One Hundred Years Ago: Round 1, April 29th, 1911

The year of 1911 marked the completion of Australia’s first decade as a federated nation, and many of its not quite four million citizens may have been moved to reflect on their country’s distant role in a rapidly changing world. As autumn arrived in Melbourne, the more rarefied circles amongst its almost 600,000 residents may have been contemplating the social implications of the newly-crowned  monarch George V. But it’s likely most Victorian minds were more exercised with thoughts of the coming football season. With nearly two thirds of Melburnians living within local government areas containing a league club, one’s footy team was a major focus of local identity and pride.

The Victorian Football League consisted of ten clubs at the time; Richmond and University had joined in 1908. Games were played between teams of 18-a-side, with no substitutes, although players who left the field were allowed to return, if they physically could.

Two enduring football themes – money and violence – were occupying the League’s administrators as the season approached. If the season of 1910 were a movie, the task of directing it could only have been given to Sam Peckinpah, as a number of tensions and contradictions within the game bubbled over into scenes which would not have been out of place in The Wild Bunch. It is necessary to examine what preceded to make sense of much that followed.

Football’s governing bodies had, at least publicly, espoused the Victorian era ideal of amateurism as a basis for the game’s conduct. Most of the league’s clubs had more modernist ideas. As the game’s popularity grew, so had club revenues increased, and they sought ways to transform this income into competitive advantage. Officially players were only permitted ‘legitimate expenses’ for their efforts, but for players who might only be earning £3 per week as, say, a carpenter, the expenses incurred in playing were not inconsiderable, especially once creative club accounting was applied- and it proved no less creative in providing a solution than has been demonstrated in modern times. Additionally, an intricate network of secret cash payments, faux jobs and benefactors – of whom John Wren’s Collingwood connection was only the most discussed –meant that by 1910 amateurism was merely ’shamateurism’ in practice.

The League had largely turned a blind eye to proceedings up to this point, but finally bowed to the inevitable. On April 21 the VFL voted by a margin of 16 delegates to 4 in favour of rescinding the rule preventing player payments. The four opposing votes came from delegates of Melbourne and University, the two clubs who most closely adhered to amateur principles. Melbourne Football Club’s affairs were still largely controlled by the Melbourne Cricket Club, which maintained a policy of not selecting ‘working men’ in its teams. That University was likewise amateur is a reflection of the shared middle class aspirations of both club’s constituencies. It should be noted that neither would particularly thrive in this period.

With secrecy about money matters well entrenched, the VFL’s hand had likely been forced by increasing concerns over gambling. Melbourne was rife with thousands of illicit gambling options, which seemed mysteriously invisible to the police force, allowing a wager on anything from racing pigeons to cycle racing to horses. Naturally, football was a popular option. The 1910 season had been plagued by suspicions concerning numerous clubs and players, and the sense that the game’s reputation was at risk culminated in a controversy involving Carlton on the eve of the finals series.

Following a shock final round loss to the previously winless St Kilda, the Navy Blues had dropped star rover Alex ‘Bongo’ Lang, full back Doug Gillespie, and first year player Doug Fraser from their finals campaign. Following admissions made to a closed League enquiry, Lang and Fraser received five year suspensions. With much murkiness enveloping this affair, and rumours abounding elsewhere,  it became obvious the League needed to at least get its payments out  in the open to give the impression of some control over events.

Despite the upheaval, Carlton had finished top of the ladder and played off against Collingwood for the 1910 flag, whereupon they found themselves at the centre of the other blazing issue of the season: on-field violence. The season had been marred by violent indiscretions, with many long suspensions handed out. Typical of the mayhem was an incident where Fitzroy’s William Walker required a police escort to protect him from the post match wrath of Richmond supporters, after he had displayed what The Age described as “abnormally supple elbow joints” in the course of the game.

The Carlton and Collingwood clubs had already formed a mutual dislike, so it seemed fated that their first grand final meeting would see them literally belting the tripe out of each other; an appropriate ending to what will be eternally regarded as one of the most vicious seasons in history. A final quarter brawl involving around 30 players and officials saw two players from each side ultimately suspended for periods of a season to a season-and-a-half. In between the fighting, Collingwood had triumphed in what remains their only success in six Grand Final meetings between the two clubs.

