw the emergence of a remarkable footballer named James (aka Jimmy) Henry Freake.  Jimmy’s goal-sense, ball skills and loyalty would help shape Fitzroy FC for the next decade. Jimmy grew up in Preston and, as a youngster, played with Fitzroy in the VJFA.  From what can be gathered, he had his heart set on playing for Collingwood but his boyhood dreams were never realized. It was a case of  Jimmy’s bad luck became Fitzroy’s good fortune.


Jimmy Freake  ‘took time’ to find his way to VFL ranks;  and  was 23 years of age when he played his first VFL game for Fitzroy. In his debut match against South Melbourne at the Lake Oval, he managed two of the Maroons’ four goals and displayed a modicum of flair. However, by the end of the season, he had booted 53 goals including nine against University in Round 14. In his thirteen years with Fitzroy, Jimmy booted 442 goals at an average of 2.54 goals per game and he won the club’s goal kicking trophy on seven occasions.


 “…Jimmy Freake was a 174-game Fitzroy player from 1912-24. All of 178cm tall and weighing just 63kg, he defied his physical limitations to rank among the game’s very best full forwards in his era.” Source: Brisbane Lions website.


This wonderful photo montage was published in the ‘Weekly Times’ and depicts scenes from the opening game of the 1912 season between  Fitzroy v South Melbourne at the Lake Oval. Source: ‘Weekly Times’ May 4th 1912. Page 28.





One aspect of Jack’s VFL career that appears to have been overlooked in tributes and other articles regarding Jack Cooper was that in 1912, he was captain of the Victorian team that played South Australia in Adelaide.


It is believed that it was Jack’s first interstate game and to be nominated as the skipper  of such a star-studded team was an extraordinary honour. The Victorian team included such luminaries as Vic Cumberland (St Kilda), Bruce Sloss ( South Melbourne),  Percy Parratt ( Fitzroy),  Billy Schmidt (St Kilda), Bill Thomas (South Melbourne), Wels Eicke (St Kilda) and Carlton’s George Challis.


On that occasion, South Australia 9.8(62) defeated Victoria 6.7(43). Jack Cooper, Vic Cumberland, Percy Gibb, Les Hughes, Ernie Cameron and Bert Lenne were mentioned in the match review and the goal kickers for Victoria were Billy Schmidt 3 Les Hughes George Challis  and Percy Parratt  one each.  Following the match, Jack Cooper offered warm praise to the victorious South Australian team in an eloquent post-match congratulatory speech.




In August 1912, Jack Cooper captained Victoria in a match against South Australia in Adelaide.  In the photograph above, Jack Cooper is third from the right in the second row.  Jack played for Victoria on eight occasions. Source: ‘Chronicle’ August 17th 1912. Page: 31.  




The Fitzroy Footballers’ Cricket XI which won the VJCA First Grade premiership in 1912-13. Jack (centre front row) was also captain of the team. Source: ‘Punch’ May 8th 1913.






The ‘winds of change’ swept through Brunswick Street with an almighty force and sent things and people flying. Jack Cooper was deposed as captain (but affably accepted the role of vice-captain); and after 36 games as coach, Geoff Moriarty made way for Percy Parratt. Percy, who had first played with Fitzroy in 1909, was 25 years of age when he took on the role of honourary coach at Fitzroy FC.  Percy, who was recruited to Fitzroy from the Rose of Northcote FC would go on to play 195 VFL games and coach at Fitzroy, Carlton and Geelong.


Percy was talented, creative and humble; and   Jimmy Freake, who,  in tandem with Percy,  wreaked havoc on opposition defences,  once wrote  in ‘The Sporting Globe’ that


”Percy made me as a forward and would never take the slightest praise.”


Australian Football website’s historian John Devaney penned…


“One of Fitzroy’s all-time greats, Percy Parratt was once memorably described as “the evocation of football brains. He utilised those brains to commendable effect as a player at the Maroons in 195 games over 13 seasons…”





 Percy Parratt -The footballer  and cricketer Photograph : Australian Football website. The photo of Percy in cricket attire was published in  ‘The Herald’ April 28th 1916. Page 3. 


Very few reference books are able (or bother) to clarify how or why Percy Parratt became coach of the Maroons at that time  but the ‘Blueseum’  website  offers  an explanation how Percy took  the reins at Brunswick Street in 1913…


“A revered figure at Fitzroy, Parratt was playing coach of the Maroon’s 1913 Premiership team – although curiously, not its captain. Ruckman Bill Walker skippered the Roys that year, but declined an offer to coach the club. So Parratt stepped up to the position on a caretaker basis, while insisting that Walker continue his on-field leadership. Somehow, it worked, and Fitzroy beat St Kilda for that year’s flag.”   Source: Blueseum website.




