Almanac Footy History: South’s shining star – the story of Bruce Sloss








In the various summaries of the 1914 Grand Final between Carlton and South Melbourne, it is written that one player, Bruce Sloss of South Melbourne, was far and above the best player on the ground. Despite South Melbourne being defeated in a tense and torrid match, Bruce Sloss was described by the eminent VFL coach, John Worrall, as having ‘no superior’ in that game.


Tragically, Bruce would never play VFL football again as he was killed in battle at Armentieres during World War I. This is the story of Bruce Moses Farquar Sloss who was an undoubted champion on and off the field of play.





Bruce Sloss (born January 1889) was the youngest son of James and Christina Sloss. James and Christina had eight children (Roy, Biddy, Jock, James, Christina (aka Tullie), Cookie, Hector and Bruce. It is documented that James (also called ‘John’ in another text) and Christina initially lived on a farming property in a small country town called Naringalingalook (40 km from Shepparton, Victoria).


Although it is difficult to firmly establish, the farm appears to have been a most challenging proposition and life was generally exacting for the Sloss family. Like so many other rural dwellers in that period of Australian history, Christina and James could be best described as ‘battlers of the bush.’


In Nick Richardson’s enlightening book entitled ‘The Game of Their Lives’, mention is made of an incident involving the Sloss family and the notorious bushranger Ned Kelly…


“She (i.e. daughter Christina) suspected bushranger Ned Kelly had taken one of her father’s horses…”  Page 46


Note: For those readers interested in the history of Victorian country towns, a website known as the ‘Henry Mundy Society’ gives some insight into the settlement of Naringalingalook in the late 1870s.


The Sloss family eventually moved to Melbourne,  and after living in various homes in the suburbs “they finally settled in a house with a stable in Carlisle Street Balaclava in 1890.” The Game Of Their Lives. Page 46.


The above source stated that Roy Sloss was born in a hotel in Flinders Street soon after the family’s arrival in Melbourne. According to some records, Bruce was born in South Yarra although another text indicated that he was born in Malvern East. More research is needed regarding this matter.





Bruce was virtually a ‘babe in arms’ when James and Christina took up residence in Carlisle Street; but calamity struck when the house was badly damaged by fire. It seems that bad luck followed the family because in the June, that same year, an explosion, caused by a gas leak, virtually ripped the rebuilt dwelling apart…


“A serious gas explosion took place this ‘morning at Balaclava in a house owned and occupied by Mr. James Sloss and family. One of the children drew attention to an escape of gas in the parlour, and Mr. Sloss lit a match to discover the leak, the explosion following lifting the roof off the room and blowing down a brick wall separating the parlour from the shop. Three children standing in the passage were knocked down, one lad having his hair singed off and being severely burnt about the face. Sloss received the full force of the explosion…”  Adelaide Observer June 14th 1890 Page: 12.


The same newspaper also recounted that James’ injuries were not serious. However, and unfortunately, that report was to prove highly inaccurate because James died some time later from the injuries sustained in that dreadful incident.


The disaster caused anguish and even greater hardship for Christina Sloss and her children.





The financial downturn in the 1890s was severe. Its consequences dragged many people into an economic hardship. Thousands of families were ‘down on their heels’ and thrown into poverty. Young and old alike were destitute as Australia’ economic depression took firm. It lasted for more than three years; and Melbourne took the full brunt of the banking and financial slump… “Melbourne has experienced two great depressions. Following hard on the heels of the speculative land boom, the depression of the 1890s was deeper and lasted longer in Australia than elsewhere in the world and Melbourne was its epicentre”  From,au


It should be remembered that social welfare payments were unheard of. The unemployed were forced to cope in the best way the possible.  The closure of banks combined with the widespread drought and extensive industrial strife sent companies to the ‘wall.’ Further, the global downturn of 1893 added to the gloom; and it is recorded that in Melbourne 33% of breadwinners were out of work. Imagine the deprivation that Christina Sloss suffered in trying to raise ‘her brood’ in such precarious economic times.  “Families without wages found difficulty paying rent or making mortgage repayments. Building societies and banks became unwilling landlords on a massive scale as they repossessed houses from defaulters, with one in 10 of Melbourne’s houses falling into their hands.”  Source: ‘’





It is thought that Christina lived at Malvern for some time. This appears to be where Bruce Sloss became involved in junior football and the teachings of the Presbyterian Church. Nick Richardson wrote that Bruce taught Young Men’s Bible classes, which says much about Bruce’s nature and beliefs.


As has been written about in other stories of those austere times, VFL football was, for many young men, a ‘meal ticket’ and a chance to climb from the mire caused by unemployment and dire poverty. As a teenager, Bruce excelled at cricket and football. Word had circulated about his great potential. Consequently, Bruce was invited by Essendon FC to try his luck in VFL ranks.


It is known that Bruce was a turner and fitter by trade in later years but the timeline of his earlier employment is unclear. In later years, he was a maintenance engineer at Marks Brothers in South Melbourne. According to researchers, Bruce had an inventive and practical mind.





Bruce was only eighteen years of age when he made his senior debut for Essendon in Round 2 against Melbourne in 1907. The match was played at the MCG and in a low scoring affair Essendon hung on to win a thrilling encounter by seven points.


The ‘Same Old’ (as Essendon was strangely named until 1922) had a young team with an average age of just 22 years. The EFC list had just two players who had played more than 50 VFL games (Billy Griffith – 99 games and Mark Shea – 59 games). There were eight players with less than ten VFL games experience in Essendon’s team that day.


Bruce was also selected for the clash at Corio Oval against Geelong in Round 8 that season and he played another senior game for Essendon at the start of the 1908 season.  There is little to report regarding Bruce’s three performances with Essendon but it is known that he crossed to Brighton (perhaps without a clearance) during 1908. “His first stint of football with Essendon was unsuccessful and he joined VFA club Brighton.” ‘Holmesby & Main’ Page 794.