In an aftermath that speaks eloquently to the enduring mystery of tribunal process, Collingwood player Richard Daykin subsequently wrote to the League claiming he, and not teammate Tom Baxter, had perpetrated the foul deeds that had earned Baxter suspension for the whole of 1911. Though presiding umpire Jack Elder remained confident of his identification, despite the fact players didn’t yet wear numbers, Collingwood captain-coach George Angus and a committeeman supported Daykin’s claim. As a result, Baxter’s suspension was overturned, and Daykin also bafflingly escaped penalty. Some found it curious that the dark-haired Baxter would be confused with Daykin, who was known for his distinctive red locks. Others saw possible Collingwood motivation in the fact Baxter was a star player. Daykin hardly alleviated suspicion when he promptly announced his retirement.

Leaving behind the controversies of 1910, the big pre-season story of 1911 was the appointment of John ‘Jack’ Worrall as coach of Essendon. Worrall had an outstanding cricket pedigree, having played 11 Tests for Australia and toured England. As a footballer, he had captained Fitzroy during its VFA period. He formed an association with Carlton through its cricket club, for which he had scored an Australian record 415 not out in 1896, and it was at Carlton that he was to establish his football legend.

Up until the end of 1901, Carlton was the least successful VFL club with the sole exception of St Kilda. Looking to turn their fortunes around, the Carlton committee approached Worrall to be secretary-manager. He demanded to be given complete control of football decisions. To his surprise, the club agreed, and he set about building a successful team through a combination of stern discipline, astute talent spotting, and a game method which evolved into a physically strong team well drilled in closing the game down defensively. The team he moulded became the first to win a hat-trick of flags from 1906 to 1908.

Though Worrall is widely referred to as the first coach in the VFL, some contest this. Collingwood had appointed an ex Carlton player Bill Strickland as its captain for 1898, but he appears to also have fulfilled every function of a coach . ‘First coach’ may depend on defining terms. Nor was Worrall the first to espouse the doctrine of systematic discipline, training and planning. In his time at Fitzroy, he had observed its team manager supervise training. What is indisputable though, is that Worrall provided the authoritarian example for all professional coaches to come. Following his success, all other clubs followed Carlton in appointing paid coaches. It is worth noting that this preceded English Association Football clubs, who didn’t generally make such appointments until after (often well after) World War 1. Despite his success, it should also be admitted his history suggests Worrall had a gift for rubbing people the wrong way.

The end of Worrall’s coaching period at Carlton in 1909 demonstrates just how pervasive under-the-table payments had become. With success, the Blues’ revenues had increased, but player remuneration had not kept pace. This fact exacerbated the complaints of certain players who were already chafing at some of Worrall’s disciplines. The playing group soon divided between those who had incomes outside football, and a suspiciously large group who listed their profession as ‘tea grader’. This group, of course, constituted those who relied on football for their income. Ultimately, the tea graders won out, and Worrall departed Carlton, spent a year coaching the VFL umpires (with little notable success, given events in 1910) and ended up at Essendon for season 1911.

With an eye for the box office to match modern administrators, the VFL scheduled Carlton to face their old coach in the opening round of the new season. Essendon’s home ground, the East Melbourne Cricket Ground, hosted a crowd estimated at 20,000 on a fine Saturday afternoon. If Worrall hoped to extract some revenge on an undermanned Blues team, he was thwarted by his new club’s inaccuracy. With the aid of a northerly wind, Essendon kicked 1.7 to Carlton’s 1.1 in the first term. Their accuracy improved little until the final quarter, when protecting a meagre 2 point lead, they at least managed 2.1 to Carlton’s 2.3. Despite desperate efforts from both teams, the game ended in a draw- Essendon’s 5.15 matching Carlton’s 6.9. on 45 apiece. The Argus’ Observer seemed almost relieved to report that the game, though ‘physical’, was played in ‘fine spirit’.