Fitzroy’s rise to become a football powerhouse in 1913 was nothing short of astounding. Such rapid transformations are hard to explain but it seems to be a classic example of when ‘combined talent meets collective desire.’


Fitzroy was unrelenting and some  admirers  boldly called them ‘The Unbeatables ’ as  the  club won 16 of its eighteen home and away games  to finish  on top of the VFL Ladder (with 64 points  and a percentage of 144.3%) .


“Through the season, Fitzroy supporters had nicknamed their team ‘The Unbeatables’.   A comment by former VFL umpire Jack Elder  (1906-1922).    



A section of the crowd that packed the ground to watch Fitzroy play South Melbourne in 1913. Source: ‘Table Talk’ August 14th 1913. Page 3.





The ‘one hundred game milestone’ is an important marker in all footballers’ careers and  Jack Cooper celebrated his on the 13th  September 1913 at the MCG in the Semi-final against Collingwood, Jack was still relatively young ( 24 years of age) but he had developed into one of Fitzroy’s most steadfast players.  There were three other FFC players,  in that team,  who had also reached 100 games : As shown below  they were: Bill Walker 166 games, Wally Johnson ( 122)  and Jim Martin who had also played with Carlton ( 1902) and Essendon ( 1907-13) was playing his 108th VFL game. Jim had been cleared from Essendon to Fitzroy sometime in late June or early July (i.e. 1913)








100 Games for Fitzroy FC – From the top:  Wally Johnson, Jim Martin and Billy Walker. Sources:   All three cards were part of the Sniders & Abrahams Cigarette trading cards series.  Wally Johnson was a champion of Fitzroy and he played 195 games for Fitzroy and also represented Victoria.


The ‘icing on the cake’ for Jack Cooper on that special day was that the Maroons defeated Collingwood in convincing style by 37 points. Jimmy Freake kicked three goals and George ‘Yorky’ Shaw booted two. Fitzroy’s  best players were (i.e. according ‘The Courage Book of VFL Finals’): Holden, Freake,  Parratt, Heron,  Heaney,  Willoughby, Shaw,  Cooper and  Bamford.





The VFL Final Four in 1913 was Fitzroy (16wins/ 64 points),   South Melbourne (14 wins and one draw/58 points), Collingwood (13 wins /52points) and St Kilda which won eleven games (44 points). The details of the VFL Finals were published in the ‘VFL Record: Round 18 1913’ edition…





The Argus Finals system of 1913 may confuse some younger readers because the ‘right to challenge’ existed in that era…


“The Argus finals systems were a set of related systems of end-of-season championship playoff tournament used commonly in Australian rules football competitions in the early part of the 20th century. The systems generally comprised a simple four-team tournament, followed by the right of the top ranked team from the home-and-away season to challenge for the premiership. The systems were named after the Melbourne newspaper ‘The Argus’, which developed and supported their use.” Source: DBpedia Knowledge Base website


The right to challenge is different to the concept of repechage which is used in some other sports (e.g. fencing, rowing, and cycling) but both schemes allow a team or a competitor a ‘second bite at the cherry.’


Briefly in 1913, St Kilda took all before it in the first two finals and defeated South Melbourne in the Semi-Final; and then unpredictably toppled Fitzroy in the Final by 35 points. The Maroons were indeed humbled that day as Roy Cazaly, Billy Schmidt, Vic Cumberland, Wels Eike and Gordon Dangerfield controlled affairs and the highly fancied Fitzroy forward line of Jimmy Freake, Tom Heaney and Percy Parratt was thwarted and held to just six goals.


Note: Tom Heaney had played 56 games and kicked 37 goals for Richmond FC before seeking a clearance to Fitzroy (i.e. sometime after April 26th that year).


In summary, by being defeated by St Kilda, Fitzroy then claimed the right to challenge (i.e. seek a replay). It was obvious, that Fitzroy had been given a rude ‘wake-up call’ and its loyal supporters hoped that the loss would galvanize Percy Parratt and his team into fervent action. However, the fear for most Maroons’ fans was that St Kilda was on the crest of a ‘gigantic wave.’