John Devaney, of the ‘Australian Football’ website, wrote the following about Bruce’s brief and unfruitful stint at Essendon… “Despite seemingly possessing all the attributes necessary to succeed at the top level -a superb physique, tremendous stamina, and excellent all round skills – he managed just three games in almost two seasons with the Same Old…”







In hindsight, Bruce Sloss made a wise decision to join Brighton FC because the club (founded in 1885) was competitive and a strong breeding ground for the VFL. Other well-known players who received their ‘spurs’ at the Brighton Beach Oval included Harold Rumney (Collingwood), Hughie Callan (Essendon and South Melbourne), John Harris (Collingwood and Hawthorn), Gordon Dangerfield (St Kilda), Keith Warburton (Carlton), Hugh Purse (Melbourne) and, of course, the club’s greatest ‘son’, the famous Australian Test cricketer Keith Miller. Keith also played 50 games for St Kilda.


It was if someone had waved a magic wand as Bruce ‘clicked’ as a follower and quickly developed to become a  standout in the VFA competition. From reading various texts regarding Bruce’s rapid rise in VFA, it appears as though he ‘came of age’ as a footballer with the Penguins (as Brighton was to become known in later years) … In the following year Brighton secured him ( Bruce Sloss) , and he remained with them for  two seasons. He quickly, made a name for himself, being regarded as the champion follower of the Association, which he twice represented against South Australia.” Source:  ‘Record’ ( Emerald Hill ) July 12th 1913 Page:  3.




In June 1909, Bruce travelled with the VFA ‘combine’ to play against South Australia in Adelaide. Only one preview of that match could be found for this story; but it was a most fortunate research discovery as the Victorian team was listed in that newspaper article (‘The Geelong Advertiser’ June 21st 1909 ) .


The selected Victorian Association Football team for the clash was as follows:


B:       Carlson  Rennable Johnson

HB:   Sevior McKenzie Reitman

C:      Pain Clark Anderson

HF:    Julian Sloss O’Shea

F:      Hardy Hambridges Beck

R:     Hendrie Alley Tompkyns



It is probably the same Sevior, Hendrie, Julian, Beck and Reitman that played VFL football during that era. It seems that the conditions at the Adelaide Oval were heavy following overnight rain. The attendance was described simply as ‘very large’ while another source mentioned the figure to be approximately 10,000. An unknown scribe provided a colourful account of the contest and the sodden conditions for the Evening Journal


“The ball quickly became waterlogged, and the players performed wonderful unrehearsed evolutions on the slippery ground. In places near the boundary,  water was in pools, and when the play reached those spots the onlookers received more amusement from the antics of the players than from the game. Still, on the whole, the contest was worth watching, and was fast.” Source: Evening Journal June 21st 1909 Page: 3.


The details of the game are ‘sketchy’ but the final scores saw the VFA beaten by 19 points. The quarter by quarter scores were:

  • South Australia:    4.0  4.6    5.6    7.8 (50)
  • VFA:                             1.2   2.3    2.7    4.7 (31)


According to the Evening Journal the best players for the VFA were: Carlson, Sevior, Reitman, Alley, McKenzie, Pain, O’Shea and Sloss. The VFA’s goal kickers were not published but there is a lone source that suggests that Bruce Sloss may have kicked one of Victoria’s four goals that day at the Adelaide Oval. Bruce’s sister attended that game…


“She was impressed that he (Bruce) played with a damaged toe, after he lost a nail kicking a goal.” The grit of the boy!’ she said…”  Source: The Game of Their Lives Page: 478. 


It was interesting to discover that one of the stars for South Australia that day was Vic Cumberland. Vic was a champion at St Kilda and he is known to be the oldest player to have ever played VFL (at the age of 43 years). Little did Bruce Sloss and Vic Cumberland know on that day, that destiny would see them both ‘cross the briny’ to fight in the Great War some years later?



Vic Cumberland –An iconic figure in Victorian and South Australian football.
Source: St Kilda FC






It was also reported in the ‘Evening Journal that the following day ( 20th June 1909),  the VFA team members were guests at a picnic at Aldgate (near Hahndorf). Further, on that Monday, the group visited the Penfolds’ Winery; and the marvellous weekend concluded with a show at the Empire Theatre and supper at the Metropolitan Café in Adelaide.


Despite the arranged tours, events and frivolity, Bruce Sloss found time to attend church on that Sunday evening with his sister, who again underlines Bruce’s deeply felt religious conviction.


From what can be gleaned from the newspaper report of that trip, the South Australians were not only capable footballers but splendid hosts. For a young person who had experienced such sadness and hardship in earlier years, the trip to Adelaide must have been a wonderful experience for Bruce Sloss (and his VFA team mates).


NOTE : BRIGHTON FC: In 1909, Brighton’s colours were ‘two blues’; and these changed several times during the life of the club. Although Brighton played in four VFA Grand Finals, the club’s only premiership flag was in 1948 when it overcame the powerful and highly fancied Williamstown team to win by nine points. In 1962, the club amalgamated with Caulfield FC.





Bruce Sloss was selected once again to represent the VFA in the return match against a South Australian combination on June 19th 1910 at the North Melbourne ground.  In that era, the North Melbourne Recreation Reserve at Arden Street was regarded as the official ground of the VFA. (The ground had been used by North Melbourne since 1882; North Melbourne FC was formed in 1869 and entered the VFL in 1925).


A sizeable crowd of approximately 10,000 attended the match. McKenzie (probably Jack) was the VFA captain; and the line-up also included some well-known ‘footballing- family names’ as can be seen below in the listed best players.  On this occasion,  the VFA turned the tables and won by 12 points ….


  “The Victorians, however, played a good defensive game, and eventually won a fine match by 12 points. The South Australians, individually, were a fine team, having plenty of pace, and beating the Victorians at high-marking. The latter, however, played the cleverer game. The passing of McKenzie, Chase, Hardy, Dowsing being a treat to watch, while their handball was generally well done. For the winners, Dowsing (centre),Chase (half-forward), Beck (forward )Hardy (roving), Woods and Anderson (back). McKenzie (half-forward), Sloss (in the ruck), and Jory (centre wing) stood out as the most prominent; while Hammond did much useful work.” Source:  ‘The Mercury’ June 24th 1910. Page: 8





By 1910, VFL scouts were well aware of Bruce’s burgeoning reputation in the VFA. South Melbourne made a strong bid for his signature; and thus began a ‘tug-o-war’ between Essendon and the ‘Bloods.’ Essendon FC protested about Bruce’s clearance status as it stated that he had never actually been cleared from Essendon to Brighton FC in 1908.