Collingwood unveiled their premiership flag in front of around 12,000 at Victoria Park, in a contest against Richmond, who had yet to find much success in their three previous seasons in the VFL. Debuting for the Magpies that day was a 19 year old ruckman, Dan Minogue, who would find later fame as Richmond’s first premiership captain. Young Minogue had been a Bendigo miner until he suffered a 20 metre fall down a mine shaft. Surviving, he wisely decided that there were better ways to make a living. Sadly, league football didn’t initially prove much kinder, as he broke his collar bone in this first match.

Collingwood were then renowned for their stab-pass based system of play. Observer remarked that they were particularly adept at forming scrimmages in their goal-front, and scoring from a quick release. In spite of this, Richmond led at quarter time, and again in the third term. They employed a dashing style of play which worried the Magpies, with Tiger small men Bob Bowden and Bill Mahoney causing havoc. The pace had Magpie defender Jock McHale later admitting he’d been left “scant of breath”. Collingwood’s endurance saw out in the end, as they finished strongly in the final term to win 14.10.94 to 9.11.65 The fortunate Mr Baxter led the way with 4 goals for the Magpies, while their champion full forward Dick Lee kicked 3.

Last season’s wooden spooner St Kilda surprised by taking the points against Geelong at the Junction Oval. The estimated 8,000 crowd were kept waiting as Geelong’s train from Corio was delayed, the game finally commencing 15 minutes late. Seemingly undeterred by their adventures, Geelong held the Saints to a solitary point in the opening term. But St Kilda broke the game open in the 2nd quarter, kicking 7 goals to 2. Geelong had the better of the rest of the game, but were hampered by inaccuracy and failed to bridge the gap, losing 7.15.57 to 10.6.66 This was to prove one of only two victories for the Saints in 1911. The difference for St Kilda was 4 goals from 17 year old Wels Eicke, whilst Geelong captain Bill Eason kicked 2. Eicke, a schoolboy champion, was one of only a handful of players to play league football at the age of fifteen. He was later to make his name as a high leaping defender, and Football Hall of Famer, despite being only 5’8” (175cm).

Fitzroy and Melbourne played out a thriller at the MCG in front of 7,856 fans. Fitzroy had re-jigged their side after a tumultuous 1910, lining up with seven new faces. Amongst them was 33 year old Chris Kiernan, who had last played for the club in 1903. Having fallen out with the committee back then, he’d sought a clearance to Collingwood, which delegates of other clubs blocked, accusing him  of taking payments. Kiernan was regarded as one of the most gifted players of his day, but had a gift for controversy. He represented Victoria in 1899, but was later censured by team mates for an inclination to deliberately trip opponents. He was forced to play in the VFA for Brighton – just to explore cultural extremities-before returning for this last, late comeback season.

Another player to attract attention this day was new Melbourne defender Wally Naismith. Naismith wasn’t exactly a new face, being a veteran of 143 games for Fitzroy and having played in their 1904-5 premierships. His presence in a Melbourne jumper attracted the ire of Maroons fans throughout the afternoon.

The contest fluctuated all day, with little to separate the teams. Finally, Fitzroy seemed to take control in the final term. 18 year old Jim Porter’s 5 goals, in one of only three games he was to play this season, had seemed to do the trick. But Melbourne rallied to kick 2.2 in the final five minutes to snatch victory. Fuchsia skipper Vin Coutie had kicked a couple of booming goals amongst his tally of 4, and he passed to star forward Harry Brereton to kick the winning goal with moments left. The final score was Melbourne 10.12.72 to Fitzroy 11.4.70.

The most lop-sided contest of the round attracted one of the largest crowds to the Lake Oval. Around 15,000 watched South Melbourne account for University by 62 points. The Students were fielding the youngest team for the round (average age just shy of 22) and they floundered in the tricky cross breezes at the Lake. South led 7 goals to 1 at ¼ time and were never troubled, their champion ruckman Vic Belcher (5’11”, 180 cm) dominating proceedings with 3 goals. South’s Len Mortimer was obviously confident, reported by the ubiquitous Observer as predicting he’d kick 6 himself prior to the game. Mortimer had 5 by half time, and he made good on the prediction with an even 6. The only highlight for the Students was the clash between their star forward Bert (Dr Albert to his patients) Hartkopf, whose aerial skills netted 3 goals, and South’s Bill Thomas, who dominated when the ball hit terra firma. The final score was 14.18.102 to 5.10.40.