The 1913 Grand Final was played at the MCG on September 27th and a record crowd of 53 479 attended the MCG to watch the contest. The illustrious Jack Elder umpired his sixth consecutive VFL Grand Final that day. The line-up for each team was as shown below:















According to the published team sheet (The Argus’ September 20th1913) Jack Cooper lined up against St Kilda’s half forward Percy Jory in the Grand Final. Percival James Hector Jory was born at Creswick in 1888;  and was recruited to St Kilda from North Hobart FC in 1912. Percy was playing his 28th game of VFL football when he and Jack Cooper went to battle in the Grand Final. Jack and Percy would, in time, volunteer for military service and serve in the Great War.



Jack Cooper (half back flank) was directly opposed to St Kilda’s Percy Jory (shown above).  Coincidentally, Jack and Percy served in the AIF during World War 1. Readers will also see Fred Bamford’s name on Fitzroy’s other half back flank (i.e. on a youngster named Roy Cazaly). In actual fact, Fred was a late withdrawal because of injury and his place in defence was taken by Artie Harrison (ex-Richmond who also served in World War: 1).   





It is hard to write a match review for a game that was played over a hundred years ago;\ and it is necessary to rely on the newspapers of that day and  it is hoped that the match review below is fair and without blatant errors.


Although not documented, St Kilda probably started as the ‘sentimental favourites’ in that Grand Final. However, those readers who have played football will appreciate the pressure and weariness that each St Kilda team member would have been feeling after a long and arduous campaign to reach the 1913 final series. Sometimes that ‘winning feeling’ hides an underlying tension and fatigue.  St Kilda’s tough journey throughout the season may explain its underwhelming performance in the 1913 Challenge Grand Final.


From the moment that Tom Heaney marked and goaled for Fitzroy early in the first quarter, there were signs that St Kilda was collectively tense and flat in front of that record crowd. Jimmy Freakier nailed Fitzroy’s second major, through the agency of George Holden and when Charlie Norris (ex- Collingwood ) kicked another goal, St Kilda was on its heels besieged and battling to stay in the game.


The second quarter brought little relief for the Saints’ faithful and Fitzroy’s fourth major (by George Shaw) spelt danger. St Kilda did not score a goal in the first half and seemed vanquished at half time.  Despite a spirited fightback in the third term, more damage  ensued when Percy Parratt cleverly goaled  and Fitzroy went to the last break with a margin of 25 points.


Any football team ‘worth its salt’ will rally in the face of defeat; and St Kilda surged in the last stanza.  However St Kilda had left its dash for victory too late; and any thoughts of resurrection were ruined when Fitzroy’s Jim Martin calmly converted a 30 yard (i.e. 27 metres) with a perfectly executed place kick.






Above top: Although not verified this may be a rare photograph of Jack Cooper in action for Fitzroy. Jack, in the white shorts, has his number (5) partially obscured. The other photograph is of St Kilda’s champion Vic Cumberland flying for a mark in the 1913 Grand Final.  Little did Jack and Vic know that   they would be on the same side and fighting for their lives in the Great War.  Source: St Kilda FC website.


Fitzroy had breathing space and soon after George Shaw’s  snap-kick goal   brought the curtain down on St Kilda’s hopes of winning its first-ever pennant.  St Kilda was valiant in defeat but lasting credit must be given to Percy Parratt for the manner in which had engineered Fitzroy’s fifth VFL premiership.





Fitzroy:   3.6     4.8     5.11    7.14 (56)

St Kilda   0.1     0.5     1.10    5.13 (43)


Goal kickers for Fitzroy:  Shaw 2 Freake Norris Parratt Martin Heaney. **

Goal kickers for St Kilda: Morrissey 2 Millhouse Sellars Baird.

Best for Fitzroy:  Holden McLennan Parratt Johnson Cooper Shaw Lethbridge Heaney Toohey.

Best for St Kilda:  Eicke Schmidt Ellis Bowden Cumberland Baird Collins.


**Note: Several texts and newspaper reports differ on the goals registered to


Fitzroy’s Tom Heaney and/or Jim Toohey. Furthermore,  the listed best players for each team vary according to the source being used in research. However, George Holden was seen by all journalists as the best player on the ground that day and Jack Cooper featured in all reports. Football is a ‘game of opinion’ and that adage certainly held true for the 1913 Challenge Grand Final.




The Fitzroy premiership team of 1913. Jack Cooper is third from the right in the second row;  and is sitting next to Percy Parratt. Source: Australian Sports Museum. The original source is not known but may be a Fitzroy Football Club ‘original’ team photograph.