Essendon understood the value in gaining the services of such a ready-made recruit, and fought ‘tooth and nail’ to keep Bruce at Jolimont (the original home ground of EFC). The protracted matter was finally brought to a just end when the VFL rejected Essendon’s arguments to retain Bruce as one of its listed players. By late June 1910, the way was made clear for Bruce to play for South Melbourne.





Bruce took his place in the South Melbourne team to play Richmond in Round 10 on July 2nd 1910 at the Punt Road Oval. Bruce was 21 years of age. His first goal in VFL football assisted South to secure a narrow four point victory (which was led by the doyen of  early coaches Alex ‘Joker ‘ Hall)…


“…the weakest point of the Southern line was their centre. Little Prince was the best of their three, but as a line they quite failed to hold their own with Schmidt, Bowden, and McCashnie. They (South Melbourne) were a more even side than Richmond. Fewer men stood out prominently in their colours, but all of them played well, and they had the knack of helping each other in every emergency. To pick out a few who excelled, one might mention amongst the backs, who had plenty of work to do, Scobie, Thomas, and Grimshaw. Both Belcher and Sloss did splendid work in their ruck, where the South were never really beaten.” Source:  ‘The Argus’ July 4th 1910.


Bruce cemented his place in the SMFC team in rapid-fire time; and played eleven games that season including two finals (see below). In all, it had been a year of accomplishment. (e.g. VFA selection and the satisfaction of returning to VFL ranks in strong style). For a young, emerging footballer there was much to look forward to in future years.



NOTE-CR. JOHN SLOSS: Maybe there was some family connection that influenced Bruce Sloss to sign on with the South Melbourne FC in 1910.   While researching this story, the name ‘John Sloss, of the South Melbourne Town Council, appeared in numerous articles. An example of such can be seen below…


“At a meeting of the South Melbourne council on Wednesday,  Cr. John Sloss, engineer, was elected the council’s representative on the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works.” Source:  ‘The Age’ March 3rd 1893 Page: 3. 


‘Sloss’ is not a common name; and perhaps a familial connection existed between Bruce’s family and Cr John Sloss. Perhaps one of the ‘Footy Almanac’ readers may be able to throw greater light on this matter.








In the period of 1905- 1914, the Bloods (as South was sometimes known) made the VFL final series on seven occasions, including a premiership victory over Carlton in 1909.


Under the leadership of Bill Thomas, South was again very competitive in 1910 and won twelve games and played Carlton in the final. South Melbourne won that match by 12 points. However, the fanfare of that victory was lost amid the breaking news of the infamous bribing scandal that involved several of Carlton’s players. As can be seen by the results, wayward kicking also harmed the Blues’ cause that day. The scores were: South Melbourne 10. 5 (65) defeated Carlton 6.17 (53).


It is hard to get an exact fix on how Bruce Sloss played in that VFL final as he was neither listed among the best players or goal kickers. Bruce was not mentioned at all in the comprehensive review of the game in the ‘Emerald Hill Record’ (24th September).  South’s best players in that newspaper were listed as: Carpenter (4 goals), Belcher, Prince, Bower, Thomas, Cameron and * Mortimer (see below).





South Melbourne crashed out of premiership contention in the Preliminary Final when Collingwood (with Jock McHale starring in the midfield) finished strongly, triumphing by 11 points.  Joe Prince, on the wing, was described in the match review of the ‘Sydney Referee’ as the ‘Red and White champion. ’ Bruce Sloss was mentioned in regard to a good build-up to goal during the last quarter…


“Pentland marked well in defence and Mortimer, Barry, Sloss, and Deas were prominent in a movement which’ enabled’ the latter to score; with a fine running drop…”  Source: ‘The Record’ September 28th 1910 Page: 13.


Another late goal by Arthur Hiskins (his third that day) whittled down the margin but time ran out.  The ecstatic Magpies had  ‘re-loaded’  for another ‘shot’ at the title while Bruce and his team mates were left to ponder ‘what could have been.’ The following weekend, Collingwood, coached by George Angus, defeated Carlton in a torrid and spiteful affair by 14 points.  That Grand Final was marked with numerous spiteful flare-ups and melees; and umpire Jack Elder worked ‘overtime’ with the whistle. As the reviews of the match told, by the end of the game four players had been reported for a range of ‘unbecoming’ offences.


On that day, W.H. (aka Dick) Lee starred with four goals for the Magpies to bring his season tally to 58 goals. Dick won the VFL goal kicking award in 1907-08-09-10. In all, Dick won the award on ten occasions between 1906 and 1922 for a career tally of 707 goals.  ‘Bags’ of ten goals were very rare in football those days, but in 1914 he booted a then-record of eleven goals against University at the MCG.



South Melbourne v Collingwood in 1910 – From a famous ‘Giclee’ art print.






While on the topic of great full forwards of that era of VFL football, it seems appropriate, at this juncture, to mention a ‘forgotten’ spearhead of South Melbourne named Len Mortimer. Len Mortimer was recruited to South Melbourne from Williamstown in 1906 and played 153 games and kicked 289 goals. He kicked 5 goals or more on at least ten occasions; and he won the Blood’s goal kicking award on seven consecutive occasions (1906-1912). Len’s highest tally in one season was 50 goals in 1909.




It is known that Len regularly used place kicks when kicking for goal; and was regarded as a reliable converter in the forward line. Throughout his VFL career, he averaged 1.89 goals per game. As a yardstick to measure Les’ conversion rate, Dick Lee (see above) averaged 3.07 goals per game. When Bruce Sloss made his debut for the Southerners in 1910, Len Mortimer was in that line-up; and over the next five seasons they became key players in the South Melbourne team. Records reveal that Bruce and Len played together in five VFL finals.


A little known fact about Len, as stated in ‘Holmesby & Main’ (Page: 613), was that he wore a protective skull-cap (helmet) during the 1913 season. He was 29 years of age when he retired from VFL football.