Essendon 1.7  1.10  3.14  5.15 45 Sat 29-Apr-1911 2:10 PM Venue: East Melbourne
Carlton 1.1   4.6   4.6   6.9 45 Match drawn
Collingwood 1.4   5.5   9.8 14.10 94 Sat 29-Apr-1911 2:10 PM Venue: Victoria Park
Richmond 3.4   4.6   8.8  9.11 65 Collingwood won by 29 pts
Melbourne 4.2   6.7  8.10 10.12 72 Sat 29-Apr-1911 2:10 PM  Venue: M.C.G
Fitzroy 3.1   8.3  10.3  11.4 70 Melbourne won by 2 pts
St Kilda 0.1   7.4   8.5  10.6 66 Sat 29-Apr-1911 2:10 PM Venue: Junction Oval
Geelong 1.2   3.4  6.14  7.15 57 St Kilda won by 9 pts
South Melbourne 7.3  11.6 13.11 14.18 102 Sat 29-Apr-1911 2:10 PM Venue: Lake Oval
University 1.0   2.3   4.7  5.10 40 South Melbourne won by 62 pts

The opening afternoon of the 1911 VFL season had proved largely free of controversy and concluded with the ladder as follows.

Rd 1 Ladder
SM 1 4 255.0
CW 1 4 144.6
SK 1 4 115.8
ME 1 4 102.9
ES 1 2 100.0
CA 1 2 100.0
FI 1 0 97.2
GE 1 0 86.4
RI 1 0 69.1
UN 1 0 39.2


Encyclopedia of AFL/VFL  Footballers: Russell Holmesby &  Jim Main

The Old Dark Navy Blues: Lionel Frost

100 Years of Australian Football:  ed. John Ross

More Than A Game:  ed. Rob Hess & Bob Stewart

More Than a Century of AFL Grand Finals: Jim Main

The Argus

AFL Tables


Full Points Footy


Michael Rees

About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has passed his 40th year as a Carlton member.


  1. JB sensational stuff. Nothing really changes does it. Fine piece of detective work and research. Looking forward to round 2.

    Maybe we should start a 1911 tipping competition so long as everyone promises not to go back and look at results!

  2. John Butler says

    Thanks Dips

    The recurring themes are a little startling.

    Not sure the honours system would last with the tipping comp. :)

  3. Great piece JB. Especially liked the reference to Melbourne not playing any “working men” – typical elitist tosh. Looking forward to the next round.

    The article was of even more interest to me as my Great-Uncle played with Sth Melbourne from 1909 – 1919 (Captaining the 1918 Premiership side) and his brother played 8 games with St.Kilda before he joined the AIF and was part of the disaster at Gallipoli on April 25.

  4. Love it, JB. I’d have to opt out of the 1911 tipping comp because I “know the ending”!

  5. smokie88 says

    5 games in Melbourne on a Saturday afternoon ?
    What a great idea !

  6. Andrew Fithall says

    Excellent work JB. Recurring themes? Is yesterday’s Tea Grader today’s paper packaging employee? And surely that couldn’t have been Carlton cheating? Only this time they employed dirty stinkin’ rotten cheatin’ practices to lose a match rather than win a premiership.


  7. Brilliant. What a joy to read. Love those euphemisms – ‘unusually supple elbows joints’; ‘hardly alleviated suspicion’; ‘gift for rubbing people up the wrong way’; ‘gift for controversy’.

    The ‘hinted at’ is always more alluring and salacious than the ‘in your face’. The ‘glimpse of stocking’ rather than the stripper. ‘Colorful racing identity’; ‘tired and emotional’; ‘never married but had many friends’; ‘retiring for family reasons’ – or most sinister of all ‘the coach has the full support of the board and the playing group’.