The  1914 season opened in style with the unfurling of  the Fitzroy’s premiership pennant;  and,   from what is stated in Nick Richardson’s  splendid book   ‘The Game of Their Lives’,  Jack Cooper’s daughter ( Maggie) took centre stage …


“At the unfurling of the 1913 premiership flag, Cooper’s daughter presented the president’s wife with a bunch of flowers.  “Pag 234.


Fitzroy threatened the best in the competition again 1914 but they were ‘beatable’ and could not repeat the sterling performances of 1913. Percy Parratt led the Maroons that year (i.e.  as both captain and coach) for  Bill Walker had relinquished the position of skipper. Billy was a heroic figure at Brunswick Street and had played in three Fitzroy premierships (1904, 1905 and 1913). Up until the end of the 1913 season, Billy had played 168 games.


On Saturday 1st August, Fitzroy 1914 won a thriller against Challenge finalists, St. Kilda, at the Junction Oval.  It was a satisfying victory but the exhilaration of the occasion was quickly tempered by the disquieting news on the following Tuesday (i.e. 4th of August) that Britain had declared war on Germany.



Source: ‘The Land’ (Sydney) Friday August 7th 1914. Page: 6.



The announcement of a European war had wide implications for the British Empire and the possibility that Australia would become embroiled in conflict so far from our shores was very real.


“Australia’s involvement in the First World War began when Britain and Germany went to war on 4 August 1914, and both Prime Minister Joseph Cook and Opposition Leader Andrew Fisher, who were in the midst of an election campaign, pledged full support for Britain…”


Part of the above pledge was to supply an immediate 20,000 troops to support British forces;  and,  within a short space of time, thousands of young Australians had voluntarily enlisted. Football was a welcome distraction from the ‘war-talk’ and by the season’s end Carlton, coached by Norm “Hackenschmidt’ Clark, had defeated South Melbourne to claim the premiership. Fitzroy finished third on the VFL ladder that season.


Jack Cooper won Fitzroy’s Best & Fairest award for the second time.





With the hostilities in Europe intensifying there seemed no possibility that peace would come quickly (as was haughtily predicted). Most young men knew that, sooner or later, they would have to face the momentous decision to:


  • Join the military and fight a war on far flung shores.


  • Register as a conscientious objector.


Either choice could/would bring sacrifice, personal hardship and anxiety.


1915 was to be Jack Cooper’s last season of VFL football.  That year he played 17 games (12 wins and 4 losses and a draw against Carlton in Round 1 (i.e. 24th   of April at Princes Park). The ANZAC landing at Gallipoli occurred on that same weekend.


Jack’s last game for Fitzroy was in the Preliminary Final against Carlton at the MCG on the 11th September 1915. On that day, Jack was 26 years of age and was playing his 136th game for Fitzroy. A crowd of 30,678 attended that day.



Faces in the crowd…The number of uniformed soldiers at above game told the story of what was unfolding as the war in Europe spiralled out of control. Source:  ‘Punch’ September 16th 1915. Page 21.



Fitzroy’s oldest player that day was George Shaw (29 years); and the youngest member of the team was Tom Lowrie who was just eighteen and had been recruited to Brunswick Street from the Port Melbourne Juniors. After cross-checking for this article, it seems that only one other Fitzroy player in the team who had actually played with Jack Cooper in his debut match in 1907 and that was Hal McLennan (who was playing his 129th game).


The Maroons bowed out of the finals race as Carlton (6.18. 54) defeated Fitzroy (5.8.38).  Fitzroy’s best players were listed as Charlie Norris, Tom Heaney, Wally Johnson, Chris Lethbridge and Jim Toohey who kicked three of the team’s five goals.


What thoughts would have been whirling around Jack’s head that evening as he wended his way home to North Fitzroy are anyone’s guess?  However, the vexed question of enlisting for military service may have been foremost in Jack’s mind. It must have been a difficult decision for Jack Cooper.



A scene from the Jack Cooper’s last VFL game in 1915. Source: ‘Punch’ September 16th 1915. Page 21.





Jack Cooper was one among the 416,000 Australians who enlisted for duty in World War: 1. Jack played his last game of football on September 11th and registered for the A.I.F (Service number 47530) on the 8th November. Jack and his family (i.e. Margaret and daughter Maggie) were living in York Street North Fitzroy at the time that he registered to serve in wartime.





On the top: The rush to enlist for military service. Below: A poster calling upon Australian sportsmen to ‘train together, embark together and fight together’. Sources:  Both items are from the Australian War Memorial website.