Bruce Sloss was not only talented and his childhood years, of struggle, had given him an inner toughness and resilience that carried him forward in VFL football. Bruce consolidated his position in the South Melbourne team and became a leading light and a genuine match winner for his team within a short space of time. In 1911, Bruce was deemed a ‘champion’ by football followers…


“Sloss was such a huge success in his second stint at league football that he was voted (by the public  through  the Argus newspaper) as the champion footballer of Victoria in 1911.”  Source: ‘Fallen’ by Main & Allen. Page: 180.


As Ron Barassi would write many years later, the hallmark of a champion is ‘consistency’, and Bruce became a model of reliability at the Lake Oval. A notable game for Bruce, during that season, was against Geelong in Round 17 when he booted 4 goals in a losing side. The match review, as published in the local newspaper, listed Bruce as the Blood’s best player that day. …


“For South Melbourne the best players were:  Sloss, Bower, Dolphin, Grimshaw, Thomas, Scobie, Caldwell, Prince, Deas, Kerr, Mortimer. Carpenter, Milne and Cameron. Source:  ‘Geelong Advertiser’ August 28th 1911 Page: 3.


South Melbourne made it through to the First Semi-Final against Collingwood that season but it was a lack-lustre performance; and South, in a slip-shod effort, exited from the ‘finals race’ by a margin of 30 points.


Bruce played 17 games that season and kicked nine goals. At the end of the year, Charlie Ricketts, who had coached the Bloods to the 1909 premiership, replaced Bill Thomas as the coach and set about to lift South to new heights.






Charlie Ricketts –A shrewd coach and clever tactician
Source: Standard Cork Tipped Cigarette series.



Charlie Henry Thomas Ricketts, who had tasted premiership success in 1909, returned to the Lake Oval in 1912. Archives reveal that he had first played with South in 1906; and was deemed to be one of the best rovers in that era of VFL football. According to ‘Holmesby and Main’…


“He (Charlie) was also a cool captain and his training methods, as coach, were instrumental in South winning the flag in 1909.”  Page: 721.


During 1912, SMFC won 14 home and away games and finished on top of the ladder ahead of Carlton, Essendon and Geelong. Charlie Ricketts led the Bloods to several convincing victories that season including a spirited 13 point win over Essendon in Round 13. That result was an indication of South’s improvement as the ‘Same Olds’ had beaten the Bloods in the Round 4 encounter earlier in the year.


One of the strengths of South Melbourne that season was its powerful forward line. The team finished with a percentage of 157%; and had effective forwards in Len Mortimer (40 goals), Fred Carpenter (24 goals), Dick Casey (20 goals), Bert Franks (17), Les Charge (16) and Bruce Sloss ‘chipped in’ with 10 goals. All thinking coaches look for a ‘spread of goal kickers’  in building a potent attack; and Charlie Ricketts must have had a degree of confidence that he had an ‘arsenal’ to defeat any would-be contenders .


What a shock the Bloods must have received in the Second Semi-Final when they were completely outclassed by Essendon. Every member of the ‘Same Olds’ performed to their peak that day; and it was obvious that Jack Worrall (EFC coach) had his team primed, well-oiled and ready to fire for September action.


One of the notable moments of that game was when the Belcher brothers led their respective teams onto the MCG. In that historic final, Alan Belcher skippered the Essendon while his younger brother Vic led the Southerners.





Essendon defeated Carlton in the Preliminary Final; and consequently South Melbourne claimed the existing ‘right to challenge’ rule.


On Grand Final day, a massive crowd of 54,463 ardent fans packed the stands. Bruce Sloss was selected in the back pocket that day; and he started on Billy Walker, who had been recruited to EFC from Collingwood Juniors. Bill was a capable ruckman and had starred for Essendon in the club’s premiership win in 1911.


An intriguing aspect of the game was the tactics employed by Charlie Ricketts and Jack Worrall. Nerves were on edge and; one match report intimated that both teams took time to settle. Essendon’s looked more positive and in control but poor conversion in front of goal kept South in touch.


Essendon’s big man Fred Baring (also a Sheffield Shield cricketer of renown) was brilliant that day. He was ably supported by the energetic and skillful Bill Sewart (see below) in the midfield. On the other hand, South was well served by the veteran Herbert ‘Boxer’ Milne, Jack Scobie, Harry Saltau and Joe Prince.  A current and well-known football writer, Emma Quayle of ‘The Age’ newspaper, studied that particular Grand Final; and in her illuminating essay entitled ‘Dons Triumph of Courage’ wrote the following…


“After the break …….the Same Olds moved further ahead of the game (i.e. brave) South…winning 5.17.47 to South Melbourne 4.9.33…Don Hanley a 28-year old recruit in 1911 played the game of his life.”   From ‘Grand Finals’ Page: 166.


Considering South’s performance throughout the season, it appears as though the club may have missed a golden opportunity to win silver. Regrettably for the SMFC supporters, a  ‘year of promise’ had finished on a hollow note.


Following that defeat, Charlie Ricketts, Vic Belcher, Herb Milne, Les Charge, Len Mortimer, Bruce Sloss (who had all combined on so many occasions throughout the season to lift the Bloods) had time to ‘reflect, refresh and then reset’ for the 1913 season.





  • Dan Hanley (ex-Ballarat FL) played 67 games with Essendon between 1911-14. It is known that Dan served in the armed forces during World War 1. According to the World War Nominal Roll, a certain ‘Daniel Henry Hanley’ was a member of the 10th battalion A.I.F.
  • Bill Sewart (ex-Castlemaine) played in the famous Pioneer Exhibition Match at the Queen’s Club Oval (London) in October 1916. Bill was also a Sheffield Shield cricketer of some repute for Queensland and Victoria. Bill played 171 games for Essendon and also represented the VFL on three occasions.
  • Herbert ‘Boxer’ Milne had previously played in premiership teams with Fitzroy FC in 1904 and 1905. Due to a knee injury, in the above match, it would prove to be Herbert’s last VFL appearance. Herbert had played 153 VFL games and in 1908 played for Victoria.
  • A little known fact about that game was that David Smith, the Essendon captain and star forward in the previous season, was unable to play VFL football during the 1912 season; David had been selected to tour England with the Australian Cricket XI. In VFL football (with Essendon and Richmond) David played 143 games and booted 117 goals; he also coached Essendon in 1908-09.  As a Test cricketer, he represented Australia in two matches and scored 30 runs with a top score of 24 not out. David Bertram Miller Smith died in 1963.