    Was thumbing a 1955 red felt hardback copy of ‘Power without Glory’ last night. My grandad gave it to me when I was about 15. Each chapter starts with a literary quote. Chapter 3 starts with:

    “The thought of all who interests are thwarted by any law whatever is how to set the law aside in their own cases” – Balzac

    Wonder why so much of the book is about the Carringbush? Collingwood manipulate the AFL/VFL/Tribunal to its own ends??? Never….

    I’m sure Eddie would be privately flattered by comparison to John Wren. The more things change……….

  8. Peter Flynn says



    When in a better position, I’ll fill you in on J. Worrall and the Big Ship.

    AEV Hartkopf played one Test for Australia in 1924/25. Highest score was 80.

    In 1911, he became state 440yd champion and started playing first-class cricket.

    Bill Eason was the first Geelong player to play 200 games.

  9. Rick Kane says

    Thank you JB for a great read. Phenomafrickinal job, absolutely. How much have you researched for this? You cover the history, the stats, the sociological contexts, individual stories seemingly effortlessly. In a wealth of information my two favourite bites are the following:

    The Geelong game being held up due to the train running late.

    And mention of the stab-pass. What a great forgotten kick that was. You wouldn’t forget being on the receiving end of a stab pass from an expert – the bruise on your chest would be a dead giveaway.


  10. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Great work JB,

    a career as AFL historian beckons. I do wonder how many flags the Pies would’ve won had it not been for John Wren’s cash incentives.

    “Collingwood were then renowned for their stab-pass based system of play. Observer remarked that they were particularly adept at forming scrimmages in their goal-front, and scoring from a quick release”.

    So much for Mick’s Roman Phalanx…He just reanimated the game plan from 1911!

  11. John Butler says

    Thank you for those very kind words folks.

    #3 Shano, your great-uncle was Jim Caldwell? Do you have any memorabilia from his career? It was quite a career.

    #6 AF, spoken like a true Collingwood man. Although I might suggest your interpretation may be a tad, ahem, selective. Seems to be a common affliction amongst Collingwood people regarding Carlton. John Wren was, of course, earning his income at the time selling lollipops for charity. :)

  12. John Butler says

    #7 PeterB, that Balzac quote should have been on the VFL emblem of the time.

    #8 PF, sshhh! Don’t let all the cats out of the bag. :)

    #9 RK, let’s just say that if you’re looking for a book on footy history from the Central Highlands Library system, you may have to wait a bit.

    #10 Phil, the moment I saw that quote it took me straight back to round 3 this year.

  13. David Downer says

    Tremendous reading JB, well done.

    Nice to hear Wels Eicke mentioned. He and Vic Cumberland are the only Saints names I know from this era.

    I will also highlight the great inclusion of “abnormally supple elbow joints”.

    Look forward to further instalments.


  14. Alovesupreme says

    I’m sure you’ve just temporarily forgotten the legend that was Dave McNamara.

  15. John Butler says

    LSP, I’m sure DD remembers Dave MCN, who sadly was playing for the VFA Essendon at this time.

    He didn’t return to St Kilda until 1914. His absence almost certainly cost the Saints the 1913 flag.

  16. Dave Nadel says

    JB. Only just read your recreation of the 1911 season. Fabulous! I particularly enjoyed your description of the 1910 Grand final and its aftermath. I read Stremski’s description of the same incidents. Stremski describes the events of the second tribunal hearing as “a Collingwood subterfuge.” According to Stremski the reason the Tribunal did not penalise Ginger Daykin was because of his ‘manly and courageous action’ in coming forth.

    Stremski, Richard. Kill for Collingwood. pp. 39-40

  17. John Butler says

    Thank you Dave

    I’ve been trying to locate a copy of Mr Stremski’s book. The library up this way doesn’t have one. It sounds like interesting reading.


  18. “Despite the upheaval, Carlton’s status as top home and away team allowed them the right to challenge Collingwood for the 1910 flag”

    The notion that Carlton had a “right to challenge” at this time comes from a modern misinterpretation of the rules. Carlton were obliged to play Collingwood again. Since Richmond had declined their “right to challenge” Nth Melbourne for the 1904 VFA Premiership, the VFA with the VFL following, both changed the rules. See:

  19. John Butler says

    It’s a fair point you make Michael.


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