Jack Cooper’s  Australian Imperial Force enlistment form (dated 8.11.1915).Source: AWM


There were two main training camps in Victoria at Broadmeadows and Seymour and Jack was probably stationed at the former….

“…Within days of signing up, the recruits were training in camps. The makeshift camps were set up at military bases, farms, parklands and sporting grounds around Australia…”  Source: Australian War Memorial.  


It is believed that Jack Cooper is standing on the left in the above photograph and it was probably taken during basic training at Broadmeadows. Source:  AWM/DAOD 1532



Jack was a member of the A.I.F  8th Infantry Battalion (13 to23 reinforcements) when he embarked for overseas duty aboard the HMAT (i.e. His Majesty’s Australian Transport ship ) ‘Wiltshire’ on 7th March 1916. The ship’s’ log showed it docked at Port Suez on or about the 23rd April. The Australian contingent(s)  underwent farther training at camps near Cairo…


“The men worked hard: 8 hours a day, 6 days a week, training in drills and manoeuvres. At first, they wore full kits and heavy backpacks. Many became ill with heat stroke as they trained on the desert sand. A few even died of pneumonia.”  Source: AWM archives.




It is not easy to plot the exact timeline of one particular soldier in the Great War but it seems that Jack Cooper, and his comrades of the 8th Battalion, sailed to England and camped on the Salisbury Plains awaiting final  orders to cross the English Channel and move up to the frontline.



Tent city on the Salisbury Plains in World War: 1  Source: Flicker Images.



The first action of the 8th Battalion was at the Battle of Pozieres and it was there and then  that Jack Cooper had his first insight to the  grisly horrors of trench  warfare along the Somme Valley.


Bertrand Russell once wrote … “War does not determine who is right-only who is left.” Bertrand’s words were not only a clever play on words but actually described the wholesale slaughter and carnage of that war. Younger readers will be shocked to know that on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, it was estimated that 19,240 British soldiers died.



Trench warfare along the Somme Valley. Source: LSJ media website.



It was somewhere in that horrific battle that Jack fell victim to a gas attack.  The main gases used in World War 1 were  chlorine, mustard, bromine and phosgene  and each caused intense pain and immense suffering for those caught in the poisonous clouds that enveloped the trenches. Chlorine gas caused internal and external blistering and it is reported that more than 1000 soldiers died as a result of later chlorine gas attacks at Ypres.





Jack Cooper was transported back to ‘Old Blighty’ (i.e. England) for convalescence and is believed that following his partial recovery he was attached to a military training unit (perhaps at Larkhill).


Jack’s health steadily improved and he was deemed fit enough to be chosen to play in the much celebrated Pioneer Exhibition Australian Football match at Queen’s Club, London on October 28th 1916. The game was organised to raise funds for the British and French Red Cross Societies. Historians believe it may have been the first game of Australian football ever played overseas.




Source: ‘The Australasian’ November 4th 1916.  Page: 26



There have been many thoughtful and enlightening articles written that historic football match between Third Divisional Army Team (led by Bruce Sloss ) and Australian Training Units Team ( Charles Perry was the skipper).


The game was organized by the Australian swimming champion Frank Beaurepaire (see below) with the enthusiastic endorsement and practical support of John Australia’s legendary military commander, Major General John Monash (i.e. before he received a knighthood in  August 1918)…


“With the outbreak of war,  Beaurepaire enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and was posted as a second lieutenant, but became medically unfit after a serious appendicitis attack. In 1916 he went overseas as a Young Men’s Christian Association commissioner, serving with the 1st and 3rd Divisions in England and France, and gaining warm commendation from Sir John Monash for his work.” Source: Australian Dictionary of Biography.


The Third Divisional team was: Bruce Sloss [Captain] (South Melbourne), Jack Brake (University and Melbourne), Dan Minogue (Collingwood),  Carl Willis (University and South Melbourne),  Leo Little (University), Bill Sewart (Essendon), James Pugh (Launceston),  Harry Moyes (St. Kilda), Percy Jory (St. Kilda), Charlie Lilley (Melbourne),  Les Lee (Richmond),  Cyril Hoft (Perth),  L. Martin (University), Ted Alley (Williamstown, ex-South Melbourne),  Hugh James (Richmond), Ben Mills (Brunswick),  Jim Foy (Perth),  and Billy Orchard (Geelong).