Bruce reached the 50 game milestone in Round 1 in 1913. That day South Melbourne played St Kilda at the Lake Oval and took the honours by 9 points. Bruce kicked an important goal that day.


NOTE: One of the game’s best umpires, of that era, Arthur Norden umpired his 50th VFL match that day also. Arthur umpired for 13 seasons and  ‘was in-charge’ of three VFL Grand Finals in 1915-16-17.


An eloquent sporting writer of that era, Reg Wilmott (better known as ‘Old Timer’), penned a wide-ranging article about Bruce Sloss in June 1913.  The original article was lengthy and has been truncated for this story so as to avoid repetition of earlier facts…


“ GREAT FOOTBALLERS : BRUCE SLOSS. Again this week “Old Timer,” in the Sydney “Referee” has reference to another popular South Melbourne-ite in the person of Bruce Sloss. “Old Timer” says:


When Bert Watts Paddington’s skipper, returned from a trip to Melbourne two years ago, he was loud in the praise of the football of Sloss , “I saw South Melbourne at work,” he said. “The ground was very wet, but the performance of Sloss was an eye-opener. He handled that greasy ball as deftly as *Cinquevalli ( * a famous Polish juggler of that time)  might have juggled three balls. I have seen much football in my time, but never a better exposition than that given bv Sloss …Bruce Sloss, who is 21 years old, weighs 11 st. 12lb… and stands 5ft. 11 in. high.


In 1910,  South Melbourne was  lucky to get him and he has done yeoman service for them ever since. Sloss is a brilliant footballer, possessing plenty of stamina and pace, is a rattling place and drop kick, and can high mark with the best of them. Last season he represented the Victorian League against South Australia and was one of the most prominent players on the side.


Being short of a rover this year, South Melbourne gave him a trial in that position and his superior would be hard to find in Victoria. He is as versatile as he is brilliant.  No matter where he is placed in the field, Sloss does credit to himself and to the side.  


As with all champions the ball is always his objective. He well knows that when a player devotes his attention to the man his service to the side is largely discounted. In all matters appertaining to the club, Sloss takes keen interest and is very popular with his comrades, both excellent recommendations in a player.” Source: ‘Record’ (Emerald Hill) July 12th 1913. 





Following an acrimonious dispute with the SMFC committee, Charlie Ricketts was enticed back to Richmond at the start of the 1913 season; and, consequently, SMFC turned to a former proven and accomplished player, Harvey Kelly to lead the Bloods for the season. Harvey Kelly (born in 1883) had first played for South Melbourne in 1902 but then transferred to South Fremantle.


In a broken VFL career, he returned to play with Carlton in 1907-09; and it is also recorded in ‘Holmesby and Main’ (page: 452) that Harvey has also played football in Tasmania. The VFL archives show that Harvey Kelly  was 30 years of age when he returned from the ‘wilderness’ (via Bairnsdale FC) as playing-coach at the Lake Oval.  Although Harvey’s team was combative throughout the home and away series, South Melbourne was soundly beaten by St Kilda in the First Semi-Final in front of 40,178 fans.


St Kilda’s Ernie Sellars was superb for the Saints that day with six goals; and he was the ‘difference’ between the two sides. Unfortunately, the Bloods could not find an avenue to goal and had six single goal kickers in their lowly score. The scores that day were: St Kilda 12.12. (84)  defeated South Melbourne 6.15 ( 51). Bruce Sloss starred again for South Melbourne in that match; and, according to Graeme Atkinson, South’s best players were: Bruce Sloss, Arthur Hiskins, Bill  Thomas, George Bower, Joe Prince, Harvey Kelly, Les Charge and Bert Franks.


NOTE: ERNIE SELLARS: St Kilda’s full forward Ernie Sellars played only three seasons of VFL football but was a prolific goal kicker. Ernie was recruited from Grosvenor FC; and he stunned onlookers with a seven goal haul in his very first VFL game. Ernie went on to play 47 games for StKFC and he kicked 119 goals at an imposing average of 2.53 goals per game.


Once again, the ‘winds of change’ blew across Lake Oval as the SMFC committee, in its collective wisdom, appointed club stalwart and champion ruckman Vic Belcher to coach the club for the 1914 season.





Bruce had another fine season in 1914 and was he was instrumental in lifting the performances of the Bloods.  Some fighting victories gave the supporters hope that the club would go deeper into the final series than it had done in 1913.


In July the Victorian selectors (Messrs Joyce, Fleming and Brosnan) announced the VFL squad to travel to Sydney in August to participate in the Australasian Carnival. The twenty-six members of the squad and their respective clubs as announced in ‘The Argus’ ( July 20th 1914) were:


  • Baud, H. Haughton and W. Dick (Carlton).
  • H. Lee, J. Jackson and J. W. Green (Collingwood).
  • Baring, P. Ogden and C. Gove (Essendon).
  • McNamara, W. Eicke and W. Schmidt (St.Kilda).
  • W Johnson, J. Cooper and G. Holden (Fitzroy).
  • *G. Heinz (see below) and R. Grigg (Geelong).
  • Lilley (Melbourne).
  • James (Richmond).
  • Sloss and L. Charge (South Melbourne).
  • Brake and E. Woods (University).




The Victorian team in 1914 Source: ‘The Referee’ August 12th 1914



Dave McNamara, from St Kilda FC, was named as the team captain. The other state teams that took part in the Sydney Carnival that year were Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania, New South Wales and Victoria. Each state team was scheduled to play five games.


* NOTE: GEORGE HEINZ During World War II, George Heinz (see above) changed the spelling of his name to Haines because of the anti-German sentiment that had spilt over into all facets of Australian life during those years of conflagration.





In that era of national football, the battle for superiority for Australian football ‘crown’ was between Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria. In that Carnival, the only team that failed to register a victory was Queensland.


In its five matches, QFL struggled against the more powerful states and could only average approx. 27 points per game while having an average of 164 points per game kicked against the team. After five games, Queensland FL had a dismal percentage of 16.3% ; it was a hapless situation for the QFL; and it was apparent there was a lot of ground work to be done in developing football in the Sunshine State.


The final match, to decide the winner of the Australian Carnival, was played between the VFL and South Australia. The Victorians went in to the final with a powerful and well-balanced line-up; and, according to ‘The Argus’ ( 19th August), Bruce Sloss was selected on the half forward flank that day. Victoria’s attack boasted such greats as Dave McNamara, Dick Lee, Bruce Sloss, George Heinz, Les Charge and St Kilda’s dynamic (and former Richmond captain) Billy Schmidt.


On the day, a crowd of 13,000 turned out to watch Victoria crush the South Australians by more than six goals. The banner headline in the Melbourne ‘Winner’ news read ‘VICTORIA WINS THE CHAMPIONSHIP.’ The final scores were: Victoria 11.11 (77) defeated SA  5.10 (40).


The VFL goal kickers were Heinz (3), Lee 2 McNamara (2), Schmidt (2), Charge (1), Ogden (1). The following match review highlighted the performances of Bruce Sloss and others…


On the day, Victoria was much the better side. Turning to the players, I would give Charge pride of place for Victoria. His ruck work was splendid, and his high marking and kicking were first-class, and, moreover, he was playing well from the start to the finish. Heinz, whether roving or forward, was always in evidence, and he could be bracketed with Woods (full back),  whose marking and general play, added to his exceptional kicking in, made him prominent. Green and Cooper were the pick of the back men, and others who did their share were Brake and James (following). Grigg, Sloss, Baud and Ogden.” Source: ‘Winner’   August 19th 1914 Page: 8


NOTE: DAVE MCNAMARA:  One of the highlights of the that series in Sydney was a long distance kicking competition between Dave McNamara (VFL ) and Sydney’s  rugby hero ‘Dally’ Messenger. Dave place-kicked the ball some 76 yards to win the contest. Although it was a mighty kick, it fell well short of Dave’s earlier effort in July that year of 105 yards 1 foot (wind assisted at the St Kilda Cricket Ground (on Tuesday 21st July 1914 ).


Dave McNamara – in action. Source: BDV Cigarette Cards Series- 1933.





Ever since the formation of the VFL in 1897, the system and structure (s) finals have been contentious issues. No matter what era of VFL football, the various arrangements that have been applied have always been the subject of conjecture and rigorous debate. One area of controversy, in the formative years of the VFL , was the right of the minor premiership winner ( i.e.  The team on top of the ladder at the end of the home and way series) to challenge if defeated in a final series).


The history of the ‘right to challenge’ lies in the introduction of the ‘Argus’ (as in the Melbourne newspaper) system in 1902…


 “The minor premier had the right to challenge for the premiership if defeated in either the second semi-final or the final (preliminary).”  AFL Handbook 2004 Page: 620.


It is a little complicated to understand but 1914 is a perfect example of how the arrangement functioned. In that season, South Melbourne defeated Geelong in the First Semi-Final by seven points; and then caused an upset by defeating the minor premiers (Carlton) by 19 points in the Final. Consequently, the ‘Argus’ system, as invoked , allowed Carlton the ‘right to challenge’ South Melbourne in a further game to decide the premiership. In simple terms it meant Carlton had a ‘second bite at the cherry’ and, consequently, the result set up a Grand Final clash against South Melbourne at the MCG. According to football historian-writer Geoff Slattery …


“Successful challenges were made in 1902 (Collingwood), 1909 South Melbourne, 1913 (Fitzroy), 1914 (Carlton)……” ‘Grand Finals’ Page: 6


Geoff Slattery lists nineteen instances where the ‘right to challenge’ rule was ‘claimed’ both successfully (i.e., to win a premiership) and also in failed situations.





The 1914 VFL Grand Final was played on the 28th September in front of a small crowd of 30,427 fans. The previous two Grand Finals had seen huge attendances (in excess 50,000) and it apparent that the war in Europe had already impacted on ‘home soil’ in telling ways.


It was also suggested in one reference book, that the extra sixpence per entry ticket (for the War effort) was not readily embraced by all supporters. Historical note: On August 3rd 1914, Germany declared war on France; and suddenly the world was caught up in a maelstrom that would claim millions of lives in Europe.


As VFL files show, Carlton won an exciting struggle in controversial circumstances that day. In the dying moments of the final quarter, Tom Bollard was allegedly rammed in the back by the Blue’s full back Ernie Jamieson; and a free kick ‘went begging’ and so did the Bloods’ hopes of victory.


Carlton under the perceptive John Worrall took out the club’s fourth title. Some readers may be unaware that Carlton won successive flags in 1907-08-09.  The right to challenge and Ernie Jamieson’s late hit on Tom Bollard may have faded in the memory of most people over the years;  but Bruce Sloss’ outstanding display in that Grand Final is still talked about today. As is mentioned in the introduction to this story, it was the day that Bruce etched his name into football folklore with one of the finest performances ever witnessed in a final…


“ Bruce Sloss ran himself ragged trying to bridge the gap but to no avail, even though Worrall ( Carlton’s legendary coach) suggested “ he had no superior that day’…”   Source: ‘Grand Finals’ by  Jim Main. Page: 40.


The match review in the ‘Emerald Hill Record’ supports Jim Main’s claims about Bruce’s dazzling exhibition in that close and exciting Grand Final…


“For South Melbourne, Sloss and Charge were brilliant. In the concluding section the former ( Sloss) did the work of three men in his tremendous efforts to bring about the all-important goal that made the difference between defeat and a draw.” Source: ‘Record’ ( Emerald Hill)  3rd October 1914. Page: 3


The scores that day were:


Carlton:                   2.3    5.8.  5.8    6.9   (45)

South Melbourne. 2.5    2.5 3.11   4.15 (39)


  • Goal kickers for Carlton: Brown Burleigh Cook Fisher Green Munro.
  • Goal kickers for South Melbourne: Sloss * Freeman (see below) Charge Mullaly.
  • Best for Carlton: Dick O’Brien Brown Lowe Haughton Leehane Jamieson Daykin McGregor
  • Best For South Melbourne: Sloss ( BOG ) Prince Charge Kelly Belcher Hair Caldwell Deas Morgan


Bruce Sloss was only 25 years of age when he played his best and last game of football with South Melbourne. He had played 84 VFL games and had kicked 44 goals and, as mentioned above, he had also worn the Victorian guernsey on five occasions.