The Australian Training Units training team was comprised of the following footballer/soldiers: Charles Perry (Captain-Norwood),  Jack Cooper (Fitzroy),  Percy Trotter (East Fremantle), ex-Fitzroy), Clyde Donaldson (Essendon), Harry Kerley (Collingwood) John Hoskins  Harold Boyd (VFA ),  Italo Cesari (Dromana FC),  Charlie Armstrong (Geelong),  James Scullin (South Fremantle),  Stan Martin (University), E. Maxfield (Fremantle),  Thomas Paine (Northam), E. Beames,  George Bower (South Melbourne),  L. McDonald (Essendon VFA ), Alfred Jackson (Essendon) and H. Moore.





The toss of the coin at Queen’s Club   Charles Perry ( left ) and Bruce Sloss.  Below: The training Units XVIII Jack Cooper may be seen at the back of this group. Source: AFL website.  



The Australian Training Unit team that played at Queen’s Club, London, on October 29th 1916. Jack Cooper is the fifth player from the right in the back row. Jack played on the half back flank that day



This is a still frame from the British Pathe film which was made of the game in 1916. The match was watched by at least 3000 spectators (including servicemen). It is hard to know if the quality of the film was due to fog that afternoon.


The result of the game was: Third Divisional Army team:  6.16 ( 52 ) defeated  the Training Units team  4.12 ( 36)

Goal kickers for Third Divisional Army:   Moyes 2 Willis 2 Jory Lee

Goal kickers for Training Units: Morre Paine Maxfield Armstrong

Best players for the Third Divisional team:  James Moyes Willis Brake Minogue Alley Lilley little Mills Foy and Lee.

Best players for Training Units team: Perry Trotter Cooper Bower Kerley Paine Armstrong Martin and Scullin.





Above: Nick Richardson’s book about the Pioneer Exhibition match in London says it succinctly that to  so many of the players,  match officials and the soldiers who watched the match from the boundary…It was really ‘the game of their lives.’


The Pioneer Exhibition match was the last game that Jack Cooper would ever play; and it is heartbreaking to think that in less than twelve months, of that wonderful day in London, Jack would be killed in action.


Once again, it is impossible to imagine the dread felt by many of those players after that game. No doubt, they wished that the last quarter could go on for ever… ‘time on’ in a different sense for soldiers facing a ‘deadly future.’


On that occasion in London, the final siren meant not only the end of a spirited contest between comrades but for some, it meant a return to the trenches of France and Belgium and the hell-on-existence of trying to stay alive when those on the other side of  ‘ No Man’s Land’  were trying  to kill ‘you.’





As he fully expected, Jack returned to the trenches but, for the second time, he was repatriated back to England (perhaps in late November) with severe repercussions of being gassed (related to losing his voice i.e. throat and larynx).  Jack’s movements are indefinite in those months of the English winter but it is certain that he re-joined the 8th Battalion in Belgium in 1917…


“Later the battalion fought at Ypres, in Belgium, before returning to the Somme in winter. Throughout 1917 they took part in operations against the Hindenburg Line, before being involved in the Third Battle of Ypres.”    Source: Australian War Memorial archives.





Jack Cooper and comrades-Jack is seen on the right but it is unknown where and when the photograph was taken. The image below is said to be Jack Cooper but needs positive verification.  Source of both photographs:  ‘Winner’ October 25th 1916. Page: 8.  


This part of AIF history can be a little confusing as the Third Battle of Ypres is often known as the Battle of Passchendaele. Whatever it is called by historians, it was, by all available accounts, an indescribable bloodbath; and the loss of life was horrendous.


It is recorded that as many as 250,000 soldiers died, were wounded or were listed as missing (e.g. Jack Cooper was one of many defined as such).


“The rain drives on, the stinking mud becomes more evilly yellow, the shell holes fill up with green-white water, the roads and tracks are covered in inches of slime, the black dying trees ooze and sweat and the shells never cease.”   Source: Paul Nash-a famous English artist (1889- 1946) who served in World War 1



Caption text: Knee-deep in sucking mud, a stretcher party carries one of the tens of thousands of dead and wounded from the hell of Passchendaele.  Source: ‘New Daily’





There are virtually no words to describe what unfolded at Passchendaele. It must have been a grotesque nightmare for many troops with death waiting with the coming of every new dawn. Sleep was difficult in the trenches; and the immense psychological damage that many soldiers suffered (i.e. shellshock) was not understood; and often disregarded by the military’s  medical officers…


“Shell shock was one of the major side effects of WWI. Many soldiers suffered from it, as it was caused by the heavy explosions and constant fighting associated with the war. Troops suffering from shell shock struggled with sleep. They panicked on hearing gunshots, loud noises, shouting and similar. Sometimes it affected their ability to walk and talk. Shell shock was a scary thing.”  Source: ‘War History on Line’


One of the world’s best modern day horror authors, Stephen King, would struggle to imagine the tangible sights that Jack Cooper witnessed on that battlefield…


“The armies under British command suffered some 275,000 casualties at Passchendaele, a figure that makes a mockery of Haig’s pledge that he would not commit the country to “heavy losses.” Among these were 38,000 Australians, 5,300 New Zealanders, and more than 15,600 Canadians.”   Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica.


It is known that suicides did occur in World War: 1 but it is a subject best left to qualified experts to explore and explain. However, the famous English poet Siegfried Sassoon (shown below) wrote ‘Suicide in the Trenches’ (published in 1918). It is a powerful and poignant poem; and it was based upon his personal experiences during the Great War.






Siegfried (CBE-Order of the British Empire & M.C- Military Cross) served in the British Army from 1914 until 1919 and rose to the rank of Captain.  According to the BBC History website, Siegfried was nicknamed ‘Mad Jack’ because of his perilous deeds on the front line.  There is a strong case to advance that Siegfried actually suffered from shell shock during the war years.





As his team mates at Brunswick Street knew better than most, Jack Cooper had fine qualities of leadership;  and  sometime in his early Army career he had been selected to undertake officer training  at Aldershot (in Hampshire). However, for reasons unknown, Jack did not receive any promotion until August 1917 when he received his Lance Corporal’s chevron.


In September, the 8th Battalion was part of the 1st and 2nd Divisions combined operation at Passchendaele; and on or about the 19th of September the 8th Battalion had engaged with the enemy along the Menin Road near Polygon Wood (a plantation forest which can be seen on the map below).



The above  map shows Menin Road (where Jack Cooper died), the town of Ypres   and forest of Polygon Wood. The ANZAC Corps position on the day (20th September 1917) when Jack Cooper died can also be seen.  Source: ANZAC portal Australian Government.



It was a fierce battle but the British forces made important gains despite the heavy casualties. On the 20th September, the Australians Diggers    were part of the offensive wave that moved toward the German strongholds; and it was thereabouts that Jack Cooper was killed. Jack was one of thousands of Australian soldiers who perished that day…


“At Menin Road on 20 September 1917, in the first use of the ‘bite and hold’, the Australians sustained 5,000 killed and wounded” …Source:  AWM London.


Nick Richardson wrote…


“But Jack Cooper didn’t make it. When it happened is not clear, but, sometime after dawn, Cooper became one of forty 8th Battalion fatalities at Menin Road” Source: ‘The Game of Their Lives’ Page: 236.



This image was dated October 17th 1917. Although difficult to verify, this rare photograph was probably taken somewhere along Menin Road, near Polygon Wood,  and shows battle weary troops resting while reinforcements move up the line. Source: ‘The History of World War 1 in Photographs.’ Daily Mail publication.



Where once a forest grew…This photograph is from the AWM Reference (E00971); and shows Australian troops at Polygon Wood. The massive shell craters will give readers some idea of the intense bombardment that took place in that conflict.


Jack Cooper’s body was never recovered and if readers study the available photographs, of the battle at Polygon Wood, it will clearly explain why so many soldiers were listed as missing.


As shown above , such was the ferocity of bombardment during that battle that the forest plantation was decimated and blown from the face of the earth.  The extent of destruction along the Menin Road, as seen in various texts and websites, is dumbfounding.





When the news of Jack Cooper’s death   ‘filtered’ back home, the residents of York Street and beyond were devastated; and as Gerald Brosnan wrote the sad announcement cast ‘quite a gloom over the whole of Fitzroy.’



Source: ‘Winner’ October 24th 1917. Page:  8


The article (above) by Gerald may have generated some unforeseen consequences; and may have actually heightened the divisive debate about VFL football continuing to be played while so many young Australians were overseas fighting for their lives


The ‘VFL Record’ and numerous newspapers published tributes about Jack’s  sporting prowess and his life in the A.I.F. The disturbing aspect, regarding the death-notice columns, was the excess of other Australians Diggers who had met a similar fate on the Western Front during those dreadful weeks in 1917.


The following homage to Jack was published in ‘The Argus’ on October 27th 1917; and it was signed his former team-mates and friends Jim Freake , George Holden,  Roy  Millen  and  R. ( perhaps Roy) Gray.


Note: That Jack is again erroneously given the rank of Sergeant in the tribute below…



Text: COOPER.—A tribute to the memory of Sergeant Jack Cooper, killed in action in France on the 20th September, 1917. One of the best. (Inserted by his mates, J. Freake, G. Holden, R. Millen, and R. Gray).