Source: ‘Winner’ September 30th 1914 Page 6





The 1915 VFL season opened on the very same day (25th April) that the Australian Imperial Forces landed at Gallipoli; and, as history shows, the nation was bitterly divided about the merits of some young men playing football while others were abroad fighting for their lives in the Dardanelles Campaign.


HISTORICAL NOTE- THE DEATH OF CHARLIE FINCHER: One of Bruce Sloss’ team mates in 1913, a rover named Charlie Fincher, actually died at the landing at Gallipoli in April 25th 1915. Charlie (ex-Scarsdale FC) played nine games with South Melbourne FC. At the time of his death, Private Fincher was serving with the 5th Battalion, first A.I.F. There is no known grave for Charlie Fincher.


Football was no longer a priority for Bruce; and like so many other young men, including his brothers, he had little hesitation in enlisting in the armed forces to commence military training (on the 28th July 1915) with the 39th Battalion.



Source: National Archives of Australia : NAA-B2455



As can be seen below, he moved through the ranks quite quickly and became an officer in January 1916…


“… being sent to musketry school, port Melbourne for training as a machine gun officer. He was appointed a Second Lieutenant on January 17 , 1916…”    Source: ‘Fallen’ Page: 181


Early in May that year (1916), Bruce waved good bye to his family and fiancée, Gladys Hamilton, and boarded the troopship HMAT ‘Ascanius’ and ‘steamed away’ to fight in ‘foreign lands’.


The First World War Embarkation Roll indicated that Bruce was a member of the 10th Machine Gun Company, and the official records also indicated that he sailed from the Port of Melbourne on 27th May 1916. It is interesting that on the same page of those military records, there were at least another dozen soldiers with the family name ‘Sloss’ (including his brothers).


It was a long sea voyage to Europe in those days; and Bruce had time to reflect upon his past and weigh up his chances in the battles ahead.  The war, that some said ‘would be over Christmas, had quite a distance to run.





While in England awaiting embarkation to the Western Front, Bruce played a leading role in the Pioneer Exhibition Match between the Third Australian Divisional team and an Australian Training Units FOOTBALL team.  The game was played on October 28rd 1916, at the Queen’s Club in West Kensington (London).




All the proceeds raised by the special event were donated to aid the work of the British and French Red Cross Societies. *One source stated that £100 (pounds) was collected during that day’s match. Thousands of spectators (a lone text said 8, 000-mainly Australian soldiers)  and a large contingent of  newspaper reporters watched on as some of Australia’s best footballers displayed their undoubted sporting talents at the Queen’s Club Oval that day…


“ Most of the footballers involved in that match…had played the game at the elite level in Autralia.  Sloss, was probably the cream of the cream in khaki  and was captain of the Third Dividsion “  ‘Fallen’  Page 181.


Bruce was named as captain of the Third Divisional team; and research uncovered the names of most of the playing members that day. The Third Divisional team included…


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 ),  A. S. Cesari (VFA ),  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.


Bruce Sloss’ team had a convincing victory that memorable day with the final scores being:  Third Australian Division: 6.16  (52) defeated the Combined Training Units: 4.12. (36). It was only years later that some historians fully realised the importance of that match to the soldiers waiting to go to the Western Front.


In his wisdom and unique style of leadership, General Sir John Monash openly encouraged the match as he knew it was part of a ‘build-up’ to something much critical in life. The fun that the footballers (and the crowd) had at West Kensington that day would contrast sharply to the carnage and horrors that awaited them on the battlefields of France. For many young Australians, waiting to cross the English Channel and march to the front, they realised that the football match, at the Queen’s Club, was just a diversion from what awaited them in the trenches.









Roland Perry’s remarkable book entitled Monash – The Outsider Who Won A War tells of the preparations for the Australian Division’s foray into the Western Front in November 1916. Australia had never known such an adroit military leader as John Monash; and his belief, in thorough training of soldiers for battle and his care for those in all ranks, engendered confidence and spirit in all. By the New Year (1917), Bruce Sloss and his comrades, of the 10th Machine Gun Company, were engaged in fierce and bloody combat against the troops of ‘Kaiser Bill’ (Wilhelm:II German Kaiser {Emperor}  and King of Prussia).


On January 4th Bruce Sloss was stationed at Armentieres (on the French- Belgium border) when he was killed by incoming shells in a surprise skirmish…


“ …he was showered with white hot piercing shrapnel . It is believed he was killed instantly.”  ‘Fallen’ Page: 181.


When the devastating news broke back home in Australia, the public was shocked and the outpouring of sorrow for Bruce Sloss’ demise was widespread and heartfelt. The following article was published in ‘The Argus’ in January 1916; and it tells of Bruce’s death. It is an edifying extract as it mentions that Christina’s sons (Roy and Jock) were fighting in France and her other son (James) was a POW…


“Casualties in France….Official intimation has been received by Mrs. C. Sloss, Kooyong Road, Armadale, that her son, Lieutenant Bruce M. F. Sloss was killed in action in France on January 4. Two other sons are now serving in France, another being a prisoner of war in Turkey.”  Source: ‘The Argus’   January 17th 1917  ‘The Argus’ Page:  13.






Source: ‘Referee’ January 17th 1917 Page: 13



The news was crushing for the family; and the SMFC supporters mourned for the loss of one of their ‘favourite sons.’ In his book: Our Game-Classic Aussie Rules Stories, Jim Main stated that when South’s brilliant wingman Mark Tandy (207 games for SMFC and 13 for Victoria) heard that Bruce had been killed in action he (Mark) said…


“When news came of his death , I saw men weep.” Page: 95.


With Bruce’s death, the grim reality of the Great War struck home to football followers and players everywhere; and South Melbourne FC and Carlton FC expressed their sorrow in poignant letters to Mrs Sloss and her family. Bruce was 28 years of age when he died in action in France and he now rests at the Cite Bonjean Military Cemetery in Armentieres.