Two years after Jack’s death, the following ‘In Memoriam on Active Service’ notice was published in ‘The Argus.” It was from his wife, Margaret…



Source: ‘The Argus’ September 20th 1919.   Page: 17


Text: COOPER.- In loving memory of my dear husband and my dear daddy, Sergeant John Thomas Cooper, 8th Battalion, killed in action, 20th September, 1917 (late F.F. Club).

Always happy and cheerful,

With heart that knew no fear,

He went to fight life’s battles

For all he loved so dear.

Time changes many things.

But fond memory, like the ivy, clings.

One of the best.

(Inserted by his loving wife and little daughter, Maggie).





Jack Cooper was one of nine Fitzroy footballers who made the supreme sacrifice in World War: 1. each player had an interesting life-story to tell; and it is hoped they will not be forgotten with the passing years.


Despite the hectic pace of modernity, time must be found to recognize these brave men who saw it as their patriotic duty to enlist in World War: 1. The other Maroons who died in the Great War were:-


  • Thornton Clarke-Died at Fromelles, France on July 19th 1916


  • Harold Collins- Died at Villers Bretonneux, France on August 10th


  • George Elliott- Died at Polygon Wood, Belgium on September 25th


  • Arthur Harrison-Died at Bullecourt, France on May 3rd


  • Arthur Jones-Died at Gallipoli on August 7th


  • Tom McCluskey-Died at Passchendaele on October 4th


  • Sid O’Neill -Died at Gallipoli on August 7th


  • Alexander Salton was another Fitzroy player listed as having died during the Great War. According to the Blueseum website, Alex played with Fitzroy in 1889 and 1890 (i.e. in the VFA) . He was also a VFL goal umpire in later years. Alex enlisted at the age of 44 years and died on September 16th 1916 in France. Alex is said to have been the only VFL umpire to have died on active service in World War: 1






Source: ‘Maritime Quest’ website



Jack Cooper’s name is listed among those soldiers without a grave at Menin Gate World War Memorial in Ypres, Belgium (as shown above). There are many lessons to be learnt from Jack’s story but the over-riding things that stand out are the futility of the Great War and that there are no real winners in such catastrophic conflagrations.


As Margaret Cooper wrote in 1919,   Jack was one of the best but, like all men of good conscience, he really had no option but to enlist and see what ‘was on the cards.’ Sadly, he was dealt the worst possible hand; and he perished somewhere on a battlefield in Belgium without a trace.


In closing, it is hoped that this article for ‘Footy Almanac’ will help to preserve the name of John (aka Jack) Thomas Cooper as a fine footballer, a devoted family man and a very brave soldier.




“The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid,
but he who conquers that fear.” Oliver Wendell Holmes.





  • ‘Fallen’-Jim Main & David Allen.
  • ‘The Encyclopaedia of AFL/VFL Players’-Jim Main & Russell Holmesby.
  • ‘The Game of Their Lives’-Nick Robertson.
  • Footy Almanac article ‘Ossie not Charlie’ – Bob Gartland April 2022
  • ‘100 Years of Australian Football’.
  • ‘The Clubs’-Various authors.
  • ‘The Courage Book of VFL Finals’-Ed. Graeme Atkinson.
  • ‘A Century of Grand Finals’-Jim Main.
  • ‘Harder Than Football’-Barbara Cullen.
  • AFL Year Books.
  • ‘Complete Guide to Australian Football’-Ken Piesse.
  • ‘The Armchair Footy Record.’
  • ‘Monash’-Roland Perry.
  • ‘The History of World War: 1’ in Photographs.


This article was written for ‘Footy Almanac’ by Roger Spaull in April  2024.




Read more biographies from Roger Spaull HERE


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  1. John Harms says

    Thank you so much Roger. I hope readers appreciate this significant profile of one of Fitzroy’s revered sons, Jack Cooper. The memory of Jack features in the club’s Anzac Day commemorations each year.

    I just wanted to acknowledge, too, that we readers recognise the enormous amount of research you put into these Anzac features and how grateful we are that you have chosen the Almanac to publish them.

    I will be mentioning this piece around the traps today and I am sure it will become a regularly visited authority on Jack – where researchers will see that so much work has been done for them!

    Lest we forget.

  2. What a fabulous read. Roger.

    Agree with J Harms – the amount of work in this is phenomenal and superbly constructed.

    Thank you.

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