According to military archives, his grave can be found at Plot IV-Row C – Grave number 16. In Main & Allen’s ‘Fallen,’ there are two black and white photographs of Bruce’ s grave; and it is written that the base of his headstone bears the inscription…


Whosoever Will Lose His life For My Sake, The Same Shall Save It.”





Thankfully, Bruce’s three brothers returned home safely to Australia after the war. The details of their return are listed on the ‘UNSW- AIF Project’ website as follows…


  • James McKenzie SLOSS MSM, Australian Flying Corps, returned to Australia, 15 November 1918.
  • 8219 Lance Corporal John Stewart SLOSS, 2nd Australian General Hospital, returned to Australia, 19 April 1919.
  • 124B Pte Roy SLOSS, 3rd Machine Gun Bn, returned to Australia, 8 July 1919.
  • It is also known that Bruce’s sister Christina (Tullie) served with the Women’s Legion during the Great War.






A rare photograph of Jack Freeman
Source: ‘Fallen’ Jim Main and David Allen. Page: 68.




South Melbourne FC paid a heavy price during World War 1. According to several reliable sources, it is known that at least ten of the club’s former players died in action during the Great War. These included: Bruce Sloss ( Armentieres), Norman Bradford ( Pozieres), Claude Thomas (Hamel), Hugh Callan ( Bapaume), Fred Fielding ( Villiers – Bretonneux), Jack Turnbull ( Ploegsteert Wood), Charlie Fincher (Gallipoli), Jack Freeman (Rouen-see below ), Edward Harrison ( Etaples) and Harold Rippon (fatally wounded on the Western Front on January 16th 1917) .


Jack Freeman played with Bruce Sloss in the 1914 Grand Final and kicked one goal that day. Jack was recruited from Northcote in 1913; and he played 22 games and booted 39 goals for South Melbourne. Although diminutive in height (170cm, 5’-6” ), he was a brilliant ‘crumber’ and creative will-o-the wisp around goals; and, in his last season of VFL football, Jack won South’s goal kicking trophy (36 goals.)


Sapper (i.e. army engineer) Jack Freeman was seriously wounded at Rouen in November 1916; and as a consequence of his dreadful injures, both of Jack’s legs were amputated in a military hospital. The letter that Jack wrote home to his parents from his sick bed in the field hospital prior to his death is particularly touching. Jack died on the day of his 25th birthday (15th November 1916).





There are no words in the English lexicon that really explain the pain that must have been felt by Mrs Sloss for the tragic loss of her youngest son at Armentieres in 1917. Words fail in such situations; and the officials of the South Melbourne Football Club also struggled to describe their collective grief at the passing of Bruce and his comrades. The following was written at the club’s Annual General Meeting (which was held in February 1917) …


“We publish our roll of honour herewith, and the names appearing thereon revive memories that will live until time shall be no more, and our hearts go out in sympathy to the relatives of Lieutenant Bruce Sloss, Corporal Norman Bradford, and Sapper Jack Freeman, who have paid, the supreme sacrifice for honour, right, and us. Heroes all, and to them be all the glory.  Source: ‘Emerald Hill Record’ March 3rd 1917. Page: 2.





While there have been many informative articles written about Bruce Sloss, the footballer, I hope that this story may serve as a tribute to the Sloss family. Family was such a life-force in Bruce’s story, and Christina gave her all in rearing her children in the most desperate of times. Christina’ courage, values and sacrifice are central to Bruce’s story.


Researching the life of Bruce Sloss has been most educative and was greatly aided by the use of Nick Richardson’s remarkable book entitled ‘The Game of Their Lives’ (Pan McMillan Australia-2016). Not only did the book supplement the investigation, via the various newspapers of that time (1909-1917), but Nick’s research shed new light on Bruce’s Sister (Tullie), his Mother (Christina) and his family.



Other references used in gathering information in the above story included:


‘Fallen’ – Main & Allen.

‘Monash: The Outsider Who Won A War’- Roland Perry.

‘Australian Football’- Murray Series.

‘Courage Book of VFL Finals’- Graeme Atkinson.

‘Up where Cazaly’-  Sandercock & Turner.

‘The Clubs’…Selected writers.

‘100 Years of Football -Compendium’.

‘Complete Guide to Football’-Ken Piesse.

‘The Encyclopaedia of League Footballers’- Holmesby & Main.

‘Every Game Ever Played’- Stephen Rogers.

‘Grand Finals’- Slattery Publications.

‘Our Game’ – Jim Main.

‘Somme ‘- Hugh Sebag- Montefiore.

‘Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Australian Rules Football’ – Graeme Atkinson.


This story was written for ‘The Footy Almanac’ by Roger Spaull in April 2021.



To read more from Roger, click HERE.


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  1. This is a phenomenal piece of research Roger and a comprehensive telling of Bruce Sloss’s story. Thank you for writing it for the Almanac community. It will be well-read for sure.

  2. John Butler says

    Roger, I found out about Bruce Sloss when I was writing about the 1911 season for the Almanac.

    You have done a much more thorough job of covering his life than I managed.

    Well done.

  3. Kevin Densley says

    Two issues stand out in your fine piece about Bruce Sloss, Roger; one, the excellent research involved and, two – equally importantly – the high regard you have for your subject. Both aspects combine to make your article as good as it indeed is.

    Interestingly, like Bruce, my great-grandfather, Tom Densley, was a member of a Machine Gun Company and served in France. Thankfully, as far as my family was/is concerned, Tom came home in 1919.

  4. Hayden Kelly says

    Roger a great read thanks for putting it together .
    The Exhibition game in 2016 is the subject of a book The Game of Their Lives written by Nick Richardson . It is a good read that’s where I first heard about Bruce Sloss .
    Well done .

  5. Keiran Croker says

    Thanks Roger. This is a superb piece adding to the understanding of a true champion on and off the field. I have only recently read Nick Richardson’s excellent “The Game of Their Lives” which is brilliantly researched and a book of great empathy and humanity. As a Bloods supporter I’ve been aware of Bruce Sloss for sometime. Thanks again for helping to keep his name alive.

  6. Daryl Schramm says

    Fantastic read. Great work. So much material there. Got me trying to imagine what it was like living in those times.

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